Friday, February 11, 2011

The Art of Eating In

Cathy Erway needed an interesting subject for the food blog she was considering beginning. She decided to give up eating out, though that would be difficult for a young twenty-something in New York City, and begin cooking her meals at home. What began as an interesting experiment became something of an obsession. As Cathy's blog, Not Eating Out In New York, grew in popularity, she threw herself into the project with an increasing passion that lasted two years.

The Art of Eating In chronicles that two year period. The book isn't composed of blog entries but is a memoir with recipes of Cathy's journey of discovering the wide world of cooking and the myriad forms it can take on in New York City. This leads to her participation in such adventures as cook-offs,  underground supper clubs, urban foraging, and joining a freegan group for some evening foraging (dumpster diving, etc.).
For our next stop on the tour, we walked a few blocks south to a small upscale grocery store. The store was closed, its dim lights exposing the aisles of gourmet food inside. The store was closed, its dim lights exposing the aisles of gourmet food inside. At the curb in front lay our target—a disheveled heap of black garbage bags.

The group began tearing into the bags with a careful, yet determined dexterity that must have come from much experience. They would feel around the outsides first, then untie the top and take a peek in. I helped open one bag, which was filled with a variety of produce. Hands reached in from all directions around me, and one by one, fruits and vegetables were removed. Finally, I stepped back and surveyed what had come out of the group of bags so far. Along the sidewalk, the group had lined up a cluster of several decent-looking apples, some with bruises here and there. Many more spotted bananas were recovered, some good-looking pears, and several tomatoes, which looked wet on their surfaces, probably from condensation and being squashed beside something else, but otherwise fine. I was amazed to see bag after bag of prewashed mixed salad greens emerge from the garbage as well. The bags were sealed shut, and through the clear plastic, the greens still looked perfectly crisp. But the telltale expiration dates on their packages were one or two days past. Chatter floated around about what to set aside for the freegan group dinner the next evening. ...
I enjoyed reading about Erway's more unconventional adventures such as the quest to find a good theme for a supper club. I found it amusing when reading about her friends' dedication to truly test menudo's fabled qualities as a hangover cure (they went out the night before and got well and truly drunk so they were hung over the next day). Erway's research into subjects like the history of restaurants seemed sound as did her other forays into discussing food history.

The personal improvement into a confident cook was less interesting because anyone who has read much food writing  has encountered this sort of story often. They generally follow the same developmental track and Erway is not unique in her story. It is not badly written; it is simply not that unusual. The story sparkles much more when reading about the investigation of the different ways New Yorkers express themselves through food (the supper clubs, foraging, etc.)

Erway also relates her personal dating life, evenings spent drinking, various hook-ups, and other such details of her life. These I could have done without. The cooking and other food related activities were plenty interesting without having to slog through the loss of her boyfriend and dating adventures. They weren't that unusual and didn't add anything to the overall story. It is too bad the editor didn't use a firmer hand in directing the book's focus. However, these are not difficult parts to skim over and the book is interesting despite them.

Note: This was a review book. I'd have said the same either way.

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