the kitchen reader: alone in the kitchen with an eggplant

by Stacy

Alone in the Kitchen with an EggplantThe August selection for The Kitchen Reader book club was Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone, edited by Jenni Ferarri-Adler, chosen by Anni of anjeme.

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant is a collection of essays which editor Jenni Ferrari-Adler created because it was the book she wanted to read. Cooking and eating are often viewed in a cultural and social context, so what changes when we eat alone? What foods are socially acceptable, what foods taste good, and how much effort are we willing to exert to feed ourselves?

Dining alone is such a private experience that reading about it feels voyeuristic. Laura Calder’s story, “The Lonely Palate,” mentions reading other essays on the subject: “You wouldn’t believe for how many it ends up quasi-erotic.”

Jeremy Jackson focuses on beans for the whole of his chapter, whereas Phoebe Nobles it determiend to conquer asparagus. Colin Harrison seeks the perfect table for one in Manhattan. Dan Chaon and Anneli Rufus rebel against their parents’ attitudes toward food while Rattawut Lapcharoensap and Rose Jurjevics keep their childhood memories alive. Other stories explore moments of undesired solitude, others yearn for it.

Of course there were essays I preferred over others. The titular tale is by the late Laurie Colwin whose writing I have heard about but never before managed to read. It’s lovely. MFK Fisher’s well-known story is “A Is for Dining Alone,” which also fell into that same category. I really enjoyed Ben Karlin’s yarn, “The Legend of the Salsa Rosa,” an epic in three parts. Haruki Murakami’s “The Year of Spaghetti” contained a description of an aluminum cooking pot, “big enough to bathe a German shepherd in,” which sealed it for me. Erin Ergenbright offers a fresh perspective from a restaurant server’s point of view.

As I read, I laughed or “hmmed” and promised myself that I would remember the quotation or passage I wanted to include when I wrote this post. Naturally, I was wrong, and now I can’t find the gems I mentally highlighted.

Compilations like this are always hard to write about because there is no plot to critique, and though I didn’t like each essay, overall it was a solid collection. It’s also nice to read something that’s easy to set down and pick up. I tended to read a few essays each night before bed to great satisfaction.

And unlike other food books, the dishes described were often so strange that it didn’t even make me hungry.

Have you read Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant? What did you think? Check out the Kitchen Reader blogroll for more opinions.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

sarah, simply cooked September 1, 2011 at 3:27 am

Haha – you make me laugh by saying that none of the recipes were appetizing to you. I think that’s because we can be quite eccentric when alone. In fact, we can take pleasure it being selfishly strange.

I am looking forward to September’s book, which is a collection of Laurie Colwin essays. I picked it before I had read anything by her and now I’m quite excited to read it. And I think we should read more MFK Fisher. Many people have recommended her in the past and I can now see why.

You didn’t say anything about what you like to eat when you eat alone….?

And, PS. I have been reading our Kitchen Reader books with a pencil handy for some time now. I mark a sentence or two, then write the page number on the inside back cover. Then later I can find all those wonderful quotes. Do you like/allow writing in books?


Stacy September 1, 2011 at 8:44 am

Something I meant to add in the post was that it was an apropos read since I have been eating alone a lot while my husband is working in the evenings. I eat a lot of sauteed veggies in a bowl, cereal, plain fruit, and yogurt with granola. Nothing too strange, but nothing exciting. If I make “fancier” food it’s for blogging purposes (and you can see how often that has been lately).

I get the books from the library, but I usually read them with a pen and notebook to write down page numbers or passages to revisit. For some reason I didn’t do that this time — obviously I should have.


Jen of Put a spork in it. September 1, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Yes, I felt the same way about the recipes! Normally I’m fanatical about collecting them, but these I barely skimmed. I’ve sometimes wondered what it would be like to blog these sorts of things, like the “meat pie” I grew up on and still love (nothin’ but seasoned ground beef in a pie crust) – I don’t dare do it!

Your cereal/fruit/nuts/granola reminded me of the breakfasts I prepare for work. Never thought about them as “eating alone,” but technically they are, at my desk. I like to mix all types of fruits, nuts and spices into quinoa or wheat berries, and get more pleasure from that than what I do in the evenings.

Sarah, great idea about writing down the page numbers, I will do that next time!
Jen of Put a spork in it. recently posted..And now for something completely different! A book club.My Profile


Stacy September 1, 2011 at 11:33 pm

I’d say go for it! Like the book said, when asked what they eat when alone, people lie. I do eat everything on this blog, but I don’t eat styled, garnished food every meal of every day. I still garnish food when I’m not taking photos because I like having it plated nicely, but it’s not All Awesome Food All the Time, either. Who knows, maybe someone else wants to recreate that memory, too. =)

I noticed you mentioned in another comment learning about the Buddhist perspective on mindful eating — was that from Savor? I’m actually teaching a workshop series on mindful eating starting in a few weeks down in South Park!


Margaret September 2, 2011 at 5:57 am

I actually was smart enough this time to mark the ‘gems’ I wanted to include in my review.Doesn’t happen often. LOL After reading Jen’s comment I realize I eat a lot of meals by my self. Just not alone. B’fast in the kitchen before work is usually a ‘single’. Just dont’ think of it as a meal.

I enjoyed most of the same stories.

Nicely written.
Margaret recently posted..{MKMW} Hola! Bienvenidos a EspañaMy Profile


amee September 6, 2011 at 8:49 pm

i do really appreciate your book report/reviews. i know what you mean about the “hmm”ing and “i’ll remember that”…


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