Wednesday, December 17, 2008

We interrupt this message...

... My Salon article ( has generated 732 comments so far and an interview on a local radio show:

Click this link:
(if you can't click, copy and paste to your browser)

Show: Stephanie & Meredith
Date: Wednesday, December 10th, 2008 - Hour 2

The piece has provoked quite a bit of controversy and I'm very excited about it; several agents have expressed interest in seeing the book proposal, and I am therefore optimistic about selling my manuscript for "Basking in Solitude: 52 ways to love living alone."

Do leave a comment if you care to.

Old rugby buddies from the '70s era at Carleton say they're taking bets on who's going to be the one to break the 15-year streak. "None of you losers, that's for sure." I tell them. "And whoever does is going to have to pitch me some serious woo."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

5. Feed yourself and others

"What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child?"
~Lin Yutang

What did you eat growing up? What was your favorite food when you were a child? What is comfort food to you now; what do you crave when you’re sick or depressed? To me, it’s nursery fare — hard-boiled eggs mashed with butter and salt and pepper, accompanied by buttered toast and hot chocolate.

As to what we ate growing up, well, my mother was a resentful cook. One of her standby meals was creamed tuna on toast; if she happened to be feeling particularly festive, she’d toss in a handful of frozen green peas. I became a foodie when I realized I could taste the difference between a buerre blanc sauce and canned cream of mushroom soup.

Our household was much like that of Calvin Trillin, who says, “The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.”

Trillin says thank God for immigrants or we’d still be eating English food — the awful kind served before the English learned how to cook. British chefs used to believe in the motto, “Boil until no further changes occur.” Even today, he says, well-brought-up English girls are taught by their mothers to boil all veggies for at least a month and a half, just in case one of the dinner guests turns up without his teeth.

Trillin claims to have been first in print with the discovery that the tastelessness of the food offered in American clubs varies in direct proportion to the exclusiveness of the club. The food in such places is bland because the members associate spices and garlic with just the sort of people they're trying to keep out.

More about this later — but here’s the next question: what would you want for your last meal (this is a favorite chefs’ Q&A)?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Flying solo in your twenties, continued

4. Cook for yourself

“I was outside on my park bench, eating some tragic sandwich I'd assembled from odds and ends out of my fridge — sliced apple, some cheese, pickle relish. Single people eat sadly — they cobble together things left from shopping trips based on dreams of all the meals they'd fix for themselves, all the ways they'd treat themselves to something grand.”
~ Elizabeth McCracken
The Giant's House

So many young single men have nothing in their refrigerators but a six-pack of beer and a package of hot dogs; women usually keep a bottle or two of wine, designer water, and a bag of celery. I should talk — when I was fresh out of college I used to live on peanut butter and cheap scotch.

Most of us dined out in those days, which is of course lots of fun but hard on savings account, or grazed on frozen dinners or take-out or Domino’s pizza (I can’t believe I used to eat that stuff). My idea of a healthy meal was cheese and crackers or hummus and pita. I ate nothing but junk for years.

You don't have to eat poorly just because you're single. You can do better.

Cooking for yourself is healthier for you (because you control what goes into your food) and much less expensive. Something as simple as buying a take-out roasted chicken and using that in a salad or a pasta will save you money and calories, especially when compared to fast food meals.

If your mother and/or grandmothers are still living, you are fortunate indeed. Call all of them and ask for family recipes. No matter how strained my relationship with my mother was (and believe me, we didn’t speak for years at a time), she was always delighted to be asked for a recipe. It was wisdom she possessed that I (Miss Know-it-all, here) didn’t, and a way for her to be of help. We bonded over food the way some mothers and daughters do with shopping.

My dearest friend Judy, who lives in France now, taught me everything my mother didn’t about how to cook. It is still a pleasure to call or email her to ask about what to serve with what, or how I might modify a recipe.

If you have cable, you can watch the Food Network; if not, go online to or to

My favorite cookbook author is Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa ( She is just delightful; she jokes that all her recipes start out with “take two sticks of butter…” Her food is hardly low-fat but I have had consistent success with her recipes.

Celebrity chef/author (and long-time crush) Tony Bourdain hosts No Reservations, a show on the Travel Channel. An interviewer asked him how to learn to eat better, and he replied:

“Find some foodies, befriend them and let them take you by the hand and feed you well. There's nothing wrong with not cooking. But finding good food isn't that hard. It's a lot like finding drugs. You know: find others with similar appetites and follow them to their source.”
~ Anthony Bourdain

More about food in my next post. Cheers.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Flying solo in your twenties, continued

3. Experiment with your own tastes in architecture
and design

Most of us furnish our first apartments with cast-offs from our parents’ basements. That’s fine, but eventually you will grow weary of knotty pine.

You may begin to notice that your friends differ in their decorating styles. One lives with a treadmill and a giant screen TV and not much else, another has collected so many knick-knacks you feel suffocated when you sit in her living room. Pay attention to the way you respond to these spaces.

You might want to look at some decorating magazines to see what appeals to you, and start clipping images you like. Eventually you’ll come to prefer a particular look, whether it’s modern or country or shabby chic, and will find color schemes that feel right to you. You can build your own bookcases, but head to IKEA for a couch and second-hand stores for lamps and side tables. Stuff doesn’t have to match, it just needs to be comfortable and pleasing to you.

Over the years I’ve noticed that we tend to surround ourselves with the same colors we like to wear. A redhead may be drawn to autumnal oranges and browns, or someone who looks great in dramatic colors will paint her living room electric blue. Go ahead and experiment, but keep in mind that if you want your security deposit back you may have to repaint before you move out.

I remember that my friend Linda’s very first apartment — a one-bedroom in a vintage building with high ceilings and hardwood floors — looked like something out of House Beautiful. Her towels matched her shower curtain. She’d slip-covered an old couch from her mother and made coordinating throw pillows. Everything was spare and clean and smelled like fresh lemons.

I thought with shame of my dingy efficiency in Washington, DC and vowed to do better.

I have done better, I guess, in that I’ve accumulated better rugs and more valuable antiques, but Linda, who has a wonderfully minimalist sense of style, still uses me as bad example. Whenever her husband complains about Linda’s (hardly noticeable) clutter she tells him, “That’s not clutter. If you want to see clutter, go visit Kit.”

Monday, September 15, 2008

Flying solo in your twenties

“Never become romantically involved with anyone
who has more trouble and less money than you have.”
~ Classic advice

1. Ditch the roommates

"The postponement of marriage has led to a substantial increase in the
proportion of young, never-married adults," said Jason Fields, author of
America's Families and Living Arrangements: March 2000. "For example, in
the past three decades, the proportion of those who had never married
doubled for women ages 20 to 24, from 36 percent to 73 percent, and more
than tripled for women ages 30 to 34, from 6 percent to 22 percent."

When you are young and just starting out in life, it’s likely that you will share an apartment with others or rent a room in a group house. Eventually, unless you are remarkably tolerant, living with other people and their messes will drive you crazy.

You will long for your own refrigerator, so that you can come home from work reasonably confident that the chicken breast you planned to have for your supper will still be there. You will grow weary of stepping over prone bodies on your way to the kitchen in the morning. You will insist on a bathroom that is more or less up to code.

It’s time to find a small space you can call your own.

When I moved into my first apartment, many years ago, my best friend Judy sent me the advice you see above. The only thing I could add to this would be: buy a plumber’s friend and keep it handy because if you ever need it (and this will probably happen at some odd hour) you won’t feel like venturing out to Target or a hardware store to buy one.

2. Live in the city

What a great time of life — to be in your 20s, independent and fancy free.

Depending on your career aspirations, you will find employment where the jobs are. Great cities for young professionals include New York, Washington DC, Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area, L.A., Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta, Austin, and (yes) Minneapolis. Smaller university towns are good bets, also — Ann Arbor, Chapel Hill, Charlottesville, Madison, for example.

Even if your workplace is in the suburbs, find a place in the city. You’ll have a reverse commute and you won’t be stuck out in the boonies with all the married people and their bratty children.

I know several single women who bought (admittedly, affordable) houses in developments so far away from the rest of us you have to take a light plane to get out there, and I think they were out of their minds. Nobody wants to go visit them and by the time these women get home from work exhausted the very last thing they want to do is get back in their cars and retrace their commutes.

The ‘burbs can be lonely places for the unmarried, so go urban. Ask your friends where other young people live. Twenty-somethings tend to congregate in cool neighborhoods close to restaurants and bars. Chances are you won’t have a car so you’ll want to locate within walking or cab distance of your friends and their hangouts. Have a great time.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the proportion of households consisting of one person living alone increased from 17 percent in 1970 to 26 percent in 2000 — and the number of householders living alone in 2000 was 27,230,075 — or 25.8% of the population.

Other than a couple of unfortunate experiments in cohabitation — and even more disastrous attempts to share space with roommates — I have lived alone for most of my adult life.

In the process, I have created quite a nice nest for myself. When people come into my home, they usually exclaim, "Oh, it’s so cozy!" and it is; it’s like a little Hobbit cottage, appealing to all the senses. Visitors cross threadbare oriental rugs and dodge the books and piles of magazines stacked everywhere; they may notice the scent of freesia, my favorite flower, in a vase on the coffee table. Classical music, courtesy of Minnesota Public Radio, plays faintly in the background while my two cats snooze in the wing chairs beside the fireplace. My house is cluttered and untidy, but it feels inviting to guests, who usually arrive confident that they’ll be given a cup of tea or a drink and a nice snack while they’re here.

I do make it look easy, even though I don’t have any money — I’ll scrimp on supper in order to buy a bunch of flowers, instead. I have arranged my life to please myself alone, figuring I might as well be comfortable since God knows I don’t get any sex.

It seems to my friends that I’ve always been alone, largely because I arrived in Minneapolis by myself nearly 20 years ago and have flown solo ever since. People here have never known me as part of a unit.

But I was coupled once or twice, when I was young, and still yearn for that sense of belonging. My friend Linda calls it attachment hunger, when you don’t so much miss the man himself as you do having a partner. So I know what it feels like.

And I am able to be sympathetic to the women who have collapsed in my living room over the years, in floods of tears because they’re suddenly alone and afraid. I know what that feels like, too.

They seem to think I have a secret, that I know something special because I make it seem so effortless, so natural. "How do you do it," they wail, "how do you get through the days?" Long practice.

I give each of my friends a 10- or 12-point plan, and with every sobbing advisee, I realize that maybe I have something here; maybe I do know a few tricks. They’re pretty simple, really — turn on the radio, adopt a pet, reach out to your friends, find some nice gay men to play with, worship at a welcoming church or temple — none of this is rocket science, but it can seem incredibly daunting when you’re just starting out.

Believe me, I know how terrifying it is to be alone, and arriving finally at this place of peace has taken me many years and many tears. Even now, when something goes wrong with the furnace or my car breaks down or I’m driving alone at night, hopelessly lost because the people giving directions assumed somebody would be along to navigate from the passenger seat, I can experience a real meltdown. I get lonesome, too. Like Bridget Jones, I worry that I’ll die here alone and they won’t find me for days and I’ll be eaten by Alsatians.

But I had a real epiphany one morning, standing at the kitchen sink. I realized I was annoyed that I hadn’t got around to having the dripping faucet fixed, and calculated that I feel irritated once or twice a month about being alone. Then I had to laugh, because each of the men I nearly married used to piss me off several times a day.

"You were such a pretty girl," well-meaning friends have said over the years, as if that had anything to do with my forlorn attempts at love, "Why didn't you find a nice husband?" I used to cringe at these questions, flailing away in vain to come up with some reasonable, non-pathetic explanation about how the ones I could catch I didn’t want and the ones I wanted I couldn’t catch, or I’d shrug and say, "I’m still looking, sugar; you available?" Or, as Gloria Steinem observed once, “I don’t mate well in captivity.”

But now, when people ask me how it is that I never married, I reply simply that I’ve had several lucky escapes.

“Enjoy your cats, house and peace, and don't go asking for trouble.”
~ Cathy Madison