I Didn’t Go Out To Eat For A Week (A Food and Life Diary)

By Sola Onitiri

Photograph: Sola Onitiri

Photograph: Sola Onitiri

I’m what most people would call a chronic Let’s Go Out To Eat-er. I’m the friend who’s asking you out for happy hour, or sending you a menu for restaurant week so we can strategize appropriately. Small ramen concepts, breweries with elevated bar food, wine bars with discounted charcuterie boards - I can’t help myself. The way that Oprah loves bread is akin to my love of going out to eat. So before you ask yourself why it’s a big deal that I stopped going out to eat for a week, now you know where I was coming from.

Back before I embarked on a trip of a lifetime, I had forsaken cooking. Between working at a restaurant for the majority of the week and spending my days off at my favorite haunts, my need for cooking was all but eliminated. But to my surprise, within the first month of being away from home, the home-cooked-meal itch emerged with a vengeance. By the time I got to Chicago, I had delusions of grandeur of all the cooking I was going to do. But I knew that in order to avoid the ‘spending a ton of money on groceries only to be to lazy to cook’ trap I had to give up on going out to eat cold turkey. And from that this piece of gonzo journalism was born.

Day One

10 am: My roommate is getting ready to broadcast her live yoga/reki session so I can’t make anything loud (I’m a clumsy cook). I opt for a hearty peach and a cup of Earl Grey.

11:30 am: I’m at the laundromat and pull out another peach I squirreled away before the broadcast started. I have that and half my water bottle as I eye the vending machine. Either clean, dry clothes or Oreos. I make the right choice and wait for the rest of my clothes to dry.

1 pm: I get home and warm up the cumin couscous I made the other night. I have to heat it up in a pot because this airbnb that I’m staying in for a month doesn’t have a microwave. I throw some Kale in the pot after massaging it because that’s a thing you’re supposed to do (?) and grab a small skillet to fry an egg. It’s not my best fried egg job (I’m out of practice) but this sort of quick meal reminds me of Philly. I eat in my room as I look up flights to Montreal.

2 pm: I start messing around with some syrup recipes for cocktails. I peel four lemons an macerate them in sugar. I make a quick earl grey syrup as well. I want to add cardamon to the lemon but I wimp out.

4:45 pm: I stuff handfuls of bugles in my mouth. They’re my fucking kryptonite.

6:30 pm: I make super basic chicken tostadas with the chicken from last night that was just ‘meh’. It has Fage, scallions, and shredded Parmesan because I thought two different kinds of cheese in the fridge was too much of a commitment. It sounds wrong on paper but it tastes so right. I have a lot corn tortillas left so I’ll make a better tostada later. I drink a cheapy Sauvgnion Blanc with the meal. I love the way it pairs with the more than healthy amount of scallions I put on the tostada.

7:00 pm: I finish making the syrup. I take the cardamom plunge. Fingers crossed it’s good.

8:00 pm: I look at the Bugles bag again and decided that my bedroom was just about the worst place for them. I finish the final bits of wine. It’s a cooking crutch for me and I’m trying to be more adventurous. Also yay more wine.

1:00 am: Can’t sleep, went for The Bugles.

Day Two

10 am: My breakfast taqitos turn into breakfast tacos because I got to enthusiastic with plating. They’re still really good thought! Scrambled eggs, pork sausage, Parmesan cheese (I need to get some crema like ASAP) and Greek yogurt because I’m a monster. I leave the kale out of it because I know I’ll have some for lunch.

3 pm: Chicken and kale stir-fry with a fried egg on top - in too lazy to pouch an egg.

3:30pm: I leave the apartment and head to Trader Joe’s. I avoid buying already prepared food but a few extra ingredients for Shakshuka. A staple in my repertoire of at home meals. Buying wine at Trader Joe’s is super cheap and super good. Being from Pennsylvania, this is what i consider to be a glow up. I also get fresh herbs for syrups and cooking.

6:00 pm: Shakshuka time! I don’t have a skillet so it’s a little lo-fi and DIY. Mushrooms, sausage, onions, garlic get roughly chopped and cooked down with a splash of chicken broth. Shakshuka is typically vegetarian but I want to use my produce before it goes bad. I added cumin seeds, cayenne pepper, cinnamon and fresh rosemary to the party. I bought tomato sauce instead of diced tomatoes like a dumb, dumb. I’m a little distraught but I make it work. The bread I bought goes in the oven as my roommate’s body therapist arrives so I have to speed it up. Wine goes into the pan and then into a glass for me. I only take a sip after I know what the dish taste like. Two eggs on top (I never get this part right) and I scoot to my room.

7:30 pm: And now I feast. However Shakshuka for one feels sad. Oh the joys of solo travel. I eat the entire petite baguette. I should, but I don’t really feel bad about it. The wine is a blend and I feel good at how well paired it is.

Day Three

“Shakshuka for one feels sad. Oh the joys of solo travel.”

10:30 am: Little late on breakfast but out small kitchen was occupied. I cut plantain into relatively large chunks and throw it into a pan with coconut oil a sprinkle of salt and cinnamon.

10:45 am: I prepare to make another batch of lemon cardamon syrup. It didn’t pack enough punch the last time. I decide to scrap the lemon angle because fresh lemons is always better anyways. I take pictures of my process between stealing glances at my plantain. As soon as I pour the hot water into the coriander seeds I remember that I forgot to grind them so more flavor is released. I let them steep for longer.

11:15 am: I finish taking picture or the new cocktails and making syrups. My roommate totally think I’m so kind of agoraphobic shut-in who doesn’t like to leave the kitchen. “It’s for journalism,” I want to scream! Instead I make the best scrambled eggs I’ve made to date.

11:30 am: I take the plantain out of the oven and drizzle some raw honey on top. After I take a bite, I realize that I didn’t need to because they are already nice and sweet. '

2:30 pm: I agree to go out on a date to a “cocktail place” (his words not mine). If he pays is that considered cheating on this whole premise? Either way I’m going, because my love life needs to be resurrected.

4:00 pm: Feeling major writer’s block so I guess it’s lunch time. I was originally saving my cucumbers to make a cucumber and ginger infused vodka but I felt that I needed a salad. This salad has no color variation so is sort of makes me itch. Cucumbers, chives, jalapeno (I used a whole jalapeno which was a mistake but I obviously ate it anyway) I threw three mini spring rolls in the oven as well. This meal is completely vegetarian and a good combo.

7:22 pm: I make a pity meal of pasta and the Shakshuka sauce from yesterday. Getting a freelance career of the ground is tough. Doing it in a brand new city is even worse. I wonder if my life is becoming the sad first 20 minutes part of a romantic comedy. The part where the protagonist goes home to a box of pasta and bottle of wine for one. It always works out for her by the end so maybe it’ll work out for me. The Shakshuka actually makes a good pasta sauce. I make tentative plans to work out. I’m already contemplating another bowl before I finish the first.

It's funny what not going out to eat clears time up for

Day Four

9:30 am: I’m up a little early because I’m determined to hit the ground running. The tea selection at this Airbnb is nuts and she told me to dive in and that is exactly what I did. I pick a green tea that says ‘Energy’ on it. I quickly cut up some leeks and throw it in a pan with the nice Irish butter I bought. I whisk two eggs and pour it on top. It’s delicious and I wonder how I only recently (last three years) started cooking with leeks.

11:00 am: I grab a carrot and a cup of hot water as a healthy snack. I’m craving for hummus and am too lazy to go out and buy some. I’m going on a date later so maybe I’ll pick some up when I go out.

12:30 pm: The carrot stick and hot water does little but make me feel like a healthy functioning human being who is still very hungry. Two more rejection emails and four more no-responses. I make my emergency mozzarella sticks for lunch to stave off disappointment.

6:00 pm: I finish the bag of bugles as I get ready for the date. I haven’t been on a date in a while and doing it in a Midwestern city is something I’m not particularly jazzed about. As a brash north east-coaster, I’m worried about coming across as too much. I check Tinder for the eighth time to remind myself what this guy looks like. Sauvignon Blanc and bugles are a good combo right?

7:45 pm: My date is well-meaning and mild-mannered and the most mid-western. I order an Old Fashioned, he orders a Manhattan - he’s never had one. The bartender made one on the rocks, I like my Manhattans up myself but I don’t want to seem like a snob. This date feels like an interview. I’m bored. It's only 45 minutes into this date and I have an irrational craving for onion rings. I pay for my drink because he hesitates.

8:30 pm: I’m home drinking a cup of Valerian tea and swiping on Tinder before I just delete the app.

Day Five

10:00 am: Late start because not only did I work yesterday but I went on a date. I feel bad about making an excuse for not seeing him again tonight. He takes it politely - of course. I try to make plantain pancakes. I throw out the batter because I’m 1. bad at making pancakes 2. Bad at following vegan recipes. I make eggs instead.

12:45 pm: I throw two ears of corn in the oven and make a Greek yogurt spread with garlic, sage and jalapeno. I put too much jalapeno in again - some lessons have to be taught twice I guess. It’s delicious and exactly what I was craving. I scroll through Pinterest for more vegetarian recipes - maybe that’s something I can explore.

4:00 pm: I’m not confident in this cocktail recipe I’m about to publish. I shelf it and make the biggest batch of quinoa ever. I momentarily forgot that there’s no microwave here and reheating quinoa the old fashioned way is going to be a pain in the ass. I throw black beans in it with scallions and cheese. I’m still craving onion rings from the night before.

5:00 pm: After readjusting and re-shooting my cocktail recipe I attempt to recreate a sesame noodle dish from DanDan, the Sichuan and Taiwanese restaurant I used to manage. I chop up lots of garlic and fresh ginger and add sesame seeds to my roasted sesame oil. I decide to do a little roasted asparagus on the side. Ladle in one hand and timer in the other, I soft boil an egg for the first time. I don’t soy marinate it but it’s still beautiful. I combine glass noodles with the garlic, ginger and sesame oil blend in a pan. The end product is sexy if I do say so myself.

8:15 pm: I drink my third glass of tea of the day. Staying in on a Friday typically annoys me, but today I’m at peace and so is my wallet.

Day Six

9:00 am: Tea and fruit. I never thought this day would come but I’m kind of egged out.

10:15 am: I’m still hungry after such a light breakfast so I continue to peck at small things in the fridge and pantry. I’m bored and feeling unmotivated to go out and do anything because the temptation is REAL.

1:00 pm: I find a great recipe for multi-seed gluten-free crackers. Yes, I’m on that side of the internet. There’s something about making vegan, gluten-free crackers that makes me feel like I’m turning a new leaf. Also, chia seeds are magical.

2:30 pm: Crackers are done and they’re a little thick but perfect. Flax seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds aka SO HEALTHY. Take that bugles!

5:00 pm: I make a vegetarian(ish) version of beef bourguignon with mushrooms. I’m still hyped about my crackers so I feel like a culinary genius. After what feels like an hour of chopping vegetables, I throw everything in a big pot with beef broth please note the ish part of vegetarian above.

5:30 pm: The FOMO is jumping out while I scroll on Instagram as my bourguignon simmer. I miss home and my friends and non-boring dates. I open the lid and the aroma jogs me out of my pity party. I add a little more thyme before I throw a decent amount of Pinot Noir into the pot. I grab a pinch of flour to thicken the sauce. I’m worried about over-doing it so I under do it.

6:15 pm: I feel accomplished and fancy and did I mention accomplished? The FOMO subsides for now.

Day Seven

9:00 am: I make a hard boiled egg to accompany my new crackers. It’s one of those meals that makes me think that I can run a health blog. I would never betray myself like that but still. I’m impressed.

1:00 pm: Tonight I break fast. I’m almost too excited to eat but I push pass that pretty immediately. I make a spicy tofu lettuce wrap (casual right?) and make plans for dinner.

5:00pm: I head back to Pilsen to shop for a sweater and because I know that I can take myself on a better date than Tinder boy. I end up at Dusek’s. They have a cocktail with Bechrovka - an eastern European cordial; It’s funny because Pilsen in a town the Czech Republic. I opt for something more experimental and the Juicy Lucy Burger. It reminds me of my favorite burger back home.

5:45pm: The staff is nice and I strike up a conversation with the lady next to me about wine. She has beautiful curly hair and gives off strong entrepreneur vibes and I’m here for it. We’re interrupted by a loud group seated next to us. They’re from South Jersey and my heart nearly bursts it feels so warm and fuzzy.

6:30 pm: I clear my plate and say goodbye to entrepreneur lady who’s on her way out. Ten minutes later, when I close out, I discover that she paid for my entire meal. The bartender is shocked that I didn’t know her. I’m shocked that the people here in the Midwest are really this nice.

7:00 pm: I head to the bus stop and think about my grocery list for next week. I have a carrot coconut soup I’m excited to make. As it turns out, even with the fomo, lack-luster romantic entanglements, semi-crippling loneliness and freelance struggles at the end of the day, I still had cooking. Being in a foreign place without the people you love requires strength, but it also requires comfort. And there’s nothing more comforting than a home cooked meal. Even if it’s for one.

If you got to the end of this post thank you so much! Tell me what you think below and share some of your comfort recipes