I didn’t mean to start a newsletter. I’d never wanted to start a newsletter. I was posting food pictures and answering requests for recipes from friends on social media. My instructions included crying in the car, yelling at the TV, wrapping yourself in bubble wrap for store trips, and setting up quarantine zones for groceries before disinfecting every object from the outside world, including yourself. Each post became mutable lists of substitutions that fit the scarcity of produce and financial resources but also snapshots into my internal life which was similar to almost everyone’s internal life because we were all watching Tiger King and constantly revising our sense of threat and danger.
Three years ago, I was between homes and living on an air mattress in a friend’s spare bedroom. I co-owned a bar and restaurant, but we had already closed our doors and given away every ounce of perishable food to our staff, along with whatever cash we had on hand.
I had no guarantee of income, no way of knowing whether the bar would make it, and no plan for what would happen next. While my roommate made pattern after pattern for home-sewn face masks, I was (predictably) in the kitchen. It was a strange time, I don’t have to tell you.
Having signed a lease before COVID was officially declared a pandemic, I moved into my own apartment just two weeks after successfully submitting my unemployment claim. My kitchen was tiny. When I’d signed the lease, I didn’t care because I frequently spent 11 hours in the restaurant kitchen and rarely had time to cook at home.
With nowhere to go, alone in my little kitchen, I never stopped cooking. Every long and anxious day was spent researching food that I could make using the limited supply of ingredients available on a very restricted budget or cravings for foods that I missed or reminded me of a less terrifying time.
I cooked and wrote every day, posting only on social media. Every picture was, and has remained, a plate of food that I ate. Nothing went to waste. I had/have nothing to waste.
I don’t consider myself a brand or chef or food stylist or photographer or recipe developer. I never have been. I am a writer who loves food, loves cooking, and loves feeding people. Alone in that tiny kitchen, far from home, I found myself reaching for people, trying to universalize the experience to fight back the deep isolation and panic that started off the day, every day, for months and months and months that became years.
Following the advice of my friend, Sam Irby (which is a name drop, but I’m also doing you a favor if you don’t know about her Substack, bitches gotta eat, or haven’t read her recent piece in The New Yorker), I joined Substack and started trying to develop this project, which ultimately became my lifeline.
In the beginning, my venmo tip bucket and paid subscriptions bridged the income gap and helped me afford groceries. I focused on local and seasonal produce because they cost less. I made almost everything from scratch (I’m still not a baker) because I had to make the most from what little I had.
I am fortunate. I am single and do not have children and my 11-year-old car is paid off and reliable. With the help of Substack, I was able to stretch the stimulus and enhanced unemployment, while saving as much as I possibly could.
I moved back home in August 2020. The restaurant wasn’t going to recover quickly enough to support all three owners and our small staff, even with loans. Like a lot of restaurant workers, I resolved not to return to the industry that wrought havoc on my body, perverted my sense of worth, and convinced me that all the abuses and sacrifices were somehow badges of honor.
When I say home, I literally mean my parent’s house. I took over the kitchen, much to their relief and, dare I say, joy. Together we waited for vaccines and negotiated the experience of a very adult daughter cohabitating with her parents in the nest that had been very empty for 15 years.
I aggressively saved money and picked up a few jobs, here or there. After a year, vaccines were released, life began to move forward, and the newsletter moved from an almost daily balm to a bi-weekly project.
By year two, people were coming over for dinner, we all seemed to be going ahead with our lives, and the newsletter moved to weekly.
As I move into this third year, I realize how far our experiences have diverged from those days spent watching the same reports and exhausting every streaming platform’s catalog. I’m still rebuilding a professional life and deeply appreciate and rely on all my paid subscribers who continue to support the grocery bill.
I have my own apartment now with a slightly larger kitchen. Thanks to you, dear subscribers, I have roasting trays and bundt pans. You’ve also helped purchase my blender and citrus zester. You keep me in lemons and beans.
You have gone from a list of friends, relatives, and acquaintances to a mailing list of more than 800 people, spanning 46 US states and 23 countries. More than half of you have opened my emails every week, which is way more than I was told to expect.
A few dozen of you have been with me this whole time (hi, Sharon, Karen, Janet, Piper, Jen, etc!). The vast majority of my paid subscribers have stuck with me through every move and major life event for the last three years, despite the fact that I still don't have a paywall. I so appreciate your support.
If there is anything that you would like to see (or read) more or less of, please let me know what you would like for dinner and I will do my best to feed you.
We know each other very well and not at all. 255 posts and three years later, I think about you all the time. Sometimes you are the only reason I remember to feed myself and take the time to make actual meals. Thank you, as always, for your support.
I keep going because you keep reading ❤️
A few early favorites:
What a three years it has been, Emily, and Eat Well Enough helped a lot of people through it. I love you -- and your food -- so much!
Many congrats! What a huge accomplishment.