This is what I eat when I’m alone at home.
My Bin says that he’d rather starve than eat alone. I don’t agree – when I have to eat I’ll eat, I don’t care if I’m alone or not. Many people assume that because I’m a food writer, I dine spectacularly on a daily basis – that’s only partly true. There are occasions when I do dine spectacularly – and with many people, at that – but those meals are few and far apart. And I eat alone far more often than people think.
I put great stock in whom I choose to eat with. Eating is such an intimate activity that to do it with those who don’t treat food with reverence is a heresy. I still remember the worst people I’ve ever had the displeasure of dining with: the man who chomped on every bite with his mouth wide open, the woman who found it important to mention how many calories were in my home-cured corned beef, and in college, the man I was dating who accused me of “…having an appetite like a man.” Food is one of the three most important things to me, and frankly, if you don’t feel the same way then we’ve got no business eating together. It’s not me, it’s you.
Writers, whatever it is they write about, live solitary lives. I’m no exception. Cranking out creativity in words requires an immense amount of brain activity and I don’t like to be interrupted. So it follows that if I work in solitude, I dine in delicious solitude. Quite right, that. My writing is done in my home office, surrounded as I am in a large space that I call my library because of my 2000+ food books (frankly, I’ve lost count). I work best during the day so once the morning rush has abated, breakfast and lunch are mine for the taking.
I eat quite virtuously when I’m at home alone, often quite sparingly, too. Having just myself to dine with makes me see just how much I loathe having to turn on the stove, so most of the time, it’s really simple stuff for me. For lunch, I can survive on a cup of yogurt and roasted nuts or a peanut butter-banana sandwich. Sometimes, when I’m in the throes of a rivetingly good cookbook, I’ll get inspired and whip up something from it. Not too long ago, I’m flipping through Tamasin Day-Lewis’ book, “Good Tempered Food,” and I’m mesmerized by her version of Piemontese Bell Peppers, little bell pepper boats “…transporting a cargo of anchovy, garlic, olive oil, and herbed cheese.” Doing a riff on her recipe, I make my own. It doesn’t look as nice as Tamasin’s, but it suffices.
For dessert, stimulated by the glut of nuts that have taken residence in the darkest corners of my freezer, I make an almond macaroon cake, a pillow of a cake imbued with the softest whisper of lemon and cloaked with a macaroon top, its crispy outside giving not a hint of its sticky-chewy inside. Glorious. I share it with my Bin and Boo when they come home, and they love it too.
Speaking of my Bin and Boo, a lot of what I eat when I’m alone doesn’t pass muster with them. My food is either too healthy (a ramekin of sautéed spinach and garlic), too strange (meatloaf – which I love and don’t understand why they’re averse to it), or too scarce: my Bin doesn’t see how I’m content to nibble on just two ears of corn at mealtime. He calls it ridiculous, I call it lunch. Neither is he amused at my idea of a decent lunchtime beverage: an ice cold kamias shake blitzed with nothing but kamias, water, sugar, and ice. “My god, the acidity will kill you, honey!” He rails. I wink facetiously and continue sipping on.
When I’m alone and I choose to spare myself the hassles of cooking, I believe I’m exercising a form of greater self-love. As the one in charge of meal planning for my family, it’s a relief to not have to take anyone else’s preferences into account. Eating is a matter of taste and my taste can’t always be good taste. So I eat off of the indestructible-but-still-in-good-shape Corelle plates I received 12 years ago as a wedding gift, instead of the pretty dishware seen in my food photos. Most of my alone-meals are generated by random out-of-pantry raids, an activity that produces strange meal combinations like a quarter of a block of tofu and a blueberry muffin. Some days, I’m more coordinated: I press a day-old pandesal into my panini maker, stuff it with sardines laced in tomato sauce, add a few onion rings, and add enough chili powder to clear my sinuses. My Bin doesn’t like sardines and Boo doesn’t abide spice, so this sandwich is heaven for me.
But there are times, and I can’t say this happens often, when I deign to turn the oven on and I make myself an edible miracle. Eating alone is a fact of life – my life, at least – and I want to make the best of it. But only sometimes.
So I knead together some bread dough and bake a pizza-for-one topped with roasted vegetables, kesong puti, anchovies, and enough whole garlic cloves than should be legal.
Another day, inspired as I am by a visit to Peanut Butter Co., I create my own version of cold noodles with peanut butter and scallions. It’s so good that it deserves a glass of a late harvest wine that I keep for special occasions. Like this one.
One day, after writing a particularly brutal post, one in which I feel every sentence bleeds out of me, I glumly peer into the fridge and put together an ersatz version of panzanella (see cover photo), Italian bread salad. My day-old farmer’s bread is tough, the accompanying eggplant, tomato, and spinach, wilted versions of their formerly vibrant selves. It’s not a landscape that promises good eating. But as I eat slowly, exhaustedly, while gazing out my library window, something happens. The olive oil has slaked the bread’s thirst, making it malleable, chewy. The oil does the same thing for the vegetables, revivifying what was lost. My taste buds rejoice, my creative soul is re-energized.
I never eat alone, really. I have myself – and the food I love – for company.
Tell me, what do you eat when you’re alone at home?