No, this is not a book of maps to the McDonald’s in your area. Or a guide to the best
Chinese food takeout combinations (that’d be a short book – there are no bad combinations!). It also doesn’t contain coupons for chips, dip, and Oreos (note to the authors – possible improvement? For a second edition?).
What We Eat When We Eat Alone is a combination of human observation and recipes, both personal and single-serving. Introspection comes at the title alone: What DO I eat when I eat alone? How do I eat when I’m alone? And why do I make those choices?
Since cooking for one is a regular occurrence for me, it took me a while to think of what makes my meals alone different from the ones I have with others. Eating a 10:00 PM dinner of garlic toast in bed when I feel like it is one obvious difference, and goes perfectly with this line on page 11: “When we eat alone we often break all the rules surrounding not only what to eat but when to eat and even where. And this is true regardless of what we know about cooking or about what makes a proper meal.” And who doesn’t like to break the rules every once in awhile?
One of the best parts of eating by yourself is that you can fully indulge your passion for garlic, onions, and canned fish… There’s an entire chapter to canned fish! (“Saved by Sardines, Rescued by Pasta”). This is because canned fish is not a friend-getter. I don’t believe anyone has been drawn together by the smell of Seafood Snacks, as opposed to chocolate chip cookies. Sardines, herring, anchovies… these are pleasures you enjoy in solitary, or with your dad (as he’s the only other person who likes them). I often make a variation of a recipe on page 98, “Spaghetti with Tuna and Capers.” I use a can of anchovies instead of tuna, and it’s delish!
Reading this book intrigued me to find out what the people I know eat when they dine alone. I took an impromptu poll of my friends, and was surprised to see a lot of similarity to what the authors observed in male and female solo dining. The shopping habits, meal choices and amounts, and eating locations (from counter to couch to bed) of both women and men differ “in a fairly predictable way, though not entirely. There are always those pesky exceptions that make life interesting, for men and women can changes places and do so regularly” (page 20).
On eating alone, a 79 year old interviewee stated, “I love eating alone! Nobody to please but myself… I open the door of the fridge and look inside… What can I put together for this improvised, unrepeatable, once-in-a-lifetime meal?” (page 182). What beautiful sentiment on dining with oneself.