Monday, June 6, 2011

Eating (at my desk and elsewhere)

There are a lot of eating establishments along Crystal Drive in Crystal City, which is something of which I was vaguely aware from my previous contract gig in this general vicinity, but which is even more apparent to me now that I have a longer walk up and down the street between the VRE station and the government office building every day. It is a veritable Restaurant Row along that trek. And sure, there’s a McDonald’s and a Subway and a Chick-Fil-A and a Sbarro’s and a Chipotle, but there is also a McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood and TWO different high-end steakhouses (a Morton’s and a Ruth’s Chris). All along eight or ten blocks of the same street. It is a little bit maddening.

An almost irresistable allure
If you pay attention to and/or try to make sense of my system of tagging these blog posts, you might have noticed that, despite my protestations about my squarely stable father-of-small-children lifestyle, I still make use of the “vices” tag quite a bit. That’s because, beyond occasionally reminiscing about smoking and drinking and gambling and the like, I now consider food to be my biggest vice. I’m not so far gone as to have reduced eating itself to something I’m conceptually opposed to, but I do have an easily exploited fondness for food that is literally terrible for me, both in terms of purely unhealthy agglomerations of fat and salt and sugar and also in terms of costing more money than it should due to not being home-cooked. I can still distinctly remember being 12 or 13 years old and sometimes riding my bike to the local convenience store and spending my allowance on a couple of comic books, a soda and a candy bar; afterwards I would be really down on myself for doing myself the double disservice of spending all my allowance rather than saving some, and consuming fattening junkfood despite several kids at school thinking it was hilarious to refer to me by new vocabulary words like “portly”. (Though of course at that age I had absolutely no chance of mustering the willpower to break said habit.) The point being sometimes I feel like twenty-odd years have gone by but nothing has changed except the willpower, and then only sometimes, but I’m constantly tempted to spend money I really should be saving on meals that really would do me more harm than good.

But that’s the nature of temptation, I suppose, and when it’s multiplied by the ridiculously robust selection of dining options within walking distance of my office it’s even harder to resist the savory siren call. So far, a month into my post-paternity leave return, I’m doing a fair job staying strong. (Also helping is the fact that we’ve already had so many 90-degree-plus days, with more approaching-100 coming this week, woohoo.) I’m not sure I’d want to lay odds on how long I’ll last, though.

So it seems like the safest, sanest bet for me would be to plan on not leaving the office at lunchtime. Or, if I were to leave, to not go very far. My default approach would go something like this: take two minutes in the morning at home while my coffee is brewing and throw together a sandwich in a baggie. When lunchtime rolls around, go down to the office kitchen and purchase a diet soda from vending machine #1 and a bag of chips (preferably Baked or Sun) from vending machine #2 and return to my cubicle for a reasonably cheap and non-lifespan-limiting meal. That was actually working pretty well … until they took the vending machines away.
I can’t even remember now if it was last week or the week before, but one day I came into work and the vending machines were simply absent from their (visibly grimier) spots on the kitchen floor. I do know this was shortly after I had mentally noted that they were running low on chips in the snack machine and idly wondered when it might be restocked. I guess maybe the vending machine company had a contract with the previous tenants of this office space, and we haven’t yet gotten our own deal – although I also could have sworn we were a government agency taking over space vacated by a different government agency so really why would we all need separate contracts. Contracts for, again I just want to make this very clear, SNACK AND SODA VENDING MACHINES. We’re not exactly talking vital support services at the highest levels here. Ah well. My boss did make an offhand comment the other day about replacing the vending machines but I have no idea if there’s an actual plan unfolding or what.

Luckily Plan B, which consists of riding the elevator all the way down to the lobby which adjoins with an indoor concourse that has multiple delis and convenience marts that all sell diet sodas and munchies (in far more varied profusion than any vending machine might boast), is not terribly difficult to implement. It just also carries the risk of walking into one of those deli-marts and smelling the Special of the Day on the grill and recklessly and wantonly deciding the sandwich will keep and what I really need is a double bacon cheeseburger sub with the works. It is a slippery slope, greased with deep-fryer fat.

But hey, speaking of deep-fryers, the whole family made it out to our hometown Train Day celebration this past Saturday for a couple of hours, which was probably the perfect amount of time. The little guy got to see lots of real grown-up type train sets that were on display, and to climb on a giant moonbounce/slide shaped like a firetruck, and take a ride on a little tram-train that did laps around the VRE parking lot. We also grabbed lunch, and although he made it quite clear that all he wanted was ice cream, the little guy managed to acquiesce to our demands that he eat at least a few bites of chicken-on-a-stick before proceeding to demolish a vanilla soft-serve cone. My wife and I on the other hand were more than happy to avail ourselves of the prototypical fair-food offerings; I had a sausage, peppers and onions sandwich and she had a crabcake sandwich, plus we split an order of deep-fried jalapeno poppers. I know I am prone to hyperbole every now and then but I feel confident in saying that these were the best jalapeno poppers I had ever had in my life. They used fresh (not previously frozen) peppers and the breading they were fried in was thin and crisp and those little details just put the whole experience on another level of delectability. This is why I consider food to be my big vice these days: because sometimes it feels so good it cannot possibly be anything but bad for me.

I refuse to feel bad about it, though. It’s one thing to keep a sensible head on my shoulders about how I eat at work, because I have to go to work day in and day out for a long, long time. But Train Day only comes once a year, and I feel entitled on that occasion to indulge in the best cooking a truck can offer.

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