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What We Eat When We Eat Alone

What are the quirky dishes with which we comfort ourselves when dining solo?

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A well-crafted meal creates a space for all kinds of wonderful things to happen – family ties can be strengthened, a sense of community nurtured, and love welcomed in. Hours of hard, careful work in the kitchen may reap the rewards of appreciative smiles, warm feelings, and good conversation.

But what happens – if anything – when no one is there except you? In 2000, the Utne Reader featured a short essay that described this kind of day-to-day existence as being “quirkyalone,” meaning subsisting without a partner but not necessarily as a social recluse.

Quirky or otherwise, feeding ourselves remains a daily problem, an unavoidable necessity with or without a companion with whom to break bread. Cookbook guru Deborah Madison and her artist husband Patrik McFarlin explore this question in What We Eat When We Eat Alone with stories from solitary cooks accompanied by 100 recipes. McFarlin’s doodle-like drawings add whimsy to the peculiar confessions.

To a single person who often eats alone the title may seem compelling. But lest you think this might be your go-to book for coming up with yet another meal that you share with yourself – not so fast. Many of these recipes reflect highly specialized, private tastes. In other words: Food that one might serve to no one else.

The authors polled almost anyone they met over a period of years and the answers to their question range from the absurd and weird (a baked potato covered with cottage cheese and a smashed up hard-boiled egg) to the sublime (mushrooms in paprika cream over egg noodles). Some recipes satisfy hunger with the speed of a text message (toasted English muffin with Ragu and sharp cheddar), others roll out over an expanse of empty hours in a quiet kitchen (jerked chicken breasts, marinated overnight, grilled over wood smoke).

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