Oct 2008

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant – Jenni Ferrari-Adler

About: A mishmash of foodie writers dispute, humorously or more self-seriously, the pros and cons of cooking and dining alone. While eating by oneself can be the busy worker’s greatest pleasure, as Colin Harrison notes of his solitary Manhattan lunches during a work day (“Out to Lunch”), and mother Holly Hughes (“Luxury”) agrees is a secret but too rare pleasure, other writers see it as depressing or shameful. In “The Lonely Palate,” Laura Calder quotes Epicurus as saying, “we should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink”—then offers a recipe for Kippers Mash. Eating is an act of love, thus prompting Jonathan Ames (“Poisonous Eggs”) to dine out and flirt with the waitress. “Table for One” by Erin Ergenbright records how the single diner is perceived uneasily by the wait staff. And M.F.K. Fisher relishes solitary dining (“A Is for Dining Alone”) as a way to escape “the curious disbelieving impertinence of the people in restaurants.” The collection is named after an essay by Laurie Colwin, who found a dozen different ways to cook eggplant on her two-burner hot plate while living alone in a tiny Greenwich Village flat. (From Publishers Weekly, July)

My thoughts: Although I love food writing, I probably would not have read this particular collection of essays had my friend Nina not given it to me as a gift. When scanning the shelves at my local library, I usually pick out food memoirs and books analyzing food systems or nutrition. So, thanks Miss Adventure for broadening my horizons!

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant is an entertaining enough read because the essays are short, snappy and often humorous. My favorite piece of the bunch was “The Legend of Salsa Rosa” by Ben Karlin of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report fame. That dude is hilarious.

One of the major drawbacks of a compilation of essays on an ultra-specific subject like eating alone is that after a couple of reads, the tales of self-pity and triumph start blending together, making it impossible to differentiate (and remember) one writer’s experience from the next. While some of the essayers relished eating alone, the bulk felt sad and lonely. As a result of the pervading blue mood, the recipes that followed the essays didn’t sound at all appealing.

And speaking of eating alone…

When I’m chowing for one, it’s usually breakfast staples like toast, eggs and pancakes. I’ll spare you a self-indulgent essay about it.

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