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May 24, 2009

Food Friendly May: Alone in the Kitchen…With What?

Filed under: Books,Food — Twistie @ 8:30 am

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?


  1. I am more like Marcella Hazan in that I usually have no interest in cooking if there’s no one to feed but me. Cooking for others, I love. Cooking for just me seems like a waste of effort. Though I will occasionally cook something special for myself, more often if I am alone for dinner I will have something that requires no cooking at all, like a bowl of cereal, some cottage cheese with fruit, a PB&J sandwich, a bagel with cream cheese, or something along those lines. Or I’ll do something that requires minimal cooking, such as a scrambled egg sandwich with cheese on sourdough toast.

    Comment by Cat — May 24, 2009 @ 1:15 pm

  2. This struck a chord with me too! I’m an excellent cook but I don’t get to eat at home often. When I’m in Austin dinner usually consists of whatever Chef or Other Chef puts in front of me and when I’m in New York my sweet Andre –a chef at what is arguably the best restaurant in Manhattan– keeps me well fed.

    BUT when I DO get to cook for myself, I have a very specific ritual. It starts with going to Central Market to buy one of every vegetable that looks good and is in season, a bit of hard cheese, the more unrepentant the better, and maybe some cured meat-type product.

    I get home, prep the hard veg in a big bowl. In my 6 quart Le Creuset I’ll brown some butter and add a few thin slices of whatever cured meat I bought. Then I’ll add a few handfuls of the prepped stuff (the rest of the bowl goes in the fridge) and add some vermouth (I’ve got to use it for something) and sauté/steam until they’re al dente.

    Meanwhile, I’ll boil some fantastic pasta in salted water (I’m having a mezze penne moment right now). When the pasta’s done, I’ll drain, grind some salt and pour some olive oil over it and dump in the veg. In my favorite bowl I’ll pile some organic spring mix greens. Then I’ll scoop the pasta and veg on top, microzest some of the cheese (okay, a LOT of the cheese) and some lemon peel. A grinding of salt and pepper and I’m done.

    Then I curl up in my favorite chair, pour myself a glass of vihno verde (or if I’m splurging, a bottle of lemon-flavored Perrier) and –oh joy, oh bliss– read a few pages from an actual non-assigned, non-academic book!

    For dessert I eat a few long pieces of candied lemon rind (a delightful byproduct of the lemon simple syrup I make for cocktails and lemonade).

    Then each night for the rest of the week I add more veg and cheese to the pasta and eat it hot, cold or indifferent.

    Comment by Plumcake — May 24, 2009 @ 1:38 pm

  3. Actually, Cat, that scrambled egg sandwich sounds beyond delicious to me right now! I may go make myself one.

    Comment by Twistie — May 24, 2009 @ 2:20 pm

  4. After a long day at the office I don’t like coming home to cook. I would rather cook on the weekends when I have time to really enjoy it. So for me, during the week I keep good proscuitto or soprasetta on hand with briney olives, cornichones, brie or soft goat cheese and those little baby grape tomatoes. If I’m lucky it’s watermelon season and I’ll go to town on that for dinner. But my guilty pleasure is this little local place – they have the very best oysters on the planet and a dozen (or two) are sheer perfection.

    Comment by Mel — May 24, 2009 @ 4:02 pm

  5. hamburger, grilled to perfection, topped with sharp cheddar cheese, two strips of bacon, a little mayo, salt and pepper, with an untoasted bun with just a smear of creamy peanut butter. Heaven.
    Husband cannot stomach this, so I dine on this when alone.

    Comment by kimboolah — May 24, 2009 @ 8:05 pm

  6. Cat, te only difference between you and me is that Iusually fry the egg. :)

    Comment by Beth C. — May 25, 2009 @ 12:37 am

  7. I love eating fried rice with sausages, bacon, eggs and ketchup. I also curl up on the sofa and watch Buffy. “Once more with feeling”, and yes, I do sing all the songs.
    The husband doesn’t know this.

    Comment by Cara — May 25, 2009 @ 4:59 am

  8. @ Plummy: Sounds yum! I should have known you’d do something classy yet decadent.

    @ Mel: I’ve put together nearly the precise same plate more than once.

    @ kimboolah: You had me up until the peanut butter.

    @ Cara: In my case it’s more likely to be Never Kill a Boy on the First Date, and Mr. Twistie is sadly aware of this.

    Comment by Twistie — May 25, 2009 @ 10:43 am

  9. Mr Factotum does not eat the following:

    1. Non-green beans
    2. Anything ending in -erry
    3. Peanut butter
    4. He does not like most fruits
    5. Canned tuna

    Therefore, when he is gone, which is frequently, as his job demands a lot of travel, I enjoy non-elaborate, fast suppers of any of the above. I like an apple with peanut butter, a big salad with pinto beans, raisins and apples, a big bowl of cherries, a can of tuna. Not all of those, of course, but one. I eat early and quickly and then return to my book.

    Mr Factotum, on the other hand, is a ritual eater, so when he is home, we have a big, elaborate meal with wine (granted, we often watch a movie while we eat) that starts late, takes forever and drives me crazy. I have to admit I enjoy the efficiency of eating what I want and getting it over with when he is gone.

    Comment by class factotum — May 25, 2009 @ 11:13 am

  10. I typically only cook on Saturdays, holidays, or vacation days, since I don’t get home from work until late, and then I’ll cook for my husband and I. When I cook and I’m alone, it’s normally Ramen. I’m a terribly lazy cook when it comes to being alone! Sometimes, I’ll chop up fruits or veggies, but normally, it’s just ramen, or a plate full of pickles and a stiff drink.

    Comment by BrieCS — May 26, 2009 @ 1:15 pm

  11. I tend to experiment in the kitchen without my roommate’s watchful eye (he claims he’s the better cook! gag!!). So if something explodes or doesn’t turn out right, I can throw it out without incident.

    I usually cook well when I’m by myself, or it’s simple things, like cereal or eggs and toast. Most of the time it’s Ramen (yum). Or sardines with Crystal Hot Sauce and crackers (gotta be Crystal!!!). Or my fav thing, if I feel like throwing down: large buttermilk biscuits with baked sliced tomato, mushroom, and onion with sage, lemon pepper and some oragno, with drizzled olive oil. Yuuuum. For some variety, I throw eggplant into the mix. Now that’s some good cookin’! Throw some wine into the mix and it’s a party for one, woot.

    But I’ve eaten hummus straight from the container for a week and called it dinner. Ugh! I think nachos and cheese with red/black beans was a better dinner for a week (yeah, I’m a lazy cook).

    Comment by Kat — May 29, 2009 @ 1:29 pm

  12. When I’m home alone,I dont really cook..I more just nibble..I might make a sandwhich,eat part of that,not want it,have some chips,ect.I usualy eat more than i should..I always seem to Drink lemonwater when im by myself..I drink when my family is home,but i always seem to start off when someone isnt there..and as for rituals,its like yours Twisty,/i curl on the couch,put on the Tv,the dogs are right there,because I have food,and just sing really loud and watch tv and eat

    Comment by JSteele — June 14, 2009 @ 9:12 pm

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