Nostalgia for the Italian countryside is all well and good, but some things can happen only in New York.
Consider this: walking down 17th Street at dusk last night, I saw a group of people clustered in front of a rug store. As I got closer, I heard strains of choral music and before I knew it, I was standing in the gutter in front of The Renaissance Street Singers, listening to a 15th century hymnal as pretty young things in bright frocks passed us by and a toddler noodled around on the sidewalk. I'd come from Union Square, populated by 21st century skateboarders and leggy models and red-faced suits, and passed directly into another time. A few minutes later, the singers dispersed and I headed home in the setting sun.
It was kind of magical.
All week long, I've been waking early in the morning, still adjusting to Eastern Standard Time. And each morning, I've rolled over and reached for a slim little book sitting on my bedside table. Edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler (who was kind enough to send me a copy), it's a collection of essays about eating and cooking for one. Sandwiched between Laurie Colwin's famous "Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant" and Rosa Jurjevics's "Food Nomad" (Jurjevics is Colwin's daughter), the essays range from the strictly utilitarian (Marcella Hazan) to the unabashedly literary (Haruki Murakami).
The collection's pretty charming: M.F.K. Fisher complains about her too-oft reliance on the "occasional egg" for dinner, Steve Almond waxes rhapsodic about an odd concoction called the Quesarito and Mary Cantwell fights for her right to dine out alone. Each essay is a pleasantly voyeuristic snapshot, like looking into someone's grocery basket. And it got me thinking about my own habits when I'm home alone, looking for dinner. Sometimes it means I get to buy the stingingly spicy hot & sour soup from the Sichuan restaurant up the street. Other times, it means I can make the sauteed cherry tomato-canned tuna pasta sauce that Ben just doesn't like. A simple green salad and a wedge of cheese, a broiled steak, or baked beans and broccoli - all of these, too, are my dinners for one.
Last night, inspired by your comments and armed with a recipe that Judy Rodgers published in the New York Times five years ago, I made a funny little salad of spiky mizuna leaves, creamy potatoes, sharp slivers of shallots, boiled eggs, and a tangy dressing to bind it all together. I'll be honest, this wasn't my favorite meal. The mizuna was full-grown and untameable, so even cut into bite-sized pieces, I found myself fighting the leaves all the way. I think I'm more of a frisee kind of girl. Also, raw shallots leave me interminably thirsty. Anyone else? It's so odd. I prefer to avoid them.
But, you know, despite the salad, it was a satisfying evening nonetheless. Sometimes it's just the little things. I had the apartment to myself, I was eating up the greens in my CSA box, clearing the pantry of old shallots and even older potatoes, I could giggle with my mouth full at The Office reruns, and daydream happily for the weekend. I had dinner on the table and a full sensation in my soul.
And you? Tell me what you make when you're home alone with an eggplant, or without. I'd love to know. Something tells me you've got some interesting meals to share.
Baby Mustard Greens with Potatoes and Shallot Vinaigrette
3/8 pound Yellow Finn, Bintje or German butterball potatoes, peeled and cut in irregular bite-size chunks
6 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Champagne or white wine vinegar
1 large shallot, slivered
4 ounces baby red mustard greens or mizuna, rinsed and dried
2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled
1 teaspoon freshly crushed black peppercorns
1. Place potatoes in a saucepan with cold water to cover. Season water liberally with salt. Bring to a simmer, cook just until potatoes are tender, 6 to 8 minutes, then drain. When potatoes stop steaming, transfer them to a wide bowl.
2. Combine oil, vinegar and salt to taste, and drizzle about one-third of this dressing over potatoes. Add shallot. Fold together with a rubber spatula. Dressing will pick up creaminess from potatoes. Set aside.
3. Place mustard greens or mizuna in a second wide bowl suitable for serving. Toss with half of the remaining dressing. Add potato mixture, and fold in gently. Halve eggs lengthwise, then cut in crosswise slices 1/8-inch thick. Scatter over salad, add remaining dressing, and fold once or twice very gently. Dust with crushed pepper, and serve.