No, this isn’t a recipe. As I think about it, I suppose there’s some apple cider, some flour, probably some sort of lard…
Not a recipe, just some thoughts.
Apple cider donut cake was the most recent treat to grace our kitchen counter.
Susan, on her maternal side, is a first generation American. Her Ukrainian mother and grandparents emigrated to the states when Susan’s mother was a girl. There’s probably a dozen posts I could write about this topic, but this one is simply about food. In Susan’s family, there’s an old-world approach to baking. Everything from scratch.
Growing up, my suburban, multigeneration-American mom made treats as well. These started in store-bought boxes from Pillsbury and Duncan Hines. But usually, our treats came fully made. Ho Hos and Pop-Tarts and ice cream.
As a result of her upbringing, Susan is a talented and ambitious baker. We try something tasty at a restaurant or a party, or when Susan reads a recipe that sounds interesting, she makes it. My kids have picked up this trait as well. Sophie mixes up a batch of homemade cookies or brownies every week or two, and right now, Eli is going through a candy making phase. Last night he debuted a batch of chocolate truffles with caramel centers.
This never-ending selection of sweet treats easily satisfies the nighttime sugar cravings that began when I gave up alcohol. No wonder I exercise so much, right?
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Susan and I work at a community center in small-town Pennsylvania. The town itself is small, but it supports a sprawling suburb. The close-in population is probably around twenty thousand people, so while not tiny, it’s still a close-knit enough community that people know each other—or at least know of each other. Because our community center has 3500 members, people in town generally know who Susan and I are.
Susan’s persona is the massage therapist, the meditation leader. The crunchy-granola new-ager frequently seen on long fitness walks around our close-by national park. Me? I’m the runner, the cyclist, the hiker. The nature guy, the health nut. Together, we’re lumped into a bucket of clean-living, health-freaks.
Last month, it was my turn to make the soup for Souper Friday. This is a once-per-month work pot-luck. One person brings in soup, one brings in bread, and one brings dessert. And then you get a break because there are about eight of us who participate. I stretched the rules and replaced the soup with chili.
Me: Chili counts as soup, right?
Jeanie: Hmm, let’s see, there’s tomato soup, onion soup, chicken noodle soup. Do we call it chili-soup?
She’s the only one who gave me a hard time.
Kara: Mmmm! Jeff, you made vegetarian chili?
Me: No. Sausage chili.
Kara: What? You don’t even eat meat!
Susan and I get this all the time. There’s an automatic assumption that we don’t eat meat. There’s also surprise when we’re “caught” at the donut display in the grocery store. Or buying Golden Grahams. Or in line at McDonalds. People are even surprised to learn I’m a coffee addict.
About fifteen years ago, I read Fast Food Nation—Eric Schlosser’s book examining the local and global influence of the United States’ fast food industry. There’s plenty of food industry facts in that book to disgust any reasonable person—my brother became a vegetarian after just reading a review of the book. Like my brother, I was shocked by the impact that ‘civilized’ society’s food habits have on the planet. While I wasn’t ready to become a vegetarian, I did wind up giving up beef—primarily based on my concern for the environment and my fear of Mad Cow disease.
But my beef boycott was short-lived. A few years later we moved to rural Pennsylvania. I found that every dinner invitation included beef. Twelve years later, and I’d place a well grilled hamburger near the top of my favorite foods list.
These days, I’m not running much. But last summer, I definitely was. Too much. And at random times I’d find myself without enough calories. This never happened during a run, because I always focus on my diet before a run. No, I’d run out of calories while taking a walk around the block with my family. Or in the grocery store squeezing in a quick shopping trip before lunch. Or waiting to be seated at a restaurant. In runners’ parlance, this is called bonking. When I bonk, I get easily confused. I break into a heavy sweat. I need to sit down.
I’ve found that the best way to combat the bonk is to eat fatty breakfast sausage several times per week. So no, I’m not a vegetarian. I am, however, a teetotaler. I completely abstain from alcohol. But this isn’t a nod to clean living, it’s an acknowledgement of my propensity for unclean living.
This spring, my lackadaisical running schedule is starting to weigh me down. I’m just not getting enough exercise for nightly treats like homemade brownies and apple cider donut cake. In fact I could probably stand a few more meatless meals each week. And a lot more fresh, raw vegetables. Maybe it’s time for me to change my diet to match the one I’ve already been assigned by everyone else.