Sunday, July 24, 2005

Take Big Bites by Linda Ellerbee

Linda Ellerbee’s book, Take Big Bites, is about traveling and eating. Mostly, I think it’s about taking chances. Taking a trip alone, rafting the Colorado River, filming in Kabul, being adventurous.

I enjoyed this book, despite the fact that I don’t like food very much. Not much at all actually. I don’t like to prepare food and I don’t especially like to eat food. I would be perfectly content to just take a little pill each day to fulfill all my food needs. Don’t think I haven’t tried that. I was the queen of the diet pills during my younger days. But eventually, you have to eat food.

I don’t know much of anything about high quality food. I eat Lean Cuisine, and it tastes just fine, but the high sodium intake is affecting my blood pressure. Not to mention that after two or so weeks of nothing but Lean Cuisine I develop heartburn just thinking of the little frozen pizza waiting for me in the freezer. The only fast food establishments I’ll visit are Taco Bell and Whataburger. Scoff if you will, but if your life is as dull as mine, you take a certain pleasure in the different taste sensations that accompany the fire sauce and sour cream and cheese-like stuff offered by Taco Bell -- and I only go maybe once every two weeks, when I’m having an especially bad day and don’t care about my calorie intake.

I hate grocery stores and I don’t cook, not at all. Never.

I point all this out to prove what a great book Ellerbee has written. Taking into account that someone like me, who abhors food so much, actually enjoyed reading about food. In fact, reading sections of this book made me crave the food she was describing. Not that I’ll ever try any of it. Despite the fact that Dallas claims to have more restaurants than New York City, I will probably never set foot in most of them because visiting restaurants tends to involve having other people with you willing to go to restaurants. And I don’t have those other people required. Oh sure, I could go alone, and feel like a bigger loser than I am, sitting there by myself surrounded by lovely, happy people with their friends and family, being glared at by the staff because I’m taking up a table that could be used for two or more people who would leave a bigger tip. Visiting restaurants alone is really not even open for discussion for me. To others willing to do that, more power to you, but I’m not that brave. Yeah, I know, I can get on a plane to London all by myself, and stay there all by my lonesome for a week or so, but I can’t walk into Ciudad or Café Madrid alone. Go figure, I’m a dork. I’ve never in my life claimed to make sense.

So there, I like the idea of food. I just don’t like the actual product that is food. Like most things in life, food seems to promise so much, and deliver so little, except for more inches around my thighs. Food for me, again, like most things in life, works better in pictures and print, not reality.

Besides food though, this book is very much about traveling. Ellerbee writes about many different types of travel. Traveling alone, traveling with family, traveling for work. Traveling, I enjoy immensely. I like talking to strangers and I like seeing new places. I like seeing places that I’ve read about, seeing locations where history was created. I like checking into hotel rooms and being far away from home. I like being in a place where no one knows me or anything about me. I like not having a history. It never matters how long I’m away from home, I tend to never want to come back. This probably runs much deeper than a love of travel.

Ellerbee’s enthusiasm for travel made me admire her all the more.

Once the advisor at the my college newspaper walked into the newsroom and found me typing up an email to my boyfriend. She said, "You know Linda Ellerbee got fired for accidentally sending a letter to her boyfriend over the AP wire." I responded with, "Yeah, and look how that ruined her career."

When I was an aspiring young journalism major, I wanted to be Linda Ellerbee. She always seemed so smart and direct and put together. Put together, that’s all I ever wanted to be. From reading her stories, you are even more convinced of her put-togetherness. She’s really an impressive woman. She’s got friends, close family, and a career. I did well in wanting to be her. Unfortunately, I’ve failed somewhat miserably in my aspirations. But at least I can follow along in her book.

As a plus for people who do actually know something about preparing food – a recipe is included at the end of almost every chapter. For a brief moment I considered making the Pho that was described so well reading about it made my mouth water, but then I realized purchasing the ingredients would involve a trip to a grocery store and a visit down aisles other than the frozen food department, so the moment passed quickly.

My recommendation: Read this if you like food or travel and especially if you like both. Very well written, interesting stories.

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