"Cooking for yourself allows you to be strange or decadent or both."
- Jenni Ferrari-Adler, in her Introduction to Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone
I fell in love with canned sardines today.
Allow me to explain. The book mentioned above is a collection of short stories that I'm currently reading, in which food writers and chefs reveal their secrets of eating alone -- dinners involving saltines, or black beans, or canned anchovies, or anything else that they wouldn't normally eat with another person. I'm halfway through the book and ready to embrace the dinner for one.
I went to the grocery store tonight and bought ingredients that I don't normally buy, foods that I don't really eat but think I should be eating, like artichoke hearts and kale and tofu. And as I was stocking up on the 10 for 10 cans of tuna, the sardines caught my eye. And I picked up a package of the little fishies, as I often do when I'm exploring the aisles, and I considered buying it. I've always wanted to get into sardines because they're healthy and easy, but I always end up putting them back on the shelf because I just can't picture myself sitting down to a meal of canned sardines and rice (as my parents often do when they need a quick lunch). But tonight I could. So I threw them in the cart.
When I got home, I ate the sardines with a bowl of spinach. After the first bite, I asked myself why I spent so much money on all that other food when what I really should have done was buy fifty cans of sardines because it's all I ever want to eat for the rest of my life.
Yeah, it was like that. And I have that book to thank for bringing us together.
Even when I was little, I loved reading about food. The very first book I can remember liking was called What a Good Lunch. Somewhere in the deep, dark corners of my memory I can see the last page of the book, with a baby bear in a high chair, his face covered in spaghetti, saying "What a good lunch!"
In grade school, I started reading Calvin and Hobbes. My mom worked nights and would leave dinner out on the stove for when I got home. So after school, I would spoon some food onto a plate and read Calvin and Hobbes while I ate, pretending that I was eating the same mysterious green mush that Calvin would often face in many of the comic strips.
Of course, my mom never made green mush. And I was never freaked out by her cooking, as Calvin often was with his mother's. But because Calvin was eating, I wanted to eat. And because he was eating green mush, well, then so was I.
The food that worked the best for this game was eggplant omelet, or tortang talong, as I later learned it is really called. It's quite an ugly dish -- a mix of dull browns and greens and yellows formed into a big, shapeless patty that is, essentially, an omelet made with roasted eggplant and ground meat. If I mashed up my omelet and mixed it with my rice, it was the closest thing to Calvin's mush that I could find. Eventually, every time I ate eggplant omelet, I had to read Calvin and Hobbes.
So it's no surprise that nowadays, my reading list consists almost solely of books and blogs about food. I tried taking a break from food books for a month or two, and I ended up not reading anything during those weeks. So I'm back to the food books.
And you can bet I'll be eating sardines while I read them.