On a lonely evening in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Jenni Ferrari-Adler ate a boiled potato for dinner. The next night, a steamed cabbage with hot sauce and soy sauce. Then two sauteed onions, spooned straight from the pot. A preference for pickles and ice cream, “salty and sweet”, developed. Displaced from New York and lacking company, she grew contentedly eccentric in the privacy of her kitchen, and wondered if others did the same.
Ferrari-Adler plucked Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin from her bookshelf, and flipped to her piece “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant” to discover what she had to say on the subject:
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.
Encouraged, and curious to know what other edibles were being eaten sheepishly over sinks, she began to formulate the idea for a book, named for the eponymous essay by Colwin. The result is a collection of writings from many authors, some already published and many written expressly for this book, all on the topic of eating alone.
Nora Ephron discusses the crucial role of potatoes, crispy and then mashed, in her romantic affairs, and Marcella Hazan reveals what she craves when her husband (who calls her by the humble sobriquet mangia panini — “sandwich eater”) is out of town. Many of the essays negotiate the matter of significant others, whose absence — pointed or not — inspires these solitary suppers. On her last night as a single woman, Amanda Hesser makes truffled scrambled eggs, and spoons dulce de leche over vanilla ice cream. M F K Fisher, in “A is for Dining Alone”, laments her lack of evening invitations, but confesses that she has grown to prefer her own company:
This misanthropic attitude is one I am not proud of, but it is firmly there, based on my increasing conviction that sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged lightly.
Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant is a moreish book, best consumed at the dining room table when a more conventional companion can’t be found. My own partner will be working late tonight, and I’ve decided to stay in. There is a bowl of cinnamon sable cookie dough nestled in my refrigerator, and I plan to bake a dozen, and eat them off of the baking sheet one by one without using a plate.