Category Archives: Other

My love of bread

I have always been excited by a bread basket on the table. I didn’t need Oprah’s Weight Watchers tagline to normalize my love, but it’s good for some laughs. My love does not make me a rare bird. I would think there are very few who grew up in gluten-friendly cultures who do not enjoy the aroma of fresh bread, the pleasure of tearing off a piece, or the yeasty chew. Despite how often it may appear in my Instagram feed, I really don’t eat it that often. Not having any in the house means my diet is largely bread-free. Thus, maybe it’s the more purposeful eating of it that crystallizes why it’s been a life-long love.

First, bread at the table represents a special meal for me. The foil-wrapped IGA garlic bread on lasagna nights. The Safeway tray buns at holiday meals. The cornetti loaf at Old Spaghetti Factory. Crazy Bread at Little Caesars. Breadsticks at the Olive Garden.  Warm sourdough at The Keg. The levain at Semilla. The little boules at Contra. The bread signals that my meal is not of the everyday sort. I am out for dinner or it’s a special occasion or more concerted effort was put into the meal or company is coming over. I didn’t grow up in a house where French bread was picked up for a regular Wednesday night dinner. The presence of bread at a meal means it’s more, it’s better, it’s special. I like that feeling—I love bread.

Second, it represents safety. Even now as a much less picky eater, knowing that there’s bread available means I don’t have to worry about starving if I don’t like anything. Which is important when you also have a big appetite. When I didn’t like pizza, I could eat garlic bread at Pizza Hut or fill up on that Crazy Bread. When there were too many unknown vegetable concoctions at family gatherings, I could fill up on tray buns. At the Mongolian BBQ restaurant, I could supplement my rice with steamed mantou. The presence of bread meant there would be something for me, something to fill me up.  The presence of bread at a meal removes any anxiety about not having enough to eat. I like not being anxious—I love bread.

Especially with butter and salt.

Contra’s bread service

Semilla

Olmsted

Pear, vanilla, and buckwheat roll from Arcade Bakery. (They buttered it for me; left to my own devices, there would have been twice that amount of fat.)

Wildair

Dining out alone: The bar

When I started blogging again, I always thought that I would write more about my experiences eating alone. I probably haven’t done so because there’s no security blanket of pictures to refer to and eat up space on the page. However, a semi-recent GQ article by David Chang on eating at the bar got me thinking about the subject again.

I’ve noticed that in many of the romantic odes to eating alone, there is always a promotion of eating at the bar. You can meet people, talk to the bartender, and you do not have to deal with all the customs that come with sitting at a table. Most importantly, getting a solo seat at the bar is often immensely easier than trying to get a table. The odds are always in your favour that there will be an odd seat out, and you will have either no wait or a very short one. This has been key for me getting into some perpetually busy or buzzy places. Sometimes, I’ll try to make reservations because I like planning ahead. But if I can’t or haven’t, being solo is the ticket for getting an easy seat.

That is the only reason I like to eat at the bar.

As an anti-social introvert, I rarely want to talk to people if I’ve chosen to eat out alone. If Prince Charming happens to approach me, so be it. But otherwise, as a solo female, I’m not eating alone at the bar because I’m waiting to be picked up or even to meet people. (INTJs don’t make room for spontaneous encounters of any kind.) I actually rarely have a problem with unwanted conversation. Probably because anti-social introverts are easy to recognize via their resting faces. The magazine I usually have my nose in also helps. That’s not to say that I have never ended up having some very nice conversations with strangers.

Bar seats can be really uncomfortable. Kind of an obvious one.

The actual bar can be awkward for eating. Sometimes the space is too narrow or you’re too tight to your neighbour for the cutlery, water glass, wine glass, bread plate, etc. And then a magazine? Reading off my phone is usually the only option.

A bartender’s first job is to tend bar. They are filling the drink orders for the entire restaurant. You just happen to also be their ward, so the service can be spotty. I find that in places that strongly encourage eating at the bar, you’re usually fine. But at places where you “can” eat at the bar, sometimes, even when you’re right in front of them, they forget about you.

Or maybe my resting face contributes to this as well.

Dining out alone: The first time

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Corvina with potato rosti

I can say with certainty that this meal was not actually the first time I dined out alone, but I can say it was the first time where dining out alone was an event for me. A fancy restaurant, a reservation—it was thought about and prepped for as something that would challenge my comfort and determine if I was as independent as I thought I was.

2007. After finally settling into a regular, career-type job in Edmonton, I now had paid vacation time and the ability to save up to do something with it. But, my friends were either coupled up or students, so finding a travel partner who had the time and income to join me on a big trip was next to impossible. Not one to wait until someone was available, I decided I would go on a vacation by myself. Somewhere far and foreign and big and urban. Somewhere I could walk the streets unnoticed and fulfill some sort of fantasy of being a gutsy, worldly girl traveller:  Buenos Aires. And as I had some Chilean friends and it seemed close, Santiago, Chile, as well, for good measure.

First up, Santiago. First night, the critically acclaimed Astrid y Gaston. Although I had graduated up from “Let’s Go!” travel guides and did my best at due diligence internet research on cultural differences, I still ended up being the silly Canadian who makes a reservation for the first seating. When no one else is there. So, I killed some time at the bar with a pisco sour and eventually moved over to my table for one. I felt self-conscious. I felt strange. I felt special.  I had something to read. I ordered wine and multiple courses and savoured my meal. Avoiding eye contact with other patrons was easy when I had delicious food to distract me. The dining room eventually filled up, including the private party space that was located in a loft-like area above the main dining room. As the room was rather quiet, they were easily heard and seen as they looked over the ledge to the diners below.

“Look at her. Isn’t that sad?” I heard in a thick drawl.

It took but a moment to realize that she was talking about me. And it took but two moments for all the insecurities and self-consciousness I was trying to suppress about the dinner, the trip, my appearance, you name it, to rise to the surface and seize me up.

My cheeks still flushed, I unclenched my fingers and took another bite. F*ck it. I would never see her again.

I may live on for her as the sad solo diner, but she lives on for me as the small-minded American who talks too loud. It was the FIRST night of my big adventure. It was unfair to let her ruin it. I hear her words almost every time I enter a restaurant alone, but they have become like my Rocky anthem. It is almost to spite her that I eat alone when I don’t have a dining partner, or frankly, when I don’t want one. And I will make a reservation, goddammit. For one!

Dining out alone: An introduction

Everyone eats alone sometimes. A sandwich at your desk, cereal with the paper, pizza delivery and “Breaking Bad.” Eating out alone, too, I think is very common whether it is food court Chinese while holiday shopping or the airport restaurant during a layover. But eating out minus a reason for your solitude (shopping, travel, work), that is, going out to eat purposefully on your own, isn’t always a common or comfortable thing. But it has kind of become one for me. I’m single with a small group of friends in a city that isn’t yet mine. I love eating out, can be subject to the fear-of-missing-out when it comes to new restaurants, am more than okay with alone time, and can be quite the introvert. There are few people better poised than me to be a solo diner who is totally okay with it.

It is not difficult to find essays bestowing the virtues of eating out alone or offering tips for how to do it less self-consciously. These have been helpful and enjoyable for me to read. I don’t think that I can offer anything more than what’s already out there when it comes to advice on dining alone. What I can provide are thoughts on whether that advice is worth following and on my (largely good) experiences.