SUNDAY: I should have known from my husband’s body language that he was up to something. He was strutting the way he does when he carries his tool chest en route to a household emergency or when he goes fishing and comes back with a string of slippery, scaly, deadeyed creatures. It’s that male/hunter/world-dominator look.
“Look at this,” he said, pointing to the grocery cart. “I got a cherry pie. Doesn’t it look great?”
A cherry pie.
Now, you might think this is something perfectly harmless — or even, thoughtful. Ha.
But that would be ignoring a few facts: 1) I’d just told my husband I’d gained six pounds I needed to lose immediately and was contemplating becoming a vegetarian or vegan or something more extreme, if necessary; 2) cherry pie is one of those foods — like gleaming, molten-fat pints of Ben & Jerry’s or Haagen Dazs — that I can’t resist; if they’re in the house, I eat them (I have a very complicated emotional relationship with sweets); and 3) he was about to go out of town for several days, leaving me alone with the cherry pie. This is what we in the relationship business call passive-aggressive behavior. Except my husband’s not usually passive-aggressive. That’s my role. He’s usually aggressive-aggressive.
“Don’t worry,” he said later. We were eating dessert in front of the TV. He was eating his damned, succulent cherry pie and I was eating a pile of hyper-expensive fresh cherries from Chile, trying adopt a prim, pristine vegan attitude and pretend fruit is every bit as delicious as a fruit pie with latticed pastry and sugar on top. I should have gotten an Oscar for my role. Yum! Fresh fruit!
“Don’t worry,” he repeated. “I’ll take the rest of the pie to work tomorrow.”
“Fine,” I said sulkily, spitting out a pit and thinking how cherry pies didn’t even have pits.
MONDAY: The pie (or 11/12ths of it) was still sitting in our kitchen. My husband had forgotten to drop it by his office.
I stared at the pie and the pie stared back. I decided it was a test of my willpower. What was I, a total loser? No, I was already practically a vegetarian, a healthy liver.
I steamed a massive amount of spinach, then added boursin cheese to it — a very creative, Continental touch, I thought. What was I supposed to eat every day? Four helpings of vegetables? Five? This spinach would satisfy my daily vegetable allowance all in one fell swoop.
TUESDAY: “Sorry I forgot the pie,” my husband emailed. “Why don’t you put it in the freezer?”
I could barely get to my computer to read the email. I was suffering from spinach overdose — something vegetarians never warn you about. Maybe, I thought, I was secretly allergic to vegetables.
Every time I looked at the pie, it reminded me that I never wanted to eat anything again, ever. Since I dislike being ordered around, I put the cherry pie in the refrigerator.
WEDNESDAY: I had lunch with my friend, Lynn. She ordered peach cobbler a la mode with two spoons. I ate it out of solidarity and also because I was still in recovery from my spinach overdose.
THURSDAY: I shelved my vegan plans. What had I been thinking? Vegans don’t eat milk or cheese. Cheese is my life.
FRIDAY: Oh, and that vegetarian idea? Forget that one, too.
SATURDAY: Going through the refrigerator, I noticed the pie. Frankly, it hadn’t aged well; it looked a bit discolored and gelatinous. But there it was — all 11/12ths of it, waiting for my husband’s imminent arrival. I slammed the refrigerator door, feeling victorious. The pie and I had gone mano a mano. Guess who blinked.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Two years ago I decided to abstain from desserts and sugared snacks as a Lenten discipline. Unbeknownst to many in our culture, we Methodists–or at least some of us–practice spiritual disciplines largely considered Catholic.
For years, I had abstained from alcohol for those 40 days, which had the added benefit of an annual test of the extent to which alcohol was important to me, a concern derived from the abundance of alcoholics in both of my ancestral lines. Alas, abstaining from alcohol was simply too easy; it required too little discipline or prayer to be a challenge.
Sweets would be a different matter. Cherry pie is my favorite dessert, although in a dead heat with apple pie. Complicating the challenge of giving up sweets is the reality that my spouse is a TERRIFIC baker and the master of pies. Her cherry pie is my maternal grandmother’s recipe. For my birthday, I don’t want a cake; I want a cherry or apple pie. I once spent most a Wednesday before Thanksgiving on a literally fruitless search of Austin grocery stores for unsweetened, dark pitted cherries.
The proof that the devil will talk to you came on the first day of that Lent. We have staff meetings on Wednesday, and my assistant Laura brought to the meeting my favorite cinnamon rolls from Texas French Bread–hot, yeasty bread rolled in a mix of granulated sugar and cinnamon. The presence of cinnamon in apple pie is what brings it into such close competition with cherry pie.
It was a powerful test, but I managed to resist. Later that morning, as I walked past the white box with remnants of the sweetbreads, I saw there was half a cinnamon roll left. It was calling my name. It was almost lunch, and my first thought was, “If I eat it FOR lunch, it doesn’t count.” Get behind me, Satan!
I mustered the discipline to resist, then, and for the next 40 days. I lost a few pounds and my cholesterol went down. I felt spiritually stronger than my physical desires.
But I sure missed pie and cinnamon rolls.
Lent starts Wednesday, and I’ll again try to avoid sweet desserts and snacks for 40 days. But at least I can have a cold beer.