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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Cooking for a crowd is enough to bring out anyone's inner perfectionist, from selecting the perfect ingredients to using the right cookware, every choice becomes a painstaking decision. No chef, amateur or professional, wants bad reviews. But are you as careful when you're cooking just for yourself? What do you eat when no one else is looking?

Author Deborah Madison and her husband Patrick McFarlin posed those questions to dozens of friends and acquaintances, and they're sharing the answers in their new book "What We Eat When We Eat Alone." Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlin join us from member KANW in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Welcome to both of you.

Ms. DEBORAH MADISON (Co-Author, "What We Eat When We Eat Alone"): Thank you so much.

Mr. PATRICK MCFARLIN (Co-Author, "What We Eat When We Eat Alone"): Yes, thank you.

HANSEN: When you asked the question, what do you eat when no one is looking, when you're alone, first of all, you got a variety of answers. And without getting into them, yeah, was there a common thread that ran through them?

Ms. MADISON: There really wasn't. That was very surprising to us. You know, I thought at the outset that there might be a lot of popcorn eaters or ice cream eaters. But, really, there were hardly any of those and there wasn't a common thread. It was all over the map.

HANSEN: Patrick, what were some of the more bizarre answers?

Mr. MCFARLIN: Well, one of the bad ideas was potato sesame bread on a wood-burning stove, tear into hunks and eaten with margarita mix right out of the plastic bottle.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Oh, whoa. Deborah, were there some other ones?

Ms. MADISON: What else was there, Patrick?

Mr. MCFARLIN: How about this? Life cereal dredged with Coffee-mate, the original formula only, this person insisted.

HANSEN: You also found that there are differences in the way that men and women eat when they're alone. What are some of those differences?

Mr. MCFARLIN: The way men eat, they're very repetitious. You know, they can have hamburgers every day for lunch, but women are more complex. So there's quite a variety.

Ms. MADISON: It's obvious in the language, too. Men will swig scotch, women will sip if they're going to have a scotch or they'll sip wine.

Mr. MCFARLIN: And the way they cook, men throw things in the skillet or slam things in the skillet or stick things in a pot of boiling water, very aggressive moves there. Whereas…

Ms. MADISON: Women tend to chop and dice and slice and they actually, you know, cook.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MADISON: It's a little bit more delicate.

HANSEN: You devote chapters to different ingredients that a lot of people turn to when they're hungry. Now, pasta seems to be pretty easy, although you actually found someone who would eat, like, a spaghetti sandwich?

Ms. MADISON: Oh yeah. Well, that's in the bad idea section.

HANSEN: Yeah.

Mr. MCFARLIN: Leftover spaghetti sandwich, yeah.

Ms. MADISON: With a salad, too. It was pretty bad.

HANSEN: Eggs seemed to be good for, you know, a meal that serves one.

Ms. MADISON: Yes, and can serve one instantly. One of my favorite egg dishes was such a good idea. It was called Judy's eggs with breadcrumbs. This came from a former editor of mine, and I didn't really know how Judy made her eggs. But I loved the idea of taking a piece of bread, frying it up in a little bit of butter and then making coarse breadcrumbs out of it and putting them into your eggs. It's the same as having toast, butter and eggs. It's just that the form is so different that it makes a really, very different dish, which she describes as being kind of elegant.

HANSEN: I suppose that I shouldn't be surprised at this, but I am. Sardines rate a full chapter.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MCFARLIN: They say buy sardines, yeah.

Ms. MADISON: Yeah, I think Patrick was surprised by that, too, because he's not a fan of canned fish. But they are that kind of emergency food. I think everybody has some sardines somewhere stashed in the back of their cupboard. You know, and when all else fails, there they are.

HANSEN: It sounds like when we're eating alone it's not so much about nutrition, it's more about comfort. Is that true?

Ms. MADISON: I think that what's so interesting about people's answers is that regardless of how much people know about cooking, know about nutrition, know what's supposed to be right, appropriate, good and all that, a lot of times it can just fly out the window.

HANSEN: Oh, bring on those sardines and mustard sauce, huh?

Ms. MADISON: Or the Tater tots.

Mr. MCFARLIN: Tater tots, yeah.

HANSEN: Tater tots.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Deborah Madison is the author of the book "What We Eat When We're Eating Alone." Her husband Patrick McFarlin is the illustrator, and both of them joined us from member station KANW in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Thank you very much.

Ms. MADISON: Thank you so much.

Mr. MCFARLIN: Thank you, Liane.

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