Sadly, most of the dinners around our apartment are one-person affairs, either rushed through before heading out the door or scarfed down after a too-long day. The lack of dining decorum has become, unfortunately, a reality for not only these solo nosh-sessions but many of the meals my boyfriend and I do get to enjoy together. Luckily, there are a few simple tricks that can help extend the enjoyment (and duration) of meals at home, making them as stress-free and special as possible.
1. Prepare Courses
Don't worry - you don't have to go all out, slaving over the stove to create a 12 course gastronomic feat. But one thing my boyfriend's taught me is that having a couple different courses can really help to extend the enjoyment of a meal. Plus, it gives you the sense of going out to eat, making the whole meal feel like more of a treat.
Try starting with an appetizer; it doesn't need to be complicated. Having a Latin-inspired entree? Put a couple handfuls of oven-warmed tortilla chips in a basket and fill a couple small bowls with different types of salsa - voila! Instant apps! Whipping up an Italian meal? Toast some bakery bread and serve the warm slices with garlic infused extra virgin olive oil. Going Mediterranean? Slice up some cucumber, tomato, bell peppers and olives for a Greek salad - just top with olive oil and some dried oregano. Stir fry on the menu? Start your meal with some warming miso soup, or steamed edamame, generously sprinkled with sea salt.
The addition of dessert is always welcome too. Just remember, you don't have to spend a ton of time on the final course for it to perfectly round out a relaxing meal. Try serving small scoops of high quality frozen treats like Larry and Luna's coconut ice cream or a couple yummy cookies with some hot tea. Fresh fruit or sorbet can make an excellent light dessert, especially in the summer months. When the weather's cold, an easy cobbler made in single serving ramekins is a great choice too.
2. Lighting is Key
If you're taking in a day-time meal, open up the curtains and let in the natural light. There's no need for harsh or even very bright lights when you're ready to dine. In the evening, or on any dark or dreary day, go ahead and light a candle or two. They'll add a cozy glow to your table and cast a flattering light on your fellow diners. Just remember to go for an unscented variety, as you don't want the smell influencing the perceived flavor of your food. A clean-burning candle made from soy wax is a great choice.
3. Pick a Playlist
Set your meal to a soundtrack that enhances the ambiance and encourages lingering without distracting or annoying. Instrumental tunes can make excellent dining music since there are no lyrics to get wrapped up in - and songs in other languages can be a great choice for the same reason. Whatever playlist you put together, make sure to keep the volume in check. Think classy restaurant level, not obnoxious happy hour bar level.
Not sure where to start? Here are some of my favorites (all of which can be found on youtube):
Paco de Lucia - Entre Dos Aguas
Yann Tiersen - Le Matin
Miles Davis - I Thought About You
Bill Evans and Jim Hall - Undercurrent (album)
Céu - Grains de Beaute
Céu - Sonhando
And a couple more photos for inspiration: