The Restorative Power of Cooking Solo, with Prince

Klancy Miller is a writer and pastry chef. Earlier this year, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt published her first book, Cooking Solo: The Joy of Cooking for Yourself.

Photo by Davis Thompson-Moss

Photo by Davis Thompson-Moss

Prince died while I was beginning to write this piece, so I had to stop. A person whose voice I had listened to from the age of eight was gone. 

Blessedly, almost as a public service, a radio station called “The Current” in Minneapolis began streaming every Prince song in chronological order. For a little while after that, I walked around my neighborhood like Radio Raheem, the speakers of my iPhone blasting songs from Prince's Batman soundtrack as loud as they could.

Eventually dinnertime came and I went home to cook. As I chopped carrots and onions and listened to “Diamonds and Pearls,” the memory of playing Prince’s albums in my childhood room after school came flooding back.

In my earliest years, listening to music alone was how I processed whatever drama (real or imagined) I was experiencing. It’s how I relaxed, just me and Prince (or me and Queen or Public Enemy or the Beastie Boys or Pink Floyd or David Bowie or Janet Jackson or Tribe Called Quest or Mary J. Blige). Prince sang to me and I sang along even when I didn’t know what we were singing about, and it calmed me—or it helped me dance out the drama. Sure, I listened to Prince with friends at parties, and with family, but his music was and is the soundtrack to my solitude.

As I made chicken soup that night, I thought about how somewhere between graduating from college and becoming a grownup, cooking for myself became the primary way I unwind. I even wrote a cookbook called Cooking Solo: The Joy of Cooking for Yourself.

After reading Eric Klinenberg’s book Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, I learned that there are now more single people than ever before in the United States—the numbers even show that singletons outnumber married people. According to the 2014 U.S. census, there are over 100 million single adults (ages 18 and up). The statistics are most glaring in cities like New York, where one out of every two households is led by a single person. Single people have to eat, too (and many of us have budgets that preclude eating out every night), so I figured why not create a cookbook with simple, good meals for one?

Of course I go out to restaurants and I entertain company at home, but cooking alone is my most soothing ritual. It’s a way for me to luxuriate in my own company like I used to, listening to music in my room. Chopping onions to my rhythm, listening to them hiss in hot oil, flicking my wrist as I whisk a vinaigrette, kneading spongy pizza dough—I am completely present. And I don’t have to talk.

Cooking this way is affirming, because I am nourishing my own self, restoring my own self. I lean into the power of that kind of solitude, with Prince’s help, and stay there for a while.