Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Season's Eatings

I recently read that the average person gains about five pounds during the holiday season. So for once in my life, I guess I’m above average.

I can’t say that I was completely surprised to see the 9-lb. weight gain when I stepped on the scale yesterday. There actually were a few clues that had warned me in advance, such as my knee socks getting tighter and tighter until all of my toes went numb, or the front pockets of my jeans sticking out like elephant ears because I couldn’t squeeze my hands into them to tuck them in. And the name of the manufacturer on the snap on my jeans was permanently imprinted in my navel.

I really tried to eat wisely during the holidays. In fact, in preparation for my annual “season’s eatings” I even read articles with titles like, “How to Walk, Not Roll, Away from the Buffet Table,” and “Carrot Sticks…Not Just for Santa’s Reindeer!”

The articles gave loads of calorie-saving advice for the holiday weight-conscious. They advised, for example, to stand at the salad end of the buffet table instead of the dessert end, to avoid temptation, and to sip plain club soda with a twist of lemon instead of chugging eggnog. There also were several paragraphs dedicated to the “instead of” method. Eat a cracker instead of a dinner roll. Eat one cookie instead of a slice of cake. Suck on a piece of candy-cane instead of inhaling fudge or chocolates.

I don’t know who wrote those tips, but he or she must have just landed here from Jupiter. I mean, if I were the type of person who could eat “only one” of anything, I wouldn’t be reading diet tips in the first place.

The only way anyone ever would see me with only one cracker, one cookie and a carrot stick on my buffet plate would be if I’d already eaten a six-course meal two minutes before I arrived at the party. And as far as drinking plain club soda, well, I might consider drinking it if it had something a little more palatable added to it…like chocolate syrup and a scoop of ice cream.

Actually, I started off pretty well at the first party. I came out of the buffet line with only a slice of lean roast beef, a small serving of rice and a large portion of cooked carrots on my plate. And I washed it down with bottled water. Then after my meal digested, I returned to the buffet table and ate four slices of cherry-filled cake, three sugar cookies, a handful of cashews and a cup of hot chocolate topped with 450 mini marshmallows.

The next party I attended didn’t even have nutritious food. It was an all-dessert party. Many of the desserts were such unique delicacies, I just had to try them: potato candy, mincemeat cookies, stained-glass cookies, dump cake and chocolate peanut-butter balls. By the time I left there, I could feel cavities popping out in my teeth…and buttons popping off my pants.

A couple nights before Christmas, I actually ended up with a bad stomachache. Unfortunately, it was due to my own cooking. I wanted to make a two-layer white cake with chocolate frosting to have on hand for holiday guests. But for some reason, I couldn’t find my favorite cookbook anywhere. Desperate, I went to my computer and entered “white cake” under “search.”

About 3,450 cake recipes later, I finally found one that didn’t involve whipping egg whites until stiff. I have learned from past experience that I am completely incapable of making egg whites stiff…even if I doused them with spray-starch. So mercifully, the recipe I chose called for unbeaten egg whites.

The finished cake looked beautiful. The outside was golden and puffy, and a test-toothpick inserted into the center of it came out clean.

Well, all I can say is thank goodness I decided to sample a sliver of the cake before I frosted it. The texture of it was exactly like modeling clay. And for some reason, it tasted like bread…very chewy, doughy bread.

As I tried to get a ball of cake unstuck from the roof of my mouth, my husband came out to the kitchen and cut a slice of the cake for himself. I remained silent as I watched him take a big bite of it.

His eyes widened and his lips tightened. “I need a napkin,” he said to me. It came out sounding more like, “Uh neb a nabbin,” because his teeth were stuck together.

I handed him a napkin and he promptly spit the cake into it. The action was accompanied by a variety of “pah-tooie” sounds. Needless to say, I began to suspect that I probably shouldn’t serve the cake to guests…not unless they were unwelcome guests who had a tendency to talk too much.

So I searched the Internet for a sugar-cookie recipe. I found one called “Delilah’s Sugar Cookies” that seemed easy enough. The cookies came out delicious. They were light and neither too crisp nor too soft. I decorated them with a bit of icing and then tasted one. It was perfect. Absolutely perfect.

In fact, the cookie was so perfect, I ate seven more. And if that weren’t bad enough, I decided to taste the cake again, just in case it might magically have changed its consistency to moist-and-fluffy while it was sitting on the counter.

It still was like chewing a big wad of bubblegum. Nevertheless, I ate two pieces. They sank like bricks in my stomach.

Now that I think about it, maybe my nine-pound holiday weight-gain wasn’t due to overindulgence. Maybe it was caused by the cake hardening into a giant lump of concrete in my stomach.