The Restaurant Fast

eating in

Fed up with an aspect of city life that many relish, Cathy Erway swore off restaurants. Completely.

As she explains on her beloved blog, noteatingoutinny.com, and new book, The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove, the experiment was her response to a condition that for many is simply a way of urban life: her soul-sapping office job’s $27,500 salary barely covered rent on her Park Slope share and left little for living it up. Nor were the meals gobbling her budget so marvelous. She wryly recalls that finding food worth its bill near her Midtown office, “was like searching for fool’s gold.”

An edible epiphany came while Erway joined friends for lackluster sliders at a beer garden one sweltering summer day in 2006–as she eyed the greasy napkins, the cups of warm beer and the last blackened burger, she wondered what she and her friends were doing here when they could easily eat better food for less money–at home.

So she vowed to stay out of restaurants for as long as she could stand it.

Erway came up with a mental framework of rules: no takeout or prepared foods, but drinks out were kosher. Mandatory meals associated with work also merited exception. Nor would she need to cure her own salami or churn her own butter. Also if truly in danger (say, stuck in a bus terminal) she needn’t starve.

People love to ask if she cheated–surely some surreptitious takeout, an illicit burrito passed her lips when no one was looking–but she says she was never really tempted, finding homemade meals “doubly satisfying.” Not that she’s any braggart; the book, charmingly free of self-congratulation, bursts with her sweet foibles, culinary and otherwise. Early in her experiment, a friend passed along a beloved recipe-for rolls. Cathy, who owned only one cookbook and whose Chinese mom used the oven for storage, asked the friend “what’s yeast?”

She broke her monastic (by our standards, anyway) fast after two years and today says meals out often inspire meals in: “I like to look at things and try to tweak them, or recreate them.” Take that tantalizing tuna-egg-anchovies-caper sandwich she recently devoured at Brooklyn Larder; back home, she made another like it.  “I was like, if I just buy some really nice bread, and some Italian tuna, and capers and eggs, voilà, I have this $8 sandwich, for like a dollar and change. The sky’s the limit: you can make anything you want.”

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Jeanne Hodesh is a Brooklyn-based writer, eater, Greenmarket regular, and home cook. She grew up in the kitchen of her parent’s bed and breakfast on the Penobscot Bay in Maine where she squeezed fresh orange juice and fell in love with the rhythm of restaurants. An only child who used to amuse herself by telling tales, she always knew she wanted to write. She studied at Sarah Lawrence College, and upon graduation dove into the media-happy town that is New York City. After a year working for an art magazine company she realized people in the food industry have much more fun and always know where the parties are. She has written for Saveur, Edible Brooklyn, Edible Manhattan, Edilble East End, and Time Out New York. She started the e-newsletter Local Gourmands in the winter of 2008.