When I stopped at my favorite bookstore recently to pick up a Christmas gift for my Mom, I bought two books for myself. So many of the best gifts are the ones I have given myself. Most of them are more of an attitude, the permission to forward. Those random acts of kindness, we hear referred to so often, need to be directed at ourselves. Those of us who live solo often butt up against what may seem to be the norm. We should be kind to ourselves.
Actually, we are the leading edge of major social shifts. Roughly a third of all households hold one person. Virtually half of all meals are eaten alone. We are flying solo but we have chosen where to land. The most dominant part of living solo is that my choices are mine, they are purposeful. I have come to value the calm of my small apartment. I can turn my favorite music up. Or I cannot turn anything on at all. I can write without interruption. Most of us who live alone do so in cities. We have chosen to live alone together. We choose who we want to be with and when. I find my time with friends or family is so much more valued because it is by choice, and not a required chore.
Many food writers and cookbooks extol the virtues of sharing the table and cooking for others. While I don’t disagree with the premise at all, I think they are missing a major part of the narrative. This is not the reality for many people much of the time. Just because we are eating solo doesn’t mean our table is any less vital. We all need to eat everyday but our evolving and ever changing relationship with food will often mirror our attitude towards the rest of life’s challenges.
One of the most difficult things I found to reconcile after the loss, to cancer, of the person I thought I would be spending the rest of my life with, was that food and the act of sharing it was such a large part of our relationship. I was too sad for too long to prepare much, if any, interesting food. But food preparation has been part of who I am for way too long, from helping my Mom prepare food for our family of ten, to working in professional kitchens for almost 20 years, to consistently sharing the table with the same kind, smart man for 10 years.
The independence of living solo allows discovery. Relish the new flavor you just tried or the simple, comforting chicken soup you just made. Savor the evolution of your abilities to form new meals to enjoy. Be kind to yourself when trail mix is dinner. I am thrilled to have created the pages of The Deliberate Pickle to continue the feast we call life. I have discovered a new way to use my culinary knowledge.
M.F.K. Fischer was an American food writer before there was an industry of food writing. Her writing must have been revolutionary 70 years ago. This is an excerpt from her culinary alphabet in Gourmet Magazine in 1948, when she extolled the virtues of eating alone, “A is for Dining Alone,”
Lucullus, the Roman host whose dinners are still talked about for their elaborate menus and their fabulous cost, grew tired one day of dining with other men.
He ordered a meal for one person. When it was served to him, he was conscious of certain slackness: the wine was perhaps a shade too cold, and the sauce for the carp, which certainly was less succulent than usual, lacked that tang for which his chef was justly famed.
Lucullus frowned and summoned the majordomo.
“Perhaps, perhaps,” that official agreed, with a flood of respectful salutations. “We thought that there was no need to prepare a fine banquet for my lord alone—”
“It is precisely when I am alone,” the great gourmet answered, icily, “that you require to pay special attention to the dinner. At such times, you must remember, Lucullus dines with Lucullus.”
Create your own ritual for being kind to yourself. We plan for much more mundane things. The ways we choose to eat and nourish ourselves are crucial to our self-assuredness and the craft and finesse of eating solo. This is an attainable New Year’s resolution.