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Thursday, September 13, 2018

Major Fork in the Road to the Sugar Shack

Today I went to my doctor's office for routine bloodwork. I got a little lost on the way home from Glen Ridge [yes, even though it’s the next town over] and ended up on the border of Montclair near Nicolo’s Italian Bakery & Deli [since 1967], known for the best Italian bread around. I hadn’t been there in years.

Major fork in my road to sweets and back: I didn’t get the crumb cake, though big trays of it were positioned right at eye level. I took the right turn. I’ve eaten lots of crumb cake in my day, from the Entenmann’s ones Granny [Alice] got us to the tender, chocolate-dappled squares the bagel shop in Montclair used to sell--so deluxe.

I want to remember the revelation today. It occurred to me, as I drove away, that I don’t need to have decadent treats on an everyday basis--or just because I see one, or feel like it. I thought of one of Michael Pollan’s famous food rules: "Don’t eat anything your great-great-great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food." He means things like Twinkies and margarine, but let’s just throw fancy, sugar-laden baked goods into the mix, too.

And then I thought of the Harvard professor I interviewed years ago for a nutrition article in Scholastic Parent & Child Magazine. He said 1. That ideally, adults should be at their high school weight [!!] and 2. That we don’t need to keep ice cream in the house. If your child wants some, on a special occasion, go buy her a cone or cup. Hence, I don't need a treat like crumb cake just because it presents itself right after a doctor visit, either.

I wish I could ask my parents about my great-great-great grandmothers, but that would have been Mom and Dad’s great-great-grandmothers--not sure how much was known about them.

As for my grandmothers, they didn’t grow up with luxuries--one in Italy, one in NYC, and sadly, in an orphanage for years after her mother died. Her crumb cake gifting period came much later. If anything, I might be genetically programmed to make up for any possible deprivation my grandmothers suffered at the table.

And though, as a baker and food writer and sugar lover, I have made and tasted many tender pale yellow cake layers, crowned with the best, most buttery, cinnamon-flecked crumbs, that did not mandate that I get a square today. Even if, just by looking, I could tell it was a good one--that the base would taste like butter, not notes of shortening or margarine, and that the generous cascade of crumbs would be sweet and rich.

I had fasted for the bloodwork, so was hungry. I got the frittata, but instead of being baked, it was eggs that had been scrambled stovetop with a lot of mushrooms and spinach. I got a semolina loaf to bring home and ate the end of it. I poured myself a cup of coffee from the glass pot in the store.
And bought:
  • Frozen manicotti to bake tomorrow for Dan’s bday. [It’s today, but he has to go to D.C. on train for work, returning after 1 a.m.] He loves homemade manicott--his mom, our friend Elaine and I have made it from scratch, crepes and all, but our family/work schedule is too busy this week.
  • A quart of sauce w meatballs and sausage, for Punch and me tonite and tomorrow.
  • Fried whole peppers, one of the few vegan things I could find for Figgy. They look good, a little charred, etc.
  • Escarole w crumb topping for bday dinner tomorrow.
  • For Dan bday breakfast just now, a spinach-cheese-egg "muffin"--no flour. I want to learn to make these. I know Sis has.
I have to get to work. Enjoy your day.


  1. There’s a big thrift store nearby that I go to, but ebay is my usual spot. It would be better if I didn’t shop much at all, but I did realize that some of my shopping was emotional/ habitual, so I’m happy to have countered some of that.

  2. Oops. Also interesting those two pieces of advice about food. Peter’s need for low sodium and to cut his sugar has resulted in much better habits around here. But we both have a sweets thing and I also am an emotional eater. Much further to go on this! Happy Friday!