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BY KATHLEEN PURVIS
THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER
It was the milk that first got my attention.
At the end of the week, there was still some left, a final cup or so sloshing around the bottom of the jug.
Then I started to notice more subtle signs: The lunch meat that stayed in the meat drawer. The bread that didn't disappear faster than I could say "inhale." The peanut butter--oh, the luxury of peanut butter that was right there in its jar when I needed it.
It finally started to sink in: I'm an empty nester now. A family cook with no family to feed. But I am still a cook, someone who needs--even craves--time in the kitchen.
So how do I adjust to this new life? How do I become a serves-two cook in a serves-six world?
I needed advice. So I turned to Ben and Karen Barker, who downsized a lot more than their own kitchen last year. They closed their award-winning restaurant, the Magnolia Grill in Durham, so they could spend more time with their grown sons and grandchildren.
"It's mundane on the surface, but dramatically wonderful," Ben said.
They still cook every day, Karen insists. A winner of the James Beard Foundation's award for the nation's best pastry chef, she doesn't bake much these days. But she'll often make a batch of pizza dough so she and Ben can split a small pizza with a salad a couple of times a week.
And Ben, who once ran his restaurant's walk-in refrigerator as "a no-waste facility," has learned to go to the Carrboro Farmers Market and only come back with a couple of zucchini or a single bunch of kale.
"We think in two to three-day clips," Karen says. "It's planned, but it leaves a little room for spontaneity."
LEARNING TO SHOP
It's difficult to know for sure how many of us cooking for two are empty nesters who have to adjust after cooking for families. But it's a good bet that the 76 million members of the baby boom generation, who are now between 52 and 65, are having an effect.
That age group is expected to control 52 percent of the $706 billion spent on groceries by 2015. And you can bet many in our trend-setting generation won't settle for two-for-one specials on Lean Cuisine.
SHRIMP AND SNOW PEA PAELLA
Makes 2 servings
cup chicken broth
Directions: 1. Heat broth in small saucepan over medium heat. 2. Add saffron; reduce heat to low and keep it warm. 3. Place olive oil in medium-size skillet over medium-high heat and add sausage. Saute sausage until just starting to brown. 4. Add rice to skillet and stir to coat with the oil. Add broth and clam juice. Bring to boil. 5. Reduce heat to medium low, cover and simmer 15 minutes. 6. Uncover and add snow peas and shrimp, pushing shrimp down into rice. Add more broth if rice looks too dry. 7. Cover and cook until shrimp are cooked, 5 to 8 minutes. Serve.
LASAGNE FOR 2
Makes 2 servings
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 ounces ricotta (whole-milk or part-skim)