Category Archives: sweets

You’re Possessed by Holiday Diet Demons and They Want You To Skip This Post

High calorie pecan and pumpkin dessert, diet busting Holiday Pie Fat image from maubrowncow

Can you decode the secret message hidden in this dessert?

Holiday diet? Are you nuts? Mmm…nuts.

Quick:  have you recently  accidentally misplaced the bathroom scales, in the driveway, behind the car’s rear tire?  Have you been decorating all your large mirrors with thick flock?  Are your ‘lite cooking’ tips buried under stacks of colorful Christmas recipe calorie bombs?

If so, don’t be alarmed.  It’s not your fault.  The reason for this behavior is your home, like millions of others, has been secretly possessed by holiday diet demons. It’s a fact. Holiday diet demons (or HDD’s) are invisible, attracted to the colors red and green,  gravy, and appetites. They have nothing to do all day and night but try to convince men, women, children and dogs this is eating season, anything is game, and resistance is futile.

I have personally encountered these demons, and they’re not pretty. In fact, they’re quite crafty.  Inside your head, they sound completely reasonable and convincing. They are able to whisper seductive cooking and eating instructions directly into the part of the brain that’s responsible for stuffing the mouth full with both hands.

That is why, as a public service, I’m presently sitting outside, away from any possible snacking opportunity, to share some of my important findings and notes.  Use this list to check yourself for whether diet demons are secretly responsible for some added jolly at your house.

1.  One sure sign of holiday diet demon infestation, is having a cheery belief that foods with names ending in ‘itos’ are part of a trendy new hispanic healthfood craze.  This is actually false.

2.  If you’ve been celebrating because chocolate is busy curing cancer, you may have demons.  No, not even the really dark, rich, smooth expensive kind.  So, keeping a high level in the bloodstream at all times, actually is not necessary.

3.  Pie a la mode doesn’t really appear on the breakfast menu of any culture, ever.

4.  Deep fat fried food is actually not a method recommended by medical research to prevent pregnancy.  When you get right down to statistics and actual couples, it’s just not been found to be all that effective.

5.  A few extra pounds underneath the chin doesn’t really make you look more distinguished.  And neither does the scarf.

6.  Parents:  punishing your children, or teaching them a lesson, by finishing their desert for them, will send the message that all you really care about is getting their sweets.  Highly likely, some demons involved there.

7.  In spite of how good it sounds, that new strategy of reducing or completely eliminating the hours between meals will not simplify your life.  Not in a good way, anyhow.

8.  Joining Holiday Diet Clubs, whose members go into each others homes to eat their fattening foods for them, has not yet been proved to result in any significant weight loss.

9.  Most studies do show that people better survive cold weather, and colder months, when they add an extra inch or two of insulation to their door jambs.  Not their waists, as previously reported.

If you have any such signs of holiday diet demons at your place, be sure and pass them along to me in the comment box below, or twitter me @kitchenup    #dietdemon.

As for me, I am not curious about what the buzzards are circling over there.  I am pretty sure I wouldn’t want to eat it.  But, maybe it’s worth just a quick check.

Advertisements

Where Marshmallows Grow

A Marshmallow Farm in Western Washington, captured by Sten Wireout

Where do marshmallows come from?  That all depends.

Being a father has certain privileges.  Not many, but some.

First, Dads are bigger than everybody.  Yes,  size does matter.  If I can pick you up, hold you upside down, and tickle your tummy with my nose, you haven’t got a prayer.  The clicker is mine.

Second, Dads handle all kinds of really scary stuff. Like fires, live electricity, noisy engines and machines, wickedly sharp things, rogue spiders, snakes and rabid critters, fireworks, tall ladders, poisons and chemicals, and pitch black power outages.

Third, Dads know everything worth knowing.  Mind, I did not say, ‘Dads know everything there is – that would not be true.   Part of this particular gift is the ability to know what is, and what is not, worth knowing.  Why waste brain power on  stuff that’s going to just lay there,  collecting mental dust and taking up space that could have been used for something important?

For instance, we know, those are the three main reasons kids are likely to come find their father: when they need someone bigger, someone less afraid, or someone who can answer one of those questions nobody can agree on.

‘Dad!’, my youngest called as she ran into the kitchen, just one quick step ahead of her sisters.

‘Where ….’ (she was catching her breath)…

‘….do marshmallows come from?’ the twins finished.

‘Well,’ I said, sipping my coffee, ‘that depends’.

‘What?’ they all said.

‘Yes,’ I said.  ‘Natural, wild marshmallows used to grow in swampy areas, covered by mists, on marshmallow bushes protected by tufted marsh spiders.  The spider webs made them nearly invisible.  You could only collect the marshmallow fruit at night, when the spiders were sleeping, and there’s no mist. Otherwise, they were too sticky.’

My youngest was absorbing this, thinking about how easy it would be to find any out back.  The twins were having none of it.

‘Daa-ad!’ they said, with that widening of the eyes, thrusting of the head, turning up one edge of a lip look, that roughly translates to, ‘do we have to go ask Mom?’

‘That was before Samuel Farfenfuffel invented the mallowthresher,’ I said. ‘After that, all the wild ones were plowed under, and  marshmallow farmers had it pretty easy. No spiders, and the marshmallows grew really fat.’

This got the hands on the hips ‘what do you take us for, seriously’ look, and the youngest started measuring her sisters’ reaction and then mine with her eyes, not ready to let go, but no longer sure.

‘Course, today, they’re all made in factories, artificially.’  I said, ending it.  ‘Marshmallow farmers all went out of business, and nobody can find seeds any more.’

I went to my bureau, and out of a box in a box, took the photo up there at the top of this page, and showed them all.  A marshmallow farm.  I knew some time or other, this day would come.

They all looked, passed it around, looked really close.  ‘We don’t believe you’, the twins said.  Cops or officers or lawyers, I thought.  My youngest just had a look.  Wondering.

Nothing wrong with a little wonder, I said to myself.  That’s number four – Dads get to keep them wondering.

‘I wonder…’    That’s how somebody came up with the crazy idea for cooking marshmallows in the first place.

For those wondering where marshmallows actually came from in the first place, it’s thought the originals were made by Egyptians four thousand years ago.  They took the roots of a native plant, the marsh mallow (seriously) and boiled it with honey. The mallow root made a gel, and a sweet confection fit for gods or royals.  It was made in Europe as early as the 1600’s.  The modern marshmallow came in 1850, and since then they’ve been made  with gelatin instead of plant roots.  But the name has stuck.

Where’d the Halloween Candy Go, Dad?

Colorful Halloween pumkin holding candiesIt’s that freaky time of year.  Halloween candy is strangely disappearing in homes across the country.

The pumpkins have arrived.  Costumes that have been discussed for weeks are getting picked out for fixing and fitting.  And final plans are being laid, as serious as Marines storming a beach.  In spite of its careful camouflage, the neighborhood is about to be invaded, flanked, porches will be swarmed, pesky pooches evaded, targets acquired and taken.

Everywhere youngsters are rip-roaring ready to fill overflowing sacks with sugar, heavier than they can manage to lug themselves.  Halloween.  The candy makers holiday.

This year my twins, who’ve outgrown princesses and witches and Disney characters, are even too old for trick or treating for candy, and for the first time, they’re made up helpers, to walk the younger two.

‘You can’t eat candy til you get home’, I hear them scolding my youngest daughter, who looks as fully surprised and let down by the news as a fisherman who finds his lake’s been drained bone dry.

‘Maybe one piece’, I say.  Maybe there’s still fish in there yet.

‘We check all the candy when we get home, and then decide what candy to keep, and what to give away’, they continue.

‘What?!’ my youngest says, now truly alarmed.

‘Don’t worry,’ I say, trying to signal the twins to cut it off.  It’s not something we make a big deal about. The girls catch me drawing a hand across my neck and take the hint.

It is the rule, however. We decided on it to keep the kids from gorging themselves for days on sweets.  Or hoarding and sneaking, then showing up for dinner with no appetite at all.  Like someone else I vaguely recall.

And, because, truthfully, my own kids don’t spend time after school running and playing til it’s so dark you can’t see a ball, the way we did.

‘You’ll have plenty of candy, believe me,’ I say to reassure her.  More than plenty.  How much more sugar does a child actually need a day, anyway?  I just don’t remember being tempted by anywhere near the sugary foods kids are being sold these days.  Candy was some real kind of treat.  And, we still had to portion it out.

Just when I think things are under control, the twins repeat the rule, for good measure.  A real issue is brewing now, and off my youngest goes, near tears, to ask Mom why she’s not getting any candy this year.

‘It’s better this way, Dad’, the twins tell me when it’s quieted down.  ‘A whole lot better than the other way.’

‘What other way’? I say.  I just assumed they didn’t pay all that much attention, and we got away with slipping it out, to drop at the shelter, or into the trash.

‘When our candy disappeared, it used to scare us. Then Mom told us you were eating it.’

I heard oak leaves rustle on the big tree outside, like water falling over stones in a brook.  And saw the dawn a second time that day.

‘That’s why nobody ever wanted to come to a Halloween sleepover at our house’, they said, and looked at me with years of secret candy missing suspicion in their eyes.

‘That’s what your Mother told you?’, I started, and could feel the heat rise.

‘Til last night. Then she told us, you didn’t really eat all of it.’

‘Girls, I did NOT take your candy to eat!’ I said.  And, I certainly ate no more than your mother.

‘Well, Mom said….’

‘….we could take care of checking and separating all the candy this year. Ok’?

And they smiled, at each other, and at me.  Plans had been laid, and just deserts secured.

Oh, times, they surely do change. I could see, a new order had come.

And so I set off to clear up a few Halloween ghosts of my own.

Peach of a Summer

Summer sun sure adds sweetness.  Long afternoons, glowing heat and tanned skin, and the true miracle of peaches.

If the Big Man spent time trying to find a lure able to coax yours truly deep into a  stifling hot field for hours of sweaty effort (where sports and loving were not involved), summer peaches would be hook, line and sinker reliable. It’s that bad.

I suspect the family knows this quirk about me.  At any rate, shortly after every Fourth of July it seems they all suddenly find themselves without a free weekend.  Dental appointments crop up, along with important and unavoidable back to school shopping, tire rotation, and mystery tummy ailments, that make it impossible to drive any farther than the mall or beach.

I first met stone fruit with my own parents many years ago, when we’d pick and load lugs of them, warm from the trees, into the trunk and onto the seats of my father’s hot black Plymouth, and breathe their suffocating fragrance with the windows down all the way home.  What followed were days of mason jars and bubbling great pots, juicy wet newspapers covered with pits and peels, my mother’s longest spoon, and perspiring forehead.  We had a great green bureau down in the coolest corner of the wood frame garage, that held a year or more’s worth of that summer’s bounty:  jams, jellies, and whole fruits, with golden lids neatly dated in black crayon in my dad’s hand.

And, there were my siblings, out on the summer porch, arms and bare chests covered with dripping, sweet flavor, unbelieving that a colorful bite could produce such sugary liquid mouthfuls.

“Good sun this year”, my Dad would say, and carefully remind us, every summer, that the trees and the farmers put real sunshine right in our hands. We were thankful.

“Good sun this year”, I say to my wife one morning, with the kids running out to play.  She looks to the calendar on the kitchen wall, with it’s messy code of exes and times.   I don’t mention I’ve already got the list of ripening and variety reports from a dozen growers out to a hundred miles in my back pocket.

“Peaches?”, she says, with a glance, like I’ve just proposed to try and win the car back in one last craps game.

“It’s good for the kids, healthy.  And real, fresh fruit,” I remind her.  She remembers the aisles and bins of wood-like substitutes they’re passing off at the supermarket.  Maybe she knows about the hook, line and sinker, too.

And on the road with the kids laughing in the back, under the blue hot dome and out in the blazing white sun, I’m thinking about sticky forearms and that first, unforgettable, juicy mouthful.

Cupid: Worst Chocolate Valentines Gifts

Romance wasn’t built in a day.

There is probably nothing more frustrating about women than finding out that doing what they want, is not what they want. When it comes to romance, your favorite female wants you to surprise her by getting her what she really wants.  Just don’t ask her what that is.

‘What are you getting mom for Valentines?’, my twin girls asked the other night. They appeared in front of the couch, blocking the TV, in a casual way that guaranteed they were going to take this information directly back to the source of the question.

‘What do you think she’d like?’ I asked, trying to remember how many days I had to come up with an answer.  The girls looked at each other, then at me.

‘Something special’, they said. ‘Not just chocolates again’

They were referring to the one year, which shall never be forgotten, that Dad went all out and brought home about nine different kinds of chocolates.  In the store, it seemed like a great idea.  I imagined her being surrounded, and luxurious.  She imagined I’d scooped the entire closeout candy shelf into the cart at the last minute to avoid getting a real gift.  Alright, so I’d had to work late and couldn’t think of anything else.

‘Ok’, I said, trying to see around them to the screen, ‘no chocolate this year.’  They looked at each other again.

‘You have to get her chocolate, Dad’, they whispered.  They had that look like they would just like to reach out and slap the side of my head, if they dared.

‘She doesn’t like when I give her candy’, I reminded them, very quietly. ‘ She says it makes her…clothes too tight’.  This got big eyes and open mouths at each other, and then they ran off.  What a report that was going to make.  I’ll really have to pull one off this year.

If you’re hunting for something for Valentine’s gifts, remember that chocolate is almost always expected as part of the festivities.  And for that special Valentine chocolate gift, the most important thing to remember is, keep it romantic.  The following are actual chocolate gifts that should NOT be on your list.  Unless this is what she really wants.

1. Chocolate Perfume Ok, you’re thinking you can take care of the proverbial two birds with this stone.  It’s chocolate, and it’s perfume.  It’s got no calories.  It’s pretty cheap compared to what you find in Macy’s.  So, why not make some hubcap earrings to go with it?

2. Chocolate American Express Card Apart from the fact it’s a whopping full ten pound paving stone of chocolate, and a gazillion calories, what kind of message are we trying to send here, exactly?

3. Chocolate Ammo It comes in it’s own ammo tin, it’s .50 caliber, and the only question you should have if this is your gift of choice is whether there actually is something more to life than hunting.

4. Anatomically Correct Chocolate Heart anatomically correct chocolate heart Maybe you were thinking, well, no, actually, you couldn’t have been thinking if you ordered this.  Does the word ‘creepy’ come up often in your relationship?  It will.

5. Chocolate Bra edible chocolate bra No doubt you can’t believe somebody actually came up with this.  Your wife won’t believe you did either. Yes, she’ll get what you have in mind, and no, she won’t.

Now, get out there and get her something she really wants.  And if you figure out what, please, let me know.

Dieting For the Holidays

There’s a reason it’s illegal to start any diet before January 1.

The other day dad was checking to see if he had the black or the brown belt on with the blue pants, to avoid the kind of fashion faux pas that gets wives wondering if they’ve married down in life.  To my surprise, this maneuver was nearly impossible without using the bathroom mirror.  The light by the bedroom mirror had gone.

I’m not exactly sure when I lost the clearance to see my waist directly.  And while there’s a small possibility my neck’s just gotten too muscle bound to reach the right angle, the holidays always seem to get me thinking about it.

This is the time of year we may find ourselves doing a double-take before recognizing the guy walking by in the mall store window reflection.  Who at first looked like they may have been shoplifting things under their shirt. The time of year we notice there’s just not enough suck-it-up left to make a difference when the saleswoman gives you a smile over the clothes she’s folding.

‘Can I help you find something’, she says, surrounded by pre-teen fashion and accessories, and somehow suddenly making it obvious that I’m the only male in the entire crowded department.  Just standing, and watching.

‘Just here with the wife,’ I say, taking a look around to find my wife, who is no longer anywhere to be seen in teens wear.  ‘To pick something out for the kids,’ I say, and watch as her eyes make the same circuit of the store mine did, and then come back to settle on the front of my shirt.

‘What do you think,’ my wife says from my six o’clock.  She’s arms upstretched, holding out pink and purple bangled quilt jackets, looking from me to the saleswoman and back.

‘I’m going to go check power tools,’ I say.

‘Stairmaster’s on sale’, my wife says, checking the color of my belt.

With four women in the house, weight is always on the menu.  It’s been decided that everyone gains it when I’m home, and loses it when I’m traveling.  Apparently dad’s gravity attracts stray calories into the house, which stick to the entire family.

And at no time is this more true than in the short cold days and long nights between Thanksgiving and New Years.  A stretch that for almost all of human existence has also been the start of the season most short on food.  With the kind of dieting no one would ever choose, an annual trial, forced and irresistable.  A season not of overeating, but one that culled the thin and weak from the herd.  And part of the reason, I suspect, we all still today have a hard-wired pull to feast and reach for the sweets and fat.  To hold the ancient fear of famine, and death, at bay.

These days, its clear, there’s too much of a good thing.  And, I intend to adjust my intake to resemble my expenditures. It’s time to lose some weight.  Try and reverse the slide from six pack to keg.

Just as soon as we eat ourselves into the new year.

Because while I’ll be careful to keep from overdoing this year,  I’ve decided the best diet to apply isn’t the one between Christmas and January 1.  It’s the one between New Year’s and Christmas.

Sweet Little Lies Too

General Mills just said they’ll be adding less sugar to it’s kids cereals, and I’m trying to feel excited.  Isn’t that like, I dunno, UPS saying they won’t be driving as fast when they take shortcuts through the schoolyard?  Should  they really be doing it in the first place?

I figured I’d better break it to the kids gently. The Trix rabbit,  “C00-C00” Cocoa Puffs and Lucky the Charms leprechaun are plotting to secretly wean them from some of their breakfast sugar.

Not all at once.  Not too much, or too fast, I explained.

The plan is to lower the sugar in small steps, and hope kids won’t notice and switch cereals.  It’s a fear that grips the industry: if kids don’t get their fix from one dealer, they’ll find another.  Jeff Harmening, president of General Mills’ Big G cereal division, summed in up: “…if you change the taste dramatically or suddenly, they’ll walk away from the brand,” he said.

After working for decades to supply America’s kids with all the sugar they want, it’s a hard change for the industry.  But apparently, loading children with the sweets they crave may in fact be bad for them.  Recent studies from the 1970’s, 80’s, 90’s and the entire latest decade suggest the explosion in childhood obesity, diabetes and other health issues may have something to do with all that sweetener in the diet.

Given sugar is now the single largest additive to processed foods, and breakfast cereals are the number four most often purchased food in America, some have begun to think there might be some connection.

Clearly, not all parents are going to be concerned.  Those who may be upset with the cereal sugar cutbacks can add back about a quarter teaspoon of sugar per serving, the amount the company is taking out.  That will keep the sugar level up at it’s current total of two and a half teaspoons a bowl.

To its credit, General Mills’ goal is to reduce the single serving of sugar to less than 10 grams in cereals targeted to children.  But studies and new national dietary guidelines for children say they shouldn’t be eating more than 48 grams of sugar per day.  Which means just one bowl of cereal and one can of soda (39 grams of sugar) would more than do it for the whole day.

Adult cereals won’t be affected. Unlike those made for kids, ours typically only have 1 to 3 grams of added sugar in the first place.

But, my kids weren’t listening.  They were polishing off the slices of fresh dense bread I’d turned out of the breadmaker that morning.  With one-third the sugar, and twice the protein, as the cereals.

Trix Rabbit my eye.

For my take on why Dads should own bread machines,  see my post, Winner By a Nose.