Luncheon - Eating Without Fear
( Originally Published 1923 )
You have breakfasted at 7:30 or 8 A. M. because you're a commuter or a commuter's wife. There is nothing more to worry about till lunch, which happens between 12:30 and 1:30. During this time you must absolutely refrain from drinking anything, and above all from ice water. It will come hard at first, I know it will, but if you feel so thirsty that you are parched, and as they used to say in Arizona, "chewing cotton," wash your mouth out with water, but do not swallow any. You will find that this quenches what you thought was a thirst. The main thing is not to drink too much.
I have already said-perhaps unnecessarily—I am not a medical man, and I know that a lot of doctors recommend their patients to drink plenty of water. If you must drink water, take it hot, as hot as you can swallow it. After a short time of abstinence from water you will find that your chronic thirst disappears, and with me you will pity the poor fellows who are always rushing to the ice-water tank, and you will also notice that those men are the least efficient in your employ. They are positively sweating away their vitality. To perspire in moderation is healthy, the poisons in the body are excreted, but to perspire in excess is debilitating, and no man's brain can be in perfect condition when his body is a sort of steam boiler, his shirt like a dish rag, and his collar like a concertina.
Luncheon is a most serious matter. It doesn't much matter where you go for it. All restaurants, all hotels, are much alike. You get the same dishes, same service, same waiters, same prices, to all intents and purposes. In no city in the United States at present is there any one outstanding hostelry renowned for its excellent cuisine.
Thirty years ago in New York alone there were three such. Now all are much the same. There was a time when one could consult the waiter, who, in his way, was an, epicure. Back in the nineties, the Hotel Logerôt had a waiter who used to notify me in the morning when the chef was preparing anything particularly good. But that was of course an exception.
I have had very good friends among waiters, the good old-fashioned waiter—Irish, Swiss, French, and English—but I never seemed to get much out of a German waiter. He is a gourmand rather than a gourmet.
Speaking of Irish waiters: Occasionally I go to lunch with a friend at an Irish restaurant. The place is just like a little bit of the Emerald Isle dropped down in the business section of New York. The menu is printed in green with a border of shamrocks, and the waiters are as Hibernian as Paddy's pig. Prominently printed on the menu is:
Plat du Jour—75 cents.
One day my friend said to me: "I wonder what the waiter would say if we asked him: 'Qu'est ce que c'est le plat du jour?' "Let's try, I replied, and when he came along I seriously asked: ''Qu'est ce que c'est le plat du jour?" "Huh?" said he with a puzzled look. ''Qu'est ce que e'est le plat du j our, aujourd'hui?" I repeated. 'Phwat th' hell are ye ta'king about?" he thundered, and then of course we all laughed.
But the average waiter nowadays recommends everything on the bill of fare; he knows nothing about any of the dishes, and at some places, even at some of the best hotels, waitresses have been employed since the war, and as guides, philosophers, and friends they are absolutely and supremely helpless.
Think me not ungallant when I say that, taken as a whole, women are not epicures. It is impossible for the same palate to appreciate to the full petite marmitte or Bonilla-Baisse and ice-cream sundae. Candies and such-like vitiate the palate and destroy its sensitiveness.
There are exceptions. My mother, for instance, thoroughly enjoyed the pleasures of the table without ever indulging to excess. She had, in her 'teens, before her the terrible example of her grandmother, who ate too heartily of a Christmas dinner and expired in her sleep after it, at the age of ninety-nine. Had it not been for over-indulgence in the pleasures of the table, the old lady might have been alive to-day. She would only have been about 140. Her husband was poisoned at the age of 103, so you see they would have made a fine old couple. But as R. K. says, that is another story.
My mother loved good food and she also--all praise to her—had a very high opinion of my taste in culinary matters. When her cook had produced something particularly interesting, the old lady would send forthwith for me, to taste it and pronounce the verdict.
I remember on one occasion I received one of these hurry-up calls, and duly responded at 7 P. M. When the dish appeared—I think it was capon au maize, then quite new to London my mother waited expectantly for word of praise or suggestion.
"Well?" she said, at last.
"Excellent," I replied. "Excellent. But it could be improved:
The addition of just a soupçon of kerosene," I replied.
"You brute!" she flashed. "Go on with your dinner." And I really think she was out of temper for the rest of the evening.
Some little time afterward came Christmas day, when we always dined with the "Old Lady." I carved the turkey, and when every one was served and I was helping myself to salt, I found at my side a small cut-glass bottle, containing some clear liquid.
"What is this, mother?" I asked, picking it up. "That, my dear," she replied, "is some kerosene for you."
For several years I have been condemned to lunch at restaurants, and I have noted that the most popular dish with men, is something of the stew order. Unless one goes early it is practically impossible to get a look in on the Hungarian goulash, for instance. Stewed tripe is also popular, whether it be with milk and onions, Lyonaise, or Creole. Haricot chops also have their devotees, and yet you will generally hear a patient and devoted wife complain that her husband won't eat stews, or "cooked over" meat. The reason is that the home-made stew is generally something that the dog, if he had any self-respect, would refuse, and nine out of ten "left over" dishes are most unpalatable. However, give me some cold lamb, veal, beef, or any other cold meat, and I will make you a dish you would leave your home for.
I do not think a heavy lunch is good unless one's work is "outside" work. Too substantial a lunch is apt to make one "logy" in the afternoon and disinclined for work. On the other hand, a brain worker—not a book-keeper or such like, but a man who really does use his brain-needs just as much nourishment as does one who uses his brawn.
Soup and oysters are quite unnecessary, unless the lunch is to consist solely of one or both of these. A little fried or boiled fish, a chop or cutlets, goulash, tripe, are excellent. In cold weather a steak or slice of rare Toast beef, Irish stew, or Lancashire hot-pot may be taken, but really substantial dishes should be taken only for dinner. Of course if the gentleman chooses to ruin his health, constitution, and temper by taking his dinner in the middle of the day, that is his lookout, not mine. My remarks are intended for the man and woman of intelligence.
If you be one of those unfortunates who labor under a very mountain of flesh, or one of those who glory in the fact that you are a martyr to indigestion, you can increase both weight and indigestion by starting your lunch (or dinner or breakfast for that matter), with a long draught of cold water. If you be sensible and want to be young and sylph-like, you will postpone your libation indefinitely, or at all events till you have finished eating. And then moderate your transports.
Always remember that one of the tortures of the Middle Ages, was to make the victim drink water—a barrel or two of it. It produced all the sensations of drowning without killing the poor creature. Nowadays many a man and woman imposes this voluntary torture on him and her-self.
Sweets after lunch should be taken with caution. French pastries are both indigestible and fattening. Stewed or fresh fruit, milk pudding, or ice cream seem to me to be about the most sensible thing to take, and then a cup of coffee with a good cigar.
Every one should allow himself an hour,—a full hour, for his lunch. It is these hasty snacks of a piece of pie and glass of milk that ruin the digestive organs. The cigar does more to aid digestion than anything else, be-cause to enjoy it thoroughly, one should sit quietly in a comfortable chair or recline gracefully on a sofa and feel content and at peace with the world.
I wonder if you remember or ever heard Charles Stuart Calverley's "Ode to Tobacco." I came across it years ago and have since lost track of it, I am told it is out of print, but though I remember it but imperfectly, I will give you what I can of it.
Thou, who when fears attack,
I have a liking old for thee,
How they who use fuzees,
Cats may have had their goose
There should be a law in every country prohibiting the manufacture and sale of bad cigars. If a man cannot afford a good cigar, he should smoke a pipe. A cigar is a thing to reverence. When I smoke a cigar, I feel much as though I were offering an oblation to the Goddess Nicotina. The great Charles Spurgeon, the famous Baptist minister of the last generation, was once asked to preach against the "filthy habit of smoking." "By no means," retorted he. "Every Sunday I smoke a cigar to the glory of God!"
A short time ago I was explaining to a friend of mine —a much traveled man-how I thought it a crime, almost, to smoke a cigar in the open air—especially in a motor car. One should taste a cigar," I explained, "inhale its aroma, and roll your tongue around the smoke. Just as in previous and happier years one could sip a glass of '47 port, and think over it and dream. No one wants to swallow it at a gulp. You should treat it with respect." "As the Chinaman, replied he, when he wants to get drunk he drinks quickly and calls it `Drinkee drunk'; but when he drinks for the pleasure of drinking and not to get drunk, he sips it and calls it `Drinkee drink.
I have never found smoking do me any harm. I learned to smoke when I was ten—when I was twelve I received a "monitor's whopping" for smoking, and my pipe and tobacco were confiscated by one of the monitors, who smoked it himself. But by seventeen I smoked pipes, cigars, and cigarettes. I was as tall then as I am now, so my youthful indiscretions did not stunt my growth. I smoke all day, but follow Mark Twain's advice: "Never smoke more than one cigar—at a time." This may be taken for some of Mark's humor, but it may not be generally known that the late Emperor Frederick, the father of the present ex-Emperor Wilhelm, used a cigar holder which held three cigars at once, all leading into the one mouthpiece. That is what one calls gluttonous smoking.
But this is a book on eating and drinking, not smoking. Smoking is only introduced as an aid to digestion. Have you not always noticed that the pale, cadaverous man, who looks fifty when he is only thirty-five, who though a rabid teetotaler has a chronic red nose, who is the bitter enemy of what James I called "ye noxious weed,"—is, in nine eases out of ten, a dyspeptic? It is possible, too, that the smoker is apt to eat less than the non-smoker, though I must admit I have seen a many colossally fat men smoking. They are most probably heavy drinkers also, not necessarily imbibers of spirituous or malt liquors, but of liquid in some form.
At home, I believe that lunch should be of the lightest description. A tasty sandwich or bread and cheese, followed by some fresh fruit or salad. I am certain that the big, heavy middle-day Sunday dinner is a mistake from every angle. To start with, it means extra work for the housekeeper or servants, it is bad for the system, because if one has been living sensibly during the week, with a light lunch and the big meal at the close of the day, it is a mistake to alter the regimen one day in the week. Method, moderation and regularity are the keynotes to good health.
Afternoon tea is not yet very popular in the United States, although during the past twenty years it has been fighting a rather uphill battle. Those who travel yearly in Europe have acquired the habit, but the stay-at-homes are somewhat chary of cultivating a custom that hails from "the other side." New York is full of teashops, but the mistake is made of serving too large a meal. It is rather a strain on the system to go from one o'clock to seven or thereabouts, without any coaling of the furnace. But it is a great mistake to make a "meal" of it. A cup of freshly made tea is most invigorating about four-thirty in the afternoon, and even in the hottest weather is much better for one than long cold drinks. But it is well to eat a cracker or a piece of buttered toast with it, "to drop the tea on." Teas consisting of French pastries, layer cake, jam, and what-not do much more harm than good.
And then comes the most delightful hour of the day-dinner. A little soup, "hot, hot, very hot," as Beau Brummel declared in Clyde Fitch's play of that name, served in a cold plate. I remember one of Charles Keene's inimitable drawings illustrating the following caption:
Guest at restaurant, in horrified accents: "Waiter! your thumb's in the soup!"
Waiter: "That's all right, sir. It ain't 'at."
Now, soup should be very hot, but absolutely free from grease. Too much is a mistake—just a little to prepare the stomach for the good things to follow.
A little fish—fried smelts, or plaice, flounder—and if you happen to be traveling in England, or the north of France, a sole ! Ah, the sole is the most delicate fish that swims in the salt sea. And, alack ! it is unobtainable in this country. But it is worth a trip to Europe to taste it. In season, boiled salmon, hot or cold, with cucumbers and maître d'hotel butter or tartare sauce. Grilled salmon, boiled halibut, or cod, or mackerel. Fried escallops, with a little streaky bacon. I do not mention fresh-water fish because they are practicably unobtainable in the open market, and besides it is unnecessary to dilate on the succulence of the brook trout. Perch, dace, bass are all excellent, but the pickerel or pike are really not worth eating. Soyer gives a recipe for cooking pike. I have tried it and found it was merely a tasty sauce to make an otherwise tasteless, wooly, and coarse fish eatable.
Some people do not like fish. One man once said to me: "I eat fish with very long teeth." I had never heard the expression before, but I know what he meant. And then there is the story of the man who was told he must eat fish on Wednesday and Friday during Lent. On the first fish day, as he sat in the restaurant, he asked the waiter: "Have you got any shark? "Shark, sir? No, sir," re-plied the astonished Ganymede. Have you got any porpoise?" No, sir." "Have you got any whale?" "Good gracious, no, sir!" "Then bring me a steak, rare, with French-fried potatoes. God knows I asked for fish!"
In these days an entre is quite unnecessary when a joint is included in the manu. But when I was a youngster we used to eat much more than we do now, even at banquets. It used to run: Hors d'oeuvres, huitres, potage, poisson, entre, rôti, relevés, savories, gateaux, dessert, And wines ! Oh, shadows of the past ! Chablis with the oysters, sherry with the soup, hock with the fish, claret or burgundy through the entre and roast, champagne with the relevés, and port with the fruit and then a demi-tasse. During the evening, whisky and soda was the favorite drink, although if champagne had been served during the dinner, the wise man took brandy and soda instead.
Big dinners have gone out of fashion with prohibition, for it is quite impossible to get through various courses with water or grape juice. Therefore, the most one can manage with comfort is a little soup, some fish, an entre or a roast, and a sweet—and even this is a tall order. Really, the simpler one dines the better it is for one, but of one thing I am certain, namely that never should one eat to repletion. "Sufficient" is much better and safer than "enough."
In August 1922, The Medical Review of Reviews reported:-
Brain workers and persons in sedentary occupation should eat a substantial breakfast but a light lunch, ac-cording to physicians in forty-six states. Seventy-three per cent. of the physicians favored a hearty breakfast, 13 per cent. opposed it and 14 per cent. were neutral.
Eleven doctors advised a heavy breakfast because the digestive apparatus is at its best after a night's sleep. Commissioner of Health Herman N. Bundesen of Chicago said that "the system, like a furnace, is low on fuel in the morning, and therefore a good-sized meal is justified. Fifty-five physicans favor the hearty breakfast and light lunch, basing their opinions on observations in their practice.
"I think it is far better to start the day with a substantial breakfast of fruit, cereals, bacon and eggs, toast or, as we of the South prefer, hot biscuits," said Dr. J. H. Rife of Covington, Ky.
"It is preferable to start the day," said Dr. F. J. Underwood of the Mississippi State Board of Health, "with a fairly substantial breakfast, consisting of fruit, cereal, bacon and eggs, etc. ; eat a light but nourishing lunch and have a heavy meal at six in the evening. I don't think there is any doubt but what one could do better mental work by following out this plan."
"The plethoric should eat breakfast, no luncheon and a fairly good dinner," was the opinion of Dr. Thomas M. Acken of New York. "The greyhound type, whose combustion is overactive, should have a substantial break-fast, a mild lunch and a hearty dinner."
Seven doctors were of the opinion that the midday meal should be the heaviest.
"I really think that a light breakfast in the morning and the main meal about noon and a light supper at night is the preferable way," said Dr. W. H. Sharpley of Denver.
"The matter of taste is what is ruining the American digestive system," said Dr. Thomas F. Collins of Adamsville, Pa. "We eat things because we like the taste of them, even though we know they contain the wrong elements for us. Therefore, let us eat regularly reasonable amounts of the things we should have, disregarding the taste."
A light meal should begin the day, according to Dr. W. B. Bentley of Calvin, Okla., who continued:
"As to the other meals of the day, I believe that our instinct, with a little intelligence, should guide us correctly, if not perverted by dissipation, and if so, we should go at once to the doctor, the cemetery or the penitentiary."
"The noon meal should be light so as not to interfere with vigorous mental or physical effort in the day's work," said Dr. S. J. Crumbine of the Kansas State Board of Health.
All of which goes more or less to substantiate my own observations--with the exception of seven "willful men."
Moderation and wise selection in both eating and drinking will ensure good health, but excess in either will undoubtedly result in discomfort, indigestion, and chronic ill-health.