Book Reviews

The Poet’s Guide to Food, Drink, & Desire
by Gaylord Brewer

The Banquet of Donny & Ari: Scenes from the Opera
by Naomi Guttman

by Michael Pollan

Revenge Baking
by Randon Billings Noble

Biting the Apple
by Jeanie Greensfelder

Best Food Writing 2014
edited by Holly Hughes

Creamy and Crunchy
by Jon Krampner

Biting through the Skin
by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau

Feeding Orchids to Slugs
by Ann Mah

Mastering the Art of French Eating
by Florencia Clifford

Ivan Ramen
by Ivan Ramen

Third Thursday Potluck Cookbook
by Nancy Vienneau

Mint Tea & Minarets
by Kitty Morse

Prospero’s Kitchen
by Diana Farr Louis and June Marino

Mushroom: A Global History
by Cynthia Bertelsen

One Straw Revolution
by Masanobu Fukuoka

Fried Walleye & Cherry Pie
by Peggy Wolff

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War
by Annia Ciezadlo

by Chloe Yelena Miller

The Hungry Ear
by Kevin Young

Best Food Writing 2012
by Holly Hughes

Dinner: a Love Story
by Jenny Rosenstrach

My Kitchen Wars
by Betty Fussell

American Cookery
by Laura Kalpakian

Apron Anxiety
by Alyssa Shelasky

Cucina Povera
by Pamela Sheldon Johns

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
by Laurie Colwin

The Social Life of Coffee
by Brian Cowan

The Raw and the Cooked
by Jim Harrison

Modernist Cuisine
by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet

Horsemen of the Esophagus
by Jason Fagone

Coffee Philosophy for Everyone
by Scott F. Parker and Michael W. Austin

by Kathryn Borel

Food Rules
by Michael Pollan

On Reading
by Rilke and Ruskin

America the Edible
by Adam Richman

Interview with the author of Party Girls,
Diane Goodman

Death Warmed Over
by Lisa Rogak

How to Cook a Crocodile
by Bonnie Lee Black

Great Food,
All Day Long

by Maya Angelou

Love Bites: Marital Skirmishes in the Kitchen
by Christopher Hirst

Best Food Writing 2011
edited by Holly Hughes

Balzac's Omelette
by Anka Muhlstein

The Little House Cookbook
by Barbara M. Walker

Muffins and Mayhem
by Suzanne Beecher

As Always, Julia:
The Letters of Julia Child and Avis De Voto


by Jason Wilson

The Particular Sadness
of Lemon Cake

by Aimee Bender

The Bluberry Years
by Jim Minick

Livingston and the Tomato
by A. W. Livingston

by Barry Estabrook

Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey
by Robert V. Camuto

Best Food Writing 2010 edited
by Holly Hughes

by Lizzie Collingham

Four Fish
by Paul Greenberg

The Physiology
of Taste

by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Far Flung
and Well Fed

by R. W. Apple, Jr.

The Food of a Younger Land
by Mark Kurlansky

The Dirty Life
by Kristin Kimball

by Michael Ruhlman

Cooking with Italian Grandmothers
by Jessica Theroux

Blood, Bones & Butter
by Gabrielle Hamilton

by Steve Almond

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book
by Alice B. Toklas

Medium Raw
by Anthony Bourdain

Appetite City
by William Grimes

Twain's Feast
by Andrew Beahrs

97 Orchard
by Jane Ziegelman

Born Round
by Frank Bruni

by Kate Moses

Full English by
Tom Parker Bowles

Following Fish by
Samanth Subramanian

Eating Animals by
Jonathan Safran Foer

Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese
by Eric LeMay

For You, Mom. Finally
by Ruth Reichl

Farm City
by Novella Carpenter

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant
edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler

I ♥ Macarons
by Hisako Ogita

The Hamburger
by Josh Ozersky

Best Food Writing 2009 edited
by Holly Hughes

by Archestratos

Eat, Memory edited by Amanda Hesser

Eat My Globe
by Simon Majumdar

by Jason Epstein

What We Eat When We Eat Alone
by Deborah Madison

The Sweet Life
in Paris

by David Lebovitz

Modern Spice
by Monica Bhide


SINGLES NIGHT by Ruth Polleys

What We Eat When We Eat Alone:
Stories and 100 Recipes

by Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlin
Gibbs Smith, May 2009
Hardcover 256 pp., ISBN: 9781423604969

Watch a video. Hear interview excerpts.

Shredded wheat. Or Brie and baguette. Asparagus. Or eggs. When I eat alone, which is rather often, these foods become my staples. Woefully simple. Assembled not braised. Lone eaters rarely attempt actual cooking, I’d thought. Shop—yes. Take-out—sure. Flip the lid off the New York Super Fudge Chunk and skip the dish—definitely. But bona fide cooking?

So I wasn’t sure what to expect from What We Eat When We Eat Alone by Deborah Madison, co-authored and playfully illustrated by her husband, Patrick McFarlin. How many others intend to cook for themselves, have quinoa in the cupboard and pine nuts in the fridge, only to resort to cereal or cheese? It turns out many of us cobble meals and eat at the sink or in front of the TV. But there are also cooks—onion-chopping, nut-toasting, chicken-roasting cooks—who turn up the heat for one. Some who eat at tables.

Madison—cook, restaurateur, teacher and award-winning author of books that herald the garden, stress vegetarian, and promote eating locally—makes frequent trips to meet farmers and food producers. She and her husband invariably discuss food with fellow travelers. "I simply asked people about their behind-closed-doors food practices," notes McFarlin, who jotted details for fun at first. Then he and Madison began to talk to friends and strangers, "cooks, farmers, artists, writers," and others they’d meet at a concert or an airport, about their solo eating rituals.

The result is a delightful, conversational journey that weaves a surprising number of voices into neat little chapters that explore gender (yes, men eat more meat, but also more pasta), quirks (fried Spam with grape jelly, oyster crackers in coffee), and shortcuts (eggs any style, condiments galore, leftovers love). Recipes tucked into the end of each chapter include the basic (Tomatoes on Toast, Mashed Potatoes) as well as the more complex (Three-Minute Tuna with Salsa Verde, Winter Squash Risotto with Parsley and Sage), and a range of ingredients that prove cooking for one can be quicker than you think and full of flavor.

Flavor is key. More than one solo cook demands "good" olive oil. Some insist on just-picked herbs, Polish blood sausage, or aged Gruyère. Some recreate childhood—tater tots or hot dogs—though more express a requirement for superior wine. In "Meals with a Motive," singles share their seductive preferences, Champagne and oysters included. It’s fun to see how old stand-bys, and clichés, prevail.

Chapters entitled "Alone at Last" and "Alone Every Day" find eaters both resigned and thrilled to have the kitchen to themselves. Though some have trouble ("How am I going to cut up half a carrot?"), some find joy. Betty Fussell, noted food writer, shares this:

I eat alone all the time in this my seventy-ninth year, and I love to eat alone. Nobody to please but myself. I open the door of the fridge and look inside. It’s always exciting, so many little things forgotten at the back of the shelves. What can I put together for this improvised, unrepeatable, once-in-a-lifetime meal?

And this appears to be Madison’s upbeat message. Treat yourself right. Eat what you like. And go ahead, improvise! So I did. I dug out that canister of quinoa, toasted a big pinch of pine nuts and roasted asparagus spears. I mixed it all together on a blue ceramic plate, and topped it off with a golden-yolk egg, a drizzle of oil, and shavings of good Parmigiano-Reggiano. The table was set with a linen napkin and a glass of chilled Sancerre. There, a meal deserving of a fine diner—party of one.

December 1, 2009