It had never occurred to me that eating alone evoked such passionate opinions. Once upon a time in junior high, I remember eating alone. A lot. That's because there was this horrid girl I went to school with - let's call her Lara Vance - who ensured I never had any friends. Hm. Turns out I'm still weirdly bitter about it. Fortunately, Lara Vance grew up to be just as boring and vacuous as most of my other classmates (excluded are CD, JB, and JS. Yep, I think that's about it).
Remember that scene in Mean Girls where Lindsay Lohan eats in the bathroom? Oh, I've been there.
Alas, primary school ended, but at some point I learned to love eating alone. I still do.
What am I doing here? Oh, yes, of course - writing a review. Let's talk about the book now shall we? Editor Jenni Ferrari-Adler writes the intro with thoughtful prose, recounting her own experiences as a young graduate student, forced to live and eat alone. The editor doesn't offer a recipe, as many of the contributors do, only the suggestion of Fage Greek Yogurt (a favorite of yours truly) with a little honey mixed in. She signs off writing about the dinner parties she dreamed of hosting while living in seclusion.
Eating alone is, for some, a strongly emotional experience. While some of the writers spend their time eating alone wishing they were with someone, while others treasure their solo dining, such as Jeremy Jackson whose "Beans and Me" essay has him lying to well-meaning coworkers who invite him to dinner, just so that he can go home alone and eat his own beans and rice. Other writers (Holly Hughes' "Luxury") dream of being able to cook for just themselves, instead of catering to the demands of husbands and children.
The low point of the book comes from the always overly precious and irritatingly self-conscious Amanda Hesser, who managed to snag a husband after ridiculing him mercilessly during the 250 agonizing pages of Cooking for Mr. Latte (no, I'm not linking to it. If you want it, I'll happily send you my copy for free) for having the gaucheness to order a coffee drink with *gasp* milk after dinner. The horror! Fortunately, one can breeze through Hesser's oh so poignant recalling of her last lonely night as a single girl, all alone in the big city and eating truffled eggs on toast, to more mature writers.
Anyone who prides themselves in being a seasonal eater will laugh along with Phoebe Nobles' "Asparagus Superhero." We all know what it's like to wait and wait for something to come into season, only to find our commitment to it flagging after a few weeks.
I loved Courtney Eldridge's "No Thanks," which finds her the looked-down-upon girlfriend of the son of a famous food writer. Her boyfriend sneers to discover she was raised on canned food. This is how Ms. Hesser's husband might feel if he were in touch with his emotions.
The always-simple writing of Haruki Murakami paints a picture of a lonely man, making pot after pot of spaghetti during one long year.
Of course, any book of food essays must include something by MFK Fisher, whose "A is for Dining Alone" writes of the trials of being a food writer, and therefore never managing to find herself invited into anyone's home for dinner.
I had written an entire essay of my own, upon receiving this book (and before being influenced by it), about my senior year in college, and how I loved eating alone but was frequently too poor to do it. Unfortunately, I then got to Rattawut Lapcharoensap's "Instant Noodles," wherein he decries rich college kids who pretend to be poor and then go to their nice warm houses on breaks, and decided I was just being a brat.
I was surprised by Laura Calder's "The Lonely Palate." She insists no one can possibly enjoy eating alone. Doesn't everyone eat alone? Breakfast? How about lunch at work? How sad to think one can never just be alone, with peace and quiet.
Personally, I'll just say this: I love to eat alone. In fact, many of the recipes on this website are meals for just me. Of course, I'm not cooking them just for me, I cook them for all of my readers, and when I say this, I don't want to sound precious or pandering: I spend a lot of time thinking about what to make and what I think you, my readers, will make and enjoy. So, while I'm frequently eating alone, I still want everything to be beautiful because I'm not just cooking for one.
Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant is a great group of essays, which can be read in any order but are also intuitively arranged; Ferrari-Adler does a great job, and I love that she compares arranging the essays to making a mix tape (please tell me we've all had that pleasure). Most of the essays contain recipes, and it's great voyeurism to see what these great food writers eat when no one's looking. Don't skip the recipes - most of them are very amusing on their own. Of course, this is a book about the private lives of writers, so reader discretion is advised - the book is laced with light illicit drug use and the overindulging of spirits, which basically means mom, you can't read it.
Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant will be released July 19th.
At any rate, here's my recipe for what I eat when no one's looking:
2 ounces spaghetti (oh, who am I kidding, no one's looking, right? 5 ounces spaghetti)
Really good extra virgin olive oil (like, the $25 a bottle kind)
red pepper flakes
freshly cracked black pepper
crunchy sea salt
Boil spaghetti in heavily salted boiling water. Drain and place in a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Curl up on the sofa with a good book and maybe some wine. If desired, you can replace the olive oil with butter, and add some freshly grated Parmesan cheese.