The 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.