Text and photography by Elodie Bellegarde

If you had told me a few years ago that I would come to enjoy sitting in a café or restaurant on my own with only my phone or a good book as a companion, I might have not believed you. Sure, cafés as they are now didn’t even exist some 15 years ago (let alone very smart phones) but besides that, the idea would have seemed improbable. I do, however, now enjoy exactly that. In fact, I embrace and cherish the moments of solitude when I am given the luxury of an afternoon or night off, child- or husband-less, and without work tasks scribbled in my diary. These times off usually involve some food or a drink.

Let me take the guilt of “doing nothing much” out of the equation. Admittedly, being busy gives us a sense of purpose and self-satisfaction, knowing that our knowledge or skills can be put to use during waking hours. But this shouldn’t stop us from making the effort to let go of “important” things and focusing on our little selves every now and then. I believe everyone is entitled to being selfish and self-centred for the duration of an evening or a whole weekend. I do not mean for you to suddenly become a modern-day Madame Bovary* or to blow all your savings on some Michelin two-star restaurant. The idea of walking alone in a park looking for edible things to nibble on or stepping into the kitchen to cook oneself something from scratch should suffice. Our busy lifestyles often mean that our tummies and souls get deprived of the pleasure of good food. Simple but good food. Too often, we end up in front of the TV munching on lukewarm pizza straight from the box after a long day at work, or snacking on biscuits in between meetings while our eyes are glued to our interactive devices. Although days like these are sometimes inevitable, others require a little effort, spontaneity and creativity to add some je ne sais quoi† to the dullest solo evening.

For the times when instant noodles just will not do, here is a simple guide on how to enjoy your own company, along with some food, from fuss-free nibbling to full-on spoiling yourself.

In the park, a fruit in hand.

Before or after work, make time for a short walk, looking for a patch of grass or even a big concentration of trees. Find a shady spot. Unpack the nutritious food Mother Nature created and dig in. Put your phone, tablet, book and friends aside, and take in this solitary moment. More than just the action of eating your favourite fruit, you’ll find that devouring it in a surrounding not too dissimilar to where it originally came from will give it an even sweeter taste. The experience will prevail. Take your shoes off if you feel like it. In fact, it is recommended. And while your happy feet get to reconnect with Mother Earth, look up and around, and take in the experience. Take the time to enjoy every mouthful without worrying too much about getting your hands dirty. Does biting into the fruit remind you of past experiences? Do you think it tastes different from eating it at your work desk? If it doesn’t, may I suggest you repeat it all the following day with a different food? Once your batteries are fully recharged and your spirit lifted, pack your things and return to your duties.

In bed, a hot drink and book in hand, laying horizontal.

Lazy weekend mornings or sick days are best suited for this activity. Brew yourself some coffee or tea using loose leaves or freshly ground beans. Alternatively, prepare hot chocolate in a pan. Grab your favourite book or magazine, and allocate yourself an hour or so of total oblivion. If the weather allows, open the bedroom windows and let some background noise ll the room. Leave your bedsheets as they were when you woke up—now is not the time to be organised or pragmatic about the tidiness of the room.

* The titular character from Gustave Flaubert’s 1856 classic, Madame Bovary.

Je ne sais quoi is a French idiom that can be translated as “a little something” to describe a quality that cannot exactly be described. This expression sounds particularly good and sophisticated when pronounced with a strong anglophile accent.

Read more in The U Press N˚10 (Singapore edition).