Calvin Trillin’s 1978 collection of essays, “Alice, Let’s Eat,” which is the second volume in the New Yorker writer’s entertaining “Tummy Trilogy” about eating and America, includes a discussion of “Alice’s Law of Compensatory Cashflow,” a theory Trillin credits to his wife, who died eight years ago last month. The law “holds that any money not spent on a luxury one considered even briefly is the equivalent of windfall income, and should be spent accordingly.”
The law works this way: “If you decide, for instance, that buying a five-hundred-dollar color television set would be, all things considered, and an act of lunacy and the final step toward complete financial collapse, you have an extra five hundred dollars that you ‘saved’ on the television set available to spend on something else.”
Trillin mentions that it took him years to grasp the finer points of Alice’s Law of Compensatory Cashflow, but that he finally came to understand it through food (he “saved” seventy dollars by not flying first class one time—this was the seventies, remember—and he spent the seventy dollars to bring a fancy picnic aboard so he didn’t have to eat airline food).
I’ve been engaging in a little Alice-like thinking with my
own money lately.
Yesterday morning, I washed the household laundry in the coin-operated machines up the block from my house, instead of sending it out to be picked up, washed, dried, folded, and delivered, which is how we how we had our laundry done until recently.
Sending it out costs about thirty to forty dollars a week; doing it ourselves is just fifteen to twenty dollars. And it’s not that much effort. I throw the clothes in the machines and head out for a jog. By the time I get back, they’re done, and I toss them in the dryer. No big deal.
The fifteen to twenty bucks that I save every outing, though, has been weighing on my mind. A week ago, I contemplated picking up a half decent bottle of Sancerre. I didn’t. Yesterday, I was hit by a mighty hunger. I was looking for something fatty and satisfying. I was craving steak. I bought a grass-fed, seventeen-dollar-a-pound, rib eye from the Park Slope Food Coop and cooked my favorite way.
I came across this recipe in Mark Bittman’s New York Times column in 2001. I don't often make it, though, as it is too much of a luxury. Washing my clothes in a coin-operated storefront has changed my thinking on that.
Bittman suggested putting wasabi and garlic on the rib eye, calling the preparation “The Steak Awakened.” He was right about the title. The sharpness of the wasabi and the garlic brighten the rib eye and all of its somnolent fat. My mouth is watering just thinking about it as I write. It’s enough to make me want to go and do the laundry again.
- 1 Rib Eye steak
- 1 tablespoon wasabi powder
- 2 cloves garlic
- olive oil
Combine the wasabi powder with a little water to form a paste.
Mince the garlic.
Combine the wasabi, garlic, and some oil until you have a thick, spreadable potion.
Heat a cast-iron skillet until it is smoking (or use a grill).
Salt the skillet heavily.
Place the steak in the pan and cook a few minutes on one side, until browned.
Salt and flip the steak and coat the browned side that's now up with the wasabi-garlic combination.
Cook until the meat is finished to your taste
Note: One caveat. I can never seem to get the meat cooked properly on the first try. I'm always afraid of over cooking it and end up taking it off the heat far too soon. Last night, the meat had to sit on the warm pan for about twenty minutes (the flame was off) after I'd flipped and coated it. It still was too rare. In these cases, I either slice the meat and sear it, or cook it covered for a few minutes longer. I hope other readers have more skill with this. I welcome any pointers.