Reason for Not Eating Out #4: Zen

Blogs Adam on The Amateur Gourmet after trekking up to Sarabeth’s on Central Park South for a brunch of a single waffle that cost $14:

That’s an outrageous amount of money to pay for a can of pumpkin mixed with flour and egg and sugar and plopped into a waffle iron, flipped on to a plate and topped with sour cream and honey and pumpkin seeds and strawberries. But it’s an indulgence that seems to be worth indulging in. We know we can probably make brunch food at home (and investing in a waffle iron could probably save you a fortune for all the waffles you wouldn’t have to order on Sunday mornings) but that’s not the point. The point of brunch is that it’s social, it’s communal: when you stand with the crowd on Central Park South waiting to savor the sweetness of syrup and pastry and strong bitter coffee, you feel like you’re part of the world. And after you’re seated and your food comes and it starts to rain you join everyone in laughing and running inside.”

Nicely put, but with all due respect to this viewpoint, Adam, I beg to differ. (Or should I say, I blog to differ?) Isn’t this logic saying that we’re also a part of the world when we pack ourselves onto the subway or wait on a smelly platform for it? Or go through a day of work?

We all have our own reasons for cooking and for eating out, and my reason for cooking is just that, well, I’ve had enough of being part of the world for the whole 10-or-more-hour day that I’m at work and on subways. And of having a lot of unwanted bodily contact with the world as we cram into hot subways, brush another’s shoulders on the street, get poked with the same brochures and serenaded by the same bums. And of noisy neighbors, and waiting in lines at grocery stores as we all watch a cashier try to swipe a card through the reader 800 times (is this some kind of plague in NYC – that card readers are so bad at detecting strips?). And when I haven’t had enough of the world, I’ll go out and see some music and get a drink with friends.

Basically, what I’m looking for in this frenetic city is a little more zen. And I don’t mean the moment of zen that Jon Stewart refers to at the end of The Daily Show. I realize that my cooking habit can be a little reclusive–I like to call it my zen-out time where I am focused on a single task at hand and could care less about the rest of the world. And usually, the two worlds do not collide. If my roommate or boyfriend’s around, they usually shirk to the back of the living room while I’m in the middle of a meditation. Even my roommate’s cat keeps his distance. The world slips back, sounds drone in becoming one, and my hands are fast in action, a game of efficiency and attention to detail.

But there are other times, especially when I’m with my family, when cooking is a communal activity. Of course, there’s lots more ways to zen out too, like practicing yoga, or the cello. So to each his own.

I guess what I’m saying is that if I want to wait in line for service and listen to other people’s squawking conversations and depend on someone to refill my water, I want that to be a conscious choice I make, and not something mandatory each time I have a meal. And if you don’t have space for a yoga mat, like me, or a piano, or cello, a teensy tiny kitchen is one shrine to zen that I can at least hold the landlords responsible for.

(What are some of yours?)

9 Responses

  1. vasilisa

    my couch and my book on those few occasions when I’m actually left alone…

  2. Risa

    I agree that paying $14 for a pumpkin waffle is outrageous. If you are only doing it occasionally, for a special reason, or just to treat yourself, it is one thing BUT to do it often just to be social, is stupid. I can make pumpkin waffles and they are just as good. A can of Pumpkin Puree is a wonderful thing to have in the pantry. It perks up all kinds of recipes – from pasta sauce to muffins to pancakes and waffles. So, go for it.

    I love spending time in my kitchen coming up with yummy things.


  3. Yvo

    I like your rebuttal. I agree with the whole tuning out the world while you cook (though my dog likes to come in my tiny kitchen and get under my feet, hoping for me to drop stuff for her). I also wind up tuning out the whole world while I write… and depending on the book, sometimes when I read.

    Good post, though I definitely do eat socially. But I should point out that personally, I’ve cut out most other social activities- because I love eating so much, and eating dinner at new restaurants provides me social entertainment, I generally just go out for dinner with friends, document it (so I’m working, too! hah!) then go home. So financially, it’s justifiable (for me anyway) since I don’t go to the movies or anything anymore. Um.. hmm, that doesn’t sound so good anymore! Hahaha. I have other interests, really! 🙂

    Anyway, I still think your journey is noble… I don’t think I could do that. I look forward to reading the other posts I missed while away…

  4. apb

    I also rarely eat out in NYC, and you’ve very eloquently described perhaps the most important reason I like to cook and eat meals at home as much as possible, in addition to the mundane health and financial motivations. Though because I don’t drink, going out to dinner is occasionally necessary for me, in order to avoid being totally antisocial. (Because I work in the music industry, I can rarely go out to a show without ending up “working”…so that’s not a relaxing night out for me.) Bravo for putting this so well!

  5. Jennifer

    I like cooking in, because of the satisfaction of knowing that I can make just as good of a pasta dish or a latte as any establishment. I am using my skills! Plus, I know mine is better! And I didn’t get ripped off! I hate consciously getting ripped off….

  6. Jennifer

    As for the social aspect of eating out, I think that picniques and dinner parties are totally under-used and under-valued.

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