Dinner for One: What do you eat when you’re alone?

The first time I really had to start cooking for myself was probably my second year in college. I shared an apartment with five other girls and I’m not quite sure why, but we all pretty much made single-serving dinners all year long. We’d eat together, but I can’t think of any time we actually coordinated a meal. Is that common to newly emancipated young adults with little cooking experience?

Nonetheless, I picked up a few new kitchen habits that year. My roommate Lisa brought along a rice cooker—the first I’d ever used. We never ate rice in my house. It was something that only appeared in white takeout boxes (which is pretty much the only way it appears in mine now). I fell in love with that starchy, warm smell of Japanese white rice cooking. Whenever I could, I would have black beans and white sticky rice in a flour tortilla—with barbecue sauce. I must have made that for myself over 100 times that year.

Sometimes now, when I’m alone, I think how much I’d love one of those slightly sweet, bean and white rice burritos and lament the absent ingredient.

But more likely the pleasure is equally the youthful bit about not having to really have or plan a meal at all: a chunk of cheese and a box of crackers, or an apple and a jar of almond butter… or maybe I’ll just skip directly to ice cream. That will do just fine.

I asked some girlfriends (all married with kids) about what they like to make when they find themselves with a night alone and popcorn came up more than once. Here are some examples…

“Buttered popcorn, and if I think I won’t get caught, I’ll have only that for dinner.”

“Granola and Fage yogurt with real maple syrup. Always.”

“Sour cream and caviar omelets are my comfort food. It’s what my mom made for me when I did poorly on a test, or cried over a bad haircut. I buy the relatively cheap black lumpfish caviar from the tuna aisle at the grocery store. The caviar is also great in half of a pitted avocado with a squeeze of lemon.”

“I love putting butter on toast and adding a topping mix of cinnamon and sugar and toasting it—sounds simple but I love it. My mom used to make it for me when I was little so it’s reminiscent of my childhood. I make it for my older daughter occasionally as a treat and she loves it.”

“If I find myself home alone once the kids have gone to sleep, you will probably find me eating an entire bowl of popcorn from the air popper. I always add olive oil, cracked pepper and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. If it’s summer, I could eat watermelon and be totally content….with a Coors Lite.” [Ed. note: that popcorn combo, I can attest, is addictive.]

“When I’m pregnant, any kind of cheese (but especially Swiss), tart apple slices, garlic hummus and crackers is divine. Normally, I am a big fan of a huge salad with just about anything in it.”

“I like cold simple dinners when I’m alone. My husband loves his ‘meals’ with the starch, the meat, the veg—ALL THE TIME. So when its just me, I will make myself a little plate of cheese, bread, tomatoes, peppers, maybe some prosciutto if we have it—whatever we have in the fridge that sounds tasty.”

I’m curious, what do you like to eat when you’re alone? (And why?)

P.S. Judith Jones—food editor to the likes of Julia Child—wrote about The Pleasures of Cooking for One. And Alone in the Kitchen with Eggplant is a collection of writings by diverse authors (Nora Ephron, Ann Patchett, M.F.K. Fisher, etcetera) about eating alone along with recipes “requiring no division or subtraction.”

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