Friday, June 4, 2010

The Delights of Dining Al Fresco

I just finished reading Mitch Ablom's article in PARADE magazine about dining outdoors. And I am howling. Or, rather, my husband and my 10-year-old are howling, because, Mitch sounds so much like me. Like Mitch, I, too, head outdoors to dine as soon as the icicles melt.

That’s when the search for places to eat al fresco begins, and becomes nothing short of an obsession. My family sighs in exasperation as I ponder where to have our spring/summer lunch, dinner, or breakfast. When at home, it's easy. The choice is either the patio or the porch. Short of a hail storm, we are eating at one or the other location. In fact, in my mind, it is a sacrilege to dine indoors after March 15. And, yes, like the Abloms, we have our fair share of pests: mosquitoes, flies, and the occasional bee. But, it does not deter us. Or, rather, me.

When we venture out to a restaurant, other obstacles come into play. Like the weather, which, again, rarely deters me, unless it’s pouring rain. My sister reminds me of the experience a few years back when I forced her to sit outside at a popular Newbury Street restaurant even though the thermometer plunged to a chilly 40 degrees. It was, after all, April 30 and officially spring.

For those who aren't as passionate as I am about dining in the elements, it's difficult to understand the appeal when the view is anything less than rolling hills or ocean waves. Most often the view or lack thereof doesn’t affect the experience for me. Although, sometimes even I have to admit when the vista is less than best dining outside can lose a bit of its cache. Especially when it consists of the side of a produce truck touting Vinne’s plumbing services or a flashing neon sign extolling the virtues of Dawn’s Donuts. Not to mention the unpleasant background noise of, say a 1970 Chevy whose muffler has seen better days, or the whoops and hollers of the local pre-teens as they rollerblade up and down the sidewalk in front of our table. Still, I tell my family, taking a deep breath that is mixed with car exhaust, it’s May and it’s warm out and there’s just something so special about eating outside.

Back on the home front, I have to agree with Mitch again. There isn’t a meal when we haven’t forgotten the napkins, or the forks, or the water, or the drinks. So after three or four trips to the kitchen, when my husband --- the designated runner --- finally sits down, my daughter and I are pretty much finished with our food.

Still, I persist in my quest for that perfect outdoor dining experience. I sometimes wonder if I have that light deficit disorder. Or, perhaps it has something to do with my childhood upbringing. I remember as a kid I spent every waking moment outside in the woods, in the trees, or in the sun, craving the air and brightness.

Whatever the reason, my need to eat outside is something I truly enjoy and look forward to as a rite of spring. Rest assured, with or without my family, I’ll be outside until the first snow. Or, at least until the leaves fall. I’m sure Mitch will be, too.

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