Thursday, March 08, 2012

Eating Alone

Sean's been in Los Angeles with his mom for ten days and in that week-and-a-half, I've learned something: My views on eating alone have completely changed.

Is it because I'm lonely, you wonder? No -- even though I am, a little. It's because before, when I was single, eating alone was The Norm. I lived alone, I ate alone. I cooked only things I liked, planned for leftovers, and went out a few times a week simply to be sure I wouldn't shrivel. 

Then for awhile I lived with someone, only he traveled for work all the time. Most weekdays I was alone in our house perched near the top of one of San Francisco's big hills. I'd watch the fog roll in and feel the chill begin to seep through the cracks. I hardly ever went out during this time. I was finishing the book, and I was poor and tired. Most days, an intense yoga class and a bowl of soup sounded better than fighting for a solo spot at a restaurant in the Mission.

Now, I am married. I live in a different house, near the bottom of a different hill, but I can still watch the fog roll in. And when that starts to happen, I know it's time to get up from my desk and make dinner.

I cook five nights a week, at least. Always something different, only a little repetition, and the meals are hearty. All of a sudden I cook like my mother: Meat, a side salad, maybe some bread. Ideally there's something else in there too -- A rice, quinoa, or lentil salad, roasted potatoes or brussels sprouts. Sometimes Sean eyes the dinner plate and then -- before he ever even sits down -- pulls a cheese or two from the fridge so they can soften while we eat. This means he's really hungry (a long run) or that my "substantial" meal of beans and greens isn't quite substantial enough.

Now that he's gone more, I've completely stopped cooking. I stretch my leftovers beyond what most people would consider reasonable, and eat lots of my usual lunches for dinner. This often means slabs of Acme bread with hummus, avocado, and cheese, or scrambled eggs and steamed greens dribbled with olive oil. One night I ate cheez-its and a side salad. This was the night that got me thinking.

I knew lots of girls that ate like this all the time when they were single: Bags of Trader Joe's edamame tossed with salt. Bowls of granola. Cheese and crackers. Waffles. But I was never that girl. I always cooked meals. I always took care of myself. What happened?

I think (hope) that this has less to do with slovenly behavior or a total abandonment of my self than it does with an acknowledgement of my own needs -- as separate from Sean's needs and different from our needs as a couple.

Now when I'm home alone taking care of myself means something different than it did before. Some nights I'd rather take a bath than cook dinner. Others, I'd rather crawl into bed and write or think about bohemian poets. And then there are the nights that all I really want to do is watch TV and bake coconut-cashew-cranberry granola and eat roasted brussels sprouts for dinner. Again.

I'm curious to know what you think about all this. What do you eat when you're alone? If you live with someone -- a roommate or love -- is it different when they're gone?

I don't really have plans to make any big adjustments, mind you. In fact I think that's my point: Sometimes the best way to take care of yourself is to just do the things that make you feel like you.


Kasey @ Turntable Kitchen said...

What a great post, Anne! I felt like I was reading my own thoughts. Before I married Matt, I used to make full meals for myself for dinner because, as you say, that was The Norm. Now, when I'm home alone, I find myself cooking up a big batch of quinoa or soba noodles, maybe some pan-fried tofu. Sometimes, just a side of cheese and crackers. These meals are almost always vegetarian, never have I thought of posting about them on my blog (they're the RANDOMEST arrangement!). It's funny to think what cooking means to you when you are single, dating, married, or married and spending a little time alone.

Eileen said...

Well, although I have to say I often eat slices of bread with avocado and cheese for lunch in general, I think I actually cook more when I'm on my own. It helps a lot that my person doesn't eat several things I love--mushrooms, cilantro, sour cream--so I end up using them copiously in a variety of dishes, and eating them all week (or however long).

amelia said...

It's kind of fascinating what happens when Matt isn't around. The energy shifts and suddenly, I can do or not do whatever I want! Sometimes I make brie pasta, which he doesn't like (he's craaazy.) and sometimes, it's a frozen pizza. Very strange, but indulgent nonetheless.

Great post, Anne!!

Heather Taylor said...

Beautiful post!

nicole said...

I'm with you - when I lived alone (all of 2 1/2 years), I definitely cooked well for myself. I think back then I experimented a bit more - sometimes I'd make pizza from-scratch just because - and definitely was only vegetarian all the time. D is an unashamed omnivore, so I find myself cooking a bit of meat for him, or at least stuff that's more 'hearty' than my old standard fare of beans and greens and vegetable soups (though of course I do still cook those). My ideal single-girl meal was a baked sweet potato with a sliced of melted cheese and sauteed spinach on the side; sometimes I'd roast a cauliflower or a bunch of asparagus and eat that with bread and cheese if I didn't feel like cooking a big thing. Still, I don't feel that I cook any more or any less now that I'm married.

But I have to say that there is a pleasure in cooking just for myself that equals the pleasure I experience cooking for others (which I so love to do). It's just different. And while I do have nostalgia for those days, I wouldn't wish them back. I just make sure to truly enjoy them when he's occasionally out of town :)

Sarah (The Yellow House) said...

Funny that you write this. I've been thinking about it a lot lately. For me, it varies...right now I'm in a third month of cooking full meals, sitting down to dinner, glass of wine poured, by myself every night. Before that, I was in a more slab-of-bread rut. But I still liked it, you know? it was still a good dinner. Like most things, for me it's cyclical.

Denise | Chez Danisse said...

Eating alone. This is a topic that intrigues me. I like to know what other people eat almost as much as I like to know what they read.

When Chris is away my behavior, not only cooking and eating, becomes quite random. I continue to like to eat at home, but some days I'll want the pure simplicity of a meal that includes a basket of strawberries and an avocado smashed on toast and other days I'll feel like baking a cake or making a homemade pizza or an intricate pasta dish. It's always a surprise.