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Monday, November 28, 2011

THANKSGIVING GUESTS ...a guest post from Jon Reiner author of The Man Who Couldn't Eat {book tour}

Dear  foodie, gastronome, culinaire, epicure, food-lover, voracious eater, gourmand, one-with-hunger pains...

...can you imagine smelling the scent of fresh baking bread as you walk past a bakery...inhaling the steam of a sausage as a vendor walks by at a baseball game...passing by a market stall full of succulent, gleaming dried fruits...being beckoned by the scent of buttery popcorn at the movie theater...the entirely consuming scent of greasy burgers and fries as you pass a diner after a long days drive...the joyful sound of dishes clattering in the other room as your family eats their dinner?  Now, can you imagine not being able to partake in eating during any of these situations- even if you're starving and the scent is like heaven on earth?  Not a choice...more of a "sentence"?  Insert the most fitting word to describe you and your passion for food...and then imagine "eating" all of your meals intravenously.  Sound unbearable?  That is just a hint into the life of Jon Reiner, author of the book The Man Who Couldn't Eat.  I'm honored to have a guest post by Jon today as a part of a BookSparksPR blog tour.  Jon's story is such a heart-wrenching one...and he tells it masterfully.  Please take a moment to enjoy his words.


(Adapted from The Man Who Couldn’t Eat)
By Jon Reiner

            There’s a stranger at the Thanksgiving dinner table. My sister has come in from London and brought her new boyfriend, a courageous guy with a ruggedly handsome face and the letter-perfect British name Simon Clarke. He's a foreign curiosity on display in our parents’ house, exposed to the twin stresses of introducing himself on their home turf and decoding holiday rituals that are bound like bark to a family history he doesn't yet know. “I'm sorry,” he says politely. “There must be a joke in there I've missed.” I pity the poor immigrant.

            Simon’s alert presence in the spindle-back chair beside my sister’s is having an unexpected go at my nerves, however. Not about their compatibility – Lisa’s radiant smile makes honeymoon blossoms seem inevitable – but his being here has me scrutinizing our celebration of the holiday. Frankly, he must think we’re a pretty dull bunch. This improvised scene can’t be the grand ceremony Americans claim as nourishment for the national soul.

            I’m becoming aware how much this house works against the pleasure of cherished customs. A few days ago, my parents drove down to open the place, but the seat cushions still carry the residual musk of bedsheet covers. My folks live here only a few months a year, proudly investing most of their energy in their retirement house, so this is not so much a living home as convenient seasonal shelter. The kitchen is minimally stocked – one stick of butter, short on spices – and doesn’t beat with the nerve-center pulse that thriving Thanksgiving kitchens do.

            On its skin, this is very much the ranch house of my childhood, a relic that hadn't troubled me before, but, today, under a stranger’s inspection, now appears to lack the vitality that the holiday is owed.

            “We used to roast chestnuts,” I say to Simon, pouring out glasses of the pricey red he brought.

            For a while now, we’ve drifted from the food rituals – loony as they were – that so vividly embodied Thanksgiving from my childhood on until age and death forced a change of place. Since Sid and Marly, my grandparents and the annual hosts, died, we’ve been hungry for something lost, as though we buried the meal with them.

            Their tract house was the setting for a bizarre menu of cultural schizophrenia that might have baffled Simon but would not have bored him. With an electric knife bleating over family gossip, my grandparents took ethnic stabs at Currier and Ives assimilation, serving up oddball mutts on the table pads: A loaf of seeded rye that Marly chainsawed, beside a cut-glass bowl of half-sour pickles, a tray of conventional sweet potatoes, and two dozen bitter yellow grapefruits topped with Maraschino cherries tied in wax paper babushkas. Following the plentiful, dissonant meal, gift boxes of Italian bakery cookies were unstrung and piled on an engraved silver platter, a prize from a horse race. Then came the traditional chestnuts.

            Sid and I roasted them in crowded tins, and the smoky aroma infused the cramped, chaotic kitchen. We’d wedge around the overloaded table, slitting small “x”s on the nuts’ brown bellies and spreading concentric circles of beauties in the dented pans. Sid captivated me with spiels about cars and cameras and bouncy versions of “My Blue Heaven” and “Mairzy Doats” whistled through his teeth. The air turned warm and fit me like dried laundry, and I had the best seat in the house. In those moments, the harsh, linoleum-floored kitchen felt like a concert hall. Truthfully, no one besides the two of us ate the chestnuts. They were inedible, the shells peeled open to ridges of dry, fuzzy meat. It was like eating a burnt spider, but that didn’t really matter. We knew there was magic in the air.

            “The roasting was like . . .” The stranger is looking jet-lagged, and both my kids have disappeared from the table. How can I make them understand what those lousy nuts meant?

            Dinner ends and Simon dutifully clears the dishes. My wife plates a pecan pie that looks tasty, better than burnt spider meat for sure, but it doesn’t scent the kitchen air. I find our kids in my old bedroom vacantly absorbed by a cartoon and announce the imminent dessert to lure them back to the meal before time runs out. The day is getting late. We’ll have to rush out the door soon to get ahead of the traffic. It doesn’t seem enough, like there should be another course. Maybe chestnuts?


about the author (from the dust jacket):  Jon Reiner won the 2010 James Beard Foundation Award for Magazine Feature Writing with Recipes for the collaborative Esquire article "How Men Eat."  His memoir, The Man Who Couldn't Eat, is based on an acclaimed article of the same name he wrote for Esquire in 2009.  He lives in New York City with his wife and two children.

To read more about Jon, please visit his website, blog, Facebook page, or find him on Twitter.

weekend cooking

Would you like to comment?

  1. I know at times I put seeming odd dishes on the table.  Friends of my children are mostly game to try anything, except for one girl who loudly announces each time that she doesn't like 'what ever it is that I happen to have made'.   My family likes the unusual assortment and encourage me.  This sounds like a fun read.

  2. I love these family memories all tied up with food and rituals.  Thanks for sharing.  I loved his writing.

  3. ChocolateandcroissantsDecember 22, 2011 at 9:26 AM

    I am going to find this book-thank you Heather

  4. Terrific post, such wonderful writing. I'll have to check the book out!

  5. Wonderful post. Thanks so much for sharing it. It's odd to get a glimpse of ourselves from an outsider's point of view. Still good or bad, corny or serious those memories are part of us.

  6. Beautifully written article. He speaks of something so basic and human. We do take it for granted sometimes. 

  7. Interesting, Jon writing is wonderful! Thank you for sharing, always something new/exciting when I visit!!

  8. I felt as if I was in the home and at the table - past and present. Good luck to Simon!

  9. As soon as I started reading this I was drawn in.  I loved this line, "Since Sid and Marly, my grandparents and the annual hosts, died, we’ve
    been hungry for something lost, as though we buried the meal with them."  I feel that way during the holidays too sometimes.  Kind of like it's not the same without the loved ones we've lost.  Seems like it would be a beautiful book!

    P.S.  I finished reading Next To Love a couple weeks ago and I really loved it!  I find myself thinking about those characters off and on still, even weeks later.

  10. This is a fabulous post, Jon's writing is really wonderful.  I'm going to see if I can find the original article online to read.  Thanks so much for introducing me to a new writer.  

  11. What a wonderful way with words he has!

  12. Great excerpt. I think we can all relate to the sense of loss as some special family traditions fade away and all we're left with are the memories.