By Laurie Wiegler
“It all began on New Year’s Day…in my thirty-second year of being single.
Once again, I found myself on my own…
and going to my mother’s annual turkey curry buffet…” (“Bridget Jones”)
I am no longer in my thirty-second year of life or even my forty-second. And I’ve interviewed enough chefs to sauté my way around a kitchen with ease. I also got an A+ on my Home Ec omelet in high school. A-plus.
Yet year after year, my home remains a no-fly zone for family flocking to the aforementioned turkey curry buffet (or more aptly, a Jello mold). Not only that, annually I am relegated to the metaphorical “kids’ table” and it’s all about shuffling off to either my mom’s, my dad’s or my married stepsister’s.
Don’t get me wrong. I love these people. But this year, as I approached the dreaded 50, fondled my AARP membership application and jowl beneath my chin, I had a thought: ‘Hey! I really am a grown up!’
Year after year, my home remains a no-fly zone for family flocking to the aforementioned turkey curry buffet.
That was when I reckoned that the family should come here for Christmas or Hanukkah dinner. Although, identifying more with my Southern Baptist side — even though I’m agnostic this time of year — I would probably feed lox strictly to my cat Wally. This is why I sought inspiration from some single–or at least singleton-savvy–chefs.
After all, the last meal I cooked successfully was an English meat pie, capped by an Irish coffee cheesecake during the Reagan era, back when I did not yet require readers, colonoscopies or Spanx.
From Tapas to Napas
Manuel Romero, 37-year-old executive chef at New Haven, CT’s popular Spanish restaurant Ibiza, thinks that yes, most people would prefer spending the holidays with married people (Bridget Jones’s “smug marrieds!”)
“Sometimes people want to go to [a married couple’s home] because the couple can split the work, the meal…and they won’t take as much time as if somebody is doing it by themselves,” Romero explains in his thick Spanish accent.
He left La Coruña, Spain over a decade ago, working in New York until 9/11 before bringing his CIA training to the Elm City. He makes a mean codfish croquette tapas and yellow fin tuna ceviche. I realize I ought to listen.
“I think that for a single person…they get a little bit afraid,” Romero claims.
Yes, but the holiday meal needn’t be daunting.
“It all depends on what you want to cook,” Romero says. “You can make a nice meal without complicating yourself, especially on a holiday – like lobster. You can just dump a lobster into hot water, add some bay leaf and some salt, boil it and it doesn’t take a lot of time. And that is something that not everybody else eats every single week.”
‘Haute-y’ for the Holidays
Roy Handler, the 49-year-old single chef brother of E! Television’s Chelsea has also been shuffled off to smug marrieds’, but not lately.
For the past two years that he’s lived in LA – having relocated from his native New Jersey – Handler’s enjoyed the singles smorgasbord that is Southern California. No doubt family ties play a part in the ease with which Handler has assimilated, but he finds that singles’ parties are taken very seriously in LA.
Maybe because singles are the new married-with-children.
“It’s weird that you say single people only get invited to married couples’ because a lot of people here in LA are single. There’s a culture of short relationships that don’t last here for some reason,” says Handler, another CIA grad. He also runs Hautemess Catering, now solo but formerly with his partner and fellow chef, Meghann Wright.
“And even during the holidays, of the 25 people we had here [at sister Chelsea’s Bel Air home] maybe only two or three were married. About eight of them were getting in a relationship; another eight were getting out…I guess the culture here makes it difficult to keep the ship steady,” he posits.
Could his perspective possibly be skewed by the über-sized pool and plethora of comedic nubile beauties that grace the life of one of America’s most famous brothers?
“We [Chelsea and I] don’t have the problem where the singles don’t go to the married couple’s home. [But] I live with Chelsea in a cocoon [in Holmby Hills, Bel Air].”
Handler caters for his sister’s staff twice a week – both the “Chelsea, Lately” and now “After, Lately” shows. He says he likes to keep the cast’s dietary needs in mind–most are watching their weight–so he usually will make two hot dishes, a nice salad and vegetables. Sometimes he’ll whip up a chick pea or green bean tomato salad of carrots, mint, garlic, olive oil, red wine vinegar and red pepper flakes to augment his turkey meatloaf.
In the book “Lies Chelsea Told Me,” her producer Johnny Kansas waxed poetic about Roy’s turkey meatballs, claiming they keep the star from avoiding her “natural instincts, which would be to gorge herself on raw meat and nacho cheese.”
Humorous, yes, but Roy does like to keep it healthy even though he says his sister’s sidekick Chuy only gravitates toward the apple pie.
“We try to do themes,” Handler says. “Maybe we’ll do a Jewish cuisine one day, like sometimes corned beef sandwiches and biscuits, potato latkes and a healthy salad. And then the next day Italian with focaccia and meatballs and stuff like that.”
“I make two salad greens per day,” he adds. “One is dry, one is wet. Last week I made [a salad of] strawberries, goat cheese, balsamic [vinegar] and candied walnuts. I try to add healthy options as opposed to too much pasta or starches.”
Oh Solo Me-o
But having scrapped plans for a pre-Thanksgiving meal after realizing an ex-beau who lives 120 miles away probably wasn’t coming for the tapas, I am not sure if I’m keen to plot another embarrassing pre-Christmas non-meal.
Chef Jeff Anderson, executive chef of Safeway’s Culinary Center in Pleasanton, Calif., advises me to be positive. “Entertaining as a single person can put more pressure on you since you are doing all the shopping, cooking, and meal preparation yourself. But when you are the one writing the shopping list and dictating the menu, it creates room for some short-cuts that make entertaining a breeze.”
A breeze? Really?
Yes, he says. “More than anything I think entertaining when you are a single person is a great way to bring people together.” Anderson says I should think to the future, as in the morning-after, when some of his creative leftover recipes could keep my suitors begging for more.
Uh, yeah, we’ll see.
I know Wally, my feline companion, would not turn up his nose at some of Chef Manuel’s anchovy tapas. And I am mildly amused by Roy’s amuse bouches, especially the Hautemess crostini (with bacon, scallions and a wine-macerated fig atop toasted bread). I might even have a go at his Prosciutto-crusted Fresh Mozzarella with Balsamic Vinegar.
But I’m a little exhausted at the thought of cooking all of this. Maybe it would be different if I had my own TV show. I would relish whining about how my ex-lover showed up and didn’t even finish his seafood paella after I told him dessert did not include me and how my friend Fay’s boyfriend broke the chair and I had to pretend it never happened.
It’s a lot of work.
So I’m hopping a plane to Mom’s condo in Sausalito instead, where we can work on this together. I can just picture that plate of brown sugar-glazed stuffed cabbage, Southern corn bread and salad with her special dressing (Dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and a dash of garlic).
And besides, only my mom–a fellow singleton–knows how to compliment me even when the soup and the guests have turned blue.