Living alone does not mean a person has to be lonely, according to Naperville resident JoAnn Wesley Hassler.
Many people who have lived with children, spouses or others experience life changes that put them in a new situation. Although a single lifestyle can pose some challenges, it also has many perks, she says.
In addition to being a real estate agent with ReMax professionals, Hassler is certified in spiritual direction and journal writing. She combines these skills with her own experiences to lead the class “Living Alone and Loving It” at Benedictine University’s Center For Life Long Learning at the National Moser Center for Adult Learning in Naperville.
“I’m both a teacher and a facilitator in the class, because the people in the class share things they have learned also,” Hassler says.
Topics covered in the class range from financial issues to getting things repaired. There are many opportunities for networking with class members, sharing their own personal finds. Hassler also leads a separate class on traveling alone through the center.
One topic not covered in the class that can be a challenge for singles is cooking for one. Hassler has come up with several strategies that work for her.
“I still like to cook,” she says. “But after years of fixing dinner for my ex-husband and family, it is nice not to have that pressure of having to prepare a meal. But I still need to eat.”
Many grocery stores offer interesting prepared meals, which are a good option, but Hassler feels that “eating is sometimes about companionship.” She often relies on what she calls her “I-have-a-chicken” approach.
On her way home from a busy work day, she stops and buys a roasted chicken. She then starts dialing friends whom she thinks might be free for dinner to let them know that she has a chicken.
“I usually find someone who has a salad or some pasta or some other item, and we get together and share the meal,” she says.
Another strategy is to invite a friend or friends over to cook a meal together.
“We open a bottle of wine and prepare a meal together that we share,” she says. “It is always a pleasant experience.”
When there isn’t time to contact friends, Hassler has found that a roasted chicken can be a great meal starter.
“I take all of the meat off the bones and package it into servings,” she explains.
She then cooks some pasta and opens a jar of pre-made sauce. She places the cooked pasta into an oven-safe dish, tops it with a little sauce, some chicken, a little more sauce and finally some cheese.
“Ten minutes in the oven and I have a lovely little casserole for one,” she says.
Leftover chicken and cooked pasta can both be frozen for later meals.
Hassler tries to go beyond chicken for her meals. When she encounters a new dish during her travels, she tries to make it herself at home.
When she was traveling in Turkey, she discovered that Japanese eggplant is delicious in a ratatouille. She experimented at home and came up with her own version that keeps in the refrigerator for several days and is also delightful served cold as an appetizer.
She recently returned from France where she fell in love with scallops. She learned how to cook them and has added this simple yet tasty dish to her meal plan.
“Fish is a nice thing to cook for one,” she says. “It is good for you, is easy to find in single portions and cooks very quickly. I like to have salmon just seared with some wine, too.”
Hassler still enjoys cooking for family and friends on occasion but has also found that cooking for one can be a joy also. She shares her simple yet delicious recipe for scallops as well as her eggplant ratatouille.
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 large cloves garlic roughly chopped
2 large onions sliced
2 medium red or green bell peppers cored, seeded and sliced
2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
3 medium Japanese eggplants cut into 1/2-inch thick rounds
3 medium zucchini cut into 1/2-inch thick rounds
12-ounce jar salsa
2 teaspoons salt to taste
Sauté garlic in olive oil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed pot until the garlic starts to brown and becomes fragrant. Turn heat to low. Add onions and bell peppers. Cover the pot with a lid and let the onions wilt, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.
Remove the lid and sauté the vegetables until all the water released has evaporated and the onions start to brown. Add canned tomatoes and salsa. Stir to combine and cover with a lid and allow the vegetables to cook until tender, about 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
When the vegetables are soft, remove the lid and continue to simmer until the excess liquid has evaporated and the stew is thick. Adjust the salt and pepper to taste and serve with crusty bread. Can also be served cold with flat bread as an appetizer.
Pan Seared Scallops
2 tablespoons canola, peanut or safflower oil
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons yellow mustard
A squeeze of fresh lemon
Rinse scallops and pat them dry with paper towels before cooking. If scallops have too much moisture on the outside, they won’t brown properly. Cut large scallops in half to assure even cooking. Season with salt and pepper.
Use a heavy skillet for browning like a cast iron or stainless steel skillet. Heat oil in pan over medium-high heat. Add scallops. Don’t crowd the scallops in the pan or they will end up steaming. Cook them in batches, if necessary. Cook scallops about 1-3 minutes or until browned and opaque, turning once. Minutes count — cook scallops just until done or until they are opaque because they can become tough quickly.
Mix together mayonnaise, mustard and lemon. Serve as a dipping sauce with the scallops.
Tags: Naper Eats