inkwell.vue.379 : Deborah Madison, What We Eat When We Eat Alone
permalink #0 of 140: Lisa Harris (lrph) Tue 16 Mar 10 07:28
    
We're very excited to welcome Deborah Madison to the Inkwell.vue.

Deborah Madison’s culinary journey probably started around the age of
two after feasting on a dish of butter her parents made from their
Jersey cows’ cream. Growing up in California in the middle of a walnut
grove and having a botanist father didn’t hurt either. Deborah has long
been a plant lover and a vegetable eater as well as cook and writer.
She was the founding chef of Greens restaurant in l979 and, since
leaving Greens, has written 11 books. What We Eat When We Eat Alone,
(2009) marks an amusing shift in attention from plant foods to people
and what they eat behind closed doors.  

Leading our discussion is our own CJ Phillips.

CJ was well on her way to foodiedom while still equipped with baby
teeth; this happened because she received a small, enameled metal
electric oven and stove from her grandparents. Elaborate tea parties
for her army of dolls then ensued. By the time Julia Child hit the
airwaves, CJ had graduated to her mother's oven and was soon turning
out brioche for her classmates. She's been a vegetarian for ages now,
and Deborah Madison's "Greens" cookbook was her first veggie culinary
bible. She has been a part of the Well for 15 years and is a cohost of
the Gardening conference.

Let the foodfest begin!
  
inkwell.vue.379 : Deborah Madison, What We Eat When We Eat Alone
permalink #1 of 140: the secret agenda of rabbits (cjp) Tue 16 Mar 10 15:03
    
Hi, Deborah, and welcome at long last to The Well!  You have many
fans here, and it's high time we had you as our guest.  First
question, how did "What We Eat When We Eat Alone" come about?
  
inkwell.vue.379 : Deborah Madison, What We Eat When We Eat Alone
permalink #2 of 140: Deborah Madison (leafygreens) Tue 16 Mar 10 16:14
    
Many years ago I was going traveling through Oldways Preservation and
Trust with assorted food people to various Mediterranean countries. 
Sometimes my husband,Patrick McFarlin, came too. He knew that he
couldn't really ask  well-known chefs and writers what they did (even
though, as an artist, he didn't know), so he'd break the ice by asking
our fellow travelers what they cooked when they ate alone. He took
notes. 
A few years later I came across this delightfully bizarre notebook of
Patrick's food jottings. Right away I thought that it would be fun to
pursue this question more widely and write a book together. I also
thought Patrick could do some wickedly funny illustrations, which he
did. Eventually, we got serious and wrote it.
  
inkwell.vue.379 : Deborah Madison, What We Eat When We Eat Alone
permalink #3 of 140: the secret agenda of rabbits (cjp) Tue 16 Mar 10 19:52
    
Oh, I'm so glad that you did!  The illustrations are sly and silly
commentaries on all of these different foods and people, and it's
amazing how well they mesh with your text.  How long did it take to
write and illustrate this book, and what was your purpose or goal in
writing this book?
  
inkwell.vue.379 : Deborah Madison, What We Eat When We Eat Alone
permalink #4 of 140: Deborah Madison (leafygreens) Wed 17 Mar 10 08:41
    
It took quite a few years before Patrick took this project seriously.
After saying over and again (maybe nagging is the right word?) "We
should write that book!" he finally stormed into his studio and emerged
a week later with some of the illustrations. Once I saw them I really
got down to work.I forget how the timing went, but we had written a lot
of the book when we sold it. From that point on we worked on it for a
year, which for me, is a very short time (Vegetarian Cooking took 7
years, Local Flavors, 5.) 

What was our goal? We were amused by the subject and thought others
would find it amusing, too. (Of course, the book turned out to be about
more than silly stories about strange foods.) Also, I wanted to write
more than a head note in my life. And we wanted to collaborate on a
project.
  
inkwell.vue.379 : Deborah Madison, What We Eat When We Eat Alone
permalink #5 of 140: the secret agenda of rabbits (cjp) Wed 17 Mar 10 08:51
    
Only a year!  That's amazing, and it's great that you two work so well
together.  And it's true that "What We Eat" is a lot more than silly
stories.  In fact, as Peter Coyote noted, this is a "genuinely
subversive book."  Could you talk about about how eat-alone food is
"not consistent with those sides of ourselves that the world, including
close friends, sees"?  Also, could you explain what you mean by
wanting to write more than a head note in your life?
  
inkwell.vue.379 : Deborah Madison, What We Eat When We Eat Alone
permalink #6 of 140: Deborah Madison (leafygreens) Wed 17 Mar 10 10:45
    

Well, there were days. Towards the end I was reading the book out
loud, which is crucial, and Patrick responded to a chapter saying, "I
don't like that chapter." That was a challenging moment, but we are
still married.


In the case of the food celebrities, we found that their public
persona didn't necessarily follow them into their kitchens. A Spanish
chef, for example, made toast when he was alone— bread fried in butter
then spread with marmalade, not the dishes he was known for. A food
writer  told us in great detail how to cook a frozen hamburger without
defrosting it first and still have it come out well - not something
we'd associate with his writings. Or there was the case of the eloquent
food writer who dwells in another culture's food who feasts on peanut
butter when alone.

But those food people, make up just a small part of the book.  As for
everyone else, just us folks without some food stance to
uphold,eat-alone practices vary too. For example, a woman may know a
great deal about what foods she's "supposed" to be eating and she may
cook such foods for her family. But when it comes to having a night off
from kids and husband, what matters in not having to please anyone
else but herself, not having to cook a balanced meal, making due and
happily so with a bowl of oat meal and fleur de sel,possibly eaten in
the bathtub! ("Good carbs and salt" as one woman summed it up.) Not
having to please another was a theme. Also people often turned to their
roots,making Johnnycakes when the boyfriend was away, or the German
food of one's past.By the way, people who eat alone all the time are
different because they have to figure out to cook and eat because it's
every day, not just once in a while.)

And as for writing more than head notes, I love head notes, actually.
But recipes are rather formulaic and after writing a few thousand of
them I was bored. I wanted to see what it was like to write paragraph
after paragraph. Well, first I wanted to see if I could do that!
  
inkwell.vue.379 : Deborah Madison, What We Eat When We Eat Alone
permalink #7 of 140: the secret agenda of rabbits (cjp) Wed 17 Mar 10 11:22
    
You certainly succeeded.  This reads very well, and it's one of those
rare books that I found myself just devouring.  I also like the fact
that you managed to remain married after your better half said he
didn't like an entire chapter!

For those here who haven't yet had a chance to read "What We Eat" yet,
could you please describe the diet journal and how it reveals things
about people?
  
inkwell.vue.379 : Deborah Madison, What We Eat When We Eat Alone
permalink #8 of 140: Eric Gower (gower) Wed 17 Mar 10 11:36
    
Welcome Deborah! Thrilled that you're here.

The last time I ate alone, it was a huge pile of yogurty eggs with two
habaneros in them. I can't wait to have this again. I kinda go feral
when I eat alone.
  
inkwell.vue.379 : Deborah Madison, What We Eat When We Eat Alone
permalink #9 of 140: Julie Sherman (julieswn) Wed 17 Mar 10 11:45
    
Welcome Deborah!

I live alone so I eat alone most of the time But there are meals, and
then there are meals. I like to make big pots of things that then last
for days as leftovers--most of those meals are fit for company. But
other times I revert to basmati rice with yogurt, tamari, nutritional
yeast, and maybe some veggies on top like peas or steamed kale. 

Last night I was trying to make a simple form of Spanish rice using
tomato sauce and water as the liquid. It kept on sticking, I kept on
adding water. SO now I have a big pot of very mushy psuedo-Spanish rice
that is definitely not ready for company, but I will happily eat it
for the rest of the week.
  
inkwell.vue.379 : Deborah Madison, What We Eat When We Eat Alone
permalink #10 of 140: Eric Gower (gower) Wed 17 Mar 10 11:58
    
I eat all of my concoctions, no matter how they turn out.  But then
again I often serve them to others too! I'm just not that worried about
making an impression; I figure anything homemade is better than the
alternatives. And I will happily snarf down absolutely anything anybody
makes for me if has even the tiniest modicum of love in it. Cook with
love, can't lose.

then again, cooking for one is almost necessarily more about
practicality than love. The trick is to get even just a smidge of love
in there.
  
inkwell.vue.379 : Deborah Madison, What We Eat When We Eat Alone
permalink #11 of 140: the secret agenda of rabbits (cjp) Wed 17 Mar 10 13:19
    
It's true, love does make a difference in the final dish, perhaps
because it means that care was taken in the preparation.  Although, I
have to admit that sometimes it's required more love on my part to eat
certain foods than it did to prepare them.  That's when wine comes in
particularly handy.

I tend to eat ginormous salads when I'm on my own because my Chinese
husband doesn't really like to eat cold things.  Except for ice cream. 
Somehow that doesn't count as cold.  Go figure.
  
inkwell.vue.379 : Deborah Madison, What We Eat When We Eat Alone
permalink #12 of 140: paralyzed by a question like that (debunix) Wed 17 Mar 10 14:25
    
I have been reading and cooking from your books for 20+ years, so it
is wonderful to have a chance to say hello, and thank you! in person
online, for all the delicious meals.  I live alone, and while I do get
to bring things to potlucks and have people over from time to time,
most of my meals are planned to be eaten alone. And I love to eat, so
if I don't prepare meals for myself with love, then things are going to
be pretty grim. 

I get by preparing and cooking several pots of soups or stew or beans
and baking several things on a weekend day, that will be frozen in
individual servings and stored for use during the week.  Some of these
things are simple, some a little more elaborate.  Overall, however,
what I eat is heavily biased towards things that freeze well, single
dish meals that can be completed with a vegetable, fruit, cheese,
bread.  My lunches are the big meal of the day, when I heat up that 

But still, most evenings I come home from work too late, too tired,
too hungry, and go for the fastest things I can prepare--slice cheese,
open crackers, wash fruit, eat.   This book is quite interesting as an
exploration of everything from the very elaborate to the
wash/open/slice/eat.
  
inkwell.vue.379 : Deborah Madison, What We Eat When We Eat Alone
permalink #13 of 140: okay it's (kayo) Wed 17 Mar 10 15:08
    
So happy to join in here. Love your cookbooks. I also live alone and 
it is hard to cook for myself, due not only to time constraints but to 
difficulty adding that dose of love that is so esential to enjoyment. Did 
you adopt any of the solitary treats you write about?

I also note that Nigella Lawson is sound on solo cooking and eating. 

 
  
inkwell.vue.379 : Deborah Madison, What We Eat When We Eat Alone
permalink #14 of 140: David Gans (tnf) Wed 17 Mar 10 16:02
    

Welcome, Deborah!  I am the chef's assistant in our home, where my wife has
been cooking from your books (among others, of course) for the 15+ years
we've been married.  So I am a great appreciator of your work!

I'm the one who bought "What We Eat When We Eat Alone," 'cause I am becoming
a big fan of food writing in recent years.  Rita (who I trust will check in
here soon) also read the book and loved it.
  
inkwell.vue.379 : Deborah Madison, What We Eat When We Eat Alone
permalink #15 of 140: Kathy (kathbran) Wed 17 Mar 10 17:02
    
Hi Deborah.  Thanks for joining us.  I enjoyed your book and
especially the illustrations.  Did you test the recipes on your
husband?
  
inkwell.vue.379 : Deborah Madison, What We Eat When We Eat Alone
permalink #16 of 140: Laura MacEachen (laura-mac) Wed 17 Mar 10 17:25
    
Welcome, Deborah.  Another long-time fan, here.  I am enjoying your
new book thoroughly - it speaks directly to me at the moment, as I find
myself cooking for myself in the interstices between cooking to make
my 87 year old father happy and filling the seemingly bottomless pit
that is my 16 year old nephew.  On a budget.  

Had to laugh as I sat reading your book at midnight, slurping leftover
matzo ball soup (my first matzo balls!  they floated!) which I'd 
amended with shredded carnitas and garlic and salt.  We are unfettered
by kosher rules in the house of lapsed Catholics, thanks.  

It was wonderful - no one else was awake, no one else would have even
considered eating it, it hit all my comfort buttons, and it was ALL
MINE!
  
inkwell.vue.379 : Deborah Madison, What We Eat When We Eat Alone
permalink #17 of 140: jane hirshfield (jh) Wed 17 Mar 10 23:14
    
Hi Deb! welcome to the Well!  So fabulous that you and Patrick did this
together....  When I first heard the book title, I somehow was remembering
(can't recall if I ate this or you just told me about it) something about a
huge pot of garlic broth, way back in your little house at Green Gulch, as
the perfect late night snack after a too-rich day. I've probably got this
all mixed up in my mind, so many years later.

I will be eating alone for two weeks soon (a residency in a forest in an
Oregon--buying all my food on the way in, or as much as I can figure out--
it's a good drive out for groceries once I'm in there). I wonder, does any
particular thing from the book strike you as Just the Thing to suggest?

I still lean on many of your oldest recipes, of course... Haven't got this
book yet, and am wondering, how many of the things in it are your and
Patrick's own?
  
inkwell.vue.379 : Deborah Madison, What We Eat When We Eat Alone
permalink #18 of 140: Deborah Madison (leafygreens) Thu 18 Mar 10 09:12
    
How great to hear from all of you! I love Eric's comment about going
feral when eating alone (yes!), your various solutions, the challenge
of sticking with what doesn't turn out, the willingness to eat off the
same dish day after day, and that bent lapsed Catholic and very
non-kosher dish of matzo ball soup with carnitas. The sense that so
many of your foods are personal, that you wouldn't, can't, won't share
them with others, is just what we found, too. 
 
We (mostly I) made and tested all these recipes. Obviously some of the
dishes aren't really my kind of food - like the bar tender's rolled
flank steak stuffed with cheese and bacon to which we added spinach.
But then, this book is about what others do in their kitchens, not
about what I do in mine so much. However most of the vegetarian recipes
will no doubt seem familiar t some of you.

And if I were going to live in a forest for two weeks (brave Jane!)
what might work?  I'd probably take some boxed tofu and coconut milk
and curry paste (plus rice) so I could make the Tofu Curry. Plus you
could use any leftover rice to make a stovetop rice pudding for
dessert. The Roasted Asparagus with Chopped Egg, Torn Bread and a
Mustard Vinaigrette is something you could make an eat off for a few
days. Of course the chapter called Saved by Sardines might have some
good ideas if you like sardines and other canned fish. If you do, you
can make Marsha's Salmon Cakes, or press smoked herrings onto good
whole grain toast. I grew rather fond of one person's solution of
warming canned tomatoes and spooning them over buttered toast. Lately,
and this isn't in the book, I've been cooking green lentils which I
season with lots of cilantro and cumin, then eat warm with a spicy
yogurt sauce and pita bread. I really can and do eat this day after
day. I hope you'll have a refrigerator for vegetables.

As soon as I get back from yoga, I'll answer Carolyn's question about
the mystery of the food diary and what it revealed . . . 
  
inkwell.vue.379 : Deborah Madison, What We Eat When We Eat Alone
permalink #19 of 140: Lisa Harris (lrph) Thu 18 Mar 10 10:10
    
(Just a quick note to our off-site readers.  If you'd like to join the
conversation, send you question or comment to <inkwell@well.com>)
  
inkwell.vue.379 : Deborah Madison, What We Eat When We Eat Alone
permalink #20 of 140: Deborah Madison (leafygreens) Thu 18 Mar 10 11:02
    
About the Food Journal Revelations

In the early l980s Patrick took a long workshop from the designer,
Milton Glaser. Before arriving in New York, participants were told to
keep a detailed food journal of everything they consumed for a week.
(This was years before people kept food journals.) The actual
assignment was to read someone else's food journal and keep reading it
until an image of its author appeared, then make a portrait of that
person.

Sure enough, after reading the food journal through a few times, a
character walked right into Patrick's imagination and he made her
portrait.
  
"One of the things you know immediately," says Patrick, "is the sex of
the person. It's absolutely clear whether you're reading about a man
or a woman." 

Does your subject take swigs of scotch or sips of wine?  
Does your unknown one eat cheeseburgers everyday or maybe just one in
a week? Are the portions big or small? 

Together we started to notice patterns, not only the foods that
pointed to the man/woman approach, but the degree of repetition (men
tend to repeat more), the verbs used (men like to slap, slam, and stick
foods into foods; women tend to chop, dice, and stir), where people
eat (a man will not confess to eating in or on the bed if he does, but
women freely do), and how they shop (men hunt, women gather).

Of course, there were always these pesky little exceptions,like the
woman who likes a chop, the greasier the better, or the man who eats
only vegetables. Although this was definitely not a scientific survey,
we did make the bold generalization that women are complex and men more
simple in the eat-alone realm. But men, before you get upset, you
should know that men often cooked with more care an attention when
cooking for themselves then women did. (Remember the rolled, stuffed
flank steak? It was made by John, the bartender.)
  
inkwell.vue.379 : Deborah Madison, What We Eat When We Eat Alone
permalink #21 of 140: jane hirshfield (jh) Thu 18 Mar 10 13:02
    
Thanks, Deborah! Those are inspiring... yes, I'll have a fridge, and
a stove, pots, pans. Beyond that I was told to expect salt and pepper to be
there.


Great stories about how much you can know a person by what they eat and the
verbs they describe it with...

I fly off tomorrow. Will try to grocery shop with renewed creativity from
your suggestions.
  
inkwell.vue.379 : Deborah Madison, What We Eat When We Eat Alone
permalink #22 of 140: Kathy (kathbran) Thu 18 Mar 10 13:13
    
Oh, I like the: "green lentils which I
season with lots of cilantro and cumin, then eat warm with a spicy
yogurt sauce and pita bread."

Fits into my current cooking fancy.  If I get enough servings of
vegetables and grains dishes in the freezer, I have lunches and dinners
for a couple of weeks.
  
inkwell.vue.379 : Deborah Madison, What We Eat When We Eat Alone
permalink #23 of 140: Deborah Madison (leafygreens) Thu 18 Mar 10 14:28
    
Jane!  Don't forget olive oil. Garlic. A chunk of not too delicate
cheese, and maybe some of those lentils since Kathy likes them, too,
and knows they'd last a while. And of course, some chocolate. 
Good travels.
  
inkwell.vue.379 : Deborah Madison, What We Eat When We Eat Alone
permalink #24 of 140: Eric Gower (gower) Thu 18 Mar 10 15:23
    
Jane, consider taking a small bottle pomegranate molasses with you --
it makes EVERYTHING taste good!
  
inkwell.vue.379 : Deborah Madison, What We Eat When We Eat Alone
permalink #25 of 140: Lisa Harris (lrph) Thu 18 Mar 10 18:10
    
I just LOVE all that you can glean from the food journals.  
  

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