True confession: When I’m home alone at night sometimes I forget to make dinner. Ten o’clock rolls around, the kitchen is closed, and so I grab a bowl of cereal and call it a night. Terrible habit I know. At least it’s whole grain cereal. It turns out, I’m in good company.
Here’s another cereal-for-solo suppers supporter:
How about you? What do you eat for dinner when nobody is looking? I’ve been thinking a lot about this particular pastime since my domestic situation shifted about 18 months ago. Half the week my kid and I eat dinner every night, mostly at home, no exceptions. The other half of the week he’s dining with his dad, leaving me free to whip up something fabulously indulgent for myself, right?
Not likely. I typically take the opportunity to eat out with friends. That’s sort of cheating. And expensive. And on a week when my son is doing a five-night stint at his father’s I rarely eat out every single one of those evenings. So, then, what’s for dinner at my house?
Initially, I had grand visions of simmering batches of soup on the stove on solo supper nights. Somehow I don’t seem to find — or make — the time to prepare these meals. So I’ve been conducting an informal survey, asking folks who find themselves making dinner for one on a regular basis what they eat. The 81-year-old widow whose memoir I’m editing tells me she cooks herself a meal chock full of vegetables. A male friend’s frequent solo feast of choice is a stir-fry. A galpal swears that Trader Joes frozen shrimp and mango cubes can be called into service to make a delicious meal. And a chef friend recalls that during her single days she delighted in buying the best cuts of meat or priciest seafood justifying the cost because she only needed small portions of each.
I’m suitably impressed. All these people take their meal at the table, with napkins and place mats, and maybe candles and a glass of wine as well. Truly, eye-opening. Clearly, eating well on your own is a learned skill.
Now, thanks to Deborah Madison, of Greens restaurant fame and the author of the wildly popular cookbook Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, we’ve got some more insights into what people chew on when no one else is watching.
Her new book, What We Eat When We Eat Alone, is a departure from her usual fare (and not just because meat features prominently). It’s written with and inspired by her hubbie, Patrick McFarlin, who got in the habit of asking this very question as an icebreaker on food trips the couple took with the Oldways Preservation Trust. McFarlin’s whimsical illustrations accompany the stories. The book includes some 100 recipes, tweaked a tad for your solitary pleasure.
The results of the authors’ unscientific research may surprise you. At a recent reading at Mrs. Dalloway’s book store, the couple drew laughter when they acknowledged that there appears to be something of a gender divide surrounding solo dinners. Men frequently eat meat when on their own and their cooking often involves “sticking something into something,” like the flank steak stuffed with bacon, cheese, and mushrooms featured in the book. Women often opt for good carbs with salt or something like a salad that involves chopping and dicing. What people do when supping solo is also interesting. Some eat while watching TV, with their animals, while reading — or even in bed. Others (again, often men) pace, eat while surveying the contents of the fridge, or even wolf dinner down while leaning over the sink.
This respectful yet voyeuristic read gives a glimpse into the secret life of those of us seeking solitary sustenance, whether we’re eating alone as an aberration or on a regular basis. The book reveals that people tend to cook simple, satisfying meals that they know and love or opt to make something their partners don’t like, such as okra or sardines, when on their own. There’s also some weird stuff like margarita mix poured over white bread — yikes — though not as many strange food choices as you might imagine in such a book.
What do this duo eat on their ownsome? Madison says she’d choose pie if it was available, though that’s usually not an option. She’s fond of braised vegetables. McFarlin’s a fan of panini.
My personal favorite food for a satisfying solo supper? Scrambled eggs. I know many Americans couldn’t imagine eating this so-called breakfast staple for dinner but, heck, throw caution to the wind and give it a whirl. The secret ingredient for lovely, moist scramble? Cream, glorious, cream. Thank you Bill Granger of the much-lauded bills restaurants in Sydney for this ingredient insight. For scrambled eggs for one use 2 eggs and about a third a cup of cream. Find the full recipe here. I look in my veggie crisper and dice up nice and fine anything fresh and colorful and whack that in as well. Often orange pepper, baby spinach, and red onion find their way into the mix. Goat cheese is a nice addition too. Bill scrambled egg purists may sniff at such suggestions. So be it.
Now it’s your turn. Do tell: What kind of grub goes down your gullet at nighttime when no one’s looking? Feel no fear, guilt, or shame. Judging by Madison’s and McFarlin’s account, it appears that there are many culinary commonalities among solitary eaters, revealing that we’re never really alone even when we’re dining at a table for one.