Dinner For One

The world of culinary delights is vast, well populated and infinitely wondrous. If I had to come down on one side, I would say that I am pro-food, and that everyone should have as much as they like, especially if they’re hungry.

If I may paraphrase the great Douglas Adams;

When all the questions of space, time, matter and the nature of being have been resolved, only one question remains: Where shall we have dinner?

I like to cook for others; when I lived with Best Friend Dan we would make sure we made time to have Wednesday night off and I would make a spicy meaty pasta dish from scratch, with crisps on top, and homemade ice cream and we would watch stand-up comedy and thriller films and eat ourselves sick. They were some of the best nights ever.

However, there comes a time when one must fend for oneself, and only for oneself. If you’re like me, that time is all the time.

The amount of times I’ve been dining out alone, writing in a notepad to convince people who aren’t interested that I’m a restaurant critic and thus have a reason to be there, ruining the atmosphere and spoiling their night is, frankly, none. Why leave the house? I read an article about a man who proposed to his girlfriend and was publicly humiliated when she rejected him, but he had to sit and eat his steak because he’d paid so much for it. She took hers to-go.

***

One of the semi-tragic benefits of being fundamentally lonely is that whilst you won’t be sharing your mealtimes with a loved one, making pleasant small talk about the days events or what’s on telly, you will be able to relive the whole experience verbatim the next night when you eat the other half of your dish, with an additional aftertaste of microwaves and shame.

Your diet will hold out for as long as your pride, but there will come a point when it isn’t really worth putting effort in, as no-one will be impressed anyway. This is the tipping point; it’s very easy to give up and settle for quick fixes and things the come in plastic trays. A cheeky pizza or takeaway is an indulgence for a couple, or group of two-or-more friends1 but for one it’s a bit tragic. It says ‘I have given up on me. I do not deserve my own effort. I will eat this, not because it is tasty, but so that I can survive to see if things get better.’

Eventually you may grow to resent the process of cooking, opting instead for the quick and painless microwave dinner or similar meal for one, just to avoid being seemingly judged by your saucepans. This in turn may spill over into seeing every aspect of a meal as a failed test of companionship. It never goes quite as far as writing ‘PATHETIC’ in alphabet spaghetti, but I have caught myself staring forlornly at the plate like it’s done me a personal injustice.

The ultimate question is whether any dish, and the preparation thereof is a suitable metaphor for apathy, whatever the cause. Either way, I’m in trouble, as some of my favourite dishes are self-indulgence; macaroni cheese bagels, for example, or peanut-butter beans.2 

The self-scan areas of supermarkets have been a godsend for people like me who have to endure the admonishing gaze of scorn or pity from cashiers. A machine won’t judge me as I zip a microwave meal across it’s laser and straight into an opaque bag, lest anyone see. I make sure to thank the robot for its discretion as I pay. ‘Thank you, Discretion Robot.’ I say. It receives my platitudes coldly, telling me to take my change and sod off.

One of the first signs of madness must surely be personifying inanimate objects, and another still must be the feeling of being negatively judged by them3 but with all things considered, a microwavable dinner for one need not be a metaphor for your failings. You just need to make the meal look more miserable than you.

Macaroni Cheese Bagels

BWAAAAH!


1 I’m making it sound like Twister.

2 A recipe via Musical Adam: for a sublimely self-indulgent meal, thwack a glob of peanut butter in a pan of baked beans and cook. Enjoy this new goop over toast or a hot sausage roll. Add cheese to taste.

3 I assume that these are two signs of madness. I don’t want to look in case the first sign of madness is looking up what the first signs of madness are.

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31 thoughts on “Dinner For One

  1. You, sir, need a pet. A dog or cat will not only provide mealtime companionship, she will insist upon sharing your meal and act as though everything you cook is the most fantastic thing she ever ate in her life. You won’t be able to settle for microwave meals because they’re too small to share, and a cat won’t approve of bagels. Problem solved.

    Or you could start inviting yourself over to other people’s homes around mealtime. “Oh, were you eating? My apologies. Why yes, I’d love to join you!”

    • Well as much as I’d like a cat, my allergies to their fur might do me in. Also, in order to invite myself over to others for tea, I must first have friends within walking distance. I suppose the least they could do was offer me a meal and begged-for company after a two-hour round trip.

      What I ought to do is take more pride in my cooking, and for that I need more time and inclination, and for that I need less work, so for now it’s a fish-finger sandwich and then back to the grindstone.

      (I do not use a grindstone. I don’t even know what one is. What I should have said was drawing board, because that is actually what I do, but did I? No I didn’t. Did I need to explain this thought process? No I didn’t. But did I publish it? Yes I did.)

  2. On a moments notice I can whip up a dish to delight even the most critical food critic. My husband is spoiled with exquisite dinners and delectable lunches every day at work. But when I am alone, with no one to taste my creations… I eat Top Ramen.

    I can’t believe I just shared that with you and your comment reader-bys, it’s a dirty little secret. We must have unlocked virtual friend status. Now about this macaroni cheese bagel. Do you put the mac n cheese on the bagel and eat it like a sandwich??? I do a similar thing with leftover spaghetti and bread. It’s called a sketti sammich.

    • Ah! The secrets of a domestic Goddess! No worries, we’re supercool friends now, which is brilliant, and everyone around these parts can keep a secret. Your husband will never know. (That’s a sentence I never thought I’d have to write.)

      The macaroni cheese does indeed go into the buttered bagel and is eaten like a sandwich. Salt and black pepper can be added to taste. It’s messy and it’s quick and it’s awesome. I will be trying out the ‘sketti sammich’ (love that name!) the next time I cook it, and it reminds me of something a friend talked about once called Spaghetti Bolognese Pie, in which the spag bol is encased in a calzone-like pizza crust pastry, and is eaten like a pasty.

      And when I say pasty, I mean a foodstuff we have here in England (particularly the West Country) which is a load of meat and veg encased in a crust, and which originated in the mines, when wives would make there husbands little foot parcels they could eat, and then thrown the coal-y crust away. Sometimes there was a little partition with jam (jelly) in for pudding (desert).

      I did NOT mean the American definition: those things that you can stick on your nipples for erotic purposes. Not only should they be discouraged in a food preparation area, eating one might constitute a choking hazard.

      • Hahaha Pasty. I had to good it because I was sure you were confusing the word with “pastry”.

        I get it now.

        PS, totally correct about the “no pasties while prepping food”. Learn that the hard way.

      • There is one possible exception – my friend burnt his nipples whilst making purple soup once, and pasties there might have absorbed some of the heat.

      • Or just melted onto his nipples…

        Now that would have made for an interesting Emergency Room visit. Hahaha.

      • I’ll be honest, I’m not familiar enough with the multifarious world of nipple tassels and the like to know what their melting point might be, but it sounds like you’ve done some extensive research…

  3. I often have visions of the cashier at the supermarket look at my purchases and think, “Really?” while eying me up and down critically. Don’t judge, who doesn’t enjoy a good meal of sausage & cookies?

    • I keep telling myself ‘They don’t hate me. They hate their job and are having a bad day. The fact that that incredulous face coincided with the scanning of that ice-cream is a coincidence. That look of disgust is a stifled sneeze’ etc.

  4. Visible smile at “microwaves and shame”. I relate so much to this post that I feel like I wrote it. Except, you did, and well. I have the opposite problem of the perpetual frozen meal, I cook. I cook too much, all the time, and never learn my lesson. Sure, while I am making my masterpiece I feel like a sexy bachelorette practicing my genius gift. Then I have to sit alone at my kitchen bar eating in silence ad staring at the left over 75% of [insert awesome dish I found on Pinterest here] that will surely be tossed in a day when I eat 0% more of it. It is okay though, because like you, my affairs with inanimate objects keep me sane.

    • I love me a good visible smile! Hopefully I can rustle up a ‘borderline-inaudible mirthful exhalation’ for you with the next one.

      I do enjoy cooking when I have the time, but as you say, it’s that leftovers problem that haunts you, taunting you, daring you to have another mouthful, just for the sake of starving third-world citizens.

      It’s always nice to find a fellow friend of the anthropomorphised object. I’d like to think that one day our paths will cross, but we’ll be too busy talking to doorknobs and ladels and outdoor furniture to notice.

  5. HAHAHA. Oh, the commonalities of singledom. My Facebook status not too long ago was: “I just bought a cookbook called, “Cooking for One.” Did I just give up?”

    Oh, and don’t get a pet. THAT’S giving up.

    • One might argue that announcing it on Facebook might be a call for help, or at least inviting snarky jokes.

      I have a favourite radio show which featured a famously single comedian, who was teased mercilessly. It was suggested that he do his own cookery show called ‘Chefing and Misery’ (which was the title for this post until I remembered no-one would get the reference) in which he would cook an exquisite meal, then realise as he got it out of the oven that he was all alone in the world, and would stare into the middle distance before busting into tears and throwing his dinner at the wall. The final shot would be of a dog coming along and licking it all up as it fades to black to the sound of weeping.

      • Oh my gosh, this is so embarrassing but I could barely understand what they were saying! The accents! Hahaha I did make out the end as you described (and probably because you prepped me for it). On first listen I thought they were saying “bacon” trays and now I realize they were saying “baking” trays. HAHAHA. I was thinking you had special trays to cook bacon on over there! I also first heard “cock” a couple of times but then figured out they said “cook” due to the context. Radio isn’t the best medium for those not used to accents, oh wow. So this was really funny to me for more reasons than one, thanks!

      • Confusingly enough, they are talking about both bacon and baking trays; a listener texted in to answer a previous question about whether it would be possible to make a completely flat rasher of bacon by cooking it between two irons, and another calls in to offer the solution of foiling up two baking trays and putting it in the oven.

        Russell is the more famous of the two comedians, and is very much a glass-half-full man. He’s from the city of Bristol, in the West Country. Here’s some more of his stand-up:

        However, the one I imagine you will identify with much more is Jon, who’s form Lancaster in the North. He is my personal hero, and is pretty much responsible for me being the way I am. I was lucky enough to meet him in the High Street once. In the early days, their radio show had a section called ‘Am I Normal?’ which celebrated everyone’s weird, OCD flavoured obsessive awkward habits, which was a genuine relief to hear. Jon has also been single for almost nine years. This was an epiphany moment for me. It will be comforting, I’m sure, to know that after eight years of wringing the humour out of his misery, he landed a book deal. In an absolute ideal perfect future, Jon will play the character based on me in the sitcom Best Friend Dan and I are writing.

        Here’s some of Jon’s stand-up:

  6. I am now giggling incessantly. I am also now following you like a lost puppy doggy because of this post. Why? As I sat here reading this post and nearly choking from laughter, I am eating my own judgmental meal for one: Rice cakes slathered in peanut butter and honey. Followed by one covered in cheese.

    • Thank you J! I’ve been reliably informed that I have provided wry smiles, and if I’m very lucky, the occasional involuntary snigger, but this is a first for an incessant giggle, so that has made my day. I hope there are no longer bits of rice cake clogging your airways, and that there aren’t any on your screen either.

      I will check out your blog properly as soon as I’ve waded through all these notifications! In the meantime, may I congratulate you on your phrasing of ‘following like a lost puppy doggy’? It’s so sweet!

      Also; I’ve written out a reply to your comment three times now, this one had better ‘stick’, or else I shall look rude.

      • Nah, it’s early in the day. You might see something else that makes your day even more but you can’t admit because I’ve already stolen the title. So, I’ll accept having made your yesterday and allow other people to potentially make your today! Because I’m nice like that.

      • Well, as it’s nearing 7:00 in the evening here in the UK, my morning will have to be satisfied by being made by the pint of tea I imbibed. You can claim the afternoon if you like?

      • I cannot even begin to compete against the effectiveness of a cuppa. I shall humble myself with claiming that I have made your afternoon. As for the evening, especially on a Friday in the UK, there is no way I can compete with a pint and whatever antics are involved around that.

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