Making and sharing food is one of life’s most enjoyable communal pleasures, but our busy lives dictate that at some point we’ll need to eat alone and while most of us do solo breakfast and lunch with ease, somehow dinner for one feels different.
In our household of two adults and two teenagers, a business trip and coinciding school camps conspired to give me two nights of total freedom. So what would I do about dinner? For once I had different options. I didn’t have to juggle the herbivores vs carnivores, low-carb vs pasta, have mushrooms carefully extracted out of quiches or pushed-aside baked potatoes. I considered. Dinner with some girlfriends was appealing. One of us would cook something delicious while the others brought contributions, we’d drink reckless quantities of cosmos from our most elegant glasses, exchange outrageous stories, laugh and eat far too much.
Or I could have dinner for one, eating whatever most pleased me.
Which made me wonder what other cooks did when eating alone. What secret dining pleasures did they indulge in when not obliged to cook for others? And I discovered a surprising variety of answers as idiosyncratic and varied as the people I asked.
From mothers I got variations on the theme of:
‘If I didn’t have to make cauliflower pizza bases and cauliflower rice for the teenager and at the same time hear wails of oh not cauliflower again from the younger siblings, I’d eat frikken ice-cream for dinner!’
‘Since living on my own after 30 years of parenting, I tend to eat very simply and I love the freedom of eating whenever I want rather than at set meal times, I get to go by my own clock.’
From those living alone, came a mixture of forward-thinking practicality and indulgent favourites:
‘One of my favourite solo meals is Perfect Eggs, fried in butter with garlic and chopped spring onion, on de-crusted lightly toasted rye bread, with grilled tomatoes, basil, sprinkled with salt and pepper.’
‘I’ll make a big meaty, veggie casserole – enough to freeze for the days I don’t feel like cooking.’
I got this from a husband and father of four, capturing a moment which, while not exactly dinner, was brimming with the pleasure of solo enjoyment:
‘While I love cooking, I seldom cook for myself. But I do this: we have an old fashioned wooden hand-turned coffee grinder for my Guatemalan beans. I fill the hopper of the small wooden box with a handful of fragrant beans, slide over its domed cover, and whirl the handle until the small tray is full. Meanwhile my little espresso machine is warming up – in go the grounds, and we’re cooking, immersed in the earthy aroma of freshly brewing coffee. I steam the milk and then bliss has arrived!’
And then there were the pleasurable guilty confessions:
‘I tend to start cooking when I’m already hungry so it has to be quick. I cook noodles and eggs with some bacon – fast, easy and FAT! It may not be that healthy but oh so satisfying!’
‘Dining out alone is a big pleasure for me. I start off by ordering something healthy, then can’t help but finish with some irresistible sweet indulgence. I know you’re not supposed to do this but I also love reading while eating!’
So what about me?
I made a lamb roast. I know. I feel weirdly guilty but that was my craving. No one else in my family eats lamb so I figured this was my chance. With green beans, mushrooms and a baked potato.
And the next night I had supper with my girlfriends: gorgonzola and marscarpone cheese pâté with fresh thyme, chives and rosemary on melba toast; soft, luscious homemade paneer in a bean curry on roti; a spicy yellow dahl and homemade chocolate, cardamom and cinnamon rice pudding with ice-cream for dessert.
It was truly the best of both worlds.