I have just read a book about eating alone. It is a collection of essays from food writers and well-known people about what they eat when they are home alone or dining solo in restaurants. As might be expected, their choices are sometimes weird in the extreme. They indulge in secret food fetishes and gorge on childhood favorites, they invent fantastic stews and experiment with exotic spices. Or, they open a can of refried beans and eat them cold out of the can. Just the sort of thing you (oh, come on, admit it!) or I do when we are alone.
I have lived alone for almost ten years. Although I share meals several times a week with my family, most of my meals are just me, myself and I. To make things clear, eating alone (or being alone) is not my problem. What I hate is cooking alone.
I still love to cook, and spend a lot of time poring over recipes on the wonderful cooking blogs on the Web, or in magazines and Sunday supplements. I keep up with the latest trends and techniques (sous vide, foams), exotic ingredients (hoja santa, malanga), adventurous and daring combinations of foods ( guacamole with Dungeness crab, apples and coconut vinegar ) and various foreign cuisines which catch on with the public for a while and are then replaced by the next hot trend. I like to try new recipes, but I do not go far afield, sticking mostly to tried and true ingredients and techniques. Can't get most of that new, trendy stuff here in Lakeport, anyway.
But when I do cook, it is for my family. I have little interest in sweating over a hot stove to produce something just for me. In the first place, after I finish eating, I do not want a lot of pots and pans and dishes sitting around my kitchen. As I wrote in an earlier blog, I do not do dishes at night, and when I finish eating, I want to rinse off a plate and a glass and be done.
So I often do what some of the essayists in the book do: I open a can of something and eat it, as is. I love corn, and while it is in season I have an ear of corn-on-the-cob almost every day. But the rest of the year, I will sometimes open a can of Green Giant kernels and eat them cold (but not out of the can) with a slice of buttered bread. I like baked beans the same way. Hot or cold. Tomato soup is good with saltines and butter, and there is just one pot to wash. Cream-of- Anything Campbell's soup heated up with a can of chopped clams. I love canned red salmon, plain, with maybe some left-over salad or a sliced cucumber. Once in awhile, I will get ambitious and cook a full recipe of Swedish meatballs, say, and store them in the freezer. Pull out two or three, heat up some McCormick's brown gravy and boil a potato and I'm good to go. You understand that this is a confessional, nothing held back. I was comforted by some of the stories in the book: I am not the only one!
I have some standards. I do not eat things straight out of cans. I do not eat standing up by the kitchen sink. I do not eat TV dinners (except when I had the shingles), and I always use a place setting. Etiquette gets bent a little, of course. I usually cut everything up into bite-size bits before I begin, because I read or do acrostics or watch the News Hour while I am eating, and I do not want to be distracted. This is the antithesis of what food means in the social sense...the gathering around a communal board to share and enjoy the loving preparation of nature's bounty and so on. This is just to stuff in some nutrients to keep the engine running.
Confession: I have not been entirely candid about eating out of containers. I eat Ben and Jerry's New York Super Fudge Chunk right out of the tub. Nobody around to see and it saves washing a bowl.
The book is "Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant", edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler, and published by Riverhead Books.