Table for One


By Isabel Gillies

Published on April 25, 2014

When you work alone at home, time can become shapeless. There are no eleven o'clock meetings or afternoon coffee breaks. The light outside may clue me in to what part of the day it is, but if all is going well, the hours bleed together. But each day there is one distinct moment that never fails to come: the moment when I realize that it's time for lunch.

Lunch feels necessary. It also reminds me of my mother. When I was growing up, my mother worked, and in the evenings, the whole family would sit around the dinner table and recount the day. Sometimes my mother would tell us about a proper meal at a restaurant, but most days she would matter-of-factly describe eating a yogurt at her desk. My mother has always been a worker bee, but she's also a serious foodie. So as a teenager, I was taken aback to hear about the unceremonious way she ate lunch. I might have even judged her. A yogurt, Mom? Really?

Two decades later, when I started writing at home, I too found myself eating lunch at my desk. And now, every day, when the hands of the clock meet at the top of the dial, and my hunger kicks in like, well, clockwork, I appreciate the efficiency of something quick and sustaining to get me through the rest of my writing day, before the kids get home from school.

My version of my mother's yogurt is something I invented out of the fridge, with staples we always have on hand. I have a notion that if our kids eat wild rice they will grow up to be successful people, so we keep a Tupperware container filled with it. We have prewashed spinach because it's the one green thing our older son will eat. There is usually some kind of herb—tarragon is my favorite—and then there's the ubiquitous egg, which I fry in olive oil, along with the greens, draping both over a bed of warmed rice. This meal takes minutes to construct. There is room to be inventive, but if you make it exactly the same way every day—which I do—a deeply satisfying regularity develops. It's cooked in one pan and I always eat it out of a beautiful robin's-egg-blue bowl from Ikea that, somehow, is as important as the ingredients.

Isabel Gillies is an actress and the author of_Starry Night (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014)._


A study by the American Dietetic Association showed that 62 percent of Americans eat lunch at their desks. The rise of the desk lunch was greatly facilitated by the introduction of the desktop computer in the 1980s.

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