Alone in the Kitchen with an Onion

    One of my onions grew a plump white sprout.

    So plump that I couldn’t bring myself to throw it out. I left it alone for a week.

    Then two weeks.

    Then three weeks.

    It kept getting taller and plumper. At some point the unthinkable thought of throwing it out became the unthinkable thought of letting it die. For a thing trying so hard to live on nothing, what kind of creature am I to thwart its life? So I placed it in a clean container that used to contain prunes, put in some soil leftover from another plant that I’ve long transfered the custody to my mom for its better chance of survival, and poured in water. I told my mom about it, but she said don’t have high hope. I wasn’t hoping for anything, I just wanted to give it what it wants: soil and water. I placed the pot outside during the day and took it in at night so that it doesn’t get cold. The sprout grew, turned green, and another leaf came out. Then I took a trip home for two weeks, thinking that the onion, having a watery body, should be okay without watering for two weeks.

    When I came back, I saw the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen of an onion: several skinny green long stalks sprouting out, tall and cheerful. Thank you for surviving, Onion. You make the apartment alive.

    I’m not complaining that I’m living alone. I chose this studio apartment instead of sharing because I was looking forward to living alone all my college years. My college roommates were nice people, I don’t dislike them. One girl was there for maybe 2 weeks total the entire year we shared the dorm room, I liked her. There are just songs I want to turn the volume up to for hours on end, meals I wanted to eat while watching a movie on the computer, times to laugh or cry without explaining to two quizzical and not necessarily empathetic eyes. Times to do crazy dance. Times to burn stuff in the microwave and send the alarm screaming. I was tired of asking for and giving explanations. The best thing about living alone is that you can do whatever you want.

    The worst thing about living alone is that you can do whatever you want. The only thing I’ve cooked for myself since February is garlic scrambled egg and rice. I skip lunch everyday. I thought I was bad. But Ann Patchett stuck to her Saltine diet for months: “I ate slices of white cheese on Saltines with a dollop of salsa, then smoothly transitioned to Saltines spread with butter and jam for dessert. I would eat as many as were required to no longer be hungry and then I would stop. […] Day after day, month after month, I stuck to my routines like a chorus girl in the back row.” Actually, maybe her diet has more variations than mine. But you get the point. Dining alone means dining with the person who you want to hide and to expose to the world at the same time, the person that only you know.

    That person takes many forms, and that person goes through many phases, some pleasant, some weird, most are captured in the collection Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant. The beans and cornbread phase (Jeremy Jackson), the asparagus phase (Phoebe Nobles), the chili phase (Dan Chaon), the instant noodle phase (Rattawut Lapcharoensap) (I’ve gone through this phase my self – Sapporo Ichiban, original flavor – until Berkeley Bowl rearranged their aisles and I couldn’t find the packages for weeks, I contemplated boycotting Berkeley Bowl). There’s eating alone with glory, enthusiasm (Mary Cantwell, Dining Alone), a sense of self-declaration, independence, defiance (Jami Attenberg, Protective Measures), most often for a lady at a restaurant, and usually in the first days of eating alone. There’s eating alone to observe (Colin Harrison, Out to Lunch), to indulge (Anneli Rufus, White-on-White Lunch for When No One is Looking), to be relentlessly particular about your food and give no room for compromise (Erin Ergenbright, Table for One). These things happen when one has been eating alone for a long time, and accept it.

    There’s happy eating alone because of a desperate need to escape the everyday hustle (Holly Hughes, Luxury), the joy is temporary like fireworks. There’s sad eating alone with a boiling thirst for companions (Laura Calder, The Lonely Palate). Then there’s the mellow eating alone because of permanent solitude, and although feeling lonely to the bones, in some way the lone diner religiously ties himself to that loneliness as if he couldn’t live without it, his repetitive meal is his only and last company. “What does an introvert do when he’s left alone? He stays alone.” (Jeremy Jackson, Beans and Me)

    The person with whom I dine the most, me, has taken all of these forms. I found that amusing and sad, but to make things worse, I saw my friend in Haruki Murakami’s The Year of Spaghetti, “[tossing one handful of spaghetti after another into the pot] like a lonely, jilted girl throwing old love letters into the fireplace”. Eating alone is like dressing yourself when you’re invisible, you know you should make it good, but you wonder if it’s worth the hassle. Is that why the masked superheroes never change their outfit?

    I noticed my onion doesn’t like direct sunlight, and it needed more soil, so today I went to a garden store begging for a plastic bag of soil. (I thought about digging up a cup from the neighborhood at night, but that wouldn’t sit right.) On the bus, I sat across from a boy, 12 years old he said, just far enough that he didn’t notice me watching him eat and close enough to see that it was gomiti in a loose broth with bits of carrots and green bellpeppers. Then I realized the book forgot one kind of eating alone: eating alone among a lot of people who aren’t eating. What do you feel then?

    Garlic Scrambled Eggs over Rice (serves one for 3 meals)
    – 4 cups rice
    – 8 eggs
    – 1/2 clove garlic, thinly sliced
    – 1 tsp salt
    – 2 tbs sugar
    – 1 tsp oil

    Cook rice. Oil the pan. Brown the garlic(*). Break and scramble the eggs. Add sugar and salt. Serve on or mix with rice.

    (*) I used to add onion too, until Onion sprouted into a friend.

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