If you’re from a New York Jewish family like mine (and B.’s), you know the central role that food plays in life. From the moment you’re born throughout visits to parents in later life, “Have you eaten?” is one of the first questions asked. And in such families (my Italian friends claim it’s the same in theirs), it’s not just about having enough food for guests. It’s about having so much more than enough that there’s no chance that anyone could want for anything. Ever again.
For example, on Thanksgiving, turkey, stuffing, and yams do not suffice. You need to make a brisket too. And maybe a noodle kugel (noodle pudding) to go with it. And some sweet carrots so that the kugel doesn’t get lonely. This way, there’s no danger of Aunt Sylvia or her son-the-doctor not getting enough to eat (including enough to take home for the next two weeks).
So the first time B. and I had guests over for dinner, I had visions of Aunt Sylvia and her kugel running around my brain. It was a casual dinner — one couple, their 13-year-old son and, at the last minute, his 13-year-old buddy. These were the days when cooking wasn’t my biggest strength, so I decided on a simple meal — fresh tortellini (packaged, of course), salad, and garlic bread. Easy.
Given that B.and I used to split one package of tortellini for dinner, I did the math and figured that four packages for six people would be more than enough.
Except that no one had ever told me about how boys that age best resemble black holes in space as far as their eating is concerned. Or that the amount of food that goes into their growing selves is infinite, incalculable, and instantaneously gone.
The boys helped themselves first; once they had filled their bowls with pasta (so high that you could hardly see over it), there was just enough left for two scant portions, which went to our two friends. Thank goodness salad wasn’t on the boys’ must-eat list, because that’s what B. and I had for dinner (with a couple of pieces of bread I managed to wrestle from the basket before it, too, disappeared).
Understand that I didn’t mind the boys eating as much as they did — I minded not knowing that growing boys are like food furnaces and that I had broken the commandment of “thou shalt always cook enough for everyone at the table … plus the NY Giants.”
Aunt Sylvia would have stuck her head in the oven out of shame. But not me. I stuck a pan of brownies in the oven to serve for dessert — and made sure that B. and I got the two biggest pieces.
© 2012 Claudia Grossman