West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Volume 77, Number 7 | July 18 - 24, 2007

ARTS

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone
Edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler
Riverhead Books
$22.95; 288 pages

Dinner for one, with a side of hope

By Jaime Jordan

New York is a city full of dream-wielding transplants living in shoebox-sized apartments, who, by force of hunger or by choice, dine alone or cook for one — and not always successfully. I should know. When I moved to the East Village after college, I would often cook myself dinners that could feed at least ten people. Once, my refrigerator was stuffed with two trays of leftover eggplant rollatini, at the expense of milk and butter staples, for over a week. After years of daily family dinners, I had no idea how to cook for one. When the summer came and my small apartment became stiflingly hot, open-air table settings lured me, and I went to eat, often alone. When I told my sister I’d had dinner at a great tapas place downtown, I am certain she lost sleep over the prospect of me, pathetically, dining alone. So, when I heard about “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone” (Riverhead Books), created and edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler, I felt I’d discovered a cooking compatriot.

Inspired by her own experiences, Ferrari-Adler asked twenty-six food and fiction writers about the meals they make for themselves and their rituals for dining alone. The result is a collection that offers instructions and empathetic stories for solitary diners and cooks, including stories from a few literary and foodie heavyweights. Over two-dozen short and savory essays, by authors such as Steve Almond and Nora Ephron, among others, fill the pages of this unique collection.

Haruki Murakami captures the isolating experience of dinner for one beautifully. “Like a lonely, jilted girl throwing old love letters into the fireplace,” he writes, “I tossed one handful of spaghetti after another into the pot.” Laura Dave gives relatable (and hilarious) instructions on how to cook in a New York apartment: “Don’t prepare what doesn’t keep easily. Your freezer is the size and width of a pencil case.” The book is full of truisms like this, edged with hope and humor. Mary Cantwell helps lone diners throw off their inhibitions, declaring, “There are people who bring books to restaurants, and who hide behind them…maybe they are so ashamed of being companionless that they court invisibility. But I am not one of them, because to me a restaurant is a theater, and my table a seat on the aisle.” Despite the theme, some stories defy the notion of nurturing oneself with food. Marcella Hazan explains that she is reluctant to cook for herself because “to put a freshly made meal on the table…is a sincere expression of affection, it is an act of binding intimacy.” In other words, preparing food is a type of love reserved for others. Holly Hughes writes a completely hysterical story, “Luxury,” full of laugh-out-loud dialogue. Anyone who has ever cooked for his or her family will recognize her plight.

It’s no secret that New Yorkers love cooking at home and dining out — just look at the dozens of specialty food stores, the celebrity of Ruth Reichl and the ability of an approximated 25,000 restaurants to stay afloat in New York City. So they should adore this collection that speaks directly to them. In “Asparagus Superhero”, Phoebe Nobles puffs the chests of New Yorkers by writing, “New York defies reliance on the season. When pickings were slim in the winters I lived there, I just bought pineapples and papayas at the Korean bodega. I could get these at midnight if I wanted to.” The stories are lovingly and deliciously assembled, confessional while providing guidance. They are at times celebratory, deeply lonely, amusing or shameful and almost all provide a recipe. Ferrari-Adler admits that she imagined this collection as “a friendly presence in my kitchen for those nights when I cooked for myself,” and it is. “Alone In The Kitchen With An Eggplant” is a must-have addition to any food writing collection.


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