Lisa Harris (lrph) Tue 16 Mar 10 07:28
We're very excited to welcome Deborah Madison to the Inkwell.vue. Deborah Madisons 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 didnt 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!
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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?
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 . . .
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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>)
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.)
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.
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.
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.
Eric Gower (gower) Thu 18 Mar 10 15:23
Jane, consider taking a small bottle pomegranate molasses with you -- it makes EVERYTHING taste good!
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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