Being a singleton is definitely on trend. The number of people living alone in the United States is on the rise, and hey, they get hungry! And even if you’re coupled, sometimes you want to spend a little quality time with yourself. In her new cookbook, Cooking Solo: The Fun of Cooking for Yourself (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $19.99), Klancy Miller ’96 offers simple dining solutions while also saluting the pleasures of cooking just for you.
Cooking Solo’s recipes cover the three main meals, dessert and entertaining, with everything from smoothies to sweet and savory variations on one of Miller’s favorite brunch foods, waffles. Her prose is upbeat and genuinely funny, and the recipes are easy to follow — most can be put together in 30 minutes or less, perfect for those nights when you want something a little nicer than takeout.
Miller, who grew up in Atlanta, first came to Columbia as a high school student enrolled in a summer Journalism School workshop. To her, New York City was a place of “monstrous adventures,” so different from her hometown. She knew she wanted to come back, and when she applied to colleges, Columbia was her first choice. She majored in history, and also studied French, Arabic and film studies. In Miller’s mind, pursuing several topics she was interested in felt like the point of a liberal arts education. “You have to have a little self-awareness to go to a school like Columbia,” she says. “Being in New York City, as a student, at Columbia — you’ve kind of hit the jackpot. Why not learn what really resonates with you?” Miller says she “lapped it all up,” including her Core classes: “ The Core increases your vocabulary in terms of understanding what the essence of something is. The experience gave me this vocabulary that I don’t think I would have gotten anywhere else.” Her first food-related job was at the College, as a first-year doing work-study at the cafeteria in Wien. Miller was a stir-fry cook, sautéing meat and veggies in a wok to be served at lunch. “At the time it didn’t feel like a cool job, but in retrospect, it was,” she says. “The uniform wasn’t cool, but the actual preparation of food was.”
After graduation, Miller dabbled in nonprofit jobs while figuring out what she wanted to do, ending up in Philadelphia at an NGO, the American Friends Service Committee. She took a variety of classes in the evenings and on weekends, and cooking classes were the most enjoyable. She started considering culinary school and got a part-time job in a restaurant to get more exposure. The chef suggested that school wasn’t necessary to be a chef, but if Miller was interested in pastry, school was a good idea. She had spent a semester at Reid Hall (“we read a lot of poetry out loud; recipe writing has a similar economy of words”), and returning to Paris in 2000 to study at Le Cordon Bleu set her on a culinary career course.
Miller stayed in Paris for four years, learning about pastry, apprenticing in a bakery, working in a three-star Michelin restaurant and cooking for herself regularly. Kitchen work proved exhausting, so she got a job doing recipe development at Le Cordon Bleu and started writing about food on a freelance basis. She interviewed chef and restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson for a profile and he became a great mentor. They worked together on several projects, and he introduced her to a number of valuable writing contacts and helped her get an agent.
After years of writing with Samuelsson, Miller wanted to write a book in her own voice. She intended to write a food memoir — her idea for a cooking-for-one guide, inspired by her life in New York City where she knew many single people, was originally a Plan B. But sociologist Eric Klinenberg’s 2012 book, Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, about the sharp increase of single-person households in America — came out around the same time she was pitching ideas, and provided a timely hook that her publisher leaped on.
Creating the cookbook took Miller four years, from completing the manuscript to production with a creative team that included a photographer, food and prop stylists, and media and promotion. “ This experience showed me how one tiny portion of the world works, how your piece fits into the whole piece, and then into the larger world — it’s been especially fascinating as a history student — how the pieces fit together.”
Cooking Solo is meant not only to be a cookbook, but also a frame of mind: “I’ve started to see the positive side of being single,” Miller says. “I have time for passion projects, taking different directions and seeing things through that are important to me.” She firmly believes the freedom to pursue creativity and spend quality time with yourself is an indulgence that should be celebrated — preferably with waffles.