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Health, Fitness, Beauty

Alone in the Kitchen

There was real pleasure to be had eating ice cream out of the container and pickles out of a glass jar, standing up at the counter. I wondered whether the cravings associated with pregnancy were really only a matter of women feeling empowered to admit their odd longings to their husbands, to ask another person to bring them the eccentric combinations they'd long enjoyed in private. If I'd been able to completely forget about nutrition, I might have created a diet based only on pickles and ice cream, salty and sweet.

Alas, I was somewhat conscious of the link between what I ate and my health, and so the next night—having eaten all the ice cream and pickles in the house—I mixed black beans and brown rice. I couldn't help smiling to myself when I thought of the man from my dinner party fluffing couscous alone in his kitchen across town. Sharing stories of eating alone had made me less lonely.

After a stressful deadline in February—that bleak month when Ann Arbor hibernates and people hurry, hunched over in ski jackets, through the dark—I decided to reward myself with a good meal. I made Amanda Hesser's Airplane Salad: Bibb lettuce, white beans, smoked trout, and a sherry vinaigrette. While I ate, I read her essay "Single Cuisine."

"I know many women who have a set of home-alone foods," writes Hesser. "My friend Aleksandra, for instance, leans toward foods that are white in color."

My pulse quickened as though Hesser were whispering in my ear. This was all I really wanted—to be let in on other people's secrets. What better place to start than in their kitchens?

Remembering Laurie Colwin's essay "Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant," I quickly went to my living room and plucked the friendly Home Cooking from my bookshelf. I sat with the yellow paperback on my black couch. I giggled at the description of Colwin's absurdly small Greenwich Village apartment, "the coziest place on earth," where she did dishes in the bathtub. She'd brought her kitchen into my living room. My breathing deepened with gratitude. The connectedness I felt was the opposite of the drifting into space I'd experienced whenever I spent more than three consecutive nights alone. We read to feel close to people we don't know, to get into other people's heads. I get the same sensation of intimacy from following a recipe. I began to scheme: Hesser, Colwin, and me . . . maybe I could break the silence and help men and women everywhere be less alone together.

Because cooks love the social aspect of food, cooking for one is intrinsically interesting. A good meal is like a present, and it can feel goofy, at best, to give yourself a present. On the other hand, there is something life affirming in taking the trouble to feed yourself well, or even decently. Cooking for yourself allows you to be strange or decadent or both. The chances of liking what you make are high, but if it winds up being disgusting, you can always throw it away and order a pizza; no one else will ever know. In the end, the experimentation, the impulsiveness, and the invention that such conditions allow for will probably make you a better cook.

As the days lengthened and warmed and the town revealed itself again, I peered tentatively into the windows of restaurants. I read the menus and contemplated going inside to tell the hostess, "Just me."

In her classic essay "A Is for Dining Alone," M. F. K. Fisher proclaims: "Enough of hit-or-miss suppers of tinned soup and boxed biscuits and an occasional egg just because I had failed once more to rate an invitation."

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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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