I read Tamar Adler’s lovely book An Everlasting Meal in graduate school, and I still return to it, so I was delighted to discover that she’s now writing a column for the New York Times. In her first essay, she writes about elevating dinner for one:
For a happy life, Montaigne wrote, we “should set aside a room, just for ourselves, at the back of the shop” — a refuge, mental if not physical, where our liberty is ours alone and our conversation inward. I like to think he meant us to include a carefully laid dinner table in the room’s shaded corner, considering how thoroughly our useful exercise of freedom relies on our being well fed.
Too often, though, when alone and hungry, we end up eating poorly. Or I have: Over the years, I’ve rushed through dozens of bad dinners scraped together because they were just for me, only to later realize the bad food and haste had delivered me directly into the loneliness I was trying to avoid. It’s when I’ve resolved to act not by myself but withmyself — to serve as dignified a meal to me as I would to another — that the room has come to seem full and happy and loneliness has slunk away.
At their best, solitary meals take advantage of solitude. My most straightforward and happiest involve only basic cooking and mostly arranging of elements that, because I don’t have to seek consensus at the table, can be as irreverent as my tastes are. It feels strange to truly accept that, for once, you can listen to no one, making combinations that are right for only you. But once you get used to it, it’s shockingly freeing.