If you saw Julie and Julia—and by now, who hasn’t?—you may remember a short but vivid scene between Julia Child and her cookbook editor. Choosing, discarding, and rearranging words on a bulletin board, the two of them painstakingly arrive at the title for Child’s magnum opus, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Fast forward some 50 years. Judith Jones, the editor in question, hasn’t lost her knack for artful wording. But this time the cookbook is her own, and its title reflects not only her love of good food but where life has taken her. It’s called The Pleasures of Cooking for One.

“After my husband, Evan, died in 1996, I was not sure that I would ever enjoy preparing a meal for myself and eating it alone,” writes Jones in the book’s introduction. But eventually she did, coming to view cooking a simple, well-made dinner as a way of nourishing herself in body and soul, savoring the life that she and her husband had shared. “When I sit down to a nicely laid table,” she noted in the December 2009 issue of Saveur, “I light the candles, pour myself a glass of wine, and feel that I am honoring the past as I enjoy a good dinner.”

That sense of contentment pervades The Pleasures of Cooking for One, leavened with a practical approach to meal planning. There’s an elegance to Jones’s thrift. In her kitchen, there’s no such thing as a leftover—only delicious food already cooked, waiting to be transformed into another highly anticipated dish, and perhaps another. A chicken broiled with fresh herbs, for instance, makes a second appearance as Chicken Divan, then returns as cold chicken sandwiches or Minced Chicken on Toast, which she praises for its “simple, soothing flavor.” Turn to the chapter on soups and she’ll instruct you on what to do with the carcass and giblets, too.

But instruction as such is mercifully rare, supplanted by a spirit of collaboration and what’s-good-at-the-market improvisation. Jones treats her readers as adults, trusting us to know and care about what’s in our refrigerators, pantries, and on the shelves. She invites us to embellish the recipes as we see fit, observing that “you have only yourself to please. So you can indulge in a sudden whim.” Chapters on “Improvising with Vegetables, Salads, and Sauces,” “The Magic of Eggs—and the Seduction of Cheese,” and “Treats, Sweets, and Special Indulgences” make it clear that in this book, pleasure is an operative principle. With Jones in the kitchen, you may be cooking for one, but you’ve got a wise and generous companion in there with you. Who happens to be a terrific cook.

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  • Mariana de Saint Phalle September 21, 2011 at 11:45 am

    I admire Judith Jones, was a friend of Julia’s, love the subject and the book will be my Christmas present to myself as I will only have to double the recipe for the two of us and not have to do the mathematics of making the calculations to change a recipe for six down to two.I have always set the table for one when alone and have had some wonderful dinners in fancy restaurants where I order a”demi bouteille” and watch the people.I will also order it for Christmas presents.

  • drpatallen March 3, 2010 at 10:06 am

    Thanks for the review Susan and for introducing us to yet another way to embrace self-care. Actual malnutrition occurs in some women who live alone, especially if they are somewhat socially isolated. It was once called Tea and Toast syndrome and is a variation of failure to thrive. As part of the medical work we do, it is important to take a nutritional history and to offer concrete ways that women living alone can find joy in the selection of foods and in the preparation of simple but nutritious meals. This book will be a prescription that I will be happy to write.