Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant

How ironic, that in August I have been eating alone so much more frequently than usual. I ate a lot of airline meals while travelling alone for over a month; airline meals are described in this book as eating alone in a crowd, at the world's only tables designed for one. And now Anthony is away on a two and a half week trip and I am eating alone at home. While eating these recent solitary meals, I have been reading Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone, edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler. It is our August Kitchen Reader book, chosen by Anni of anjeme.

Whether by misanthropy or necessity, we all often find ourselves eating alone. The essays in this collection cover those who eat at restaurants solo, and those who fix food at home. There's a fair amount of discussion about why we tend to find eating alone especially uncomfortable. Restaurants, first of all, are not at all designed for a single eater. They revolve around the idea of company, mostly. One writer in this book (author Steve Almond) goes as far to say that all eating should revolve around others: "Eating alone isn't natural.... I happen to believe that humans were born to feed each other." But quite a few writers celebrate the idea of eating alone, whether in public or private.

It's so tempting to eat rubbish when I'm eating alone. Dinner can be just a whole wheat roll, a few veggie sticks, and a glass of milk. But several writers encouraged me to better things with their insightful ideas about eating alone. Mary Cantwell says of eating alone one night: "I think of it as the first [evening] I ever really spent with myself." Several other writers pick up the theme of how eating alone can enhance our self-confidence. Amanda Hesser comments: "I would force myself to cook to fortify my independence and to commit to a satisfying life on my own." Cooking for just yourself (or dining out alone) is a way of looking after yourself and edifying your sense of worth.

Even so, cooking for one can seem like a hassle. But I found a useful piece of advice from Laura Calder: make something from scratch that can be eaten from just one bowl. There are two reasons she mentions: if it can be eaten from one bowl, chances are you made it in one pot, hence it's convenient to cook and wash up. And secondly, A one-bowl supper can be eaten with one utensil (fork or spoon) and thus you can sit anywhere, such as on the couch, "rather than behind the candelabra at the far end of a table for twelve, like the last living member of a fallen dynasty." A one-bowl meal Calder's way is not intimidating or lonely.

So here I found myself, reading Alone in the Kitchen, with my legs curled under me, and a bowl of prawns stir fried with greens and mushrooms for dinner. Tonight I am very happily eating alone.

What do you eat when you eat alone?


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