Dining in my presence

RECENTLY while on a marketing expedition I noticed a woman standing in the checkout line next to me holding a handful of green beans, an elderly woman of about my vintage. I recalled having seen her previously. ``It looks as though you are going to make vegetable soup,'' I ventured. ``No,'' she replied, ``I live alone and do not relish leftovers, so I customarily cook no more than 10 or 12 green beans. That amount seems just about right.''

On my way home with my rather hefty purchases I could not help wondering what kind of seasoning she would use for so few beans -- a half slice of bacon perhaps, or a morsel of Vienna sausage? I also live alone, but having been reared in a large, small-town family, I can't seem to think in terms of a single carrot or, say, 40 or so freshly shelled peas.

As for leftovers, I like nothing better, assuming of course that I like the original version. Think of all the fuss and bother one eliminates by heating up last Tuesday's fare with an added accent of crisp parsley or several stuffed olives on the side. A blob of quince jelly for garnish does wonders also if you can track down a few elusive quinces. Lately I have been reduced to using the small japonica variety, which do reasonably well if you select only the largest ones, those that are beginning to turn a pale yellow in the fall of the year.

I am sometimes asked if I don't find eating alone rather boring and monotonous. Do I read a book or magazine at the table? Listen to recorded music or watch TV? Occasionally I listen to records (Mozart; Christa Ludwig; Artur Rubinstein) but never at high volume. I might watch a nature program on public TV. I certainly would not be so impolite as to read in my presence at the table.

It is important when eating alone to have an attractive table setting. Nothing elaborate, unless it happens to be your birthday. I always manage to have a few sprigs of fresh flowers. In winter a branch of scarlet haws in a slender vase is nice, or a potted plant if your temperamental begonia finally decides to reward your faithful ministrations with a surprising bonanza of bloom. I like to have at least one family hand-me-down on the table, perhaps a slightly damaged figurine, a copper luster pitcher that my mother kept change in for the milkman and newsboy, or a pressed glass spooner.

Yesterday I lugged home a choice chuck roast, a little less than four pounds. Was I having company? Alas, no, much as I might have enjoyed such a prospect. I set about browning the roast on both sides, eventually adding onions, a couple of cut-up medium-sized potatoes, two turnips, several carrots, and some tender stalks of celery along with some delicate golden leaves. The end result, I don't hesitate to admit, was tantalizingly mouthwatering. What did I do with the leftovers? Placed them in plastic containers to be stored in the freezing compartment of the refrigerator.

Can I bake a McIntosh apple pie, make biscuits and cornbread from scratch? Certainly. If you doubt it, stop by some evening. Give me a ring first. (I might be having a hamburger and tossed salad at Charlie's Caf'e.)

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