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Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlin – What We Eat When We Eat Alone

September 24, 2009

112. What We Eat When We Eat Alone: Stories and 100 Recipes by Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlin (2009)

Length: 272 pages

Genre: Non-Fiction; Cooking

Started: 12 September 2009
Finished: 13 September 2009

Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? I don’t remember if I first spied this on Shelf Awareness or on my library’s new books RSS feed (I think probably the former?), but in either case, it was not long after I’d finished Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant.

Recipes for one?
Sounds good… as long as you like
lots of polenta.

Summary: Deborah Madison is a cookbook author, and – along with her partner, artist Patrick McFarlin – they began interviewing their friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and strangers on the title question: what do people eat when they’re by themselves? They’ve taken the answers and organized them into sections – on patterns in men vs. women’s answers, uniquely bizarre personal snacks, those who eat alone every day, etc. (And, bizarrely, a chapter on meals to make when you’re trying to seduce someone into sleeping with you so you no longer have to eat alone.) They’ve also taken several of the foods that were described to them in each chapter, and turned them into actual recipes… all the time stressing that when you eat alone, you only have yourself to please.

Review: I read this book because I absolutely loved Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant, and I was looking for more of the same. And, while this book is on almost the exact same topic, it manages to come at it from a very different angle. While Alone in the Kitchen… was a collection of essays, some of them with a recipe, this read more like a cookbook with very extended (and moderately repetitive) introductions to each chapter. Not as interesting or fulfilling a reading experience, but probably more practical.

Although really… not even all *that* practical. The problem is that this was written by a) a primarily vegetarian b) cookbook author, who c) lives in New Mexico. Hence, she makes a lot of assumptions about how, why, and what her audience cooks that isn’t going to be true for a large chunk of the readership. For example, Madison generally disdains frozen vegetables as inferior, without acknowledging that in most of the country, people just can’t pop by the farmer’s market to pick out organic fresh vegetables in February. Similarly, as most of her friends that get interviewed are fellow foodies, it’s just taken as read that at any given time, a reader will have three kinds of fancy-pants cheese, artisanal bread, heirloom tomatoes, shrimp, ripe avocados, and fresh herbs on hand.

There’s also a latent sexism present here that set my teeth on edge. There’s a tone to a lot of the chapters where it’s assumed that whenever women are cooking for one, it’s because we’ve finally gotten a break from striving to please our husbands and families, but for men, eating alone is a valid lifestyle choice. (Including the use of the word “batcheloring” – or even more obnoxiously, “batching” – to refer to eating alone. Blech.) Overall, I wound up skimming a lot of the narrative, but it did give me some new dinner ideas, and it inspired me to be a little bit more adventurous with some of my cooking – after all, if something comes out horribly, no one will know… and that’s why I keep a bag of tater tots in the freezer. 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: For people who like cookbooks, this would be an interesting browse, but I’d recommend getting it from the library – I don’t know that the recipes are enough to make it worth owning when there are so many dedicated quick-and-easy one-person cookbooks out there. For people who are looking for good food writing on the subject of solitary dining, however… I’d recommend Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant, instead.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: BookNAround
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First Line: For a number of years we traveled frequently to Mediterranean countries at the invitation of Oldways Preservation and Trust.

Cover Thoughts: Meh. I’m not crazy about the illustration, I dislike that the title is in lower-case, and on the whole it’s just not particularly memorable for me.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 39: “Not always slapdash, Cliff has been known to use an otherwise spacious Sunday afternoon intended for reading to whip up a batch of crepinettes, a sausage-like affair that involves three kinds of meat, vegetables, and caulfat – and these just for himself.” – I was really hoping this had some other definition than “caul fat”… but apparently I was wrong.
  • p. 61: “The open-faced melted cheese sandwich that Dan consumes on a regular basis is also made with tapenade. It’s easy and, not surprisingly, predictable. “First melt cheese (Muenster, again, is named) on levain bread in a toaster oven, top it with tapenade, then add cucumber, avocado, or tomato. Wash it down with a Dos Equis, then take a nap.”” – a bread leavening agent used traditionally in France and today by artisan bakeries and hobbyists around the world. It produces breads with rich aroma, pleasant structure and excellent keeping properties.
  • p. 150: “My high school French teacher thought it did, on something he called a hotsy-totsy bilala, essentially a peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwich.” – I can’t find any definitions of this as a foodstuff, just as an ethnic group, so maybe this is just something her French teacher made up?
  • p. 176: “And leftover rice can also be turned into a soothing sort of congee, a savory rice porridge with bits of vegetables, tofu, or meat.” – a type of rice porridge that is eaten in many Asian countries.
  • p. 240: “Indeed, one of the first foods Patrick and I shared was a Thai coconut soup with the pieces of galangal left in, which caused it to be referred to ever after as “that wood soup we had when we first met.”” – the aromatic, medicinal rhizome of certain eastern Asian plants belonging to the genus Alpinia, of the ginger family.
  • p. 242: “Here’ a menu from a single man we met in Greece, on a tour of Chios, where we went to learn about mastic, an aromatic, resinous substance that issues from cuts in a tree related to the pistachio.” – a small Mediterranean tree, Pistacia lentiscus, of the cashew family, that is the source of an aromatic resin used in making varnish and adhesives (and apparently food. Um… yum, varnish.)
7 Comments leave one →
  1. September 24, 2009 11:55 am

    I think I could do without lots of polenta, actually.

    • September 25, 2009 9:44 am

      Nancy – Heh, most of their recipes for “stuff over polenta” would work equally well as “stuff over noodles” or “stuff over rice” or “stuff over any kind of starchy stuff”.

  2. September 24, 2009 1:56 pm

    I’m not sure that I’ve ever had polenta, but I rarely eat alone. I think the sexism would be enough to turn me off.

    • September 25, 2009 9:44 am

      bermudaonion – It wasn’t ever overt, and it’s entirely possible that I’m just being overly sensitive, but it was present enough to bother me.

  3. September 26, 2009 10:14 pm

    Sounds like something I would skim too but I might pick this up for the recipes. Hubby is a VERY picky eater so more times than not I eat alone.

    • September 28, 2009 1:08 pm

      Ladytink – A few of the recipes did get copied into my recipe box – there’s one for easy rice pudding that I’m thinking of trying tonight!


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