I have been reading Cathy Erway’s memoir, The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love The Stove, in the strangest places. I read about two-thirds of the memoir over several elliptical sessions at the gym and some of the rest while, fittingly, eating out. And since it was the kind of meal where I could read while eating, it wasn’t a spectacular meal or while with friends.
Based on an unpublished blog entry of mine where I alluded to Erway’s popular blog, Not Eating Out in New York, it seems I knew about the project by February 2009. It was too much for me to go back and read two years’ of blog entries but the subsequent recipes and musings were really great and drew me in. I made risotto (properly) for the first time from a NEOINY recipe. By the time I joined in the fun, the project was actually over and Erway was full swing into writing her memoir and new projects. I even followed her radio show/podcast “Cheap Date” (now known as Let’s Eat In) for a while before getting a little bored–no attention span for 30-minutes of the topic, you know?
To not eat out in New York, one of the greatest food cities, smells a bit of a gimmick. But it starts as an endeavour to save money, a medium-term project, and a reaction to becoming tired of mindlessly following the default of letting someone else prepare nearly all your meals. For someone in her generation (Erway was around 26 years old in 2006), she has more than average fond memories and tools from her formative years of parents who take time to cook to embark on creating all of her own meals.
The hardcover and first edition of the memoir was published in February 2010 and I’ve been putting it off for a while, delaying my library hold on it. But now I’m kicking myself, wondering if I had read some parts earlier, how perhaps my life might be different (for the better) now?
Not buying restaurant or prepared foods was one thing. In fact, eating out too often is a bit of a First World Problem. So it takes an especially passionate person to not just make pasta every day of the year but roll up her sleeves and make bread, research and reproduce ethnic foods, and meet with fringe communities who share not-eating-out values but express it differently by dumpster diving (to nab food that is tossed because it is not “as fresh” but not rotton) and foraging. But Erway really hits her stride when she gets involved in supper clubs and cook-offs.
You could see it about a mile away, and at least one review mentioned love lost, but the boyfriend at the beginning of the project did not stick around. Erway blossoms as new meaning enters her life and the couple breaks up, in part because they drift due to this change. Typical me, I was trying to sniff out for new romance, especially that really loyal friend who seems to be around more than others and extra supportive.
Erway is a really good writer; her tone is natural and friendly. I kept wondering if she wouldn’t include an anecdote or chapter about a failed cooking experience but she includes only highlights of her dinner parties, competitions, and adventurous recipes, all successes. She has a quiet pride that shows her modesty despite the growing spotlight so I couldn’t help but like her. When I was reading about Erway’s first time boiling a live lobster, it reminded me of Julie’s first time in Julie and Julia and I couldn’t help but compare the two. While I found Julie prone to aggravating melodrama, I smiled at Cathy’s experience–doing her research (freeze them first to anesthesize them) and humanizing the pair of lobsters she cooked. I think I characterize Erway’s narrative as laid-back although she encounters high-pressure situations like cooking up to a deadline for 400 guests.
In the end, Erway brings her experiment to a proper close. She thinks long about her uncle (a designer’s) wisdom conferred in the past, “he told me that some people are only truly creative for a certain period of their lives… Inspiration is fleeting, or even fickle… since then, I’ve always tried to seize the moment whenever creativity struck… only write something, only do something, only create something, if you’re really passionate about it. Don’t force something out or beat a dead horse.” The experiment was a resounding success and changed Erway’s life forever and she could return to (occasional) restaurant meals as a much more conscientious consumer, and explore her new food-driven life and career by different means. In the meantime, her memoir made eating in, being sustainable and aware, and hosting friends and family darn cool, which is a fine message.