Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone Edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler
Riverhead Trade, July 2008
Paperback 288 pp., ISBN: 9781594483134
All of my roommates are out. I decide to have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner because a student of mine was eating one as she walked into class. I remembered just how delicious that simple snack of three ingredients can be. Lacking bread, I pick up a half eaten box of saltines, leave a note for whoever’s food I am stealing (sorry, will replace ASAP), grab the PB and the J from the fridge, a knife from the drawer, and settle down on the couch.
Constructing my little sandwiches, I finish that box of saltines in about ten minutes. That’s when my meal dissolves into popping alternating spoonfuls of peanut butter and jelly into my mouth. Which dissolves into eating Bon Maman strawberry jam straight from the jar until 30 Rock is over and my teeth ache.
In my defense, I would argue that Jenni Ferrari-Adler, and the authors she includes in her anthology Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone told me that it was OK. When she is alone, Jenni admits to making a meal out of a half a loaf of bread spread with tahini and honey. Ann Pachett feasts on oatmeal for dinner, and Jeremy Jackson relishes a single can of black beans, spooned over cornbread. M.F.K. Fisher, the doyenne of all food writing, often ate canned tomato soup and crackers for dinner (albeit with a nice glass of French sherry on the side). Take that, mom!
But don’t be misled. This book left me inspired rather than appeased. Each essay in this delightful anthology is a love song to food. Phoebe Nobles chronicles eating asparagus every day for two months, and loving it. She calls herself an asparagus superhero. More than simply serving as an essay that moms everywhere might show to their reluctant children, Phoebe’s account of her love affair with asparagus is hilariously persistent. She steams, roasts, grills, and boils the vegetable. She eats the tender stalks raw, right out of the ground.
The essays also touch on the questions: what should I make? And how much? Should I make an elaborate dish, or is that indulgent? Steve Almond cooks for one, but hopes that someone will come over and join him. He makes an ethnically ambiguous dish he calls quesaritos, waiting for the knock on the door. He taps into a theme touched on by many of the writers in this book, namely the loneliness of eating alone. But loneliness can grow into joy, even self-discovery. Jami Attenberg takes herself out to an indulgent sushi dinner, where she orders and tips big, because her boyfriend will not. Beverly Lowry listens to the radio as she eats bowl after bowl of soup during her nights alone in Buffalo. She likes soup, and no one is there to tell her to do otherwise.
This book illuminates what it is to “eat alone.” While food is arguably better shared, and cooking for other people can be a unique, divine expression of love for those we feed, don’t we need to love ourselves too? Why would we settle for a dining experience that is anything less than what we would share with others? Paula Wolfert realizes that she can combat her resistance to eating toute seule by making it a bit of a grand occasion. She purchases the best extra virgin olive oil she can find, along with a jar of fancy sea salt. Then she brings out a beautiful, terracotta plate she bought in Barcelona and eats her Pa amn Tomàquet, a Catalan dish of bread with tomato and ham, pretending she is back on a Mediterranean shore.
In short, these authors explore what it means to nourish ourselves, both in body and in mind. And they share some delicious recipes along the way. Coincidentally, Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant is the perfect companion to eating alone. Whether you keep it open next to your bowl of cereal (three kinds, mixed) or bring it along to a restaurant, you’ll forget that you’re not dining with a friend.
May 18, 2010