You Can Find Me at the Eating House

I love to eat out. I owe this material weakness—along with being short, an obsession with Scrabble, and a pension for reading thick paperbacks—to my grandmother.

Okay, I’ll admit it. I just love to eat in general. But eating out is definitely more special. Did you know that eating out can actually lead to a longer life span? My grandmother lived to be 93 and she went out to lunch almost every day. I am sure that her culinary habits (or lack thereof) are what led to her great and healthy life. I plan to emulate everything she did as long as I can (other than having a Scotch on the rocks every night before dinner).

If this isn’t enough to convince you, you should know that the word “restaurant” was used to describe a variety of soups since the Middle Ages, and actually meant “food that restores.” It was defined by The Encyclopédie in the late 1700s as “a medical term; it is a remedy whose purpose is to give strength and vigor.”

Doesn’t that sound like it is really good for you? Better for you than cooking yourself? (That is, if you avoid McDonald’s and other fast food, which most definitely does not have the same etymology in any sense as “restaurant.”) I eat far more fruits and vegetables if someone else washes and cuts them up and puts them in front of me with a fork and napkin.

I have a lot of happy memories of eating out with my family on both coasts. When we were out staying with my grandmother in Stinson Beach, California, we had countless Shrimp Louie in Bodega Bay, looking over the brilliant blue Pacific Ocean, chatting, laughing, and nagging each other. Shrimp Louie was a new concept to me because back East we had big shrimp, not baby shrimp, and who the heck was Louie anyway?

And then there was warm boysenberry pie at The Hick’ry Pit in Mill Valley—the best way to top off an afternoon shopping spree in Marin. My mother let me empty two little half and half creamer cups into her coffee and stir it every time she got a fresh cup.

At home in New England, one of our favorite spots was The Lincoln Inn in Essex Junction, Vermont. We went there after our swim lessons at the Burlington YMCA. I loved the crispy garlic toast they served while we waited for our food. Or, we’d have a French Dip at Memory Lane at the Mall of New Hampshire, and would try to name the famous caricatures on the menu cover. During these long lunches, I could read an entire Nancy Drew book if I started at home, read partway through lunch, and then read again on the way home. It was a perfect day.

Does this sound like a food-related illness yet?

My 16-year-old son does not quite the same affection for going out to eat, perhaps because restaurants mean no electrical outlets to plug in his XBox. Well, I should clarify—he doesn’t like eating out unless it is going to Taco Bell for Doritos Locos Tacos. He has high culinary standards. He doesn’t appreciate the finer benefits of talking with those you love while someone serves fountain soda to you. Doesn’t remember the days when restaurants charged $1 for every cup of soda you had.

The rest of my family are all a little sentimental about food in general. The food that ranks on the top of our list is certainly boysenberry or black raspberry pie. But after that, our favorite tends to be a raspberry applesauce Jell-O salad with sour cream and mini marshmallows spread over the top—my mother made it every Thanksgiving and Christmas. People over the years have tried to convince us that it’s not a salad, it’s a dessert, but we call it Raspberry Applesauce Salad anyway and man, is it good with turkey.

Of course, ranking a close third are garlic olives (extra-large pitted olives soaked in olive oil and garlic cloves)—we could each put one on every one of our fingers and that would not be enough. 

My mother and grandmother, who were the best at making those olives, are both long gone. But we still carry on their traditions whether we are eating out or in. Holidays, my sister coordinates dessert—we have to have at least two—and she always tells me whether to bring chocolate or non-chocolate. My mother loved chocolate, so it is an actual sin to not have something chocolate.

Last Thanksgiving, it was our turn to bring a chocolate dessert and my boyfriend D. went to the store to get it. Somehow, he ended up with a Key Lime Pie. Key Lime Pie? What the heck was that? I was horrified. At least one dessert has to be chocolate, and Key Lime Pie is the absolute antithesis to chocolate.

D. didn’t realize he had made a major transgression—that he violated the very basic rules of eating in my family. He liked lime, so what was the problem? We did remind him of the error of his ways for at least a month—until the next holiday, when he made sure to get something with chocolate frosting. 

To this day, he still doesn’t know that he took a year off of our lives.