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20 February 2007

lunch by myself

lunch by myself

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.

If you want to know about the food in the photo, click on it. The composition is an homage to Molly, who specializes in photos like these.


At 5:43 PM, Blogger Slacker Mom said...

Funny, I make lunch, or supper an occasion for my children. I buy adorable little bowls and plates, and try to make the little things enjoyable.

I just bought these awesome little bamboo dipping bowls, and we love to put nuts, dried cranberries, rasins, and plums in them and my two children love it.

I have forgotten to make my food pretty. Use my favorite plates and enjoy.

Thanks for the reminder that I need to do this for myself too.

And, thanks for the comment. ;)

At 7:53 PM, Blogger Mary-Sue said...

I LOVE this. What a beautiful reminder. Your blog is like a shelter from the storm, I feel so calm and nourished and nurtured here. Thank you for your inspiration to really appreciate and be with our food.

At 3:29 AM, Blogger Gemma said...

I often find myself grazing on small snacks when I am alone or not actually making an occasion of my meal but when I do I am so happy, when I set the table and take care to prepare exactly what I want to eat. Thanks for thsi reminder to do it more often.

Gemma x

At 10:20 AM, Blogger Sarah said...

What a beautiful passage! It makes me think about Anne Lamott's chapter on school lunches in her book "Bird by Bird." How opening your lunch bag was like showing your insides to everyone, and how school lunches can be a great "one-inch picture frame" to use to look at the world. Thank you.

At 2:06 PM, Blogger Shelly said...

Did you say fig cookies? *dies*

At 2:30 PM, Blogger Tea said...

I'm cracking up because my post for the day seems to be an homage to Molly as well--quite unintentionally Orangette-esque (the title is even freakin' in French!). I told her this morning that I seem to be channeling her for the day. Perhaps you are too.

But the writing, that's all Shauna.


At 2:58 PM, Blogger ByTheBay said...

I am so very much on the same page with regards to learning to enjoy eating alone and not associating it with being an outcast in gradeschool!

At 3:20 PM, Blogger Mike Eberhart said...

That looks just a bit too organized for me :) But, it also looks quite healthy and tasty.

I have a feeling I could not call that "lunch" though; perhaps a snack, or a component of lunch, but not my entire lunch. I'd probably have to double everything up to prevent hunger from hitting me an hour or two later :)

At 5:29 PM, Blogger 'Cole said...

Eating alone can be so meditative.

I love to serve myself in the miniature bowls & plates I made in a beginner pottery class last year. Their charming imperfections remind me to accept and cherish my own. Each time I ladle my latest culinary creations into them, I feel self-sustaining and strong.

(After lurking for a number of weeks, I decided to out myself today. I've been gluten-free for 6 months -- the relief is tremendous. Shauna, your blog has been a beacon for me this year. I'm just now laying the foundation for my own corner of the web. Thanks for all the inspiration...)

At 1:03 PM, Blogger Melindy said...

What a fantastic scrape-together lunch! I love little bits of everything to eat. Its the most satisfying way- my favorite way to consume delicious leftover and greedily eat things like blessed avocado plain

At 4:37 PM, Blogger Shauna said...

Slacker Mom,

I'm big on making each day an occasion. I'd never be the type to save my best dishes for company. (Or buy a wedding dress that would sit in the closet ever after!)

Mary Sue,

Wow. That is a really beautiful comment. I'm honored.


I'm happy that reminding myself could remind all of you. We can treat ourselves well.


Oh, I love that Anne Lamott passage. And I wasn't thinking of it at all. She's just incredible.


Those are fig cookies on my site. They're even better now. They will be in the book.


I know, that girl inspires us. But you inspired me, because we both had pieces on cabbage on the same day!


I'm so glad. I'm not surprised!


Ah, I'm sure you could do this. And no one accuses me of being organized too often!


Thank you for delurking! I'm so happy that you are doing well. And that you are, as you wrote "...self-sustaining and strong."


Yes! And I just adore avocado. I could eat one every single day of my life and not be done.


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