Maya, Louis and the CSO (and Artie Shaw)
For lack of things to say, holiday dinner planning, miscellanea

Waving my cane at "holiday" candy

I've always had a problem controlling my sugar intake. When I was old enough in childhood to walk to the store, I'd spend all my dimes on paper dots, lollipops, whatever new oddities were being introduced at the time, and there were a plethora of them, or I'd buy a Butterfinger or Heath bar. I loved Heath; it was so much better back then before Hershey bought it. Anyway.

Some treats were available only at certain times or in certain places, so they were more valuable, rare treasures to be sought after or longed for. Like movie candy. My favorite movie candies were Junior Mints and Cherry Dots. I liked regular mixed flavor Dots, but getting a box of nothing but cherry felt amazing. Well, back then, you almost never saw movie candy outside of the movie theater, and we didn't go all that often. Once in a great while, we'd see a box of cherry Dots, and Mom would get them for me. It felt like winning a prize in a drawing. I savored the first few, though, then crammed them in until the box was empty.

I had no discretion with holiday candy at all. I would gobble it all up, no matter how much I told myself to let it stretch out for awhile. I am pretty sure no one really thought this was wrong, as it was a happy treat, I ate my dinners pretty well, and was always extremely thin.

But really, candy to me was like beer to my dad. If it was there, I ate all of it until there wasn't anymore. It has taken many years for me to partly conquer that problem. The worst thing is those gelled spearmint leaves. If we're at the grocery store, my son can hold up a bag of those and I will literally start shaking. Yes, I said literally. I am physiologically changed at the sight, almost at the mere mention of them. Right now as I type, I am experiencing the sugary coating, the way a piece looks and feels as you bite into it, and the strange leafy aftertaste. I can smell them, though I haven't opened a package in years. So, I don't eat them. Ever. I know I could just eat one or two now, if someone else was holding the bag, but it would never satisfy me.

When I was 13, I was told I had hypoglycemia, and was immediately put on a no sugar, low carb diet. You should know that was in 1978, long before people got really confused about low fat, low carb, low sugar diets and the fake foods they wrought. I couldn't even have ketchup, because it had sugar in it. And this was before every food had high fructose corn syrup in it, but my doctor was already convinced that stuff was a menace. I mean, you can easily say that it is, in the sense that all kinds of foods were sweetened with it starting around that time; foods that were always strictly savory before. Mom and I had to read labels and work to avoid everything that ended in -ose. There were compromises; I could drink milk, but not eat grapes.

I had to eat special peanut butter and learned to enjoy it on apples. I couldn't have jam, or most of the breakfast cereal I liked, or even the same bread. I ate a lot of sunflower seeds. It was a tough diet, but I didn't cheat, even at school, where my daily lunch had formerly consisted of a chocolate frosty and a basket of french fries. (To this day, I'm not much of a french fry fan, because they aren't like the ones I had in junior high.) The diet began right before Easter, and I wasn't allowed to have a candy basket. And the thing I missed most of all was Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs. Screen Shot 2013-11-11 at 9.10.00 AM

They weren't sold individually yet; they came six to a package, and were available only at Easter. Also, they were always sold out, so if they weren't bought early, that was too bad. One year, my mom bought several packages and secreted them away, giving them to me for my birthday in early June. Those I did try very hard to spread out, and for me, they lasted awhile, at least a couple of weeks. Because I knew I wouldn't have any again until the following spring.

They were better than regular peanut butter cups because of the superior chocolate to peanut butter ratio. Peanut butter cups were in fact a disappointment by comparison. But of course, those were available year-round.

I avoid peanut butter eggs now like I avoid spearmint leaves. I will buy them for my kids at holidays but not eat any myself. Five of my six kids can eat candy like a normal person. One of them seems to have the same inherent problem as me, but was at least taught from the beginning to work at being mindful of it.

I felt much better on that very strict diet, but it was extremely difficult and ultimately unsatisfying, which meant I never sustained it for long periods of time. But I still have the problem. I have to limit myself in ways I can manage, because I react poorly to sugar just as I did when I was younger, and as I'm no longer underweight, am yet more susceptible to diabetes. I must now work to never be overweight. These days, I rarely eat candy, or ice cream, I never drink sweetened soft drinks, and I can refuse dessert after a good meal. Sugar has just got to be purely a treat for me, and not part of continual intake. I still have more than I should, but far, far less than I used to.

Before the past twenty years or so, we all looked upon desserts and other highly sweetened foods as treats, and only a few people like me took unholy advantage of them. Before syrup-laden lattes, before foods crammed with sweeteners to make up for the misguided desire for "low fat," before everything was available everywhere all the time, and people didn't have food at their desks, sugary treats were a rewarding pleasure at special times or after a special meal.

Alcohol converts to sugar in the blood; I take rich pleasure in a cocktail I've crafted, but keep to a strict weekly limit. And a piece of cake and an Aviation on the same night would drain my energy for the next day. It's one or the other, and not every day. For many people, though, sugar has become a part of every meal and every snack in a day. It does no good to claim you're okay because you eat only fake sugar. Why must everything you eat or drink be sweetened in the first place? This limits your flavor palate so that you seek out other ways to make your vegetables and grains taste satisfying, like topping it all with cheese...and I would be willing to lay down money that people who consume a lot of fake sugar are also consuming a lot of starchy foods like pasta, tortillas, hamburger buns...

This Halloween I gave out Reese's Peanut Butter Pumpkins. They were the big hit, the first candy we ran out of. But they were sold individually at the grocery store beginning in August. And look what I saw when I was at Kroger this morning. 20131111_083749
The moment Christmas is over, the eggs will appear, for a three month "Easter season." That special treat once available for a few weeks each spring is now in the stores at least six months out of the year.

I made sweetened treats from fresh fruit this weekend. But the great thing I've learned about making them for myself is that they feel so special, I have only a little, only occasionally, making the most of what I created. One of my best personal rules, not a rule but a general pattern, is to not eat any pre-made sweet that I could make myself. It all has a much higher degree of value that way, and I'm finally grown up enough to treasure that, not be a glutton about it. 

It isn't possible to set the clock back to a less convenient time in order to monitor our food intake better. And actually, most of us have far more access to truly healthful foods than we once did. But more and more people are becoming diabetic, not because of an inherited family trait, but because their diets were bungled nearly from the beginning. I read an article recently that admonished parents not to tell kids to eat their vegetables "because they're good for you," because a kid will think good for you means "tastes bad." That bothered me a lot. I preferred Sesame Street's idea of calling sweets "sometimes" foods. I told my kids that dessert is a special thing you have sometimes after your tummy is satisfied with what it needs. I don't know if that really stuck. I don't know what will. But being bombarded with holiday candy year round surely doesn't help matters. If there are peanut butter flags next year for July 4, I won't be surprised.