Thanks to Cathy Erway, I right now have bread dough rising on my kitchen counter. Three years ago I read Mark Bittman’s New York Times article with Jim Lahey’s phenomenally easy bread recipe, but it took sitting down with Erway’s new book, The Art of Eating In, for me to get cracking.
Right around when I was reading Bittman’s article, Cathy Erway was making a radical decision: in this capital of restaurants, in this city of buying and spending, she was going to stay in and cook. Every night for 2 years. So while other twentysomethings blogged about which new restaurants they’d tried, she chronicled her home cooking adventures on “Not Eating Out in New York.” But there are a million home cooking blogs out there—why did hers capture people’s imaginations? Why did it capture mine?
Well it turns out that the somewhat odd and haphazard parameters she set up for her experiment allowed her to explore (and then blog about) NYC’s emerging DIY food renaissance. She discovered and then immersed herself in a world of cook-offs, takedowns, park foraging, underground supper clubs, and dinner parties. She even hung with the dumpster-diving freegans once or twice. In the process she became entrenched in a new community of bloggers and foodophiles, becoming a kind of mini-celebrity herself. You know, “that girl who decided not to eat out anymore.”
And this is a young girl, a cute girl. One who the fellas might want to take on a date. In this town, a date basically equals a restaurant trip. What’s a girl to do? I am reminded of the Beavans of No Impact Man, and how when they gave up eating out, they sort of fell in love with dinner parties and family time. Erway, too, reminds us—both on the blog and in her book—that there are many more fun and creative ways to court a person than going to a restaurant. Her #25 reason for not eating out? Creative dating.
She also learned that if you are making your own food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you had better get good at it, and learn new techniques and discover your creative side. What she makes plain is that cooking is fun, yes, and delicious, yes. And it will also save you a hell of a lot of money. And you’ll also create less waste—something she actually calculates, by ounce, in her book. And guess what, you’ll also probably spend more quality time with people, and build community and make new friends and be healthier all around. The blog and the book inspire through storytelling, hence the bread dough growing on my counter and the parsnip pancakes I am making for dinner tonight.
Speaking of inspiration: this week, to coincide with the release of Erway’s book, the Huffington Post is challenging their readers to do as Cathy does by pledging to stay in and cook for a whole week. To my grandparents, one-time residents of the Brooklyn and the Bronx, respectively, this would have seemed preposterous—what the hell else would you do? To our generation of New Yorkers, accustomed to buying egg and cheese on the way to work, salad bar for lunch and sushi for dinner, this is an honest to goodness challenge. I have signed up and I can already foresee my failure.
But I can also foresee the homemade lunches I am going to bring to work, and the way I’ll lure people to my house with promises of free homecooked food. And I’ll console myself by remembering that, in the end (SPOILER ALERT), Erway’s message seems to be that eating out does have its place; but it works best as a treat.
Let’s not eat alone: I dare you to take the Huffington Post’s challenge with me; for inspiration, supper club tips and recipe ideas, check out “Not Eating Out in New York” and The Art of Eating In.
Also published on Slow Food USA’s blog