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What We Eat When We Eat Alone

(article, Deborah Madison)

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Something both men and women frequently express enthusiasm for is the leftover. With leftovers, one can cobble pieces of former meals into new ones without investing a lot of time in the process.


h1. About the book and authors

Longtime Culinate contributor [/columns/deborah "Deborah Madison"] and her husband, artist Patrick McFarlin, have charmed us with What We Eat When We Eat Alone. The couple interviewed a host of friends and acquaintances about what they eat when no one else is around, and they set those anecdotes amid their own eating-alone stories. Helpfully, there's also a collection of one-serving recipes. 
Excerpt reprinted with permission of Gibbs Smith (2009).


Despite the considerable advantages to eating leftovers, we discovered that there are those who openly detest leftover food, those who wouldn’t dream of taking home a partially eaten dinner from a restaurant or reheating food left from another meal. But mostly we love the foods that remain, depend on leftovers, seek them out, and are grateful when we find them. And for reasons other than ease and convenience.

Peach farmer and writer David Mas Masumoto, for example, turns to leftovers when he’s alone because, he says, “I immediately miss my wife, and leftovers are a way of reliving a meal. I have often wondered how someone eats after a spouse or partner dies. Reliving a meal can be both sad and yet memorable. Besides, leftovers are usually not that bad.”

For less contemplative men, leftovers are favorites because all you have to do is reheat them, if that. There are some leftovers that started out hot but have been known to go down cold, like frittatas or roast chicken. Even spaghetti. Then there are those that actually develop flavor as they sit, like stews and soups. One remaindered food that works well for some is polenta.

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Patrick describes his joy at encountering a bowl of leftover polenta and sliding it into a pan of hot olive oil, where it sputters and hisses before finally falling apart. It really was a little too wet for frying, but no one else would see how messy the final dish would look. Besides, frying has its own special appeal. After five minutes, Patrick manages to turn over what is now a virtual mess of cornmeal mush. Some of it sticks to the pan, but these crispy bits get scraped up and folded into the whole.

“The crisp parts are the good parts, after all,” he explains, “but it does look a bit plain and jumbled.” 

To remedy the situation, he slices a ball of fresh mozzarella and strews it over the polenta. “But,” he adds helpfully, “if you don’t have mozzarella, it would work just as well with Gorgonzola or some leftover crumbs of another blue cheese. Or any cheese, really.”

“I had a lid, but it was too small, so I propped it up against the spatula, which was resting in the pan.” Patrick was cooking at his studio, not at home, which isn’t perfectly equipped with matching lids and pans. “It covered everything just enough to melt the cheese. I served it up. Black pepper and red-pepper flakes went on top. And when I saw that more of that good crusty stuff was stuck to the pan, I just scraped it out and added it to the plate.” 


h1.Featured recipe


Messy or not, don’t you know this would be good? I wished I had been there. If I had, I would have chopped a little fresh thyme for the polenta, made a salad, and brought out those leftover poached pears that Patrick had apparently overlooked. But that’s what happens when another person joins in. What was a perfectly good single-plate, one-pan dinner for a solitary diner suddenly becomes a full-fledged multidish meal for two.

p(blue). Editor's note: You can find another excerpt of this book on Culinate as well: [/books/bookexcerpts/thegestaltoffood '"The Gestalt of Food,"'] or read Deborah's [/columns/deborah/eatingalone "account of writing the book"] with her husband, Patrick. 

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