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Dining Alone – Tragedy or Opportunity? March 31, 2010

Posted by bookgoddess in Books, cookbooks, Reading.
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When I was growing up, my family did not generally gather around the dinner table for our evening meal.  We did eat at the same time, usually, parked on various pieces of furniture, television on, books and magazines at the ready.

I write this knowing that I will shock some traditionalists, but it seemed to work well for us, and I would say that we were a closer family than most.

But I do suspect that the nonstandard dinner environment may have helped make me comfortable with eating alone.  I have become aware of how much of a problem this is for some people.  Many people tell me they don’t (won’t, can’t) cook for themselves, and if they have taken this position, it seems to be deeply ingrained.  There are others who prepare something nice for dinner, whether they are alone or not.

I was interested to find two very readable, recently published books on the topic of eating alone:  Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant:  Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone, an anthology edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler; and What We Eat When We Eat Alone:  Stories and 100 Recipes by Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlin.

More people live alone than ever, we are told, and they have to sustain life somehow.  In Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant, we find a rich tapestry of approaches to dining alone.  Food writers (M.F.K. Fisher, Laurie Colwin) and novelists (Ann Patchett, Haruki Marukami) express the solitary dining experience with varying degrees of comfort or anxiety.  Each chapter is a little gem, and is followed by a recipe for something described in the chapter.

What We Eat when We Eat Alone, on the other hand, is narrated throughout by the renowned Deborah Madison.  For her book, she interviewed numerous people about their solitary eating habits, and she tells their dining stories in a lighthearted manner, grouping people according to various characteristics.  There are a good many recipes in this book, but as with the previous title, the stories are the point.

I suspect that if you are deeply opposed to eating alone, you probably don’t want to read about it either, but these titles are well worth reading, and you will certainly pick up a few interesting ideas.

Here’s how I feel about it:  I enjoy meals with my loved ones.  It is a beautiful thing to share, and for your cooking to be appreciated.  However, I can enjoy a nice repast with myself, too.  And remember – if you love Parmesan cheese and your spouse doesn’t, or if your family turns its nose up at chicken curry, it can be a golden opportunity.

I once encountered a lady in the grocery store who was shopping on her little mobile cart.  In her basket, among other things, she had some focaccia bread and a lovely artichoke.  I thought, there is a lady who knows how to live well, despite negative circumstances.  I think of her every so often, and I am inspired.

Happy Reading (and Dining!)

The Book Goddess