The piece focused on the idea that when you live alone you can let yourself loose, no one is watching and there’s freedom from structure: you can eat what you want when you want, you can sleep in whatever position you like and both retire and awaken whenever your inner clock moves you. You can wear rags, or nothing at all, let dishes pile up for days and, in one specific example, leave your bra on the kitchen table. Okay, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. I had a friend who could see into the apartment across from his and often witnessed his neighbor ironing her clothes topless. Sure, she lived alone so why not parade around with no shirt on? But what idiot wields a burning hot iron so close to her bare chest? That’s a sign of stupidity, not inhibition.
The use of the word “freedom” made me kind of sad. Were these people feeling so imprisoned by society’s expectations (or those of their former spouses or roommates) that they needed to show themselves who’s boss by letting their sinks fill with Ragu-smeared plates? Again, that is just stupid. Everyone knows dirty dishes attract roaches and then, guess what? They’re the boss. But the point is, if you are really comfortable in your own skin, your public and private selves should be pretty well integrated and you shouldn’t need to sit on the couch naked at 4AM eating peanut butter out of the jar with your fingers to prove anything. Put some clothes on and do the dishes! Unless of course, late-night naked eating is how you choose to live because it is in fact who you are at all times and not a symptom of “Secret Single Behavior.”
I’m taking issue with this topic because I have lived alone for the past, well, a long time, and I love it, and not because I can hide in my apartment and let my freak flag fly. Yes, I usually take my (well-balanced) dinners sitting on the couch rather than the table and I often wear tattered lounge-wear. But I’d do both of those things whether I was alone or in mixed company. Meaning, I’m always me with or without a couch-mate. I love living by myself because no one bothers me. I grew up in a noisy household with lots of activity from younger siblings and a barking terrier. When I was a teenager I remember seeing an ad in a magazine where a woman was sitting at the top of a staircase on the phone laughing. Okay, she was enjoying a smoke and wearing a lavender Shetland sweater (hey, it was 1982), but she was having the kind of day she wanted to have. And I thought, some day, that will be me, minus the cigarette. (I actually owned a sweater like that back in the day. What can you do?)
My concerns over cohabiting don’t center around all of my little ways that, at this point, seem to be set in stone. Those “quirks” (one of the newest words to make it onto the over-used list) are evident to anyone who knows me whether we’re within the private walls of my apartment or out in public. I’m more concerned with re-learning how to share. My sister and I slept in the same room for most of our childhood and on vacations into adulthood until she got married. She’s an early to bed, early to rise worm-catcher and I hated having to tip-toe around in the dark when I wanted to be up reading or talking on the phone. I’d rather not have to do that again. I’m also not a big fan of compromise. To me it’s a way to guarantee that neither party gets what he/she wants and dissatisfaction just hangs in the air. I’d prefer to completely concede to someone else’s desires so that the next time they concede to mine.
Obviously the part of the article that made me really twitchy was food related. One guy copped to living on cereal and multiple trips to the fridge throughout his day. One woman nibbles on nuts and seeds and another bristled at the idea of cooking a large meal just for one, preferring to eat whatever she happens upon in her kitchen. Her example was throwing a sweet potato into the oven and calling it dinner. I guess one woman’s freedom is another woman’s dive into a whirlpool of self-loathing. I can’t think of anything more depressing than baking a single tuber for dinner. I’d feel like I wasn’t taking care of myself, like I wasn’t a grown-up, like I wasn’t socialized. Of course we’ve all had nights where for whatever reason, a bowl of granola is all we want, but it’s my exception, not my rule.
After finishing the piece I was motivated to treat myself well even more than usual and after tossing together pasta with crab meat, chili and mint I decided to do something special for dessert. I made myself an individual orange soufflé. There are few things as satisfying as watching a soufflé blossom in the oven. People seem scared of them for some reason and they are actually very easy to make. Just make sure you grease and sugar your ramekin or dish thoroughly and don’t open and slam shut the oven door in the middle of its growth spurt. The saddest part is watching your creation deflate with that first spoonful, but the taste is heavenly. Somehow it’s both light and decadent and a sign that you value yourself very much. The best thing? I adapted the recipe to go from making two to making just one, something I can easily reverse should the opportunity present itself. I’ll be the one in the ripped pajamas.
Orange Soufflé for You or Two
Adapted from Real Simple, Feb 2002
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1 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoons flour
2 Tablespoons milk
1 Tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier or Triple Sec
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1 egg yolk
1 egg white
scant pinch salt
scant pinch cream of tartar
Heat oven to 375° F. Grease one 8-ounce ramekin with the 1/2 Tablespoon butter until thoroughly greased (you won't need all of it). Coat with 1 Tablespoon sugar, then tap out the excess. Set aside.
Melt 1 Tablespoon of butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat and whisk in the flour. Blend in the milk and cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce boils, less than a minute. Remove from heat. Blend in the liqueur and zest. Whisk in the egg yolk. Set aside. (Recipe can be made to this point up to 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
Beat the egg white, salt, cream of tartar, and remaining tablespoon of sugar until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Pour the sauce into the whites; gently fold together. Spoon into ramekin.Bake until puffed and browned, about 20 minutes.
Eat immediately. If you want to gild the lily, melt a little vanilla ice cream or dark chocolate and pour into center of soufflé. I like mine pure and orangey.
Yield: One individual soufflé. For the recipe for two, click here