Saturday, August 11, 2007

Book Review: Alone In The Kitchen With An Eggplant


"Excuse me," Joe said as he tried to get by me. I was standing in the doorway to the kitchen, holding an open book.

When he passed back by a little while later I was leaning against the door frame and several pages further along in the book.

"You'd probably be a lot more comfortable if you sat down and read that."

"Oh, I'm not reading it. I'm just glancing through it."

Alone In The Kitchen With An Eggplant, published last month by Riverhead Books, is not the kind of book you want to sit down to read because if you do, you'll probably find yourself unable to stop reading. And a couple of hours later you'll probably find yourself wishing you hadn't just devoured the entire thing in one large gulp.

No, this is the kind of book that should be consumed in small bites, over as long a period of time as humanly possible. Reading while standing up, and lying about it, are perfectly acceptable ways to help you do this.

Alone In The Kitchen With An Eggplant is a wonderful collection of "confessions of cooking for one and dining alone." Editor Jenni Ferrari-Adler came up with the concept for the book—which she discusses in the introduction that doubles as a bonus essay—and then convinced a talented list of writers and foodies to divulge "the secret meals they make for themselves when no one else is looking."

A few of the essays even include recipes, and a handy section at the end of the book offers a one-paragraph biography of each of the 26 contributors, which include Nora Ephron, Steve Almond, Ann Patchett, Paula Wolfert, and M.F.K. Fisher.

Dinner alone is one of life's pleasures, writes novelist and beloved food writer Laurie Colwinin her essay, "Alone In The Kitchen With An Eggplant," which inspired both the title and the book itself. Certainly cooking for oneself reveals man at his weirdest. People lie when you ask them what they eat when they are alone. A salad, they tell you. But when you persist, they confess to peanut butter and bacon sandwiches deep fried and eaten with hot sauce, or spaghetti with butter and grape jam.

Standing in the kitchen doorway reading this book while convincing myself I wasn't actually reading it was really quite appropriate, for when I'm feeding only myself it isn't so much what I eat as how I eat it. And that would be standing up. In the kitchen. While convincing myself that I'm not yet actually eating.

You see, I'm a professional nibbler. I rarely sit down to a home-cooked meal hungry, and I feel that appetizers should never be served unless they are followed immediately by dessert.

When Joe was away from the farm recently, he called about nine o'clock one night to check on me. After describing a rather fancy restaurant dinner he'd just been treated to, he said, "So what did you have for dinner?"

There was a long pause as I tried to figure out how I should respond, realizing all the while that this wasn't the sort of question one usually has to think about.

"You did eat something, didn't you?"

"Yes, of course." Cream cheese frosting. With my fingers. While I was supposed to be spreading it on a cake. "I had some of that cabbage salad stuff."

Then I stared down at the small bowl of that cabbage salad stuff I'd been dishing up for a late night snack when the phone had rung. The truth was, I'd made the salad--a several ingredient concoction that calls for gentle stirring and careful sampling after each addition--hours earlier, but once it was finally finished I'd had that oh-so-familiar realization. Uh oh. I'm full.

If you're the type of person who always asks your friends and loved ones what they had for dinner, likes to spy on what other people in line at the supermarket are buying, and wonders why characters in novels don't spend a lot more time eating and talking about food, Alone In The Kitchen With An Eggplant is for you.

I'm not going to give you details about the various essays or offer comments,
because in my opinion, this is the kind of book where the less you know going into it the better. Besides, I haven't finished it yet. If you feel you simply must know more and aren't afraid of spoiling your appetite, you can click here to read a detailed description and Publisher's Weekly's review.

And if you're one of those people who needs to flip through a book before buying it, I suggest you head to your favorite local bookstore just before closing time. Otherwise you'll probably be surprised to find yourself several hours later, leaning against a shelf with the open book in your hand and suddenly realizing Uh oh. I'm done.

The good news is that unlike a wonderful meal, once you've consumed this entire delicious read you can simply turn right back to the front and enjoy the whole thing all over again.

So what do you eat when you find yourself alone in the kitchen? Come on, 'fess up. I won't tell anyone.

© FarmgirlFare.com

59 comments:

  1. I don't think anyone has ever actually seen me eat crunchy Cheetos, but they may have surmised it by finding the bag suspiciously empty?

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  2. Butter and salt, with a side of whole wheat penne.

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  3. Mayonnaise on rye.

    When I was a kid, I used to eat one mayo on rye and one mustard on rye. I would describe this as 'mayo and mustard on rye'. It was years later before I realized why people reacted as they did.

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  4. well, since I live alone, I eat alone. Usually, standing in the kitchen. Peanut butter on plain, white bread. I know, yuck!!!

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  5. Cool! I just noticed the library has this book on order so I put it on hold. And after reading your review, I can't wait to get it!

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  6. Cheerios, with shredded cheese instead of milk.

    Theoretically this is so they don't get soggy while I'm reading, but I'm still blushing while typing.....

    I completely know what you mean about gulping books--I frequently end up inhaling one that I truly meant to savor!

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  7. Confession: I nibble, I try, I nibble some more, try something else, and there better be no Cheetos in the neighborhood...., some chocolate for dessert maybe and of course all the while reading... Well not reading but like Renee said: inhaling new books/magazines. Bliss!

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  8. Popcorn and gin.

    That's, of course, after a cutting board of sliced tomatoes from the garden doused in good olive oil and covered in kosher salt.

    All standing up at the kitchen counter while staring out the window at the yard I should be tending to. You know.

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  9. Hard boiled eggs, or sardines smooshed up with Miracle Whip.

    I remember reading Laurie Colwin's essay years ago, and thinking that, as was often the case, she absolutely nailed it. I often read Home Cooking and More Home Cooking, a chapter here and there, for inspiration and to keep me from taking cooking too seriously.

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  10. Fried noodles with ketsup or fake crab fried in butter and doused with butter, salt and lemon .... or hot dogs!

    Orrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, if I'm in a luxurious mood, thawing out a steak all for myself!!!

    Wonder why I'm so fat?

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  11. generic mac & cheese with ketchup...that's my old standby. breakfast is hands down scrambled eggs with grape jelly - if you can get past the off-putting green color, it's yummy... but that little gem remains hidden from even my poor hubby.

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  12. Every now and then I'll start mking linguine with clams and just eat the clams out of the can.

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  13. When my kids were young and used to go to their dad's for the weekend, I'd spend a day and a half on an apple pie. Half for dinner, 1/4 for my breakfast, 1/4 for lunch! Twelve hours of nothing but pie. Of course, once the kids were all grown up, I realized I had about 35 lbs. to lose!!!

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  14. Hi Everybody!
    I'm having such a good time reading your comments. I love this kind of food talk, which is obviously why I'm enjoying Alone In The Kitchen With An Eggplant so much. Some of your responses are hysterical. What a bizarre variety of secret foods you eat!

    Thank you all for 'fessing up. I can't wait to hear more. If this list gets long enough, maybe I'll make it a separate permanent link somewhere that people can keep adding to. I'm ovbiously not the only one who gets such a kick out of this kind of stuff. : )

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  15. Oh, I wish you hadn't started this, I think you know from my email last week, my dietary habits aren't very attractive.

    And so, here goes. When husband is away, on go the potatoes to make mash, two (one isn't big enough) meat pies in the oven, (preferably steak & kidney) and when ready, combine the whole thing in a bowl with loads of butter & tomato ketchup. And then Uh Oh, I'm full! :-))

    (See, even my smiley has two chins)

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  16. When nobody is looking, I eat...

    Cheerios, dry, with Hershey syrup

    Dill pickles & cheddar cheese (a bit of pickle, a bit of cheese & chew!)

    Peanut butter & cheese sandwich

    Taco Bell hot sauce on tortillas

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  17. What do I eat when I'm alone?

    Chocolate!
    But good chocolate...I'll pass up on a hershey kiss most of the time - they're just not worth it. Unless I'm desperate.

    No chocolate? I'll go for a good cookie with some kind of chocolate in it (a brownie or small pinch of chocolate cake will work too - but I don't usually have these around unless we've had people over or a birthday in the family).

    If there are none of these chocolate-y things to be found I won't partake. Really. I will go all day and then realize I haven't eaten.

    UNLESS there is any of my homemade pimiento cheese in the fridge. I can eat it by the spoonful or cracker full if it's available and not realize I've eaten the whole bowl until I'm scraping as hard as I can to get that last little bit on my finger.

    But having homemade pimiento cheese on hand is rare.

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  18. A can of beans, preferably black or white northern, a can of vegetables, preferably beats and/or chick peas, and a couple of drops of olive oil. Microwave it just until warm. Yum. Sometimes, I'll add a little tuna, sardine or salmon. Yum. Either combination would turn my husband's stomach.
    Or.
    Peanut butter, no jelly, on non-white bread.

    Thank you for such a fun (and revealing) question! Love your blog.

    Rosane.

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  19. Avocados - silky & rich - love them!

    Sometimes on a tortilla with cheese and hot sauce.
    Sometimes cut in half with dressing (ranch or blue cheese) in the "seed hole"

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  20. this book sounds amazing! i recently admitted on my blog that i'm a sucker for food books (as in, right now they're all i read) and this one is definitely going on my list.

    alone in the kitchen, you'll find my hand in a bag of chocolate chips.

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  21. Spaghetti, al dente. With onions fried in butter and a fried egg (yolk must be runny).

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  22. Good olives, brie, good bread and good wine...followed by chocolate...my standard alone meal since grad school (when it was a huge splurge!)

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  23. It looks to me like the book would be worth the price just for that beautiful cover photo.

    When I'm alone I like to eat cinnamon toast & coffee.

    Or a nice cup of Earl Grey with sugar and milk and a slice of toast wrapped around a cold piece of colby. I've always thought these things go terrific together - more than the sum of their parts. The bread cheese combo also works well with cranberry juice.

    A giant gob of spaghetti is nice.

    Crackers with peanut butter. Or cream cheese. Or cheese and pepperoni slices and green olives. Or all of it, one after the other.

    Ok...I've got to get back to work!

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  24. A can of drained tuna mixed with rice, thawed peas and mayo.

    Sardines on a bed of hot rice with a scattering of chopped scallions and a drizzle of soy sauce.

    Like a previous commenter I also like peanut butter and cheese sandwiches.

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  25. Cereal is my alone meal. I adore cereal, I could eat it for every meal if I didn't have a husband that actually wants food sometimes.

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  26. This is just too much fun. Really. I mean, look at all the crazy foods you people eat when you're alone. It's fantastic! Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought to combine some of the things you do. : )

    Thanks again to all of you for joining in. And if you're reading this and haven't yet--come on, 'fess up!

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  27. Sounds like a lovely book - thanks for the tip :) When I'm alone, I'll usually have a big bowl of pasta, with cheese sauce, or with garlic and butter. Yes, very healthy. :) It depends though, today I thought I'd try some bookmarked recipes that I know Per would hate.

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  28. Thanks for the tip! This book looks like a must-have...

    My own default meal is oven-fried ham and cheese sandwich with mustard and red onion and oregano. Yum.

    Or chicken wok with zuccini and green pepper, seasoned with ginger, chili and soy sauce.

    Now I'm hungry...

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  29. I cook lunch for the next day, because I realized, as you did, that I will be full when I am done cooking! So if I just nibble while I cook, I am either satisfied with that or make a small salad to fill me up the rest of the way. And the bonus is I get a great meal for lunch the next day!

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  30. I like to eat sugary cereal which translates to things like Cinnamon Toast Crunch or Frosted Mini Wheats when I'm alone. I like peanut butter and strawberry jam on a warm flour tortilla or dollops of tuna salad on saltines that have a square of American cheese on them. Ramen noodles too.

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  31. My husband just packed his bags for a few days away and I was thinking of dinner as I stumbled across this post.

    My favorite meals to have when I am home alone are - ice cream, (a container of Ben and Jerry's New York Superfudge Chunk all to myself), spinach dip w/ sourdough bread, peanut butter & banana samich on a wheat bread with nuts and stuff in it, and if all else fails, refried beans on a flour tortilla cooked up quesadilla style in a really hot pan.

    Not necessarily all eaten at one sitting. But then again....

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  32. When by myself, no one to see, toasted English muffin topped with a gently fried egg and some ketchup. I rarely use ketchup but would not think of eating this any other way.

    Or, saute onions and garlic in olive oil, add salt/pepper and then toss in rice, water and when done top with shavings of cheese. Any cheese will do.

    But my favorite from childhood made by greatauntie Anna was creamed peas (those little tiny French ones) on toast. This was real comfort food on a cold or rainy night. I still make this on occasion eating standing up at the kitchen sink, fondly remembering my lovely old greataunt who could cook circles around all of us.

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  33. Ok, since no one else has admitted to my most favorite by-myself-meal, I will,...sigh...apologies in advance. Peanut butter and dill pickles on wheat.

    I'm so ashamed.

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  34. DeerDominique8/14/2007 12:12 PM

    Dark Chocolate Chips and Walnuts in a tiny bowl. (I'm allergic to chocolate, so this is top secret)
    Favorite alone dinner - cubed tofu with Braggs and gomasio and maybe some halved candy tomatoes.

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  35. Grapes and toasted almonds, by the handful. Hummus and salsa on a cheese omelet. Smoked salmon on a whole avocado. Red wine with brie on warm toast.

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  36. Even though I live with a roommate, I am almost always cooking for myself alone. I tend to cook fairly well-balanced meals... unless there's no chance anyone will know what I've been eating. My favorite really-and-truly alone meals are:

    1. Frozen pizza. The kind with Crayola orange "tomato" sauce. The kind you can get for a buck at the discount grocery store. I refer to it as "fake pizza," but this doesn't keep me from eating it.

    2. Microwave popcorn (preferably kettlecorn), and any other random food that happens to be in the kitchen. Ironically enough, this usually ends up being frozen corn, and tortilla chips with salsa. Yes, an all corn meal.

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  37. When dining alone, I make a "nibble plate" of whatever nice cheeses & meats we have around (usually Manchego & dry salami), fruit, nuts, olives, sun-dried tomato pesto and small rosemary crackers.

    I'll actually sit (rare!) with a nice glass of red and the REMOTE, for once.

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  38. Cup o' Noodles, when I'm being lazy...but I'm getting better. I work from home alone every day, so I have to make myself cook healthy meals or eat leftovers.

    However, there is some homemade banana pudding in the freezer, so I have been having frozen banana pudding for lunch a little too often lately.

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  39. I suck on the saved rind of parmigiano reggiano.

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  40. What a great list of food - there are things I would never combined there but I trust you all.

    I've been home alone today and here is the absolute truth of what I have eaten.

    Oatmeal with manuka honey.

    A handful of whole grain crackers and some tillamook sharp cheddar cheese.

    Salad (all CSA or homegrown) with thyme-balsamic vinaigrette and a couple of slices of some random 50% whole wheat bread.

    2 carrots.

    Lots of blueberries - we picked ~2 gal at dusk yesterday and I haven't gotten them all cleaned yet. Well, there's about 2 gal now so we probably picked 2 1/2. But damn, are they good!

    Tea, mostly black with one cup of fresh mint.

    No chocolate. Nothing baked other than the bread. No alcohol.

    I have clearly been taken over by an alien.

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  41. Apple Sauce sandwiches. I even butter the bread.

    This is the only thing I inherited from my father.

    I have made special trips to the store just for apple sauce before.

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  42. i'm single, so some days its just sort of, well, snacking. those little baby cheeses from the co-op or whole foods that they toss in a basket. i look for local and raw, then slice with an apple or wasa. carrots dipped in tahini. rykrisp and coconut oil. a dish of berries, mashed banana, kefir, and flaxmeal.

    when i do cook, i end up eating variations of the same meal for weeks. al dente, whole wheat penne or gobbetti, olive oil, red pepper flake, fresh basil stolen from neighbor, and fresh tomato. top with spoonfuls of ricotta and slide under the broiler until cheese begins to brown. coarse salt and pepper.

    but that was last month.

    now i'm cooking up a few cups of brown rice. (i love the smell of brown rice cooking. love it.) let it dry out for a day or two. put in the wok with garlic, onion, sriracha, tamari, and whatever veg looks good. julienned carrots. zucchini because its scrumptious right now. red cabbage. top with peanuts. oh, lord is it good...

    then, remember that rice that's drying up? i put it on the stove with a big scoop of vanilla haagen dazs, a handful of raisins, and a generous sprinkling of cinnamon. cook just until bubbly. pure divinity.

    good golly, that got long! sorry, i love to talk about what i'm eating...and read about what everyone else is!

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  43. I love toasted bread, by itself with a little bit of butter and a steaming cup of tea with French Vanilla coffee creamer. Or I put peanut butter on one slice of toast, Nutella on the other and stick 'm together. If I feel fishy, I'll do sardines with mayo on toast, and nothing beats mayo, cheese and fresh tomato slices! And if I want an artery clogger, it's liverwurst with butter on toast. Yummmmmmm !!! My husband just stares at me, rolls his eyes and leaves the kitchen in disgust.

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  44. In the summer it's sliced boiled eggs, mayo (MUST be mayo, not miracle whip) and fresh tomato slices on a sandwich. Alfalfa sprouts would be divine on this, but I never have them when I want them. My son has me hooked on buttered noodles sprinkled well with cajun seasoning. I'm contemplating squash dipped in cornmeal and more cajun seasoning and fried, at the moment...

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  45. So I shared my own all-by-myself meal...but now I'm kind of wanting try some of the other ones. I think you've given me new strange food obsessions! : )

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  46. GUILTY PLEASURE: video game, briefly interrupted by pasta game.

    First I look left.

    Then I look right.

    Then I jump into the kitchen, fill the biggest kettle I have with water, slam all the colanders I own into the sink, and whiz back to my video game.

    When I realize I'm winning or the water is boiling, whichever comes first, the largest amount of pasta with the same cooking time goes in with oil and a ton of salt. Then I set the timer for 2 minutes before it's done cooking, which is 3 minutes before the 'cook for' instructions. This gives me time to finish up eradicating more than one game.

    BEEP BEEP slam the pause button on the game...after I finish this bulwark BEEP BEEP alright alright!

    Swooshhhhh the pasta into the colanders. Pause for glasses to clear of steam. Pot back onto now-cool burner. In goes way too much butter. Then my special mix of garlic, onion, celery, and salt seasoning. Grab the biggest bowl in the dishes cupboard and pour most of butter into it. Into the pot goes some pasta, butter, pasta, butter, pasta, butter. Stir mix combine drown in vapors pick self off the floor mix some more. If I've killed sufficient minions to feel uppity, some reggiano might go in there, but usually it had to be pre-grated. By someone else. Then fill that big ol' bowl. Try to remember to eat it before it goes cold, even though it's right underneath your nose.

    Also good with your favorite novel and a long mid-morning quiet spell!

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  47. Angel-hair pasta with a small can of Hunts tomato sauce on it.

    I put garlic that's been through the press into the water before I put it on to boil, and if it's summer, I put some basil leaves in the water, too.

    Once the pasta is done, I put a little olive oil on, and then the tomato sauce. Hunts puts flavorings and a bit of zip in the sauce....

    Yum. This is fast and so gooooood.

    No one else here likes this as much as I do, so I eat it almost every time I'm alone.

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  48. When i don't feel like cooking:

    Peanut butter on toasted what bread

    A huge bowl of pasta, a weakness i can't seem to get rid of

    Sometimes, an equally big bowl of long grain white rice and canned kidney beans with salt and pepper.

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  49. how about hearty wheat bread toasted to your liking, smeared with natural creamy peanut butter, topped with fresh homegrown tomatoes and dashed with sea salt and fresh ground pepper? true and utter nirvana.

    when i get on a cereal kick, i keep the cereal in the fridge which keeps it crunchy throughout my giddy enjoyment.

    slice of greek feta, covered with a thin layer of olive oil and sprinkled with crushed oregano. nibble intermittently with bites of pita bread (not pita pockets)that have been warmed in the pan 1-2 min each side. maybe a veggie or two cut up for a side salad. tomato. pepper. cucumber. dash of salt & pepper.

    these are the things i eat when no one is watching...otherwise the husband would waste away. (not true really, he puts oreos and milk away like no one else. tsk.tsk.)

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  50. My guilty pleasures esp when no one's around are: hotdogs with ketchup on those hotdog buns, toasted cheese sandwich (I grate the cheddar cheese onto slices of bread, add chopped tomatoes and broil them til it gets gooey). If I am up to it then its potato and egg frittata tat i do on the stove, eaten as is with a touch of ketchup.

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  51. Fried egg sandwiches. Saltine cracker with butter. Or... mix a little mayo with some dijon add grated cheese, garlic powder (cause this is a lazy meal) and make a paste spread on bread/bagels/english muffins pre-toasted a little. Broil. I burn the heck out of my mouth everytime I make this cause i can't wait to shove it down my gullet! Then I like to cool it down with a beer..or two.

    Or pasta. Yep,always good.

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  52. Peanut Butter. By the spoonful. Half a jar if no one wanders in. With a sprinkling of M&M's or chocolate chips if I'm really on a tear!

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  53. Weeknight-
    Toasted Wheat bread with peanut butter, sprinkled with mini chocolate chips and dried cranberries.

    Weekend night- a big batch of shrimp shumai and fried rice.

    Weekend morning ---ALONE...fresh from the oven sticky buns where I can pick all the nuts off and eat them and later tell the kids that I made them without nuts just for them!

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  54. one of those mini graham cracker crusts filled with crunchy peanut butter and topped with mashmellow fluff.....I don't have it very often but I ONLY eat it alone!!!

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  55. tuna with egg noodles and cream of mushroom soup, sprinkled with potato chips.
    two poached eggs on buttered white toast.
    Ol Farmers shaved deli ham on two pieces of heavily BUTTERED white bread.
    pasta pasta pasta...

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  56. Someone else actually eats peanut butter and pickle sandwiches? I finally feel as if I am not alone in the world.
    Beside that, before I got married my meals consisted of the following fare:
    -Kettle corn (microwave)
    -Top ramen cooked egg-drop style
    -Wilted spinach or greens with a ton of bacon and onions
    -Cottage cheese and tomatoes
    -Tuna from the can
    -Spaghetti sauce, parmesan and cottage cheese microwaved to melty with french bread to dip

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  57. I absolutely love peanut butter, mayonnaise and banana sandwiches, but really, when I'm alone, I eat a little of everything I can find...

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  58. Oh my! Ghiradelli's Hot Chocolate with Vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, topped with whip cream and Jamaican water crackers with organic butter- because that makes it better.

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  59. When I'm really strapped for time and/or feeling lazy, what I usually do is make some pasta in bouillon and garlic powder. I chop up some spinach/kale/whatever leafy kinda veggie I've got laying around and throw it in with the water for about 30 seconds. Shred some cheese onto it and bam, my go to supper is ready! I tend to make the pasta in very little water so it kinda turns out soup-y/stew-y. It was something my aunt used to do as a kid. She is the queen of turning the very ends of a grocery run into a beautiful dinner.

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