I just finished the book, “Alone in the Kitchen with An Eggplant”. When I saw it in the bookstore, I thought it would be about masturbation and all kinds of kinkiness. As it turns out, the book is a collection of essays from various writers reflecting on the subject of “ cooking for one and dining alone”. The book title is from the first piece in the collection written by Laurie Colwin, who is better known for her fiction-writting.
In the essay, she writes about how she would cook eggplant - "cheap, nourishing, versatile" - in different ways when she was just starting out and living alone in her tiny apartment. In her intro, the editor - Jenni Ferrari Adler (love that name), writes “alone and lonely are not synonymous, (when cooking and eating alone) you will have yourself – and the food you keep – for company”.
Ok, taken out of context, that sounds way too sad. But, really it’s not.
The essays in the book are about taking a break from all the noise and pressure of everyday life and being nice and loving towards yourself thru the act of cooking food that makes you happy. .
I very seldom cook for myself. Because I have to be “inspired” to bother, cooking for me has always been an expression of affection for the people I plan to feed – family, friends coming over, friends who invited me over, officemates who needed cheering up.
Whenever I needed home-cooking, it used to be that I could always look forward to week-end visits to my Mom and Manang. Here, food was also prepared and served as an expression of love - but for me.
I can't go home to my Mom and Manang anymore. But, even now, many of my happy memories are inextricably linked with the food that was served or attached to particular occasions (roasted chicken dripping with fat and butter for birthdays, pancit for Wednesdays, Pochero for Sundays, home-baked ham and fruit cake for Christmas, arroz caldo for noche Buena, sautéed sardines for rainy days, etc).
Nowadays, I take most of my meals out of the house. In the rare occassions that I find myself home alone and hungry, I would usually just have something delivered - the same things over and over again.
However, something happened several weeks ago. I decided I should start cooking for myself. I have to tell you that I’m loving it.
I love deciding what to cook. I love going over the internet and recipe books to research. I love coming across cooking tips (rub salt on ampalaya and then rinse it with cold water to remove the bitterness). I love going to the grocery to buy the ingredients. I love cooking the food and making spur-of-the moment executive decisions to tweak the original recipes (i.e. “hmm, what if I added lemon grass to the sinigang broth?").
I love trying to recreate the flavours of my childhood and then putting in some kind of twist to make it my own. Most of all, I love ladling out the finished product on proper dishes (as opposed to the cardboard boxes most of solitary meals come in), sitting down to a set table and eating slowly and deliberately. My delicious food. Alone.
On my one-burner electric stove – over the span of a few weeks, I’ve come up with several dishes that deserve to go in the memory bank. My sinigang is awesome. My adobo sa gata brings comfort. My mushrooms in chili sauce is a classic. I have to work on my version of pochero and I have yet to make friends with beef (maybe I’ll buy a pressure cooker). Making adjustments on the recipe quantiies so that they serve 1 instead of a family of 6 is still confusing. But - what the hey – I’ll learn and I am enjoying this new adventure.
Without going too pop-psych about it - cooking for myself makes me feel all of these things at once: self-reliant, in-control, creative, intuitive, nourished, and glow-y all over (maybe from the heat of the stove)Sometimes, when I’ve come up with something really good – I’d call my friends and ask them over or I'd bring a batch to the office to share. I do get off on people appreciating what I’ve made but that’s become just a bonus. I like what I made. I enjoy eating it by myself.
And that’s enough to make me full. Until the next meal anyway.