Eating alone: I like it. Oh, I know I’m not supposed to. It’s anti-social and weird and is probably tied to overeating. From a foodie perspective, it’s not a great deal either: it’s makes no sense to cook large roasts or pans of brownies or pancakes for one. (There’s no such thing as a pancake recipe that serves just one.) And, c’mon, what kind of person really enjoys eating alone? That’s what you do when you’re stuck somewhere on a business trip, or when killing time at the airport, or when you’re a young single person living alone in your little apartment. Ahem.
But consider: When eating alone, you can eat and make whatever you like, with no concerns about how a potential dining partner will enjoy your efforts. For me that usually means roasted vegetables, and more vegetables: brussels sprouts with feta, cauliflower topped with a poached egg, butternut squash, eaten with a side of sautéed mushrooms and spinach. This is stuff you can’t serve to company. Guys, in my experience, particularly don’t take to it.
Eating alone also spares you from awkward social dynamics of eating with others. I once met a man, a real gourmet, who said that the best dining companions are a good headwaiter and a damn good sommelier. To this I would add that a magazine or a book is often as good of a dining companion as any. Eating one with a significant other, for instance, is never as blissful as it sounds: in the beginning, there’s a scramble for conversation topics and awkward pauses; a little later, long pauses and more interest in satiating hunger than in one’s partner; much later…talk about the miscellanea of life, I guess. Home repairs, yard work, kids. I wouldn’t know.
I admit that eating alone has its downsides: I like wine but I wouldn’t think of drinking alone; I miss feedback (that is, praise) for my cooking; I’d hesitate to eat alone at a restaurant with wait staff, though I admire people, especially women, who do so. An underappreciated dining companion, I think, is a reticent reader with an appreciation of food. When I was a kid one of my favorite things to do was to crunch on an apple while reading a favorite book. To this day my eyes often stray to whatever readable matter is on the table—newspapers, old mail, labels on condiment bottles. A good meal and a good book (or magazine, or newspaper, or even work, why not) in front of each diner, and voila: domestic bliss.
Oh, and here’s a loose recipe for my favorite roasted cauliflower with a poached egg. Serves 1, maybe 1.5.
Start with a small head of cauliflower. Cut the cauliflower into florets or just slice it diagonally. Put in a foil-lined pan and add a dash of kosher salt, ground black pepper, red pepper flakes, paprika, and olive oil. Roast for about 25-30 minutes, turning the cauliflower over halfway through the cooking time.
Five minutes before the cauliflower is done, bring a couple of cups of water and a splash of vinegar to a boil in a small saucepan. When the water is boiling, break a large egg or two into a saucer, making sure to keep the yolk whole. Turn down the heat to a very gentle simmer and carefully slip the egg into the water. Start a timer—you want to poach the egg for about 3.5 minutes. In the meantime, remove the cauliflower from the oven and and plate it. Grate or sprinkle some cheese over it—Pamesan, feta, whatever you like. Toast some nice bread. Your egg should be done by now. Use a slotted spoon to carefully remove it, gently shake off the excess water, and place the egg on top the caramelized cauliflower. Salt to taste. Jab the egg with a fork until the soft, gooey, eggy yolk seeps over the cauliflower. Eat. Use the bread to wipe your plate clean.