Here at Culinate, our slogan is “Eat to Your Ideal.” For us, the phrase embraces not just different regional and personal preferences, but also what we consider to be the basic principles of food awareness: learning more about your food, helping you to make better food choices, and appreciating everyday home cooking.
We also care about food books, both cookbooks and otherwise. Sometimes a food book breaks through to a mainstream audience, such as Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma or (thanks to the recent Meryl Streep film based on it) Julie Powell’s Julie & Julia. Just a month or so ago, we took a look at The Art of Eating In, the first book from food blogger Cathy Erway (Not Eating Out in NY). I don’t know if Erway’s debut memoir will make a Pollan-Powell-style publishing splash, but it certainly seems like it could have the broad appeal of those books.
I write this despite having had some initial reservations. First, I’d been informed ahead of time that I might appear in the book myself, which made me nervous — I’m not one for the limelight. (Cathy was the 2008 winner of our Death by Chocolate contest.) Second, I was sincerely concerned that Erway’s entertaining-but-unconventional food blog might not translate well to book format. But I found The Art of Eating In completely enthralling. It even made me long to be 26 — or at least to have the energy of age 26 — all over again.
The Art of Eating In shares the story behind Erway’s blog, which began as an experiment in simply not eating out in New York City, that capital of non-cooks and eaters-out. As followers of her blog might expect, the book includes recipes (often unorthodox) plus money-saving tips for shopping and cooking in the big city.
But the book isn’t just about practicalities. Erway shows how not eating out both changed her outlook on the food she eats and demonstrated why food is so central to building (and changing) friendships, family, and communities.
Having crossed paths with Cathy several times over the last few years, I always found her lots of fun, but I never truly appreciated the chaos she had introduced into her life by taking on the challenge of a blog that became a book. Early in her memoir, for example, Erway writes about a dinner event in which Dracula, her roommate’s devil-cat, held everyone in a comical state of siege, denying access to the meal. Luckily for the chef, though, the siege masked the fact that the main dish was lacking one of its three main ingredients.
How many of us have had a similar disaster with dinner, but by the end of the night, nobody cared? The food isn’t always the main event.
Sometimes the disaster itself becomes a triumph. Take Erway’s peppercorn-bread-using-potato-water experiment that started with what smells so putrid? . . . could this be lethal?, but ended with a championship contender in a local baking contest only hours later. Some — maybe most — of the most successful recipes out there are the result of mistakes.
As a blog, Not Eating Out in NY was inspired by a need to save money. As a book, it ends up taking us on an unexpected and entertaining journey. But eating in or eating out, the most important part of any meal is whether we enjoy and remember it.
Mark Douglas manages Culinate’s business development and marketing.
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