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November 5, 2009 Edition

What we eat when we eat alone, by Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlin

Most of us eat alone occasionally, if not regularly. Jokes about the flower in the sink drain aside, do we eat differently? Not surprisingly, we do. Some of us go for the can opener, others pull out the ingredients for daring experiments we’re afraid to try in front of others, still others are freed to eat things disliked by their regular dining companions. Part cookbook, part documentary, this delightfully readable book by the founder of Greens restaurant explores a more private world of food. By talking to friends, family, and even strangers on buses, Madison has documented eating habits from the weird to the sublime, and has the recipes to prove it.

The Urban Hermit, by Sam MacDonald

After a decade of gluttonous excess (mostly of the liquid variety), MacDonald realizes two things: his creditors are pounding at the door, and he already wears the largest size of pants that Walmart sells. He revolves to solve both problems with one solution in this entertaining memoir. Against the advice of his cousin-the-nutritionist, he embarks on an 800 calorie a day diet of “poor man’s food”, and sends all the money he saves to his creditors. Lentils, eggs, tuna… all this and not much more pass his lips for one month… and then a second month, and a third, until a year has passed and he’s become a different person – one with a girlfriend, few debts, and a sleeping bag he can fit in.

Annie’s Ghosts, by Steve Luxenberg

Just before Luxenberg’s mother, Beth, passes away, she lets slip a secret: she was not the only child she claimed to be. Her sister had been institutionalized when she was 2 and Beth was 4, and the family tried to forget about her. But Luxenberg is a journalist who lives for mysteries, so he digs for more. What he finds is that his Aunt Annie wasn’t institutionalized when she was 2, but 21; his mother had been 23. Why had she and her parents kept Annie a secret? Had his father known of Annie’s existence? Along the way to answering the personal questions, Luxenberg adds side stories about the thousands of families in his area who had secret relatives locked away in the early 1900s, the effects the Holocaust had on Jewish immigrants, and the treatment of patients in the commonly overcrowded institutions of the last century.

Japanese Hot Pots, by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat

Beautiful photos showcase the precisely arranged ingredients and hot pots in this mouthwatering book. Hot pots are Japanese comfort food, featuring fresh and delicious ingredients poached in a broth, often on a small burner at the table by the diners (think fondue). All the recipes here can be prepared that way or less traditionally on the stove. Each recipe follows the same pattern: prepare ingredients, mix the broth, add the ingredients, and cook. Most recipes have options for completely vegetarian versions as well as those featuring either meat broths or meat pieces. The first chapter on basics explains the varieties of miso, vegetables, and noodles used, and there is a section on resources, including an online ordering site for those ingredients not locally available. . Perfect fare for our autumn-y weather.

Experimental Man, by David Ewing Duncan

Ever wonder what your lifestyle and environment are doing to your body? Do your organic produce choices make a difference to your health, or do you offset them by living in the big city? Duncan seeks to understand the enormous array of tests and diagnostic tools increasingly available to us, and what the results of such tests may mean to individuals and groups, by undergoing many himself. He runs the usual gamut of blood tests, moves on to genetic tests for markers of various disorders and predispositions, and keeps going through experimental testing, commenting on his impressions, his opinions, and the cold hard facts revealed by the tests and the doctors.

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