Dinner for one; vegetarian or not

I remember the meals I used to eat when I lived alone. A bowl of cereal. A bag of chips and onion dip (hey, who cared about breath when you lived alone?). Rice with whatever was in the house dumped on top (and when I say whatever, I mean whatever because toppings ranged from stir fry vegetables to maple syrup).

But my all-time favorite eat-alone meal was a crisp, juicy McIntosh red apple and crunchy peanut butter (as in, take a bite, then smear the exposed flesh with a bit of peanut butter, another bit, another smear, and so on). Delicious.

Are you curious about what fantastic concoctions other people eat when they are alone? I am. Which is why this is an amazing find for me.

Dinner for one
Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone, ($22.95) edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler, is my latest food book find. A series of essays on eating alone, the authors range from Laurie Colwin (if you have never read her collection of food essays, run, don't walk, to the nearest bookstore) to M.F.K. Fisher (veritable lady of food writing) even to Nora Ephron (writer of books and screenplays including When Harry Met Sally).

And the essays are such fun! For example, you have Nora Ephron waxing poetic on the pleasures of the mashed potato (complete with recipes, as many of the essays are). There is Ann Patchett munching away on a never-ending supply of saltine cracker-based snacks. And the always delightful Laurie Colwin stocks up on salty treats.

Of course, not everyone eats alone at home. Some, such as Jonathan Ames, prefers to eat in a restaurant and flirt with the waitress.

A fun read? Indeed! But don't talk my word for it. Instead, try an excerpt and see what you think.
Book excerpt from Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant, from "The Lonely Palate" essay by Laura Calder, author of French Food at Home
There's no point going to great strides to concoct something spectacular for myself, because I simply won't appreciate it on my own. On the other hand, if I wash down that bag of cashews on the counter with a glass of wine and call it dinner, I'm going to feel as though I belong living under a bridge.

Perhaps there's a solution that strikes a middle ground, and before I send my immune system crashing to an all-time low, I'd better march myself straight into the kitchen and adopt it: one-bowl suppers, from scratch. Here's my reasoning: If it's possible to eat whatever has been made out of one bowl, chances are it will also have been possible to cook it in one pot, which is convenient. Eating out of a bowl requires only one utensil, so with bowl in one hand, and fork or spoon in the other, I can chew away at a meditative pace in a cozy armchair, rather than behind the candelabra at the far end of a table for twelve, like the last living member of a fallen dynasty. And bowls are comforting vessels. There's something admirably self-sufficient about them. They seem specifically designed to hold the kind of simple, trusty fare that, although it probably won't inspire lust, at least will help satisfy a lonely kind of hunger. . . .

. . . Nice try. That would have been an ideal ending to this saga if weren't for the fact that, instead of cooking, I just went over and did in all those cashews. (Rats!) Let's face it: the truth about eating alone, despite our best intentions, is that nine times out of ten we eat badly. We eat inadequate food; we eat it too fast; and we eat it slouched over a computer or sprawled in front of a television, with all the enlightened social skills of seagulls. I'm convinced that this affects the way we live our lives afterward. It's no doubt why I've been scuffing around in worn-out slippers and a slouchy turtleneck for days, avoiding the future. (It's probably why the whole world seems to be falling apart at the seams.)

So, what do you eat when you're alone?