This essay collection focuses on solitary eating. It’s what the hapless diner does when they’re alone and hunger hits, whether they have ample means for elaborate meals or are pinching pennies with Ramen noodles. Regardless of circumstance or culinary knowledge, quite a few of the contributors go for the familiar, the comfort food, the easily prepared route. Then there are others who have their own fastidious cravings, and are willing to endure the prep work for one particular dish.
Ferrari-Adler starts us out with her own essay about her first bout of aloneness as a graduate school student during a cold Michigan winter, and how eating solo was so unlike what she had grown up with and experienced. Her coping mechanism? Working up the nerve to invite others over and then find out their solitary dining secrets – and eventually compiling the essays that make up this book.
In one of the first essays, Ann Patchett writes of her own exile to winter-lashed Provincetown, MA where a steady diet of oatmeal and saltines kept up her going in a town emptied of tourists and business. Haruki Murakami has a short interlude on his early obsession with spaghetti. Nora Ephron briefly shines on the attributes of the potato; Jeremy Jackson on the virtues of canned black beans. We encounter sushi love and asparagus overkill, gloriously cream-infused sauces, and picky solitary diners in restaurants – and how they become a fascination. The editor also (thankfully) includes M.F.K. Fisher and her thoughts on eating by herself when invitations from others are slim.
Some of the writers are well-known, some not. The essays are occasionally self-indulgent, but also funny. There’s plenty here to make one hungry and start scouring the pantry on some rainy day in the near future when everyone else is gone and the only recourse is to eat alone.
Oh, and there are recipes.
(William Hicks, Information Services)