Let’s Talk About That Whole “Cooking For One” Thing

There are a lot of great things about being single and living on your own for the first time -- I moved to my first “real” apartment in February after years of furnished sublets, and I’ve loved the process of planning and furnishing a space, being able to have groups of friends over for dinner without checking with a roommate beforehand, and just generally feeling like I’ve made a worthwhile step in life.

But cooking for yourself? When you realize you’re a complete novice in the kitchen, that just sucks. Looking at online recipes (“Serves 4”), food delivery services (this is more kale than I need!), and those recipe-tutorial food-in-a-box start-ups that are all the rage right now (they’ll send you ingredients for a minimum of two people), it seemed like no company out there was catering to people who are cooking only for themselves. There were frustrated moments in the Whole Foods produce aisle where I thought this must be some way the world was punishing those of us who take the “liberating” move of living on our own rather than choosing to settle down with partners.

Well, to be fair, I do not technically live on my own, as I have a wonderful cat, but she won’t eat anything but Blue Wilderness kitty chow so we can’t exactly share meals. I’m also in a committed relationship, but we’re long-distance, and FedEx-ing him my dinner leftovers packed in dry ice isn’t particularly cost-effective. In previous apartments, though, I’d been wasting a ton of money on take-out. So I had to figure something out, and all signs pointed to getting good not just at cooking, but at managing a home-dining schedule with minimal waste, minimal agony, and maximum savings.

Getting in the habit was neither easy nor always self-explanatory. But here are the basics I learned:

1. Find a good tutorial on how to cook for yourself, and at least study it, even if you don’t follow it. There are a lot of “cooking for one” recipes out there but a dearth of instructionals for clueless urbanites regarding how we can plan for a few days and also easily pack lunch for the office. Consequently, I found BuzzFeed’s Clean Eating Challenge to be surprisingly insightful with how it recommended making things like chicken, rice, and quinoa in batches for multiple meals. I only followed it for a few days rather than the proposed three weeks because it was pretty heavy on some ingredients I don’t eat (I’m one of the weirdos out there who can’t stand eggs) and didn’t offer many substitutions, but the whole structure of it helped me start planning meals by the week and helped me start thinking differently about grocery shopping. A good tutorial will also help you get the hang of what you can freeze to prolong its lifespan and what you can’t. 

2. Know what kitchen equipment you need, and invest in it. Seriously. A few hundred dollars on good pots and pans, knives, tableware, and storage containers for leftovers (that one is key) will save you a ton of money in the future. Try Epicurious’ “Your First Kitchen Checklist.”

3. Consider the dishwasher. Are you apartment-hunting and thinking about what amenities you’re willing to shell out for and which ones you aren’t? If you’re weighing comparatively priced options and one prospective apartment has a dishwasher while the other doesn’t, consider going for the one with the dishwasher even if it means a smaller space. The dishwasher in my apartment has been a godsend when it comes to cooking while maintaining a busy work and social life, especially when it comes to tougher-to-clean equipment like juicer and blender components. My previous (shared) apartment had a doorman, a laundry room, and bike storage, none of which I have now, but swapping them for the dishwasher has proven to be a more than worthwhile tradeoff.

4. There are other people out there who would love to eat your food. I thought it was a little bit sad and borderline weird the first time I called up a friend and said, “Hey, I have some extra chicken that I need to cook tonight. Want to come over for dinner?” It’s just not the sort of thing that people seem to do in a city like New York where you assume everyone has more impressive plans than you do. But a few hours later I had delicious food with zero gone to waste, a great conversation about narwhals, and a shared bottle of wine that a now-closer-than-before friend brought over.

Once you get the hang of cooking for one it becomes more seamless than "Seamless." 

Image credit: Shutterstock

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New fossils suggest human ancestors evolved in Europe, not Africa

Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.

Surprising Science
  • The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
  • Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
  • These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.

Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.

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