What do you eat when you’re alone? Are you the kind of person who fixes yourself elaborate, delicious meals, caring for yourself as you would for anyone else? Do you eat odd foods, satisfy personal cravings that you don’t want anyone to know about? Perhaps you live alone, and eating alone is routine; you have to find ways to stay out of a rut or enjoy yourself alone in a restaurant. Or do you revert to comfort foods from childhood or college: beans out of a can, Saltines with American cheese, the satisfying heft of a fried peanut butter sandwich?
That is the topic of Alone in the Kitchen With An Eggplant, edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler. She’s collected essays from authors as diverse as Nora Ephron (who talks about how she always craves mashed potatoes after a breakup), M.F.K. Fisher, who hated eating alone but often had to because her friends “wouldn’t dare” serve her, Ben Karlin of The Daily Show fame, and many others. Everyone has to eat alone sometime, and apparently everyone has something to say about it.
I chose this book by accident. I saw it in my library’s catalog as being by Laurie Colwin, and when it turned out just to have an essay by Laurie Colwin in it, I picked it up anyway. What a happy accident! This book is charming, funny, wry, and well-put-together. Some of the essays are nostalgic, others extremely funny (my favorite in this vein has to be Dan Chaon’s story of wild and woolly chili recipes that once involved psychotropic mushrooms and caused a quasi-mystical experience, or perhaps Phoebe Nobles’s lyrical paean to asparagus), others bitter, others matter-of-fact (like Holly Hughes’s rhapsody about what she would eat if only she ever got the chance to eat alone. As a mom of two small kids, I can sympathize.) I was skeptical about the book at first, I admit. It seemed an odd topic — not something terribly serious or terribly interesting. But it says more about people than you’d think. I’m flagging this as another great gift for someone on your list, or perhaps for yourself. Enjoy.
And just in case you were wondering, here’s what I eat when I’m alone. Please add your recipes in the comments!
Summer Meal For When I’m Alone
Boil water for pasta. While it’s boiling, put a nice pat of butter in a skillet. Add a chopped onion, a sliced red or yellow pepper, and a sliced zucchini. Don’t forget to add the pasta when the water boils. When the vegetables are close to tender, add as many big shrimp — tiger-tail shrimp, if you can get them — as you think you can eat. Cook until they are pink, but not more, because otherwise they will be rubbery and you’ll be sorry. Drain the pasta and drizzle with olive oil. Top with the vegetables and shrimp, and grate parmesan on top. Eat from a bowl in front of some television show or movie no one else in your house will watch. Bon appetit!