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Elissa and Rose at dinner

Particularly when eating out at a restaurant, my mother, Rose Krakauer, liked to share food. She almost insisted upon tasting some of your dish, and having you sample some of hers. Not everyone likes to do this; I never did. The photo above shows her at a dinner in our Wayland home with our daughter Elissa. Is she eyeing Elissa's plate?

Once when my daughters accompanied Rose on a grocery shopping trip, Rose bought my daughter Sara a banana. A bit later, my mother asked if she could have a bite of the banana, but Sara said "no". My mother was pretty upset by this, thinking that she was owed a bite, particularly since she had bought it. Sara's attitude was, first, that Rose tended to take pretty big bites, and second, that if she had wanted a banana, why didn't she buy one for herself? From Rose's point of view, I think sharing food was almost an obligation.

We all have to eat, of course, but people have differing relationships with food. When I started to write down a list of the various food-related stories I have to tell, it quickly grew very long. I'm sure that telling them all is going to take more than one entry in my blog.

I've always made great use of the many excellent restaurants in the Boston area, and when I was first dating Margie, I took her out to a lot of dinners. We got to know each other as we enjoyed our leisurely meals. Then one day, after we had begun to get comfortable with one another, I looked down at my plate for a couple of minutes as I began to savor my meal (it was in a French restaurant). When I looked up, I found that Margie's plate was empty. So little time had elapsed since she had been served that my first reaction was that she must have accidentally tipped her plate and dropped her food on the floor. In an astonished voice, I said, "What happened to your food?". Margie replied, "Uh-oh".

That's when I discovered that Margie had a habit of eating her meals extremely rapidly. What had happened to her dish, in fact, was that she had entirely eaten it. When we had started going out together, Margie had made a point of eating her meals slowly. But as we had gotten more comfortable with each other, she had forgotten herself, and had wolfed her meal down (really a shame in a French restaurant).

Here's the history: Margie's mother, Eleanore ("Ellie"), was not what you would call a natural-born homemaker. She was not particularly fond of her job of keeping house and preparing meals. Her homemaking responsibilities for the day ended when the table was cleared (Margie's father washed the dishes). At the end of a long day in her job as an English teacher, she wanted to finish the meal as soon as possible. Thus after putting dinner down on the table, she would eat quickly, and immediately start clearing the dishes - everyone's dishes. If you didn't eat fast in that family, your dinner might be whisked away from under your nose before you were actually done. Hence Margie's eating habits. She's managed to slow down over the years we've been married (eating out is our major "entertainment" expense), but every now and then she'll still gobble a meal in a flash.

Speaking of French meals, here's another story. In 1966, three years after my college graduation, my family spent an entire month's vacation in an apartment on the French Riviera, in the city of Cannes. I think my father was following the principle that as your children get older, the only way to get them to vacation with you is to offer them better and better destinations. I've since successfully used that approach with my own children.

Although we could cook in the apartment, we were after all on vacation, and we often ate dinner in restaurants. French restaurant dinners tend to be lengthy affairs, often running to a couple of hours, or even more. While my sister Alice can certainly enjoy a leisurely dinner, she found the length of some of these French meals to be excessive. I can understand this, actually. The long meals can get to you. On one occasion in France, Margie and I ducked into a Thai restaurant for a quick lunch, and on another, we actually went into a McDonald's (but only once).

Thus when we chose a restaurant for dinner, Alice sometimes opted to not join us, saying that she would grab a quicker meal somewhere else. Of course, we always told her where we were going to eat, in case she changed her mind.

Not infrequently, after we had been seated, ordered, started our wine and had some hors d'oeuvres, Alice would show up, a bit before the main course was to be served. At that point we would call over the waiter, and tell him that another family member had unexpectedly been able to join us. Was there any dish that she could get quickly? The waiter would generally offer some alternatives. Alice would choose one, which would shortly arrive, and she would eat the main course with us.

But sometimes, as the meal dragged on to a salad course, then a cheese course, then dessert, Alice would become impatient even with the length of half of a French dinner (or maybe it was spending all that time with her family). Thus she sometimes left us early and went back to the apartment before our meal was complete. Using this brilliant strategy, Alice managed to eat a lot of really good French dinners without necessarily sitting through an entire marathon session for each.

Some people live to eat, while others only eat to live. I've got more stories about our relationship with food that will have to wait for another entry or two.

A Polaroid of Larry with a turkey leg

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© 2011 Lawrence J. Krakauer   Click here to send me e-mail.
Originally posted August 4, 2011


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