When you cook for yourself, you have only yourself to please.
---Judith Jones, The Pleasures of Cooking for One
I think all cooks should aim to please themselves, whether they cook for one or one hundred. I know I do.
Judith Jones is #8 on Gourmet's list of the 50 Women Game Changers in the world of food. Every Friday a group of bloggers, led by Mary at One Perfect Bite, is going down the list, one by one, and exploring the work of these influential women. Judith Jones is another name I knew very little about until I looked her up for today's post. Her impact on the food world came not through her cooking, but through her 50 year career as an editor at Knopf during which she ushered in the works of many important figures, including Julia Child, Jaques Pepin, James Beard, and many others.
As I read about Judith Jones, two themes stood out: the first is the importance of taking pleasure in food. She grew up in a family that had a puritanical attitude towards food. The smells of cooking were strictly kept behind closed doors and strong flavors were discouraged (garlic was banned from the house!) It was regarded as unseemly to focus on food and the sensual pleasures of eating. Judith certainly helped bring a new appreciation for the sensuality of food to an American audience as she ushered in food personalities with new and exotic sensibilities.
The other theme relates to the language of food. As a literary editor she was particularly attuned to the power of words and the role they play in how a culture relates to its food. She bemoans the clipped, clinical approach to recipe instructions that's become the norm among contemporary food writers---
What a long way we’ve come in just about fifty years. Finally the veil has been lifted and we’re able to enjoy the art of cooking, to slap the dough around, massage the chicken with butter, and sizzle the garlic until it smells up the whole house. And to write about it with joy. There is also a lot of interesting investigative reporting going on that has alerted us to some of the current practices of the food industry, and we are so much more aware of what we eat thanks to this kind of writing So good, evocative writing about food has been a part of our culture now for more than half a century, ever since M.F.K. Fisher first wrote ecstatically about picking and eating fresh peas to the sound of a cowbell in the Swiss Alps and, more practically, Julia Child described the signs of doneness in a roast chicken as “a sudden rain of splatters in the oven, a swelling of the breast, and a light puff of the skin, and the drumstick is tender when pressed and can be moved in its socket.” But at the same time the art of writing a recipe—and it is an art—has not improved; in fact it has deteriorated. In the interest of saving space, magazines, newspapers, even most cookbooks have reduced recipe writing to a formula that isn’t even particularly effective and certainly isn’t sufficiently instructive.
On to the Chicken Salad.
This salad for one comes from The Pleasures of Cooking for One, written after Jones' husband died. It was an unusual experience for me, working with such minuscule amounts and ending up with just one plate of food. It's a good exercise for those of us who are used to cooking for others. The process of preparing good food becomes much more intimate when you are feeding just yourself. And you have to come to grips with the question of whether or not you think you're worth it!
Leftover cooked chicken , cut into small chunks (about 1 cup)
1 Tbsp. vinaigrette
1 small rib celery , chopped
1 small scallion , finely chopped
1/4 bell pepper (orange, red, green, or a combination), chopped
1 tsp. drained capers
1 tsp. chopped fresh parsley and 1/2 tsp. other fresh herbs if on hand (tarragon, basil, or marjoram)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 to 2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 tsp. plain whole milk yogurt
Salad greens (about 2 cups)
1 Tbsp. chopped toasted walnuts
* I added a bit of lemon zest and a squeeze of juice.
To make vinaigrette: Put salt, mustard, and vinegar in a small jar and shake it to dissolve the salt. Pour in olive oil; shake again thoroughly. Taste, then adjust seasonings to your liking.
To make salad: Toss the chicken in a bowl with the vinaigrette and let it stand for 5 minutes or so. Mix in the celery, scallion, bell pepper, capers, and herbs. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place mayonnaise in a small bowl and stir in the yogurt, then fold into bowl with the chicken vinaigrette. Arrange greens on a plate and top with the chicken salad; sprinkle walnuts on top.