Eat what I say, not what I’ve eaten!

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My children are currently on a hunger strike because of tonight’s dinner. I’ve cut back the starch portions of their plates in an attempt to force some healthier eating on them, but they’re as stubborn as I am, and the almond-meal-crusted chicken tenderloins, brown rice pasta, and fresh green beans have thrown them into a rare instance of collaboration, aka mutiny. I foresee a pre-bedtime emergency yogurt rationing.

I don’t know exactly where everything went wrong, but in spite of their first bites of Earth’s Best organic baby food and those early, enthusiastically devoured plates of whole wheat spaghetti and peas, my children have become enthralled with anything canned, boxed or bagged. Left up to them, we would cycle through Kraft mac and cheese, dinosaur-shaped chickenish nuggets, and anything Boyardee and his lackeys can shove into a tin. I’ve begun personifying the trash can in attempt to lessen the pain of throwing away three full plates of vegetables and grass-fed meat several nights a week. His name is Benny, and he, for one, appreciates my cooking. At least he doesn’t threaten to throw up if he has to eat another bite.

Each of my three blessings has their own tactic for consuming as little possible of my hellish, food-based meals. Billy the Kid had cruised through two months of second breakfasts and hot lunches before I received a bill from his school and had a talk with him about what Santa leaves for little boys who stealthily toss the contents of their lunch bags. He still gets sneaky when I take a nap with the girls on days he’s home with a cold. I came downstairs Monday afternoon to find him completely naked, an empty pudding container left on the table, a stool in front of the fridge, and two juice pop wrappers on the floor. I reigned in retribution upon noticing he had taken to heart our conversation about the necessity for a nudist to always carry, and sit on, a towel.

Sally the Slugger relies less on subterfuge. She just refuses to eat much of anything, answering her parents’ question, “how did we combine to produce a dainty individual,” on a daily basis. She schedules her requests for “something dee-licious” as far from actual meal times as possible. 2:30 PM: “I want a cupcake!” We have none. Tears and wails for the next 45 minutes reinforce my incompetence in the pastry maintenance department. This morning I stood up for myself and denied her demand for breakfast grilled cheeses. She’d been up since six and didn’t eat a crumb until lunch, which was…wait for it…grilled cheese. It’s as if some greater power has been watching me for my whole life with a raised brow, and it finally found the perfect vehicle by which to deliver my comeuppance.

My brood’s collective behavior triggers long-forgotten nuggets from my own childhood, like driving my poor mother straight out of her soft-spoken, calm demeanor with one too many refusals of anything other than bread and jam. That Frances story was the worst purchase she ever made, assuming it would head off fussy eating. It hadn’t occurred to me that I could live in a world of white bread and strawberry jelly, but Frances trail-blazed, and I followed her sticky, nutrient-void lead all the way into adulthood, trading fruit spread for cheese and broadening my horizons to include ham, Doritos, and sweet gherkin pickles. My palate eventually expanded to embrace even the grilled cheese, bacon and tomato with Dijon. While I can pull off a mean Duck a l’Orange and a stately crown roast of lamb, I’m happiest when shoveling chips into a sandwich and topping Bremner wafers with muenster.

The least abusive of my offspring, Linebacker Linda, tiny but unexpectedly muscular, is a protein queen. Smoked salmon, sushi, pepperoni and turkey last through one meal at our house, regardless of amount purchased. Yesterday I served lovely plates of diced melon (two kinds!), sliced apples, crustless PB&Js, and a few pieces of cut-up lox. Then a few more. Then the half-pound was gone, and Benny went to work on the rest of Linda’s untouched lunch. Thank God she loves her mama, because she could pummel me into a walking bruise with her meaty little fists and iron-filled cannelloni arms.

Tomorrow evening I’ll take a vacation from our own Hunger Games with a (home-made) pizza. I’ve earned a night off from the collective gripe. But if anyone gives me crap after cutting them off at two cups of Ovaltine in the morning, they’ll be eating my wrath in the form of gluten-free crust and faux cheese.

No recipe for me, no recipe for you. Also, shut it, Susan Sarandon.

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“For everything we do, we know you do so much more.” Really, Susan Sarandon? How dare you and the condescending advertisers at Tylenol assume I need you to compliment my parenting. In fact, your patronizing flattery negates any other fact-based praise I’ve accumulated on a given day, as if I’m one of millions of exhausted and undervalued automatons who are just waiting for a tender nugget like this commercial to render them into blubbering piles of catharsis, weeping tears of gratitude at this overdue appreciation from the makers of an innocuous little pain reducer that kills just under 1000 customers each year.

Come to my house and clean a tiny bathroom used by five people at the end of each day, and you’ll have a better idea of the “so much more.” Deal with the ominous dark shadow in the middle of the suddenly abandoned indoor  rice “sand box” as the world’s most emotionally needy cat averts eye-contact in spite of his smug post-movement victory swagger, and you’ll start to get a picture of “so much more.” Maintain a soupcon of composure while a six-year-old yells at you, “don’t clean my boogie wall!”, restart a bath for two after one proudly announces “I peed!”, even though you gave her the international sign for “don’t tell,” then cook a nice healthy dinner for your trash can, and I won’t become so terribly homicidal when you deign to understand “so much more.”

I’m one week into the detox, and I don’t have a lot of extra sympathy, empathy, or filter just now. The five pounds I’ve lost appear to be where I was keeping my cheer, and I’ve been falling asleep the past few nights to the most heart-breaking of pastry dreams. In last night’s semblance of a narrative, France had just banned the chocolate croissant, concluding it’s the culprit behind the general shunning of anti-smoking legislature.

While I’m looking more forward than not to the Cabernet-marinated roast in the oven from this morning’s trip to Trader Joe’s, I can hardly bring myself to expel the effort of boiling a big pot of water for the slated brown rice spaghetti. I assume if I chuck in a bunch of sautéed vegetables and some sunflower seeds, I might get a few bites down before excusing myself to the kitchen for a decompressing round of dishes Frisbee.

Now I’m off to transfer the guinea pig out of his playpen, against which the previously mentioned cat is nonchalantly leaning, pushing one end further and further toward the other, in what I assume is an attempt to make a piggy waffle tartar, but first I’ll mention a barely relevant lesson I learned this morning. Billy the Kid, now six and with a vigilant eye on everyone’s business, told me he wants me to go back to normal eating. I asked him why, and he responded that watching me drink my shakes makes him think about what it would be like, and he doesn’t want to think about what it would be like. There you have it. Empathy might pass as an altruistic emotion, but from the mouths of babes, and as Johnson & Johnson reminds us, it’s really just a marketing tactic.

Someone’s Hungry.

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I’m on a cleanse. A surprisingly stringent clean-eating detox from sugar, caffeine, gluten, and a bunch of other delicious things. Today is day four. Things look grim. Sentences are short.

The Why: reconnected with old high-school friend who’s a consultant for the company that makes the detox products, facebook post called for bootcamp recruits, I was feeling pudgy. An email and a phone call later I found myself looking optimistically at thirty days without coffee, bread, sugar, most fruit, and a commitment to eat only organic produce and grass-fed meat. It’s January, after all; the parties season is over and I bore quickly. As noted, I’ve thickened a bit over the holidays and have been feeling rather sludgy. Why not take on a complete lifestyle change I know nothing about? My main concern was having to clean my blender so frequently.

Right now my main concern is not emptying the half-gallon bucket of organic almonds I’m cradling like a newborn directly into my mouth with the aid of a shovel and a mallet. My next greatest concern is that I can’t put off my second trip to Trader Joe’s any longer. I am the only person I know who loathes the Trader Joe experience, and would like to sit down with Trader Joe, cousin Trader Giotto, brother-in law Trader Jose and third cousin once removed Trader Ming, and make them justify the layout of their space, which gives the impression that Rodney Dangerfield raced through the store in a naked, meth-induced rage while strewing about the contents of three enormous duffel bags.

The produce section’s open floor plan translates into shopping cart traffic chaos, but you’re still safer there than if you’re stuck in bumper to bumper cart traffic within “the grid.” Two and a half actual aisles constructed out of various shelving materials, wood planks, metal woven baskets, wooden barrels and wicker containers aplenty offer the most nerve-wracking, cart-inching, categorically confusing dry goods shopping experience possible. Organic dark-chocolate-covered boysenberries wink ironically at their neighboring bags of quinoa and flax, and an open freezer counter casts a pallid and not at all tempting glow from beneath. I almost lost my handbag, so to speak, when I finally reached the four-foot wide designated rice shelf, and found they were out of brown rice. It’s enough that I’m expected to wash it, I don’t need the main carb of my daily plate (YES, PLATE) to be difficult to obtain. I’ll see you in hell, eventually, Trader Joe, but for now I’ll see you next week.

The daily plan involves a shake and some tea for breakfast, then either the same shake or a meal for lunch. Here’s the catch. “Meal” doesn’t mean a nice grilled tomato, bacon and cheese with some Cape Cod chips, or a small spread of muenster cheese, pepperoni, club crackers, pickles and grapes. No, “meal” means that half of the plate’s real estate is flat-out lost to non-starchy vegetables. A quarter of the plate should be a fist-sized portion of lean protein, which gives you an idea of the plate size we’re dealing with from the start. The last quarter of the plate is 2/3 high-fiber carbs and low-glycemic fruits, and 1/3 healthy fats. So much fun that I opt for the lunch shake and a bonus handful of almonds. What’s that sound? Pay no attention, it’s just my fury. I can’t seem to overcome a block involving the allowed grains, so I’ve been going full-fruit (rather, full-green apple) on that section. Healthy fats really just means nuts, so I’ve been getting by for the first few days with the following salad, accompanied of course, by my meat fist, as my sole solid meal.

The Healthiest Salad I’ve Ever Eaten

All organic:
One substantial handful of spring mix
1 diced green apple (organic green apples are tiny)
1 small of handful almonds, cut in half
1 small handful of diced veggie mix (carrots, peppers, radishes, cabbage, jicama, broccoli)
1 to 2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 to 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper

Mix the greens together with the salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil until all leaves are coated. Add other ingredients and toss. Appreciate that this is only for thirty days, and that this particular lack of enthusiasm is the feeling of getting a little healthier. Enjoy!

Aside from my irritability and general snark toward the diet part, I’m keeping with it because I’ve noticed a significant change in my energy-level, and I’ve already lost a pound, not surprisingly. I’m blessed and cursed with an innate one-day-at-a-time outlook, so I’m always aware that tomorrow may find me in my van, parked outside Market Basket, with half a dozen of their store-baked blueberry muffins and a carton of buttermilk.

Wouldn’t you like to go to bed so that Mama can eat out of the pan?

Plated-Only-for-Show Apple Crisp

Day three of Mr. P’s absence finds a bleak Peña household, indeed. I hide in the office for a few stolen puffs off my unnecessarily long cigarette, and count eighty minutes until the first round of bedding, and one hundred forty until the last. Someone wearing sneakers and underpants is stomping on something metallic, and someone else is whimpering, but not out of pain. I don’t wonder why. Because in one hundred forty minutes, I will covertly prepare my second apple crisp of the season, and then I will eat the entire thing. Last week I found the best apple crisp recipe ever — I’d stake my life on it — and my glee is only barely dampened by the awareness that a third of my existence has passed without its weekly consumption. The “crisp” is like the perfect oatmeal cookie: virtually no chew, caramel undertones, and just enough salt if made with salted butter. I used Cortlands for my first pass, but opted this time for Grannies, as the Cortlands shrunk so much I wound up with more crisp than apple. I expect, however, the good green lady will stand up loudly and proudly.

One of the hardest things to do when my charming husband is away is grocery shopping. Since Mr. P usually gets home from work around 7, I make two dinners on the nights I can face it. The first happens at 5:00 and has several minimally-seasoned components, never touching each other, and no more than one is cooked. The second dinner is the kind of food real people eat, and if the brood is still awake they sit with us and look suspiciously at their auxiliary meal. But after meeting the needs of three all day long, I’m happy to opt out of real-person classification if it means I can call it a night. So today, instead of getting food from which I could make myself a real-person dinner, in my solitude I bought a bag of Granny Smiths, a brick of Muenster, and a shrimp cocktail ring. The second and third items will be my appetizers while I wait out the half hour of baking time for my dinner of delicious shame.

Since I’m admitting to my gluttony, I’ll take a moment to justify it with a list of things that have triggered tantrums or breakdowns over the last thirteen hours. Getting dressed X3. Putting on shoes X6. Not being “the picker” during TV time X∞. Not being allowed to wear Halloween costume to bed X3. Being out of cinnamon bread and having to make due with strawberry waffles X2. Having Band-Aid party discovered and ended X3. Crayon issues X4. One-offs include having to get out of the bath, denial of shirt removal in public, denial of pants removal in public, and the cat not being in the mood for pets. I’ve only raised my voice twice so far, which is twice more than I’d like, but I’m going to take a B+ for the day. Academically, that grade would drive a dagger into my heart. But in the world of best-intentions parenting, I can sleep at night with anything above a C.

Dear Someone: Support her union, not her bosom.

Dear Someone,

I recently received an invitation to the wedding of an acquaintance, and saw that the bride was registered at Walmart. I went online, and was shocked to find that the items on her registry included four standard bras. Even though she also picked out a sexy negligee, something sort of appropriate for a wedding night, the bras are what I can’t get past. Is there any kind of rule about what is appropriate to ask for in one’s wedding registry? If a couple already has everything they need for their house, do they have free rein to use their registry for whatever items they happen to be out of? Or is this just the kind of behavior I should expect from someone who registers at Walmart?

–Registering Distaste

Dear Registering,

Oh, there are rules, all right. They just aren’t usually followed when it comes to the 21st century American wedding. First and foremost, a bride never communicates anything about her registry. Because asking others for presents is inherently distasteful, it is left to a close friend or relative to inform only those guests who ask. It should not be noted on the wedding invitation, just as requests for “substitute gifts,” such as donations to charities, envelopes full of cash, or contributions to any sort of down payment are spectacularly inappropriate.

The original purpose of the wedding registry (aside from department stores locking in guaranteed sales) was to set up a newly married couple with the basics they’d need for their new home, since they presumably hadn’t yet left their parents’ house or bought a single spatula. The registry ensured that the new couple would wind up with a full or at least partial set of matching dishes and cutlery, enough towels to take a few showers between loads of laundry, and, as the saying goes in my family, a pot to piss in. Bedding, bath decor and other general housewares are acceptable items; Play Stations and ATVs are not.

As to underwear, I find the inclusion of bras on one’s wedding registry not only inappropriate, but downright unsettling. I hope the groom-to-be has a chance to peruse the wish list, lest he unknowingly marry a woman who’s completely comfortable broadcasting the specifications of her undergarments to the general public. As to the couple’s choice of retailer, I can understand the desire to ease the financial burden for guests, but one really shouldn’t settle any lower than Target.

–Someone

Dear Someone: A Room of Her Own (if you’re not careful)

Dear Someone,

What to do? I just moved into a new neighborhood with my husband and new baby. The neighbors are all really nice and my next door neighbor especially, who helps me out a lot without me ever asking. I appreciate her help, and she gets along great with my daughter. She’s older and her husband died two years ago. I know she is lonely, and I would like to be able to be company for her. But there is a problem. She comes over to my house the same time every afternoon and before anything she says she just has to run to the bathroom. She spends 15 to 20 minutes in there, and afterwards I can’t go in for an hour. I feel bad thinking that she comes to my house mostly to use my bathroom. But since she lives next door, can’t she use hers and then visit me? It happens at the same time every day, and I feel like she must know that her body has a, um, schedule. It’s not like she has to go often so I don’t think it’s a health problem. I really don’t know if I can even bring it up it’s so embarrassing. I could let go of it if I didn’t have to plunge sometimes.

–Holding My Breath

Dear Holding,

First, let me offer my heartfelt sympathy. Nothing makes me want to put my house on the market like discovering unexpected bathmosphere. I gather from your letter that you’re pathologically diplomatic, which is wonderful for everyone who doesn’t happen to be you. The most important order of business is for you to become a person who can head off this sort of thing at the first instance. This can be achieved through therapy, membership to a firing range or ladies’ fight club, or a number of other ways. Cultivating the ability to deflect crap will enable you to avoid anything like this happening to you in the future. Meanwhile, however, you must address the odor of the day, but not necessarily directly.* You are dealing with a dangerous kind of neighbor: the coveter. My guess is that your house is the more attractive of the two, and she’s pretending to live in it for a while each day under the guise of friendship and help. She seeks out the only appropriate solitary space, and marks it as hers in the most offensive manner.

It strikes me that the easiest way to end your “friend’s” daily insult to your bathroom is to make the space as unappealing to occupy as possible. The most obvious route is to just stop cleaning it. There are, of course, more creative approaches; you could adopt the repulsive “if it’s yellow…” rule, for instance. Or you could start toilet training your baby impractically early and time sessions with your neighbor’s bodily clock. If you don’t care at all about seeing her again, you could do something unspeakably horrifying, such as emptying a can of wet cat food into the commode right before she shows up, or filling up the sink with water in which you soak dry beans. Beware, such tactics require complete mastery of the straight face. However passively and/or aggressively you choose to handle the situation, I beseech you to act now, as I can’t even bear to experience bathmosphere vicariously.

–Someone

*Most male readers will find the impossibility of issuing a direct verbal request about this ridiculous, but any woman who’s worked in an office building has inevitably participated in or witnessed the anonymous bathroom stall waiting game. For the most part, we pretend that we do not use the bathroom. The more fortunate of us actually don’t.

Thank heavens I was drunk.

Chicken and Rice Beware

I was overjoyed to find that BJ’s stocks wine glasses this morning, saving me a separate trip with the Sisters Sledge. Two trips, actually, since the smallest quantity available was twelve, and half the box is now in my basement. It’s difficult to judge an item’s size in a warehouse club, and upon unpacking the first half dozen, I realized that I could fit both my fists in the cup area of a glass. Perhaps it should have been obvious that the majority of people who pick up twelve wine glasses with their pallet of paper towel would prefer them to hold as much as possible, but these come close to novelty scale. I’m not much of wine drinker myself, yet the chalices are so impressive that I’ve got one filled up right now with Riesling. It doesn’t seem that the meniscus has budged over the last half hour, though the children have become much more bearable and the overhead lights are really beginning to grate.

Braced with enough of a buzz to risk a failure in the kitchen, this evening I took on a recipe for Chicken and Rice Casserole that I’ve been considering for the past year, but that’s always struck me as a little too weird. Mrs. Peña becomes dangerously fearless, however, with a little of the grape coursing through her veins, so even as the aroma of garlic wafting from the oven carries a little too much char for my taste, I’m not worried. An entire large pizza is rather appetizing right now, anyway.

Oh, Simply Recipes. Although I knew this day would come, the smack across my face still brings tears to my eyes. Why would you subject rice to such treatment? If aiming for a consistency between aspic and tapioca, one usually turns to cornstarch instead. And why would you do that to garlic? Eating this is like kissing a man who just ate scampi and chased it with a shot of foot. And where, for the love of all things holy, is that cloying sweetness coming from? I re-sampled my sour cream to verify that it hadn’t gone off, but now I wish I just assumed it had, since the alternative is that this tastes good to someone.

My grandmother had a way of writing someone off that sent shivers down the spines of those who witnessed her ruling. While I’m not adequately furious with Simply Recipes to “leave them to God,” another culinary fiasco on their heads and I might have to become a Catholic.

The harsh light of this particular morning finds me doubtful that this casserole merits such scathing criticism as above. More likely, my gripe tank couldn’t withstand the pressure of one more minor disappointment and, as it burst, spewed forth the rantings of a tipsy perfectionist. Further, Mr. P enjoyed two servings as I withheld my commentary, having eaten earlier, and his verdict was an enthusiastic “delicious!” Keep in mind, though, that I married a smart man.

There may be alternate realities, but I can’t see why I should care.

My approach to life is “prepare for the worst, hope for the best,” an outlook I like to think of as pragmatism rather than pessimism. There are definite pros to going through life with your psyche braced in the crash position but still singing show tunes, and while I’m often mortified, I’m rarely shocked. Since I’m constantly running horrible hypothetical situations in my brain’s background, when bad things actually happen, instead of panic, I experience more of an annoyed, “well, here we are then” resolve. Blood has little effect on me, even the sight of my own or my children’s, but there’s one sound that momentarily paralyzes and punches me with a wave of nausea. I imagine the sound of a child’s head hitting a hard surface is, for me, the emotional equivalent of someone with testes taking a blow to the groin.

I use to love trips with the kids to the grocery store, but I fear I’ll never again enter the market with anything other than dread and hypervigilance. Traveling lighter than usual with just the girls, I didn’t think twice about putting both of them in a regular cart since no two-seaters or buggies were available. Linda is the default strap-in, with her impressive and perfectly lady-like upper body strength, so she rode up front while Sally enjoyed the roomy “back seat.” Always the alert mother, I corrected Sally each of the countless times she started to stand up, gently tugging on her hood to sit her back down. That is, until I carefully positioned the last item in the her food nest, at which point she grabbed the edge of the cart with both hands, hoisted herself over two gallons of milk and did a full flip before landing on her head and back like the sack of potatoes Linda was chewing through while cradling like a baby.

Several workers responded immediately to my “OHMYGOD!” followed by Sally’s wails, and all three became slightly unhinged upon learning of the accident. My gracious decline of their offer to call for an ambulance and calm demeanor while I comforted her unsettled them further, even though she stopped crying after about a minute. I gently checked for lumps, redness, and dents, found none, and thanked them for their concern as we proceeded to checkout, Sally now being carried and immensely happy about it.

Once we finished our errands, picked up Billy the Kid from preschool, and unpacked the groceries back home, the inevitable nausea I’d stifled for the sake of appearances caught up with me, and I started off the afternoon with a wonderfully empty stomach. It occurred to me to call the doctor and see if they’d like me to bring her in, but then I remembered that I’m her mother and know when my children are absolutely fine. In fact, she began walking on her own for the first time several hours after the incident and put away a half dozen fish sticks for dinner.

I appreciate how fortunate we were today, but I’ll sleep just fine tonight in spite of the scare. While an optimist might stay awake after the fact, tormenting themselves by reliving the incident and imaging all those dreadful what-could-have-happened’s, I’ve efficiently gotten my self-inflicted mental anguish out of the way ahead of time, and the inevitable occurrence was much less horrific than my imagination’s various outcomes. I really can’t say enough about the magnificence of planning ahead.

I hear it’s fantastic, if you’re into that sort of thing.

The Best Vegetarian Chili I Never Tasted

I love a challenge. I hosted a baby shower for the radiant and ever-gracious Jess D last Sunday, and it was a rare occasion to find more vegetarians and vegans on the guest list than otherwise. Regretfully, I may have harbored a tinge of culinary resentment toward the sans-meat crowd back when I had endless, uninterrupted prep time before parties to spend on crown roasts, sushi, and various fowl. But now that I average two diaper changes while waiting for my morning coffee to percolate, I’m grateful whenever the time-consuming task of meat preparation is rendered null.

Obviously, my tried and true Vegetarian Appeasement made the spread, but I needed one more vegetarian entree, having been physically unable to hold back from applying the bacon topping to You Ain’t Leavin’ Mac & Cheese. Somehow, I was able to locate the recipe for a meatless chili I made six Labor Days ago, combing through search results on Epicurious until I found one with a familiar, ridiculously long list of ingredients.

‘Vores of all walks claimed to enjoy the chili, but one should never take guests’ compliments as honest criticism. I’ll admit that I don’t eat chili of any kind, ever, so I had no idea what was going on in those bowls. However, Mr. P revisited the leftovers twice, legitimizing it as an official victory.

I find it inordinately satisfying to approach meals I prepare and events I host as competitions with myself. None of my children put up a fair fight at anything other than Candy Land, and I no longer work in an office environment (where competitive baking is always encouraged), so I have no choice but to set my own bar progressively higher in order to routinely best past selves. A disconcerting side effect of my approach to staying sharp has been my inner monologue’s shift to a dialogue, with definite manager and underling roles.

In addition to barking orders at my underling and maintaining a high level of hustle in the kitchen, my manager enforces our unnecessarily rigorous weekly schedule, ensures everyone is dressed and fed by eight, and gets us all strapped in the car and on our way by nine. My underling wonders if my manager has been overbooking us lately, but the former doesn’t get a say. Fortunately for my underling, my manager (who’s also in charge of menu planning) is a voracious carnivore, and while this chili is now a standard in our vegetarian repertoire, we’re still not eating it.

Product Review! Dole Apple Cinnamon Fruit Crisp: it’s what’s for meal.


I try to play my part in the hilarious global production of Let’s Pretend There’s Time to Fix It, and generally abstain from prepackaged fruit cups for the little ones, instead buying my mandarin oranges and pears by the large tin, then transferring them to plastic containers once opened. Our membership to BJ’s, however, thwarts my efforts on a monthly basis.

If you belong to a warehouse club, you’re aware of the fruit and vegetable aisle (not to be confused with produce), where subtle halos beam from behind hundreds of neatly stacked boxes of every kind of fruit cocktail imaginable. I’ve steeled myself against the snack-pack aisle, but every now and then the left side of that fruit aisle (I ignore the vegetables on the right) calls to me as I try to pass it, like a siren, with whispers of “hey, your kid will absolutely eat this!”

Sometime within the last six months, I fell for the pleasantly packaged, health-ish Dole Fruit Crisp Apple Cinnamon cups, and it turns out that, no, they absolutely will not eat this. Their refusal is for the best, as these little sugar bombs have virtually no nutritional value, aside from the circumstantial fiber present in the “all natural fruit.” You can imagine my growing resentment of eleven oddly shaped containers taking up real estate in my pantry, and several days ago I could no longer stand it. I can’t throw away unspoiled food, and the easiest way to get rid of them would be to just eat them myself. The thirty seconds I spent waiting for my first “apples” to warm were not hopeful ones, and I assumed I’d toss the remaining ten cups into the food drive bin after one bite.

I’m currently down to two cups, with an emergency trip to BJ’s slated for tomorrow afternoon to pick up some more. While the apple adhesive is similar to that in the filling of a Table Talk pie, the apple chunks maintain an admirable level of bite-resistance. The “crispy, crumbly topping” pairs well with the sugary syrup by distracting from its own sweetness with a hefty smack of salt.

The product’s biggest selling point, at least to caretakers of small children, is how impressively quickly you can consume it. Twenty-eight seconds in my microwave yields the perfect temperature, just shy of scalding, and the cup is small enough to hold behind my back as I side-step one or more suspicious toddlers, dart into my office, throw a chair under the doorknob, and pretend to be shuffling through papers out of sight while scarfing down 160 calories of “lunch” in about ninety seconds. I don’t encourage such dietary habits in general, but until my wards stop literally stealing my breakfast, I have to eat on the sly or wait for reinforcements to arrive for dinner.

All in all, a positive rating from the moms-who-should-eat-better-but-don’t demographic. This product should be kept away from children after 4PM to avoid a Gremlins-eating-after-midnight effect, and anyone who takes pride in a healthy lifestyle should probably steer clear as well. That wouldn’t be me, what with my trinity of addictions (nicotine, caffeine, and aspartame). Although I give my gym’s treadmills a good what-for several days a week, it’s really more for bottled-rage management than fitness, as well as the free childcare (thank you, once again, Mr. and Mrs. S!).

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