A number of colleagues appeared at my desk.
“Oh Dan, you’re so amusing and talented and charming, and you bear a striking resemblance to the young Robert Redford,” they said. “Won’t you join us for lunch?”
But I just smiled sadly and shook my head. I had other lunch plans in mind.
Two days before, I had gone to one of those ultra-super-mega stores, one of those ones in a building the approximate size of a neighborhood. You pay a fee every year, and in return you get to buy unusably enormous quantities of things at a substantial savings.
Such places usually depress me, but they are good for finding (large amounts of) food that you usually cannot find at your local Schnuckbergs. On this particular trip, I nabbed a boneless leg of lamb, five pounds’ worth, that sold for a relatively thrifty $25. At five bucks a pound, it was less expensive than some ground beef.
I had a plan. I was going to coat it in Dijon mustard, garlic and fresh rosemary, essentially making a grilled version of Julia Child’s estimable Gigot a la Moutarde. But plans are meant to be ignored, especially when you stumble upon a Steven Raichlen recipe for Méchoui, a Moroccan method of grilling lamb that has been smeared with a paste made from butter, paprika, cumin and mint.
It was fabulous. Truly fabulous. And not only was it fabulous that night, while it still gave off a fragrant heat, it continued to be fabulous after it had been refrigerated and sliced and laid with mustard, lettuce and tomatoes on top of sliced ciabatta rolls — ciabatta, because the bakery was out of semolina bread.
And that is why I could not join my friends and colleagues who were pleading with such a combination of admiration and quiet despair. I had other plans, and they involved eating cold grilled-lamb sandwiches by myself at my desk.
Actually, I ate them in the office test kitchen, which is easier to clean, but you get my drift.
For the vast majority of my career, I ate lunch out every day. It was a perk of working, a lovely way to break up the workday. And with no children to my name — no dance lessons, no soccer games — I could afford the cost.
My father ate lunch out every day that he worked, and that always seemed to me to be the ultimate sign of being grown up. Once you were an adult, you could go out to eat lunch.
So I did. And because newsrooms are crowded places, or they were, and full of interesting people, I almost always found a colleague or colleagues with whom I could dine.
But times change. Bills pile up, money tightens. And significantly, restaurant inflation began to outpace raises. And no one goes into newspapers to get rich.
So recently, in just the last couple of years, I have cut back on my restaurant lunches, way back. I’m down now to one lunch out a week; it’s a bit of a treat, a perk, an affirmation that I am, despite the evidence, a grown-up.
The other four days of the week, I just have to suffer. I have to get by, as best as I can, on sandwiches made from cold, grilled lamb on ciabatta.
It’s roughing it, I know, but I will get by. That’s just what happens when they run out of semolina.
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