THE WORST JOB EVER

Full disclosure: This post title is a sarcastic one.

Recently, I got contracted to write a travel guide about Austin via this publishing company, and while wary – my insider’s knowledge of Austin is truly a flimsy guise – these past couple of weeks writing/shooting it have been pretty (burp) darn enjoyable.

Since I’ve bragged about this assignment on just about every social media channel I am registered on, I figured it was time to have a proper blog post about it, too.

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As you can see, writing this guide involves a lot of eating. Which is convenient, because guess who’s eating for two? (PREGNANT LADY HUNGRY.)

I’m just kidding: as my friend Sissel recently pointed out, there’s a tiny organism in my stomach, not – unless my ultrasounds have been seriously erroneous – a full-grown man. So really you’re eating for 1.1, which isn’t nearly as cool as eating for two.

Nevertheless! Pregnant or no, duty calls. And though I’m in a professional place now where I’m seeking out more news writing, more issues work, assignments like this are admittedly super fun.

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Baby’s first Uchi!

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This is a REAL sandwich.

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Please don’t get diabetes, baby! But here, enjoy these garlic-smothered meatballs. 

Working on this guide has brought to mind two distinct things: Match.com, and Frank Bruni’s Born Round – one of my favorite food memoirs of all time.

I say Match.com because in many ways, trying all this food is a bit like I imagine speed-dating to be. Traditionally, I suppose it’s the food critic (don’t really think of myself that way, but you get the idea) who is the one with all the power. But, I still get incredibly intimidated each time I walk into, say, Jeffrey’s, and have to pretend I know what sous-vide is (thanks Wikipedia) when the chef is explaining his or her dish. “Mm hmm, right,” I say, looking down at said sous-wide dish, nodding in mock understanding. Like dating, it’s a situation where both of us are hoping to impress: one with actual ability, the other with faux knowledge.

So I’m not really a food expert. At all. But, I went through a phase where I voraciously read food memoirs – all of Ruth Reichl, Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential of course, Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life – but one of my top reads was Frank Bruni’s Born Round. Frank Burni is an imposing journalist anyway, and got a post as The New York Times‘ restaurant critic after dedicating years of his life to covering the Catholic papacy and George W. Bush’s presidential bid for the paper. But, he also entered into the restaurant critic position – a dream job for just about anyone – with a degree of trepidation. And this is where I relate to him.

Bruni grew up with a weight problem, which later evolved into bulimia in college, then obesity as a journalist. And the moment he finally turns his health around, hiring a trainer, losing all the weight, and healing his compulsive eating…that, THAT is when he gets the call from the Times about the restaurant critic position.

So he must learn to not only wrangle his food demons, but to be a professional with his new job. At the Times, this means visiting a restaurant multiple times for multiple tastings. As someone who has a handful of food issues herself, I 100% get both the giddiness and simultaneous fear this must inspire.

To be honest with you, I’m grappling with the reality of having a changing body during pregnancy. Many pregnant women contend with this I suppose, but when I’m out doing all these tastings, I at once feel, “OH MY GOD I’m eating at Uchi and not paying for it!” mixed with, “fuck, fuck, fuck – I need to limit my bites here.”

Does this sound obnoxious? Probably. To get an opportunity like this, and then be a bit whiny about it. But like Frank Bruni, it’s a situation where the sheer, animal joy of your assignment hits frequent walls of self-conscious, self-imposed restraint. Like Bruni, it was college where I learned all the tricks for controlling weight, but it was never throwing up. More like a strict regimen of protein shakes and working out. I lost my period for a little while, and of course lots of pounds. Interestingly though, I don’t really look back on this as a dark time: as anyone with eating neuroses can tell you, exerting that kind of control is extremely gratifying.

Pregnancy, however, is a period that forces you to cede control, because like it or not: you gon’ grow. And when faced with the most delicious food in the city, that growth is augmented by enormous sensory pleasure. So I never refuse to try a dish – I mean, c’mon. But, I’m trying to get to a place where I regard each bite as somewhat magical. Not because I’m attempting to be preggorexic (a term I learned the other day) and survive off five bites daily, but to be a bit Buddhist about it, and to think about all the hands and effort that went into my perfect little bite, and now I get to eat it. I get to replace my faux knowledge with the real thing. I get to expose the tiny organism to braised octopus, roasted beets, and the occasional deep-fried peanut butter and marshmallow creme sandwich, and I get to not freak out about it.

And, slowly, I get to accept some change.

Photo locations: The Goodnight, Winflo Osteria, Arro, Swift’s Attic, Second Bar + Kitchen, Salty Sow, Uchi, Haymaker, Patrizi’s.