Reason for Not Eating Out #27: Finding Your Art (guest post!)

Thanks to everyone who submitted their original, thoughtful and personal Reason for Not Eating Out #27 entries! There were so many good reasons among them — including avoiding the “drunken riff-raff” or the walloping calories of Southern eaten-out specialties. I go the sense that a lot of you are bloggers trapped in a busy person’s body. Should you decide to take up blogging (if you don’t already), I will be your first reader!

I ultimately chose to post Jess Habalou‘s ode to cooking and creativity, which made me laugh, nod and learn something new. And without further ado, the first-ever guest-written Reason of the Month post…

Reason for Not Eating Out #27: Finding Your Art

As an artistic soul trapped in the body of a dyslexic five-year-old missing a digit or two, I’ve spent a lifetime in a frustrated search for a creative outlet. I always wanted to draw, but even stick figures prove a formidable challenge for me. Forget collage, as I’m seemingly incapable of cutting out fine shapes without hacking them to bits. Even after ten years of guitar, I’ve barely advanced past a four-bar, power-chord structure (though sweet was my victory over F and B – in yo’ face!).

In cooking, I found my muse. For years, she sat in the many kitchen chairs I’ve seen, drumming her fingers on the table, chin in hand, mumbling: “Aaany day now. Yup. She’ll figure it out.” So why not eat out? Because home-cooking might just be your shaktipat, your inspiring lightening bolt to the head. It took a lot of missteps and heartaches and near-failures to figure out that food is my canvas. Whether I’m rummaging through the fridge or pantry in an effort to Frankenstein-up a one-pot meal, or meticulously picking through a bin at the farmer’s market to find the lucky tomato to bring home, I finally feel like I’m in my creative element.

If you’re already an artist, then you’re in luck. Food is as much about pairing colors, shapes and textures as it is about flavor profiles and sick knife skills. Sounds like a stretch? Think about a summer slaw: ribbons of crisp, slightly bitter purple cabbage with shavings of the freshest, sweetest orange carrot in a tangy vinaigrette. Or those kissin’ cousins from Capri: basil, tomato, and mozzarella. Green, red and white aren’t just for Christmas anymore. It’s all in the color wheel. And if science is your gig, you’re in luck. I’ve always thought there was a beautiful, complex overlay between art and science, and not just because both subjects were my downfall in middle school. The complexity, and the dance between dogma and total subjectivity – there’s a secret romance there. And cooking reveals all sorts of physical and chemical wonders. If you don’t believe it, try baking a loaf of bread. Even if it fails miserably, you can chalk it up as a lab experiment and tweak the conditions for next time.

Would I, or any of us, have figured this out if we’d stayed in the habit of calling up the same ol’ Thai place for dinner or ducking in for yet another bagel in a low-glycemic, early-morning trance? Hardly. If you’re like me – the only one of your friends without a band, studio, or BFA – try putting down the menu and creating your own artistic niche’n in the kitchen. Even starving artists have to eat.

8 Responses

  1. F Redwood

    Hi. I work for a morning news show and I am trying to reach Cathy Erway for a possible segment. Please email me at [email protected].

    BTW- There should be contact me link somewhere. Or did I miss it?

  2. jae_em

    hope we hear more news abt this possible segment!

  3. John

    I adore her outlook and her sense of humor. Anyone who can reference Frankenstein in regards to cooking has got my attention. Does Ms. Jess have a website or blog where we can read more?

  4. Ben

    Yes she does! Jess blogs about vegetarian cooking over at

    I highly recommend!

  5. Ben

    Hey John –

    Yes she does. Jess blogs about vegetarian cooking over at

    I highly recommend!

  6. Jennifer Coleman

    Here was mine :): During the eight years I lived in New York, my fridge was a vessel for a few condiments, a Brita pitcher, some Whole Foods containers, and vodka. I didn’t even keep milk for coffee. I could blame not making coffee at home on lack of counter space, but instead I’ll admit it was due to what I thought was the “convenience” of the coffee shop around the corner. On weekends my routine went something like: wake up, put long coat over pajamas, run down four flights of stairs, walk the block to and fro, run up the four flights of stairs, drop coat, and voila, back to bed with my coffee, which had usually leaked on my hand and coat by then.

    Then about a year ago, I got married and moved to New Orleans. Buried in that sentence are three good reasons for not eating out: first, thanks to our wedding registry, I now own the right pots, pans, and other accoutrements that make eating at home easier. Granted, I could’ve acquired some of these things on my own, but I spent the money on eating out instead.

    Second, I live in a house that’s much larger than my former East Village ‘squat,’ and though I still don’t seem to have enough counter space, I do make my coffee at home every day (Cafe du Monde’s chicory of course), sometimes twice a day. Now the daily routine goes something like: set up automatic function on coffee maker the night before, wake up to aroma of brewing coffee, stumble toward the kitchen in mismatched or scanty sleeping gear, extract milk from fridge, pour, shuffle to bed/couch/kitchen table/front porch. Repeat.

    And, I’ve been known to turn the top of the trashcan, washer, dryer, or even the top of the coffee maker, into those extra inches of necessary counter space.

    Third, and most important, so many of the restaurants here serve fabulous, traditional New Orleans food, aka the kind of food that makes you gain weight just by looking at it. Not eating out has become a 6 out of 7 night necessity in order not to gain the “New Orleans 15,” which is easily acquired when you move from a walk-to-survive city to a driving one. By not eating out, I can better control what I eat and make sure I put enough vegetables, whole grains and lean protein (not just fried protein!) into my body, to make up for all the po-boys, Muffalettas, and beignets I eat as part of the new New Orleanian initiation rites (who am I kidding, I’m not so new here anymore!).

    I’ll admit, however, that often after one of those super-healthy, cooked from scratch meals, I take a leisurely walk over to the local ice cream shop and get a scoop of Red Velvet or Chocolate Chicory Caramel ice cream. Maybe for my one –year wedding anniversary, I should request an ice cream maker.

  7. Nine

    What a terrific point. Art (like love and good good) is where you find it.

    Bravo from a fellow in-eatting, slow-fooding, art-seeking creativity-deprived food geek. Jess’s blog is up there with my heroine Shauna “The Gluten Free Girl” Ahern.

    And bravo to Cathy for her commitment, creativity and willingness to open her blog up to guest writers!

  8. Dave

    A great post Jess! I love with your take on cooking as creativity. Is there any other artistic endeavor that engages all five senses the way that food does? And is there any ‘artwork’ that’s physically absorbed & transformed in the way that food is, even as it’s destroyed forever like a sand mandala?

    And let me add that you sell yourself short when you talk about cooking as your only creative talent. From what I can see in this post, you’re a pretty darn good writer too. I’m glad to know about your blog & look forward to reading it.

    Great choice Cathy!

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