Eating & Drinking: The joys of being suddenly-turned-single

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The Independent Culture
"NO, DON'T WORRY about me, I'm fine. What? Oh, just staying home tonight on my own. I've got a bit of work I should do. There's probably something in the fridge to eat."

Honestly, is there a poorer, more pathetic creature than your average person suddenly-turned-single? This is one of nature's lost and lonely souls, someone to be pitied and prayed for, someone unloved, unwanted and unaccompanied; the very essence of unmitigated misery and abandon, blah blah blah. Are you kidding?

Lurking just below this wretched exterior is another being who is deliriously happy. After all, there is no one to say with the lift of an eyebrow that you can't watch South Park. No one with whom you have to make polite idle chatter. No one with whom you have to remember to say things like "with whom". And absolutely no one to say that they do not feel like crumbed brains and crisp bacon for dinner.

You can do what you want. You can whip your clothes off and leave them on the floor, turn the music up, and eat and drink anything you like. The only problem is that the pressure of all that freedom can be quite devastating. Inevitably, one goes completely overboard on the first evening. One friend used to make enough chocolate mousse for six, then eat the whole thing with a large spoon. Another friend used to make the ultimate cauliflower cheese by steaming an entire cauliflower then pouring the thickest, cheesiest sauce over it, and devouring the lot in bed while watching pure porn.

American writer Nora Ephron captures the scene agonisingly accurately in her book and film Heartburn, in which the heroine Rachel Samstat (played by Meryl Streep) is home alone, while her womanising husband (played by Jack Nicholson) is out on the town. There she sits, with an entire saucepan of extremely buttery mashed potato in her lap, which she eats while crying her eyes out watching a weepie video.

My wife can relate, if only to the food aspect. In the early years, when I was out foodising and winising, it was a packet of Smith's crisps and a giant bottle of Galliano that replaced me. These days, it's a baking tray of garlicky, rosemary-scented roasted vegetables - sweet potato, pumpkin, onion, potato, and loads of parsnip - artfully arranged in a pyramid on a plate, with sprigs of fresh rosemary added at the last minute. She loves it so much, she keeps asking me when I'm going away.

Her drink of choice is Campari and soda, lots of ice. Don't go looking for flavour matches or anything logical. These are not the nights to be logical. The point is that it makes her happy. It's not quite so simple for some of us. I find I run to three basic stages.

The first stage is the first night, when I'm revelling in the fact that I don't actually have to do anything stupid like dress up to go out, drink from a glass, stack the dish-washer, and pick the papers up from the floor. All I have do is throw some rice and water in my trusty Chinese rice cooker, wait for it to smell good, then bung in some sliced Chinese lup cheong sausage and a finely chopped spring onion and leave them alone for 10 minutes. Put some soy on the side, and an Asian beer or 10, and dinner is served.

By the second night, I start feeling a little meaty, so it's generally sausage time. It seems to me there is something about your humble breakfast banger that women just don't get. This gets the gravy treatment, and then the Guinness on the side. At least some of us think of flavour matching. If it's been a few days, and there's not much sport on the telly, I'll actually cook something like a full-on vincisgrassi, which is a rich sort of lasagne full of things like sheep brains and sweetbreads, and other stuff that generally warrant a lift of the eyebrow when I suggest them for dinner.

I even put out a tablecloth and a candle, and I drink my wine from a glass. It's usually about that time that she rings, from wherever. "No, don't worry about me, I'm fine. What? Oh, just staying home tonight on my own. There's probably something in the fridge to eat."