Eating lunch alone — somehow, for years, it felt like being at a long table in a cafeteria, in the corner. You remember those dreary junior high years, when the cool kids had the latest Vans shoes and the Farrah flip to their bangs? (Okay, I’m revealing my age here.) When you sidled past them, trying not to touch the table and spill their milk with your new, womanly hips? Somehow, klutzy as I was in seventh grade, I always seemed to jar one of those fold-up tables with the gun-metal legs. No one was more mortified than me.
I never did sit entirely alone in middle school. In fact, one of my best friends in junior high — ah, beautiful Mike Kelly — ate lunch with me most days. We had films to storyboard (we made mock-vaudeville dramas or endless takes of milk spitting out of our noses with the Super 8 camera) or Steve Martin routines to replay between us. He and a scrawny kid named Glen sat with me nearly every day, our shoulders hunched toward together, deep in conversation as we ate. The cute girls (remember, I looked a lot like Albert Brooks in those years) sneered at me. Mike Kelly was the Adonis of Ralph Waldo Emerson Junior High. What was he doing with me?
Eating good food and laughing, mostly. I can still remember the feeling of late-spring days, when we spread our brown paper bags out on the grass in the math quad, laughing so hard about Steve Martin or Saturday Night Live that I lost my self-consciousness for a few moments. The sunlight broke through my reserves, and I was just there.
Now, I had no idea I was going to write about this. In fact, I haven’t thought about those lunches in a long, long time. Right now, I have a stream of junior high school memories burbling in my head — Mrs. Scinto filing her nails during journalism class; the cute English teacher with the Beatles boots always slung up on his wooden desk while we took tests; the other English teacher, who must have been going through menopause because she opened and closed the tall windows with a wooden pole ten times in one class. And junior high memories? Sweetie, that’s not a great place to stay.
Instead, I just want to show you my lunch.
Since I stopped teaching, I have been eating lunch alone. Breakfasts are lavish and relaxed around here. The Chef and I don’t eat until 11, or sometimes near noon. Even though I could eat dinner before he returns home, I would miss that meal at midnight. Eating together is one of the kindest acts of connection. And so, I eat lunch about four or five, most days. And most of the time, I’m by myself.
With that in mind, it’s too easy to simply forage all afternoon, nibbling and dabbling. A bit of popcorn, some crackers with peanut butter, a banana. I eat, but I don’t really eat.
Today, however, I decided to feed myself.
After I finished a lovely conversation with Molly, about freelancing and writing and where we find ourselves in food, I arrived home to find the living room filled with sunlight. This is not a common occurrence in Seattle. We have been saturated in greys. Clouds hanging low, rain lashing down, winds whipping into our faces. There are harder places to be during the winter, but I am ready for spring. Now.
Sunlight on my fingers as I held the knife, I cut an avocado into tiny slices. We always have interesting leftovers in our refrigerator, so I pulled them out, one by one, and dropped a couple of spoonfuls onto the green plate. This was — for no reason whatsoever — an occasion.
It is too easy to forget the beauty of food. Even I find myself nibbling at almonds in the car, if I have gone too long without eating. But lately, now that the book is done, I find myself slowing down. And truly enjoying it.
Before I met the Chef, I didn’t think that food had to look beautiful to taste wondrous. (Actually, I even said that in the Food Network segment that is still running today. And boy, do those fig cookies exemplify my point.) But he is changing me, in all the best ways. Watching the care with which he plates he food at the restaurant, or for photos I take there in the afternoon, I am learning to present the food more beautifully, even to myself.
Now, eating alone doesn’t come wrapped in the stigmas of seventh grade. Instead, it is a luxurious choice — the chance to truly taste it.