Ferrari-Adler, Jenni. Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant. New York: Riverhead Books, 2007.
Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant is the title of the book I just finished reading. It’s a collection of essays about eating alone. The writers describe the meals they eat at home by themselves when no one’s looking, as well as their experiences dining alone in restaurants. Many of them are excellent cooks, but when they’re on their own, they may not bother to cook at all. Picture writer Ann Patchett standing in her kitchen eating saltine crackers or Nora Ephron in bed with a bowl of mashed potatoes. On the other hand, Holly Hughes daydreams about salmon dinners eaten without her husband and three kids interrupting with complaints that they would rather have macaroni and cheese. Then there’s Laurie Colwin, who thrived on eggplant, fried or stewed, hot or cold. MFK Fisher, known for her food writing, found that her friends were reluctant to feed her because they couldn’t meet her standards, so she’d wind up at home eating a can of soup. It’s a delicious book, beautifully written, often funny in that way of bittersweet truth. It also includes recipes.
Since I lost my husband, I have thought a lot about eating alone. (See my essay “Learning to Feed Myself,” published in Voicecatcher.) To be honest, I love cooking for myself. It has its challenges. Produce sometimes rots before I can eat it all, and every time I buy salsa, it grows fur in the jar. How do I buy enough but not too much?
I usually end up eating the same entree for three or four days because it’s difficult to cook just one portion. For some people, this is a bad thing. My father, for example, doesn’t do leftovers. He will actually throw away food if his caregivers make too much. Not me. I like what I cook, and having leftovers means less work the next day. I often announce out loud to the dog and the air, “This restaurant serves great grub.”
I believe in eating three good meals a day. I would never be happy with a few crackers eaten on the run. Nor am I likely to be skinny as long as I stay healthy. My tastes run to ordinary comfort food, although I experiment occasionally. When I got divorced ages ago and moved into my own apartment, I couldn’t wait to make myself a tuna noodle casserole. Somehow over the years, the men in my life have never loved this conglomeration of canned tuna, mushroom soup, noodles, peas, Swiss cheese, and slivered almonds, but I could eat a bucket of it by myself. Add a salad, and there’s dinner.
I avoid packaged foods. I eat a lot of chicken, pork and fish. I’ll make myself a meatloaf and eat meatloaf sandwiches all week. Last night, I tried a recipe I saw on Facebook for Sausage and Apple Stuffed Acorn Squash (thanks, Wiley). I didn’t even know acorn squash was edible, but I tried it. If I failed, there was no one around to complain. But it was wonderful. I’ll be eating it for days. I served it with leftover broccoli into which I had thrown some leftover boiled potatoes, which sounds weird, but it tastes fine.
I like throwing things together. On nights when I’m out of meat, dinner might be just a big bowl of rice cooked with leftover vegetables, a handful of mixed nuts, and some cheese. I might wrap it all in a tortilla for fun. Or I might mix everything together in a salad. I can do whatever I want because I have no one else to please.
I bake for myself. Breakfast today was half a grapefruit and a big oatmeal-blackberry muffin. I have homemade peanut butter chocolate chip cookies in the cookie jar. Who does that? I do. I like my own cooking, I prefer to have control over the ingredients, and I don’t need to deprive myself just because there are no other humans on the premises.
I serve my meals on my blue and white Currier and Ives dishes at my dining room table, complete with a tablecloth and a cloth napkin. This week, I bought myself a dozen roses at the grocery store to decorate the table. Why not?
Some people hate to eat alone, but eating alone can be a treat. You can eat anything you want, however and whenever you want.
How about you? How often do you eat alone? What do you feed yourself? I’d love to read about it in the comments. And do check out this book. It’s delicious.