Table for One

A Dish for When You Don’t Want to Be Alone on Thanksgiving

On cornbread stuffing and loneliness.

November 21, 2018
Photo by Eric Kim

Table for One is a column by Senior Editor Eric Kim, who loves cooking for himself—and only himself—and seeks to celebrate the beauty of solitude in its many forms.

Last Friday night at the office, it was getting late and a few of us were still here finishing up the week’s work. On nights like those, when I don’t have plans for the weekend, I tend not to want to leave the office right away because that means going home to an empty apartment. Don’t get me wrong—there are days when I love being alone, cuddled up in bed with my dog and a bowl of stew. But as is the case with living by yourself, there are days too when even those slow-cooked comforts can leave you feeling empty.

So I stayed. I poured myself another cup of coffee and pulled up an essay to edit when I got this text from Scott: “So, my flight's going nuts and I'm at JFK right now. Can I come stay with you this weekend?”

Scott is my long-distance “friend” (as my mother calls him), whom I only get to see three or four times a year, usually on our birthday, wedding weekends, and Christmas to New Year’s. The first snow had messed up his route from Dublin, where he was for business, back home to Atlanta, where he lives now.

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“You are absolutely right about Friendsgiving being second place, and I wish you every happiness because you deserve it, we all do. Love & light ❤️”
— Janice

This was such a surprise that I almost cried right there at my desk, but held back (the office wasn't empty just yet). It felt like one of those dreams I often have when I miss him most, nothing big, just...Scott and me sitting across from each other at my kitchen island, drinking coffee and eating eggs out of those little egg cups, in my 250–square foot shoebox apartment that can barely fit a shoe.

The prospect of getting to spend an entire weekend together like this meant the world to me, even more because it was the weekend before Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday. One of my best friends was hosting a Friendsgiving dinner; everyone would finally get to meet this man who’s meant so much to me over the years.

When Scott got to my apartment, we sat in my kitchen at the island. There were no eggs; just some bread, soup, and cheese, my last-minute rummage of a supper for us. In between sips of stout, we talked about his trip and what we might do with this rare gem of a weekend together. It was the golden opportunity to ask him to come to Friendsgiving with me. I was nervous, I don't know why; maybe because I didn't want to assume he'd want to spend his entire evening with my friends and me. But I asked, and he said, "Sure, I could get down with a Friendsgiving."

And that was that.

The next morning, I started chopping the onions and celery for the dish I had promised to bring to my friend's house. The dish I’m most known for: my sheet-pan cornbread stuffing with sage. It’s my favorite thing to eat at Thanksgiving.

The sheet pan really does makes a difference: Uber-buttery cornbread stuffing gets crispy at the edges, almost chewy. The vegetables are just cooked with a little bite. Also, I use milk instead of stock, which keeps this not only vegetarian, but also incredibly rich and comforting in a nursery-food kind of way. I was excited for Scott to try it at Friendsgiving.

Which is why I was so upset when he said, "There's a game at 3:30 p.m. downtown. When's your Friendsgiving again?" His friends from back home were meeting at a bar for a college football game, and I didn't feel that I had ownership over his schedule, didn't want to be pushy. Maybe I didn't want to let on how important it was to me that he come, because that would make me vulnerable. And I hate being vulnerable. So I told him he should meet his friends.

"My thing is in deep Brooklyn! I'll meet you at the bar after."

"OK!" he said.

My back was turned to him, so he couldn't see my face, how mad I was. I kept chopping the onions and celery, then the bread, then the sage and parsley. I went on making the stuffing, which I'd always wanted him to taste, and now he wouldn't.

As I let the butter and milk come to a simmer, and my blood boiled, I couldn't help but think back on all of the Thanksgivings we've spent apart. Sometimes it makes me so angry watching other people get to be together without even trying. Here Scott and I were in the same city for the first time around this holiday in four years, and we couldn't even be together for it.

When the stuffing was done, I tossed it onto a buttered sheet pan, covered it with foil, and put on my jacket. "See you later," I said, curtly, and stormed out.

I was fuming at my friend's house. Scott and I had this one weekend together, and we were spending hours of it apart. When we met up again later in the night, I finally decided to say something about it when he noticed me pouting.

"Are you mad I didn't come?" he asked.

"Of course I'm mad," I said.

He hugged me and apologized, said he didn't know how much it meant to me and that he would've come had he known. We talked about a lot of other things, too. About how there's so little we can do for each other because of the distance, and how he loves me but doesn't know how to be there for me.

If we consider that Thanksgiving, contrary to popular belief, is not just a memorial of the Pilgrims’ feast in 1621, but of Lincoln’s effort in 1863 to bring together two divisive states during the Civil War—over food, that great mediator—then I’m able to appreciate even more that the point of this holiday is for people to gather.

But I think there's another kind of Thanksgiving for the rest of us, who live far from home. For those of us who care about this holiday, anyway, Friendsgiving may not be enough—so instead we opt for Lonesgiving. I used to always joke to my editors that I wanted to develop a full Thanksgiving dinner just for one. How funny would that be? But then it'd be less funny as the actual day inched closer, and I found myself alone in my kitchen on Thursday, eating leftover stew out of my slow cooker.

I don't know why, but this time of year—as full of food, friends, and festivities as it is—seems always just a reminder that I'm alone, and that I live miles away from the people I love and need most. My parents, my brother, Scott. That's why I get especially meditative around Thanksgiving, and why it felt like such a gift to have him at my fingertips this weekend.

But I think there's another kind of Thanksgiving for the rest of us, who live far from home. For those of us who care about this holiday, anyway, Friendsgiving may not be enough—so instead we opt for Lonesgiving.

Eventually, after Scott and I talked it out and drank an entire bottle of Cabernet in the bathtub, we went to bed and everything was a little better. Talking always helps. But when you're long-distance, it's hard to want to talk through the hard stuff, and to confront your feelings, because every second is precious and fighting during any of it feels like looking a gift horse in the mouth.

But you have to fight. Maybe sometimes that's what the holidays are for: to hash it out with the people in your life. Because every other day of the year, you're just ignoring all of it, letting it fester and fester below the surface so you don't have to address the impact of your loneliness.

As we laid there in bed, drunk, I started to cry.

"Sad boy," he said, holding my face in his hands. "Why are you always so sad?"

When we woke up the next morning (to my dog Q's kisses), we sat at the kitchen island and drank coffee. I boiled two large organic eggs for six minutes exactly, like I always do, cracked off the tops, sprinkled some of my Magic Spice Blend on the side of each plate, and placed tiny spoons next to them.

I loved watching him sprinkle the egg with the spice blend, his giant fingers holding the tiny spoon. "Wait, you eat this every morning?" he laughed, making fun of me for my precious egg cup with the blue heart, something I got in London one year.

"Shut up," I said. "It's good and you know it."

When he left my apartment that morning for the airport, I didn't feel as bad as I usually do. I hugged him tight, but didn't cry this time. He said, "See you later"—which was true. I'd see him at Christmas, then New Year's. There was always a later and being alone on Thanksgiving isn't the worst thing in the world when there's a later.

Have you ever spent Thanksgiving alone? Share your story in the comments below.

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Eric Kim was the Table for One columnist at Food52. He is currently working on his first cookbook, KOREAN AMERICAN, to be published by Clarkson Potter in 2022. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can find his bylines at The New York Times, where he works now as a writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @ericjoonho.


Jenny January 8, 2019
First I found your magic spice chicken thighs recipe and began making it obsessively (it's so good!), and then I realized what a lovely, thoughtful writer you are, and now I look for your byline and read everything you write here. Thank you especially for this one, about loneliness and love and picking a fight when you need to.
Eric K. November 19, 2019
Jenny, I'm late to your comment—but appropriately, a year later, I've found my way back. Thanks for your kind words. Made my night.
Janice November 22, 2018
Happy Lonesgiving Eric, thank you for writing such beautiful pieces that make me weep. You are absolutely right about Friendsgiving being second place, and I wish you every happiness because you deserve it, we all do. Love & light ❤️
Eric K. November 22, 2018
Janice, you're lovely. Thank you.
Jaime S. November 21, 2018
Eric this is such a beautiful piece! I had been contemplating similar thoughts about thanksgiving as i wrote a short story based on a particularly chaotic Friendsgiving i had a couple of years back. I wish you could have the thanksgiving you deserve with all your family, friends, and Scott, but i hope whatever you get up to tomorrow fun and makes u feel warm inside. ♥️
Eric K. November 21, 2018
Jaime, thank you so much for the words and well wishes. Friendsgivings are hard because, no matter what, they always feel 2nd place somehow, right?

Plan to watch lots of movies tomorrow. x
Rebecca November 21, 2018
Happy Lonesgiving from opposite coast 🍷🍗
Eric K. November 21, 2018
Happy Lonesgiving, Rebecca.
Svivi November 21, 2018
❤️ Can’t wait to read your next one!
Eric K. November 21, 2018
Thank you! Next Friday!
Sarah O. November 21, 2018
Eric, such a beautiful piece. Wishing you well!
Eric K. November 21, 2018
Thanks so much, Sarah. You too. Happy Thanksgiving!
Caitlin G. November 21, 2018
Red wine in the bathtub always helps.* ;)
Eric K. November 21, 2018
Monique November 21, 2018
Eric! My heart aches. Thank you, YET AGAIN, for your gorgeous words (and food).
Eric K. November 21, 2018
Aw thank you, Monique. Means a lot.
Jhvyvxh November 21, 2018
Your time is valuable! Scott should not treat it as if should be anything less than cherished!
Eric K. November 21, 2018
Ha, I'll tell him that. :)
Jhvyvxh November 21, 2018
I’m so upset! Why did Scott do you like that?! WTF.
CameronM5 November 20, 2018
Beautifully sad. 🥺 I take it for granted being near my family for every Thanksgiving so even during those lovesick moments I’ve had a calm in the storm. That’s what holidays are for me. Except New Years, for years I’ve liked to spend it alone and even fall asleep before the ball drops.
Eric K. November 21, 2018
Thanks for reading, Cameron.
Whiteantlers November 20, 2018
Oh Eric. That made me cry. My wife killed herself 10 years ago this summer. We were together for 20 years and met before the internet. Being old, queer and suddenly single was surreal to say the least. For the most part, these last 10 years have been good. I am getting to know myself, finally accepting and embracing my introverted nature and enjoying the life of a celibate queerdo.

My sibling and I are estranged because I am gay and she is religiously opposed to that. I miss her as I have no other living family. You know what? We are force fed from an early age that being in couples/families/tribes are the only places where people are really happy. I have learned it isn't true.

Sure, this Thursday I will wish I was in a warm, noisy dining room with lots of near and dear ones but I will also be happy to be drinking eggnog for breakfast with no censure, padding around in pajamas and frizzy, unrestrained hair, listening to whatever music appeals and indulging myself in ways that all those folks coming together or being thrown together for not so great food might envy. I hate turkey. My meal will be a root veggie heavy beef stew, long simmered on Wednesday night.

Will I be sad? Sure, a bit and briefly but I am not going to succumb to Norman Rockwellitis on 11/22. The cats and I will raise a tawny port to you and your dog and all the other singletons. There is no especially green grass on either side. We are all okay just as we are, where we are and who we are.

Thank you for being vulnerable and writing a touching piece.
Eric K. November 21, 2018
Whiteantlers, thank you for sharing your story and for writing me such a beautiful comment. I too will raise a glass to you on Thursday, and leave you with this quote from Albert Einstein (which I read on Instagram or some such): "I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity."
Eric K. November 21, 2018
Whiteantlers, thank you for sharing your story and for writing me such a beautiful comment. It reminds me of this quote from Albert Einstein: "I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity."