I never truly knew who he was. I saw him every Saturday morning at precisely 11 o’clock at a restaurant I worked at as a hostess after I graduated high school. He was a short, thin elderly gentleman dressed in creased tweed slacks and a crisp button down shirt with a local Waco newspaper tucked under his right arm. Wrinkles around his eyes and cheeks folded gently into each other as he greeted me. His wide, toothsome smile was stained from a lifetime of daily indulgences: coffee, red wine and pipe tobacco. We walked through the restaurant to his favorite table, table number 26. The small, circular bistro table was the second to last in a row of identical tables in the atrium. The atrium was long and narrow. Small windowpanes stretched from the floor to the curved ceiling, which poured sunshine into the otherwise dark restaurant. I sat with him for just a few minutes before having to dash away as the lunch crowd began to pick up.
He sat at table number 26 for nearly two hours. He ordered two glasses of red wine, one he drank with his appetizer and the other with his entrée. He ordered lightly battered and fried sweet onion rings, spritzing them with lemon before each bite. Filet mignon crowned with a pat of bleu cheese butter was always his entrée of choice. He let it sit undisturbed for just a few minutes, allowing the butter to melt and drip down the sides of the seared meat before plunging his knife into the steak, revealing its blushing medium rare center. As he enjoyed his meal, he would alternate between people watching and reading his newspaper, spectacles balancing dangerously close to the end of his nose. He sat with his right leg draped over his left. His foot bounced in the air every few seconds, drawing attention to his tiny, shiny doll-like shoes. Coffee arrived with a small silver cup of cold cream and a plate of milk chocolate cake sitting on top of a pool of dark chocolate ganache scattered with berries. Usually by this time, the lunch crowd dwindled enough for me to be able to sit with him again as he enjoyed his dessert. He called it his “treat of the week.” He reminded me of a giddy schoolboy as he ate bite after bite of chocolate cake, gently swiping each forkful across the plate, soaking up as much chocolate ganache as possible.
For many months, I was curious as to why he never invited anyone to come and eat with him at his favorite restaurant at table number 26. He certainly wasn’t a recluse or without friends or family to spend time with. He was a widower, but his children and grandchildren lived in town. After a few months passed, the answer became clear.
Most people are embarrassed of eating alone or try to avoid it completely. He dined alone intentionally, and savored every second. What I learned from him never came from conversation. Silently and unknowingly, he taught me a great lesson: how to eat alone and enjoy the company.
Grapefruit with Yogurt & Black Pepper:
Serves 1, deliberately
Note: Whenever I find myself eating alone, I tend to pay as close attention to the preparation and presentation of the dish as much as if I would be hosting a dinner. Yogurt served with seasonal fruit serves as my everyday breakfast, along with a glass of juice and mug (or occasionally a bowl) of chicory coffee laced with sweetened milk. I’m aware that this is hardly a recipe, but it’s how I start off nearly every solitary morning. When I’m alone, I gravitate to simple, balanced recipes that I can whip up in a matter of moments!
At the moment, grapefruit and blood oranges are in season, but during the spring I swap out the citrus for strawberries and blackberries. In the summer, peaches and the fall, figs.
(The black pepper is completely optional! I enjoy adding a peppery bite to fresh citrus, but feel free to leave it out.)
1 large grapefruit, peelings removed, cut into thin sections
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon local honey
Freshly ground black pepper, optional
Arrange the grapefruit wedges onto a plate.
Mix together yogurt and honey and spoon the sweetened yogurt next to the grapefruit. Lightly dust the grapefruit with black pepper, if using. Enjoy!