Table scraps 

Two fingers better than one

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 diner.

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 more.

“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 the table.”

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 potatoes.

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