April 01, 2012
My relationship with food and eating out is a mercurial one at best. Every year I make a resolution to curb my dining out habit. Every month, I stare aghast at my excel spreadsheet (yes, I have one), at the number of times I’ve eaten at restaurants, and the amount of money and calories that are implied. Every day, I wake up with the intention to cook good food* and eat at home like most people do.
If God ever decides to take a break from serious matters, and needs a laugh, He only needs to compare my intentions with my actions. However, let it never be said that I’m not self aware – I know it’ll be a while before I can achieve this particular goal. In the meantime, it makes sense to utilize my fondness for eating out and appreciating its benefits – namely, discovering new places and new foods, becoming the local yelp/zagat to your friends, not having to do the dishes and clean up the mess I make when I do cook and best of all, getting the chance to create unique memories with my friends and family.
* I am making all sorts of assumptions here: That people who cook at home, cook well. That I cook well. That food cooked at home is healthier (and thus, good for you) than food cooked at restaurants. That most people eat at home most of the time. Etc. Etc. Etc. Having said all that, let’s just accept this premise for now, eh?
Every year, December brings with it much holiday festivities and planning, but also a sense of renewal. Despite the years and years of cumulative realization of countless intelligent beings, we all expect that come midnight on Dec 31, with the dropping of the ball or uncorking of those bottles or the shrill pops of party crackers, or even that quiet glance at the clock as you pensively gaze out of the window, lulled by the ebb and flow of silent heart beats – we all expect that come midnight on Dec 31, something will change.
With that midnight bell a-tolling, we expect to become more disciplined, with cleaner hearts and renewed vigor. We’ll declutter our garages, stick to that workout regimen or diet, cut back on binge shopping, learn a new language, take up a hobby, take up that same hobby 8 years in a row but now actually make progress beyond buying supplies or finally pick up the phone and apologize and make amends with that one estranged but once dear friend.
And every year, we do. We become more disciplined, with cleaner hearts and renewed vigor. It really is a miraculous magic of the Dec 31 midnight bell.
It lasts a week at best.
So after a dozen years of trying to master the art of actually sticking to a single, defined, achievable new year resolution, I’ve stopped to reassess. Maybe I’m not a new year resolution type of a person. Maybe I won’t change. Maybe that’s fine.
Maybe it’s because as a society, we set our new year resolutions to “improve” us. We look back and critique ourselves, identify what we want to “fix” and then set goals. Often these are what we are expected to demonstrate growth and improvement in – better discipline, better efforts, better results. Do we focus on the better experience?
I’ve scrapped new year resolutions. Instead, I have my projects. I’ve decided to try one interesting project every year, and try to accomplish my own personal betterment goals (we don’t need new year resolutions to know what they are) through those projects.
Last year (2011), I decided I wanted to get out more, make the time to appreciate nature’s wonders, even within the restrictions of a busy and demanding life, within the confines and budgets of both time and resources. So I set off to do one road-trip per month. To make it achievable – any road trip counted, as long as it was some place interesting, and ideally at least a full day trip (if not an overnight or weekend stay). Repeat destinations were fine. And I netted 10 trips for the year – not too shabby, when you think of that one-week lasting resolution by comparison!
Encouraged, and excited, when Dec 2011 rolled around, I was project hunting. So many ideas, so little time. So much fun to be had, so much to experience, to see, to taste, to do. I was overwhelmed with ideas, none of which seemed to really resonate.
I did what I do in times like this. I turned to Simika. She’s my source of inspiration for creative ideas and fun projects. She mentioned that she was going to try explore a lot of new restaurants in 2012, maybe a dozen per month, a hundred this year? As we chatted (since she had by then moved to Toronto from the bay area), I got increasingly excited. I wanted in. I wanted to be a part of this fun extravaganza. Generously enough, she let me join her.
But we were also looking for ideas to help us stay in touch and share each other’s lives more actively. So we thought – wouldn’t it be cool to write about our project together? Co-write a blog?
To cut a long story short – Bites Out happened. We decided to try 101 new restaurants each, and write about it. This meant a couple of new places to try out every week – which seemed enough to keep us on our toes and engaged, without wrecking havoc either gastronomically, socially or financially. Desserts or coffee counted. Airport restaurants counted. Only caveat was that it has to be “new” to us. No repeats. No sticking to our favorite turn-to cuisine/restaurant twice a week (because you know I’d have done just that and gone back to my favorite Peruvian restaurant twice a week if I could have). The whole point was to encourage the adventurous spirit in each of us, and to let us stay connected through a shared passion of discovering new food. Personally, I was going to piggy-back to use this project as a chance to whip myself into writing more frequently, something I’ve always wanted to do and keep putting off as “life” happens.
January 1 rolled around and we inaugurated our project with gusto. I went out to my first count of the 101 that very same day – an amazing brunch place which I’ll write about separately.
But neither of us wrote. The first week blended into week 2, and we racked up our restaurant count, on target. First few weeks rolled into the first two months – and we were still having a blast, keeping track of our adventures at all of the new places we were experimenting at. Our friends knew about the project and were excited to read about our 101 experience. We were excited about each other’s experiences.
Yet just like other years, life happened. Postponement bled into lethargy, and the ever growing heap of unwritten culinary adventures glared on from their pedestal of judgment. The less I wrote, the more crippled I felt.
I wasn’t writing because I wasn’t sure what I was writing about. Yes, of course, the restaurants we ate out at. But what was my point of view? What was my perspective? What did I want to talk about? I agonized.
I didn’t want a review of the dishes we tried – there’s yelp for that (my apologies to all the other review sites but I use yelp as a category header, really). I didn’t want it to be a collection of artistically laid out food photos: I wanted to keep a separate vent for my struggles at picture taking. Was I going to talk about the restaurant history, their ethnic or cultural representation? That seemed like a lot of digging around and I lacked the journalistic fervor (or even interest, I suppose, though it’s hard to admit that honestly). What did I want out of this blog?
I think I have an answer now. I think I have a point of view now.
I want this medium to be just that – a medium of record keeping, of the fun times, the experiences, and just the personal context. I want it to be a personal bulletin board of post-its of scribbles that years from now, I can re-read, and relive. A time machine of sorts for the spirit, if you will, and bear with my hyperbole for an instance – so that when life has moved on, I can come back and smile and wonder and remember. Realize how I’ve changed, and what has changed, the good, the bad and the ugly.
So here goes. Now’s a good time to tighten those seatbelts and get comfy with your latte as you join Simika and my journey through our explorations of 101 restaurants!