Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Eating alone

I've been single for so many years I can't count them, and my last chicken flew the nest permanently about six years ago--before that she was in and out but we were like ships that passed in the night. So I am used to eating alone, four to five nights a week. I'm one of those compulsive persons for whom breakfast is shortly after you get up, lunch is at noon, and dinner at six. I eat lunch with friends often five days a week, but it's those dinners. I always plan ahead what I'm going to have, and I cook, anything from grilling a small piece of salmon to a sort of home-invented chicken a la king. So no wonder I was interested in What we eat when we eat alone, by husband-and-wife team Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlin (Gibbs Smith Publishing).

To my surprise, they make a huge but believable distinction between what men eat alone and what women do. Men eat the foods they are used to and they will eat the same thing night after night. Women tend to be less predictable. Some will eat one food for dinner--ice cream, cottage cheese, and so on. Surprisingly there was little talk of cold cereal and only a little more of popcorn. Women who are used to cooking for others eat personal favorites--cookie dough, saltines crushed in milk (my mom made that when we were sick--lots of pepper added), Tater Tots. One sophisticated woman ate smoked salmon. Some will fix a soup or stew that they can eat for days, though I get tired of the same thing after about two days..

I found lots of familiar foods here--salmon cakes are mentioned a bit apologetically, while they remain one of my favorite foods, remembered from childhood. One woman eats peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwiches, which sounds like an odd combination to many but is another childhood favorite of mine. Yet another dish from memory is sauteed mushrooms on toast--I always thought it was a British custom imported by my Candian Anglophile father.

There is a whole chapter on sardines and pasta--I love sardines but don't know what to do with them, and this book reminded me of my Jewish ex-husband's habit of mixing them with lemon and onion as a spread for toast. I'm about to try that again. One woman eats pickled herring, which I love, but puts it with mashed potatoes and sweet onions--sounds dellicious.

The authors make a distinction between those who eat alone as a vacation from routine, those who eat alone temporarily because they're between relationships, and those, like me, who eat alone all the time. There's also a chapter on what young people cook and the importance of making them confident in the kitchen--in their early twenties being able to cook can make them popular with friends. And there is a frankly sensual chapter on cooking for seduction--including pimiento cheese panini. Who would have thought? Other seduction foods ranged from oysters to steak. Foods that can be cooked together were high on the list, and one man cited risotto because it's long and slow and builds anticipation--and stirring it can be a shared chore. Fondue was another suggestion--that makes sense to me. There wasn't as much mention of chocolate as an aphrodisiac as you'd expect.

Recipes in this book tend to be woven into the narrative but then are often repeated at the end of a chapter in traditional recipe form. Here are a few I flagged to try myself: skillet cheese (I used to know a woman who fried cheese and it was delicious but my own attempts were always too greasy; this convinces me I was using the wrong cheese, and I'll try provolone next); ways to use leftover polenta (cover it with Gorgonzola and grated Parmesan, add toasted breadcrumbs and chopped parsley mixed with fresh marjoram--yum!); roasted aspargus with chopped egg, torn bread, and mustard vinaigrette; cooked penne with vegetables, anchovies, olive oil, garlic and pepper; blue cheese sauce; and that pimiento cheese, though I don't intend to seduce anybody with it.

This isn't really a cookbook; it's food writing. But it's going to stay on my cookbook shelf. Of course, some of it may have to wait until I lose those pounds and get off Weight Watchers!

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