What do you eat when certain no one will catch you at it?

The foods that we share, the meals that bind us together, have a code that we all implicitly understand. We know that the starter precedes the main course, followed by the dessert. We know that a wedding demands a cake-shaped centrepiece – whether crafted from dried fruit, butter and sugar, a heap of profiteroles, or layers of jellies. We know that a bowl of chicken soup, prepared for us when we are ill, is offered with a hope for better health.

But beyond these meals lies a secret realm of food, a universe of individual, often bizarre dishes, eaten by the light of the fridge, or tucked up in bed, or pacing back and forth across the kitchen. These are the meals that we eat when no one else is watching – meals that shrug off all convention and compromise. Now, in a new book by Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlin, What We Eat When We Eat Alone, these secret, often sensationally strange meals, are made public.

The book has its origins in some trips that Madison, a cookbook writer, and McFarlin, her painter husband, took with a group of food experts. The party had been brought together for a thinktank project and, as an icebreaker, McFarlin started asking what they ate in private. “Some answers were funny,” says Madison. “Some were strange…”

The couple continued the project together, and their discoveries were often outlandish. There was the person who enjoyed eating bread soaked in margarita mix; one who fried up leftover spaghetti with Swiss cheese; another who poured sardine juice over cottage cheese; another who took a slice of bread, flattened it, covered it with butter and sugar, then froze it briefly. Apparently this tastes a bit like a cookie. Which raises the question – why not just buy a cookie? And wouldn’t that margarita mix have tasted better as a drink..?

RTFA. A few bits good for a chuckle – especially when you recognize yourself.

I’ve had two distinct periods of this in my life. When I was first working fulltime – moved out from my parents and on my own – and I would do something like eating my favorite mozzarella or scamorze for lunch. Nothing else. Just a whole pound of cheese.

And, now, retired – at home with the dogs – the days schedule revolving around blogging [as ever], surfing the Web, watching proper football [finally the summer break and exhibition friendly season is over], some nature photography – I have one-and-a-half meals through the day.

That may include a fried egg and provolone sandwich with mayonnaise and strawberry jam.