Thursday, August 26, 2010

Recommended read: Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant

Eating as a simple means of ending hunger is one of the great liberties of being alone, like going to the movies by yourself in the afternoon or, back in the golden days of youth, having a cigarette in the bathtub. It is a pleasure to not have to take anyone else's tastes into account or explain why I like to drink my grapefruit juice out of the carton. Eating, after all, is a matter of taste, and taste cannot always be good taste. The very thought of maintaining high standards meal after meal is exhausting. It discounts all the peanut butter that is available in the world.
~Ann Patchett, "Dinner for One, Please, James"

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone (2007)

edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler
641.561 ALO
Find it in the catalog!

This book includes an interesting selection of humorous, relatable, and even mouth-watering essays about eating alone. Many of the authors include recipes along with their essays. I was drawn to this book because of its unique viewpoint. What a brilliant topic! Once I read one essay I couldn't help but keep on reading-- I wanted to find out what types of foods these writers obsess over when nobody else is around. A common thread throughout many of the essays is the ritual involved in preparing and eating the same reliable meal, whether it be asparagus, black beans, spaghetti, or even Saltine crackers time and time again. A few of the writers in this collection are not in favor of solitary dining; Marcella Hazan, for example, writes about how she prefers to cook for people she loves and therefore feels awkward only cooking for herself.

Some highlights:

I was excited to see Haruki Murakami's short story, "The Year of Spaghetti," included because he is one of my favorite writers. He describes his spaghetti routine in 1971, when "every time I sat down to a plate of spaghetti--especially on a rainy afternoon--I had the distinct feeling that somebody was going to knock on my door."

In "The Legend of the Salsa Rosa" Ben Karlin eats a salsa rosa ("pink sauce") dish while studying abroad in Florence and finds it so delicious he sets out to perfect the recipe. When he returns to Italy years later and makes salsa rosa for a couple friends and their Italian bandmates, the Italian drummer requests him to teach the recipe to his mother.

In "Beans and Me" Jeremy Jackson writes about how as a college student he began his food obsession with canned black beans: "The black bean has the key to my heart. The black bean and me go way back." His black bean obsession continued when he took a teaching position at his alma mater. On the nights he spent alone in his small apartment the black beans were there to comfort him.  At the end of his essay is the simple recipe Black Beans for One, which I am going to try. Jackson recommends serving the black beans over rice (stir in cheese while rice is still hot for extra deliciousness) or split cornbread.

Colin Harrison writes about the Manhattan restaurants he has frequented during the past decades in "Out to Lunch." During the 1980s he enjoyed "the pleasures of eating alone at the VG Bar / Restaurant... where the enormous plate-glass windows were so close to the sidewalk that I felt as if I had my own box seat on the live theater that was the city." Several other writers talk about their experiences eating alone in restaurants; Erin Ergenbright remembers a demanding out-of-town customer who only eats at the Portland restaurant where Ergenbright waits tables.

Ann Patchett's "Dinner for One, Please, James" details meals she ate as a 26-year-old in a fellowship program in Massachusetts. Because she was low on funds and many restaurants were closed where she lived, her meals often consisted of Saltines. Similar to Marcella Harzan, Patchett writes about how she will go to great lengths to prepare big meals for others but won't spend much time on food cooked for herself. Patchett's reasoning behind this is that after all the work spent on a lavish meal she is too tired to eat the meal and would rather just clean herself up.

I highly recommend this book to readers interested in food and cooking, or anyone who's enjoyed/endured the experience of cooking for one. I think you will be able to find at least one essay, if not more, to relate to in this book.