Dining Alone

dining alone

 I have a few unexpected days alone in Martha’s Vineyard - time to write, walk on the beach and just be. I am reminded of the first time I set off from home alone to write, my bulky desktop cradled in the back seat of my car, my family three hundred miles behind. It was 1998. I had arrived at dusk after a long drive from Atlanta to Saxapahaw, N.C. My friend, Kristy Lee, has restored a cabin there with a view of the Haw River from its rambling screened porch.  I hadn't had time to stop in town for groceries so I drove on, trusting my friend, a consummate foodie, would likely have something to hold me over until morning.  I rummaged through her pantry and found a can of black bean soup that I cheerfully heated in the microwave.  I accompanied it with a rice cake that I pretended to be bread, dipping it in the soup.  What was surprising was the relish with which I ate that meager meal.  For all the years that I have made mealtime complicated, this was a refreshing change.  

I don't often dine alone, but there is something very satisfying about preparing food just the way you like it and sharing your meal with a book or, as in Saxapahaw, the slow descent of evening. The focus is the conversation between you and the meal.  The slurps of soup are slower. There is no hurry to get on to the next topic. Back then, there were no iPads or Facebook to distract me from the particulars of that time and place.

So often, in preparing meals for others, I forget to be fully present in the exchange. I worry about what others need and whether they are satisfied at the end of the meal. Or my attention lingers only briefly on the conversation before turning my attention to the bubbling pot left on the stove that threatens to scorch.

So rarely do I have the luxury of solitude that it takes a little practice to find my own rhythm.   I get very inventive and spare in my cooking then, searching for a dash of this or that to round out some leftovers that no one else would bother with. When I have only myself to please I've come up with some unusual combinations.  For all my culinary training and customary attention to balancing flavor and texture and nutrition, I'm not very hard to please.

The next morning the pantry yielded even less: only rice cakes, peanut butter and an apple I had carried with me.  So I sliced the apple and propped up the wedges in a ramekin and sprinkled them with cinnamon and an exotic vanilla powder I found in the spice drawer.  I put it in the oven and went out for a run knowing that there would be nothing more wonderful than the rich smell of a cinnamon baked apple to reward me when I returned.  I placed the steaming treat on a tin plate and the round of rice cake topped with peanut butter next to it.  I thought to notice how beautiful they looked together on the old green porch table.  I sat and watched birds swooping over the kudzu carpet that lined the river, savoring every bite.



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