The remains of the cake

The remains of the cake

“The things men come to eat when they are alone are, I suppose, not much stranger than the men themselves.”
—M. F. K. Fisher,
An Alphabet for Gourmets

As a functionally depressive Ph.D. student in my early twenties (as most of those are), I lived on my own in a 250–square foot shoebox studio in Morningside Heights, New York and, aside from the occasional suitor, took 100% of my meals alone. For years the nine-to-fiver’s sad desk lunch was my every meal, and the table I set for myself on weeknights — or rather, the crowded tray I lugged to bed in my bathrobe — was a far cry from the “balanced” plate of protein, carbohydrate, and vegetable with which the family of four might concern itself. But this monasticism (which wasn’t free, necessarily, of misanthropy), taught me at an early age not just how to survive solitude, but also how to enjoy it — and eventually, even, how to prefer it.

Sometimes it was truly a sad bachelor’s affair, as Fisher paints it: “snatched bottles of milk and grabbed drugstore ham-on-ryes.” But on the rare occasion that the bachelor made himself stew, it was not utterly abysmal. In fact, after having to learn to feed myself in that tiny apartment all those years (a critical juncture for me, culinarily), these days it’s the food I prepare for myself that’s sometimes the only food I really want to eat: a properly rare filet mignon with twice-cooked potatoes; a small Brook trout baked in parchment with shiitake mushrooms; a fried egg stirred into a bowl of steaming white rice studded with capers. It’s not that I have an incredible confidence in my inner gourmand or in my abilities as a home cook, but more so that the food I make myself is made to please me and only me — and why shouldn’t it?

As Nigella Lawson writes in Feast, “the act of cooking for yourself is in itself a supremely positive act, an act of kindness.”

e. k.

New York
October, 2016