Cooking for one isn’t always a lot of fun.
I enjoy the occasional solitary night where you are alone
with your thoughts over a special dinner – one that you will be eating
for the rest of the week because cookbooks rarely cater to the table-for-one
More often than not those “me” nights are preceded by a flip
through the yellow pages. And even if you transfer your favourite Sachi Sushi
rolls out of those little plastic boxes onto your best sushi-ware, pour a glass
of wine and sit back to watch a movie at your dinner-for-one couch, there is
something lost in the ritual of cooking and sharing that cooking (burnt, cold
or otherwise) with friends and partners.
James Barber, author of Cooking for Two, couldn’t agree
“Cooking, like sex and dancing, is a pleasure to be shared,”
he wrote in the book’s introduction. “This is a book about what two people can
do with their own four hands, and not a lot of time… The recipes in this book
are basically simple. Very few of them take more than half an hour to get on
Now this is my kind of cooking. This philosophy of anyone
can cook, and that recipes can be simple, tasty and made from things you can
find at a corner store, all the staple ingredients of what has made James
Barber famous. Before spending ten years with the CBC-TV hosting the cooking
show, The Urban Peasant, Barber penned how-to cookbooks.
He spoke about how his first book Ginger Tea Makes Friends
came about at a food-writing workshop I attended last fall at the Whistler
Readers and Writers Festival.
He was on a first date with a woman who didn’t know how to
make an omelet. Being the helpful guy he was, he drew a step-by-step diagram on
a napkin of how to do it: from cracking the egg to beating it to sliding it out
of the skillet. Wedding bells didn’t come out of the date, but Barber’s first
bestseller – part picture book, part cookbook – did.
There are no diagrams in Cooking for Two, but recipes are so
accessible and ingredients identifiable, no pictures are required.
Popeye the Sailor Man spinach is gussied up a bit with a
spinach, pine nuts and raisins recipe. A chicken and rice dinner on the fly
sounds fancy, Riso Con Pollo, but it can be made in less than 25 minutes. Get
out of your Spaghetti western of noodles and red sauce with the A Simple
Sicilian Spaghetti recipe with spaghetti, walnuts, parsley and blue cheese.
Make carrots kids will eat with cinnamon, cumin and garlic, and turn a tin of
salmon into a main entrée of fishcakes with last night’s leftover mashed
Barber’s recipes are designed for the workingman. Homemade
pesto doesn’t have to be about expensive Parmesan cheese and pine nuts. A
Barber pesto suggests money-saving alternatives such as cilantro instead of
basil, walnuts instead of pine nuts and safflower oil instead of olive.
“Make a pesto out of mint and walnuts and oil and garlic and
a little bit of lemon juice (leave out the cheese altogether) and eat it with
barbecued lamb or chicken – it’s quick, cheap and easy,” he wrote.
Barber takes the snobbery out of fine cuisine and like the
four-hectare farm on Vancouver Island where he grew fruits and vegetables (as
well as bred miniature donkeys), Barber encourages food lovers not to be afraid
to get down and dirty, and throw themselves into cooking with wild abandon.
He even makes non-bakers step up to the oven without
shuddering – most of the time he does away with the need to master the
finicky temperatures of an apartment-sized oven all together.
BBQ fruit skewers with mint yogurt make a beautiful, not to
mention healthy, presentation for guests. A last minute dessert to satisfy the
sweet tooth can be sliced up in minutes with oranges and grated chocolate. Show
off with poached pears with ginger and red wine if you are feeling daring or
relive childhood memories with bread pudding with bananas.
desserts are pleasant puddings – simple, easy and comforting,” he wrote.
“Dessert doesn’t have to be the star of the show.”
One of the world’s brightest stars burnt out last November.
James Barber, 84, died of natural causes doing what he loved best: he was
sitting at the dinner table reading a cookbook with a pot of soup simmering on
Along with the television show, Barber penned a dozen cookbooks,
wrote for numerous magazines and was inducted into the B.C. Restaurant Hall of
Fame this month. He was a sailor, physicist, actor, musician, choreographer,
salesman, miner, fisherman and husband as well food enthusiast.
He leaves behind a legacy of cooks rising above macaroni and
cheese, with cooks paired in twos if he had his way.
“Of course, you can’t both hold the knife to chop parsley, nor can you both stir a sauce with the same spoon. But what you can do and will find yourselves doing, if you cook together, is dancing. That’s exactly what it is: learning to move and accommodate one another, learning to enjoy one another’s peculiarities and discovering the pleasures of unspoken communication,” he wrote in Cooking for Two. “Everything tastes so much better if you’ve both had your fingers in the pot.”