catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 11 :: 2009.05.22 — 2009.06.05


Table for one, please

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant  (Riverhead, 2007) is a delightful collection of twenty-six essays (and several inspired recipes) about the topic of eating alone. If you’re afraid that stories of eating alone are inevitably about sad, lonely people sitting singly at a large table in a great dining hall, or standing in a kitchen holding an eggplant wondering, “What the heck do I do with this alien thing?” you need to read this book. Actually, everyone needs to read this book because all of us, at one time or another, will be hungry. And we will be alone. This book teaches its reader the unexpected joys of this situation.

Inspired by Laurie Colwin’s classic essay “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant,” Jenni Ferrari-Alder, surprised that no books existed on the topic of eating alone, decided to put one together. In the introduction she says, “If you choose to give this book to yourself, to keep it in your kitchen, my hope is that it will give you some company, some inspiration, and some recipes that require no division or subtraction. I hope it will remind you that alone and lonely are not synonymous; you will have yourself — and the food you love — for company.” And, I add, a book, if you’re one who likes to read while you eat.

Contributing authors include Phoebe Nobles, whose essay, “Asparagus Superhero,” is a hilarious account of her annual two-month binge on asparagus; Ben Karlin, whose piece “The Legend of the Salsa Rosa” had me stifling laughs on Amtrak, much to the confusion of my neighbor; and Colin Harrison, Jonathan Ames, Dan Chaon, and Nora Ephron. The essays vary in tone from serious to hilarious, from pleasantly nostalgic to “I’d rather eat alone than eat with my snobby ex-husband” (the premise of Courtney Eldridge’s essay). Overwhelmingly, they celebrate the joys of cooking and eating for one, the joys of dining alone, and the significance of self-care in it all.

Food books are popular these days. From Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food to Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle which tell us what to eat (real food) and what not to eat (processed food), and when (seasonally), and where (locally), Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant communicates how eating alone can be a creative act.  Being alone to eat-at home or at a restaurant-is a perfectly wonderful human thing to do.

In Laurie Colwin’s famous essay of the same name (published in her highly recommended collection of essays, Home Cooking, and included in this volume, of course), she says, “Dinner alone is one of life’s pleasures. Certainly cooking for oneself reveals man at his weirdest. People lie when you ask them what they eat when they are alone. A salad, they tell you. But when you persist, they confess to peanut butter and bacon sandwiches deep fried and eaten with hot sauce, or spaghetti with butter and grape jam.” Yum.

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