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‘Table for Two’ Embraces the Romance of Everyday Cooking

Treated with care, even beans on toast can feel special

Early in the pandemic, when I went from cooking a few meals a week to a few meals a day, I quickly realized that I had to figure out how to keep the spark alive. Not only did cooking and I have to interact in the most mundane way, like partners passing in a shared apartment, but, for both our sakes, we also had to find the joy in being together constantly. Cooking is like any relationship: If it’s not treated with care, and if effort isn’t met with a sense of reciprocity, then it withers, turning stagnant and resentful.

I spent these early days, when I wasn’t going to restaurants, thinking about the idea of being my own restaurant. I began to incorporate those little things I’d once considered distinctly restaurant pleasures — the nice bread with perfectly soft butter with flakes of sea salt on top, the cloth napkins and candlelight, the fun new wine, even the pleasantly restrained shaved fennel salad — into my daily cooking. I learned that not every meal is date night; some dinners are just dinner. But even a regular dinner deserves a touch of the romantic.

Bre Audrey Graham’s recently released debut cookbook Table for Two: Recipes for the Ones You Love, was born out of a similar impulse, having been conceptualized during the pandemic. “I don’t believe romance should be just reserved for romantic love,” Graham writes in the introduction. “In my eyes, it is something we can imbue every occasion with, not only for a girlfriend/husband/partner.” There is romance in cooking for someone else but also romance in cooking for just ourselves.

I first became familiar with Graham’s work through Instagram, where I’d cobbled together a feed of people who treated their home cooking the way I wanted to approach my own: by finding the pleasure in it, not just the rote necessity. I found kinship in Graham’s small efforts toward everyday delight, like strawberries served with whipped cream and salted toffee almonds.

Table for Two is thoughtful and intimate, full of little reflections and stories a friend might tell you over a wine-filled meal, like the time Graham sliced her finger on an elaborate dinner for a man she was dating, only for him to cancel the same day. In one essay, Graham writes about an early-2020 dinner where she set the table for herself and her boyfriend, Joe, with folded napkins, roses in single-stem vases, and candles. To her, this act not only marked the end of a day full of Zoom calls but also created a sense of intention, even when the meal was “just beans on toast or a bowl of rigatoni that you’ve whipped up in five minutes.”

Naturally, Table for Two offers some elaborate spreads — there’s one menu of crab cakes, spinach gratin, steak au poivre, and crêpes suzette that I could imagine making to celebrate good news — but where I think it excels most is in its simplest, most everyday meals, as in the book’s first section, “Easy to Impress.” These are dishes like canned artichoke and black pepper fettuccine, honey chorizo and pea toasts, a one-pan chicken and zucchini piccata, and a summer-worthy four-ingredient icebox cake — nothing terribly fancy or involved, just simple ingredients treated with attention and care. In Graham’s brown butter and sage scrambled eggs, it’s just the little bit of extra effort of browning butter and crisping sage that makes everyday eggs — still cooked in just one pan — feel more special and thoughtful.

To Graham, this is the goal: “Fight for delight in all you eat and with everyone you love,” she writes. I think about a line from a poem by Christopher Citro: I love you. I want us both to eat well. In Table for Two, Graham reminds us how much love lives in the act of everyday cooking; it’s on us to draw out the romance.

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