what do we eat when no one is looking?
On Two Surprising Weeks of Communal Writer's Residency Cooking
I am just home from two-and-a-half weeks in Corsicana, Texas, where I was on a writer’s residency. I’ve been mostly head-down, trying to finish my next book — working is the point of a residency, be it a writer’s residency or an artist’s — so I’ve been a bit disconnected, making every attempt to only look at the news once a day.
It’s been a long time since I’ve lived in a communal situation. There were three of us in the brick 1890 small town Texas building that houses The Corsicana Artist and Writer Residency — the artists Mathilde Lavenne (from France) and Johnny DeFeo (from New Mexico), and, this being my fourth residency, I knew that throwing three strangers together under one roof can be an interesting prospect. Anything can happen, and often does. In our case, we hit the jackpot: together with the other writer resident, Leigh Gallagher, housed in another building, we spent much of our evening time together talking, laughing, cooking. And that was an extraordinary gift. Even though they’ re all significantly younger than I, and I felt sort of like a den mother. Except for one thing: they all ate a lot better than I did.
My cart wound up filled with packaged products that would make any onlooker assume that I had a prepubescent boy at home. Or maybe, three of them.
When I arrived in Corsicana almost a month ago, I was taken grocery shopping at a nearby mega-supermarket, and after about ten minutes of walking around gape-mouthed at the sheer size of everything —- the aisles, the food packages, the carts — I realized: I had no food plan. It showed: my cart wound up filled with packaged products that would make any onlooker assume that I had a prepubescent boy at home. Or maybe, three of them.
Which begs the question: how do we eat when no one is looking? My dear friend, the writer and former chef Deborah Madison and her husband Patrick McFarlin posited this question some years ago, in their excellent book What Do We Eat When We Eat Alone? (The answer in the book: sardines on toast, open faced cheese and tapenade sandwiches, polenta with blue cheese sauce. In my case, the vile combination of cottage cheese and sardines on crackers, which is what my paternal grandmother used to make.)
This is not to say that Mathilde, Johnny, Leigh, and I ate alone, although we sometimes did. I spent enough time in the kitchen at 100 West to come upon Mathilde peeling a large winter squash with an eight-inch chef’s knife (do they teach French people to do this when they’re children? I’d very definitely lose some digits if I tried) and making herself a regular salad with a perfectly fried egg, and Johnny preparing a mostly-vegetable-and-chicken-burrito-thing that looked great. These people ate very well and took good care of themselves.