17 October 2011

On Eating Alone and a Pairing

I recently finished Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone, which is a collection of essays by mostly current writers about, well, what the title says.  Though there are recipes throughout, the book doesn't seem intended to be a "foodie" book, but almost anthropological: Who are these people who cook for themselves, and dare to be seen alone in a restaurant?  Not all the writers were single; some merely celebrated the moments they have to themselves.  Some suffered from self-pity, but not as many as you'd think.  After all, these are writers we're talking about.  Writing is a solitary activity; you don't usually choose to be a writer if you can't handle your own company for great lengths of time.  So this book probably doesn't reflect the feelings of every solitary diner.

Now I'll offer my take on eating alone:  I don't mind it at all.  I don't think I have a preference when I'm at home.  I have no problem with cooking for myself, though food shopping for one is annoying when you're on a budget.  Oh, and try to find workable recipes, especially in baking, that yields for one.  Like some of the contributing writers in 'Alone in the Kitchen', I got over the guilt of preparing nice meals, on nice plates, for just me, but at the same time I feel no guilt if I just feel like a bowl of cereal for dinner.  When you live alone, you have the luxury of mood.

Dining out alone is another story altogether.  It's more socially acceptable at lunchtime.  I go out with my sister a couple of lunches every week, and when she's not in I have no qualms about going out on my own.  What I don't like, and forgive me for being curmudgeonly, is when I go to a public eating place and people I don't know want to share a table.  I know midtown Manhattan is crowded, but unless I've made plans to eat with someone, I prefer being alone with my lunch and my book.  The other day I was eating in the concourse at Rockefeller Center, and a woman asks if the table I was sitting at was free.  I assumed this meant could she share the table with me, and I grudgingly said yes.  When she waved her family of four over, I was this close to busting a gut, but thankfully the table nearby opened up.  Serves me right for picking tourist central for some peace and quiet.

Lunchtime grumpiness aside, I almost never go out to dinner alone. For the most part, I just don't feel like it, but I guess it's also because there's some view in society that dining alone is wrong.  Most diners and coffee shops won't even let you have a table - they stick you at the counter.  Some people like counters; I don't.  Rumor has it that most restaurants will seat the 'table for one' patron at the worst possible place, like next to the restrooms.  Not that I've had too many incidents to reference on this point, but I did think of the first time I went to Cafe Lalo.  I was alone, and was seated in a table that took a bit of effort to squeeze into, all the way in the corner.  For me that's not a problem, because it afforded me some privacy.  On the second visit there were four of us, and we were right in the middle of the action.  Now, I've heard the reason why single diners are given the least desirable tables is because the staff don't expect to make much in tips from just one person.  Well, maybe the single diners just don't like being treated like second class citizens and get put off from tipping as generously as they would otherwise.  Then there's also the social stigma attached to the solitary person, all alone on an evening out.  This shouldn't bother me, but knowing it's how you're viewed does not make eating out alone any easier.  The world was not designed for introverts.

Today I have my first cold of the season, so I imagine my dinner will be a bowl of soup (sniff).  At least that is meant to be pathetic.

The pairing:  I was going to recommend reading 'Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant' with a tea-for-one teapot, but forget that.  Feel free to take out the nice linens, make a large pot of your favorite tea, complete with whatever cakes or cookies or scones float your tiny boat.  If that's not your thing, that's fine - it's up to you and you alone!


Mandy said...

I love sitting alone in restaurants. I often have coffee before work in the mornings or sit alone in cafes at lunch time. I love being amongst people but being alone at the same time.

When I was in New York, I used my cafe-and-restaurant time to catch up with my written journal and gather my thoughts.

The book looks intriguing, I like the description on Amazon: "the secret meals they relish when no one else is looking". I like to eat cheese straight off the block and wash it down with sweet tea. That is my secret meal when my other half is away on business.

Catherine said...

Cheese + Sweet Tea = Heaven!

That's my math for the day.