I’m on the cusp of completing my intermittent reading of James and Kay Salter’s book, Life Is Meals: A Food Lover’s Book of Days. It’s a great collection of food trivia, tips, recommendations and personal anecdotes and recollections organised in a cozy package. I checked out my copy from the Orange County Library, but it’s a nice little book to buy for your favourite food lover.
In the book, I particularly enjoyed becoming acquainted with the great stars of food history and gastronomy: Sylvester Graham, A J Liebling, Juliette Recamier, and Brillat-Savarin to name a few.
I also liked the comments the Salters gave on “Solitary Dinners,” which I found interesting having had a few solitary dinners at home and out in the public. Of the latter, I can find them at times pleasurable or awkward, depending on the eatery. If I eat out alone, I prefer bringing along a book as company. When I was in school, I would often read textbooks and highlight passages in-between bites, or I would work on a short story idea prior to my food arriving. There have been a couple of rough, handwritten drafts of short stories and Japanese homework bearing the mark of the vinaigrette concoction from Stardust.
Nowadays, since I fix food more at home and am saving money for one thing or another, I don’t eat out alone as often. In fact, perhaps the last time I did so recently was at Bikes, Beans & Bordeaux a few weeks ago. It’s a rarity now because money is so tight, so I don’t feel like indulging as much as I used to. But, it seems, the best places to dine alone–at least in Orlando, but perhaps in general–are cafes and teahouses such as Stardust, Infusion, B3 and Pom-Pom’s. Perhaps because the atmosphere is informal, you’re allowed the extra time to lounge and have an extra cup of coffee or tea, bottle of beer or glass of wine. Taking out a book or opening up your laptop is accepted, unlike a “proper” restaurant, or even some diners.
Eating alone at home can be different as well, not so much in what you’re eating, but how you’re eating it. It’s one thing to make a peanut butter and jam sandwich on a paper towel and eat it standing up over the counter, whereas eating the same sandwich off a plate at a dining table or even your coffee table with a nice cup of Earl Grey elevates it to a little ceremony. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found these little ceremonies enjoyable, and seem more fulfilling when the food is on a plate. Granted, my dishes pile up a bit more with all the plates and mugs and tea strainers, but there’s a sense of giving the soul a little something to feed on as well as the stomach. It’s a happy thing that makes simple meals that much more special, even more so when you don’t always have the time to eat in such a way. Even take-out seems better out of the styrofoam and paper containers and on a real plate with real silverware, or even the plastic IKEA reusable utensils. Yes, leftover pizza deserves a bit of dignity at times. Because, excepting the street food sold in stalls and push-carts around the world–as some of the best food can be found with these vendors, if the food isn’t worth taking a moment and eating on a plate, is it really worth eating?