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Alone in the Kitchen

But if time were money, I was rich. There were hours, at least in the beginning, everywhere I looked. In addition to time, I had a galley kitchen, a shelf of cookbooks, two heavy pots, and a chef's knife. I lived near the farmers' market, a cooperative grocery, and a butcher shop. My bicycle had a basket. Which is all to say it was an excellent domestic setup.

But not only did I like to cook for others, I liked to cook with others. Would cooking alone be depressing? More or less depressing than living on sandwiches? More or less depressing than takeout?

"A potato," I told my brother, when he asked what I'd eaten for dinner. "Boiled, cubed, sautéed with olive oil, sea salt, and balsamic vinegar."

"That's it?" he asked. He was one to talk. He'd enjoyed what he called "bachelor's taco night" for three dinners and counting.

"A red cabbage, steamed, with hot sauce and soy sauce," I said the following night.

"Do you need some money?" he asked.

But it wasn't that, or it wasn't only that. I liked to think of myself not as a student on a budget, but rather as a peasant, a member of a group whose eating habits, across cultures, had long appealed to me.

"Are you full?" my brother asked.

"Full enough," I said.

"What about protein?"

Later that week, I diced two onions and sautéed them until they turned translucent and transformed the kitchen with their comforting smell. Flanked by books and magazines, I ate straight out of the pot at the table, my knees curled up to my chest. Aimee Mann sang from the stereo: One is the loneliest number. Everything, I realized, growing light-headed, anything was delicious. In the next weeks I continued on in phases, first everything raw, then everything baked. I prioritized condiments. What wasn't delicious with Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce?

One night, I invited a few people from my program to dinner. For them, I made a salad with romaine lettuce, radishes, string beans, scallions, homemade croutons, and goat cheese. For them, I served dessert—pistachio nuts and chocolate chips in ramekins, a combination discovered via random out-of-cabinet consumption. At my nudging, surely, the conversation turned to the topic of cooking for ourselves. One woman's solitary dish was spaghetti carbonara. It satisfied her cravings for bacon, eggs, and pasta, and it made good leftovers. One man mixed couscous with canned soup. We agreed that dividing recipes by four was depressing, and that in cooking for ourselves, presentation went out the window.

When I considered it later, though, I had to admit I liked my personal presentation: the red pot with the flat wooden serving spoon, a half sheet of paper towel for a napkin. I liked my mismatched thrift-store plates, chopsticks, and canning jars. I even liked, I'm sorry to say, eating sandwiches while walking to class.

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Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant
Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant

Jenni Ferrari-Adler

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