Sadly, eating in is almost always cheaper than eating out. For the price of a dinner at Moutarde I can get a week's worth of meals at Key Food. But Moutarde is my mico-vacation from kitchen worries. There's a heavenly whiteness about the Moutarde decor that elevates its bistro comfiness. The only problem, cost aside, is that my 12-year old hates eating out.
Not us. My siblings and I always loved eating out for the sheer uniqueness of it. I remember more about The Clam Box, our family's favorite restaurant in the 60s, than I do most of my childhood. I had a Pavlovian response to the above menu when I saw it on e-bay. The Clam Box was where I tasted my first lobster at age 5. That experience turned me into the brazen eater I am today. I’m convinced this is one of the top reasons why my mother loved me.
We didn't go out often, we couldn't really afford it, and my mom loved cooking. We would delight in how much we could get for so little. Today, I savor this fact as well. So as my dear son and husband noisily dig in to the London broil I bought for $11, I am doing internal math. Steak: 11 dollars. Green beans: 3 dollars, Lettuce : 2.50 Two tomatoes: 2.59 Two potatoes for french fries: .75.
I learned this routine growing up. Not because my family was particularly thrifty, but as a way of measuring and relishing the deliciousness of the meal. Conversation over a particularly great dinner might go something like this: Dad: This is utterly fantastic. Kids: It's better than a restaurant. Dad: You couldn't get such a great meal at a restaurant. Mom: Well, if you did, it would cost a fortune! Kids: No matter what you paid, it wouldn't be so good. Thank you, my sweethearts, she would say. My children love me. And of course we did.
A detailed discussion of the costs would follow. Being the obsessive point-makers that we were, we'd parse out the costs per person, as in: a bunch of green beans cost 49 cents, so that's about 10 cents a person. This would go on and on until one of us inevitably would try to figure the price of a dollop of ketchup. By that point, my mother would have had enough. Okay, she'd stand abruptly, turning away with a flourish of her cigarette, S'matah. This is one of her many native Ladino or Arabic expressions. At least in Mom's household, s'matah was essentially an affectionate warning that meant, "yes, I'll grant you that it was cute at first, but now you're going too far and in a minute I'm going to get really mad if you don't stop."
Sometimes I'm tempted to come out with a s'matah to my son. For example, he likes to fiddle with his napkin endlessly, tying it around his head like a babushka (cute), then using it as a rat tail whip the cat (s'matah). But for other things, like his sophisticated palate (mmm, did you add cilantro?), his ability to cook fancy omelets, or just the fact that given the choice, he'll always, always elect to eat at home, I can never get enough.