Dinner alone is one of life’s pleasures. Certainly cooking for oneself reveals man at his weirdest. People lie when you ask them what they eat when they are alone. A salad, they tell you. But when you persist, they confess to peanut butter and bacon sandwiches deep fried and eaten with hot sauce, or spaghetti with butter and grape jam.
So says Laurie Colwin in the title essay of Alone in the Kitchen With an Eggplant, a glorious compilation celebrating just the sort of culinary madness and culinary joy that come from dining solo.
Of course, not everyone lies when they say they eat something nice when by themselves. Several of the food professionals who contributed to the book actually take extra care when cooking just for themselves, while others share their deepest culinary peculiarities in these pages.
Jeremy Jackson awkwardly turns down a dinner invitation because he’d already picked out the can of black beans he intended to eat for dinner that night. Marcella Hazan confesses that she has no interest in cooking if there’s nobody to feed but her. Steve Almond explains that the only reason he cooks really good food when he’s alone is in hopes that someone will come along to share it.
Another theme that comes out is repetition/ritual in eating alone. Beverly Lowry’s essay, Making Soup in Buffalo, speaks wistfully of how in each place she moved to, she would start eating the same thing in the same way every night:
There was nothing I could do. The fact was, I wanted the same thing again and again. And so I yielded, bought the goods, took them home, cooked, and ate, accompanied usually by music, preferably a public radio station that played music I liked. And I am here to tell you, the pleasure never diminished. I was happy every time.
Even though it’s not how I eat alone, that bit of prose hits a chord with me. I think, perhaps, it’s the contentment.
I love cooking for others. I like to share what I like to cook. On the other hand, there’s a tiny part of me that lives for the times when I’m utterly alone; when it’s just me and that eggplant in the kitchen.
When I’m eating alone, I careen madly between Colwin’s freaky cuisine for one and the cooks/writers who speak of taking extra care when cooking for one. Some nights I’m contented with leftover Chinese take out, others I throw together a random platter of crackers, fruit, cheese, and lunch meats. Yet other nights, I’m in the kitchen from the early afternoon creating something spectacular for dinner, complete with carefully paired dessert. Most nights, though, I look for something that won’t take too very long, but that I would never serve up for Mr. Twistie.
There are dozens of things that Mr. Twistie either cannot or (more often) will not eat that I happen to love. Nights when I’m eating alone, I bring in fresh fish or game meats. I race for the prettiest eggplant I can find or a nice squash…or Brussels sprouts…or collard greens…or, well, about two thirds of the goodies waiting for me in the produce aisle.
Once dinner is ready, I do, however, have a ritual. I curl up on the sofa with my plate and watch either a movie or a couple episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (What? I love Buffy! Call me, Giles! We’ll have shepherd’s pie…or perhaps a rather interesting moussaka), and watch while I eat.
Next time, though, I may have to break with tradition and pull out this book at dinner time. In it, I’ll have more than two dozen sparkling dinner companions.
And they will also be eating alone.
How about you? Do you have solo cooking/dining rituals? If so, would you mind sharing?