Now concentrated in flavor, the savory aroma I'd been smelling burst in my mouth, accented with butter and salt. I wanted to eat them all up on the spot instead of adding them to the sauce that was warming in another pot. In one scene, while devising a plan to wreak revenge on a clan of savage giants, the book's kid-hero, Sophie, says to the Big Friendly Giant:.
Humans have never done them any harm. Goodness, did that quote ever stir my eight-year-old sense of ethics. Under normal circumstances I might have skimmed past it just like with any other book about giants who ate children. But now that I had become a vegetarian for a month, it stuck with me in a way that kept me thinking. I never did become a vegetarian again after that monthlong stint.
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But I will say that I strongly believe in respecting and preserving the earth, and this weighs greatly into my eating habits today. That was the last time I engaged in any extended aberration to my eating habits. What eventually turned me on to not eating out and blogging about it, aside from financial incentives, was a series of frustrations and misplaced motivation, which I imagine is not so unusual for anyone who has ever started writing a blog.
I moved to New York immediately after finishing college. I had spent the last semester of my senior year not in Boston, where my school was based, but at a university in Taipei through a scholarship program. I tutored English to college students twenty hours per week, while the rest of the time I finished up the few credits I needed to graduate and, for the most part, explored the city, especially its food.
By the time I landed back in the States, took off my cap and gown, and began looking for jobs in New York, I was more than a little disoriented, and perhaps disillusioned.
But I knew that this was where I wanted to live. New York City was only a short train ride from my hometown, and during college I'd spent every summer living in apartment sublets there, working in book-publishing internships and as a barista at coffee shops. It felt like home already. Thanks to those internships, I quickly found a job as an editorial assistant at a publishing house.
I cobbled together some furniture, found roommates on Craigslist, and bought a fresh wardrobe to begin my adult life.
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These conditions didn't offer much leeway in terms of leisure spending. They were hardly amenable to eating in restaurants all the time. Still, I was eating out—and so, it seemed, was everyone else I knew. I bought my lunch from nearby delis, soup shops, cheap sushi places, and the occasional street vendor and would scour midtown for the best-tasting bang for my buck. Pretty soon, I realized that trying to find a reasonable and satisfying meal in midtown Manhattan was like searching for fool's gold. No matter how hard I tried, it was a barren wasteland, foodwise. The type of food and the prices at local lunch spots that I'd go to—that everyone went to—on a daily basis were almost like branches of the same fast-food chain.
It wasn't just the expense that irked me, though. Picking at the bright orange salmon roe that clung to my wooden chopsticks from sushi rolls, I'd wonder how on earth it had gotten there, to that deli a few doors down, in so many stacks of identical plastic cartons. Summoning my best inner William Blake, I'd ask the morsel at the end of my fork, "Little lamb meatball, who made thee? At night, I went out with friends for live music, art exhibits, and movies, and tried to seek out the city's best-kept-secret restaurants and bars. I began to feel more and more like all this culture I was so anxious to soak in was where my real passions lay, and that it had little to do with my workday.
I was horrible at organizing my two bosses' schedules and paperwork, too, which was unfortunately the brunt of my job. I could never seem to photocopy an entire important document without missing pages. And I didn't have much in common with the four coworkers in my department who were my age, and whose names, strangely or not strangely enough, were either Sarah or Megan. I began dating a graphic designer who worked two floors below me. I lost pretty much any other interest in my job, and it showed. I'd take long breaks, arrive late every morning, and dream about how I could best take advantage of my paid vacation days.
I took a weeklong trip to Thailand that winter, and when it was over, I came back to the same desk and the same cluelessness about what I was doing there. In , just after I had been at the publishing house for one year, I was called into my boss's office and told that I wasn't "a good fit. Once I gathered all my stuff and said my awkward good-byes, I walked out of the office building for the last time—stunned, speechless, and dizzy.
My stomach felt foul. I looked at my watch; it was one in the afternoon. I hadn't yet had the chance to eat. Over the next couple of months, I worked odd jobs or spent my time looking for less-odd ones. I eventually found full-time employment as an executive assistant at a head-hunting firm, a field I had little experience and less interest in, creating PowerPoint presentations and trafficking phone calls. In my free time, I poured my energy into an independent film festival. But after a successful and exhausting season, the volunteer-run organization decided to call it quits.
I found myself back at my desk, twiddling my thumbs. I tried to pitch stories to food magazines, and I wrote for small publications on the side.
I loved cooking and began doing so fervently at home, more often than going out to eat. Oh, and I managed to keep the graphic-designer boyfriend, Ben. Which brings me back to the summer of and that balmy day in the beer garden, with Erin and Sergio.
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So began my two years of not eating out. While the explanation I gave my friends the day I decided to move forward with the idea had been my enthusiasm for cooking, and desire to spend less, I was harboring a deep distaste for the restaurant routine that so dominated our diet.
Most people, when confronted with the term "eating out," conjure vibrant images of three beautifully plated courses brought in succession to a two-person table, in a pleasant atmosphere. To be clear, I didn't want to start writing a blog for the sole reason of criticizing this type of experience. Most Americans do not eat like this very often.
Today, 77 percent of all restaurant meals are purchased from fast-food restaurants. Much of the time they are taken from there and eaten on the road, at home, in the office, or at another public place. Enjoying a leisurely meal inside a restaurant is generally reserved for the more fortunate. But however it's done, "eating out" has become a habit almost as natural as breathing. It's a sandwich wrapped in cellophane. A cardboard box with a pizza, hamburger, or pieces of fried chicken inside. I wanted to start a blog about no longer relying on profit-seeking enterprises backboned, of course, by low-wage kitchen staff to feed me every meal.
In short, I wanted to figure out how to undo the trend that has engulfed our eating habits. To be sure that I'd stick with the project, I came up with a mental framework of rules. Essentially, I would not eat out in any of the five boroughs that made up New York City. Technically anywhere outside of the city proper, it was okay to eat out. So if I was going to be out of town for a week, then I would of course eat out there. I wasn't traveling too often around this time, so in general, the occasional restaurant meal would mean that I was celebrating special occasions in New Jersey with my family, and everyone wanted to go out for a nice meal.
I would, however, pay respect to occasional mandatory meals associated with my work environment. I had no reason to conduct business lunches, but my employer occasionally ordered the catered staff lunch or threw holiday parties. If I was asked to join a group headed to a restaurant for a coworker's birthday, I'd tag along only to those celebrations that were for higher-ups—such as bosses.
I wanted to keep my job; I wasn't trying to play games with my livelihood here. Likewise, if I were truly in danger of going very hungry—if I was stuck at the bus terminal and there was absolutely no other option—then I would eat restaurant food. Fortunately, this was never the case, since there are at least as many convenience stores as there are restaurants in New York City, many of them open all night.
Next, I determined that this wasn't a project about trying to make everything that I ate using the basest of raw ingredients. I wasn't setting forth to cure my own salami, or churn goat's milk into chevre, as much as I'd like to. I basically took not eating out to mean not eating anything purchased from a restaurant, whether it be a sit-down establishment or a takeout window. There are many businesses that blur the line between restaurant and grocery store.
Many high-end groceries, such as Whole Foods, have extensive prepared-food sections, and you can order a deli sandwich at any bodega. These types of meals would be off-limits, too, I decided. Food from bakeries and bagel shops could also be borderline cases, as they were generally ready to eat.