Why do people pity you when you dine alone? I love taking some time just for myself yet, all too often, it becomes tainted by people’s reactions. Last time, at my favourite coffee shop, the barista even said ‘Good luck’ as I left, knowing I am usually there with a man who has a much finer appreciation for coffee than I do.
I often try (unsuccessfully) to make the waiter feel bad for asking me if I would like another menu. I think it’s downright rude to ask: “Will someone else be joining you?” Why not just do your job and bring another menu if someone else arrives, instead of making me feel like a lonely old spinster. I have heard (she says hopefully) that people are more accepting in Italy and France, they wouldn’t assume you’re single because you happen to be by yourself. And so what if you are? There’s more to life, I say.
As Amanda Hesser writes in her charming memoir Cooking for Mr Latte: “In the same way that you should get massages or take naps or meditate, you should, everyone should, make a point to eat out by yourself from time to time. You should be kind enough to yourself to lavish your appetite with good food without the interruptions of company.”
I love cooking just for myself. I know that I am lucky that I enjoy it, or that it isn’t as much of a chore as it is when you are working full time and raising children. For most women food is both comfort and reward. I for one never really feel I deserve anything, except good food. It seems I’m with Nigella Lawson with this one. In a recent article for Fair Lady magazine, she said: “It feels so ungrateful not to take pleasure. People say to me, what’s your guilty pleasure? And I think, why should I feel guilty about pleasure? I think the only thing you should feel guilty about is not taking pleasure.”
And indeed, there is nothing more pleasurable than making a meal just for yourself. You can add all the ingredients your loved ones don’t like, or aren’t allowed to eat! Again I am reminded of Amanda Hesser’s description of taking her own food on a plane, complete with a real fork – “which disturbingly, makes it through the x-ray every time”. She sits back to eat blanched asparagus with blood-orange vinaigrette, goat’s curd cheese, prosciutto and Medjool dates. “It never hurts to be a fussy gourmet, even in coach,” she quips.
I remember once leaving a party early on New Year’s Eve because the host was being an arsehole of the highest order. I stopped at the supermarket on my way back to my Bohemian garden cottage. So all I had to do was I kick off my heels, switch on the TV and watch the silly soap opera specials. It may not sound like much but sparkling apple juice, fresh grapes and smoked salmon with some salads from the deli really is a meal fit for a queen, if not a down-on-her luck princess. Especially when it’s on your own terms. The perfect ending was a mini slab of dark Swiss chocolate. It was actually the best New Year’s Eve of my entire life.
This weekend I made my favourite and simplest meal, spaghetti with olive oil and garlic. But this time I added a solitary anchovy and some halved cherry tomatoes as well. I peered into the cupboard and found a small handful of almonds rattling around. I roughly chopped them and roasted them in a small copper pan. Then I added a nut of butter, before I knew it, it had magically turned into brown butter. I quickly added a clove of thinly sliced garlic, the chopped anchovy and some black pepper. A delicate shower of freshly shaved Parmesan was all it needed to become the best Sunday night supper I have had in years.
The next day I made a heavenly broccoli soup with blue cheese. Here’s how. Take a whole head of broccoli and rinse thoroughly. Cut off a thin slice off the main stem part. Chop the stem parts (which are the best part for this recipe) into little bits and do the same with the florets.
Wash and thinly slice two leeks, including some of the green leaves. In a large pot, fry the leeks in olive oil with half a teaspoon of fennel seed, roughly pounded in a mortar and pestle. Add two cloves of thinly sliced garlic. When the leeks begin to brown, add two cups of dry white wine and reduce. Then add 3 tbs vegetable stock powder (not cubes) or jellied fresh stock (one mini cup). Add a dash of milk or some coconut milk. Toss in the broccoli pieces, cover and cook until soft but still pliant. Crumble in half a wedge of blue cheese and stir to heat through. Using a stick blender, pulse until smooth. Eat with crackers or plain toast.
Dessert was the simplest of pleasures- a clementine and a square of frozen chocolate brownie with walnuts. It really is lovely to be left alone for a bit to nestle in the middle of the bed, balancing a bowl of something comforting in your lap and watching one of the better Wes Anderson films.
I mean, what is there to feel bad about? We all have to eat, so why not make it count.