Monday, October 14, 2019

Dessert Not Optional

October 14th is National Dessert Day, which is as good a reason as any to whip up something sweet and extravagant to enjoy after dinner tonight.  As if we need an excuse!  It also reminds me of just how different things used to be ... back in the day.

When I was growing up, dessert was a given, it was part of the meal.  We never ended the evening's repast without a little touch of something sweet to finish up the dinner hour.

It didn't have to be anything big and fancy, in fact most of the time, it definitely wasn't.  Most nights it would be just a piece of fresh fruit, a cookie, or a wedge of cheese, cottage cheese or cream cheese topped with jelly.  Sometimes it would simply be a cup of after-dinner coffee or tea, enjoyed with a spoonful of honey, to wrap up the meal.

Some sweets were even considered beneficial in aiding digestion, such as an after-dinner sweet wine like port or sherry, anisette or a cream liqueur, or the immensely popular "Digestives" cookies which happen to be the best-selling biscuit in the UK.

In an age where people are always trying to cut back ... cut back on calories, cut back on sugar, cut back on carbohydrates ... well, to be blunt, it sometimes feels like people are just cutting back on life!  It is easy to forget that we used to live quite differently only a few short decades ago.

It must be hard for some folks to imagine, and maybe others just don't even really remember, but it was a different way of life back then.

When I think back to my childhood, there were certain mealtime rituals.  In my own home, if we didn't have a loaf of bread on the table, it would be my job to make a stack of toast which would sit next to my Dad's place at the table.  He liked having bread with his dinner.  These days, many of us wouldn't dream of having bread with our meals ... all those extra carbs!  Unless we're indulging in the occasional complimentary bread basket at a restaurant (and feeling guilty about it later), or enjoying someone's homemade dinner rolls at a special Holiday meal, many of us forgo bread entirely.

Bread is an extra, it's optional.  It's usually not a necessary component of the dinner plate, unless you're having a sandwich or an opulent spaghetti night complete with garlic bread.  But back in "the good old days," dinner rolls or other kinds of bread were absolutely de rigueur on the dinner table.

Many of my friends grew up having a glass of milk with their meals, as well.  And most of the time it would be whole milk, too, as low-fat and even the skim variety weren't particularly popular or even heard of back then.  However, since we were still very much living in the post-World War II space age days of tang and spam, it could require whipping up a batch of frothy instant powdered milk in a big glass pitcher, instead.  That milk powder had a particular flavor that was always recognizable, and it was also amusingly foamy ... at least to us kids!

Other families would make a pitcher of sweetened iced tea to go with their meal.  It was a must on the table.  But I wonder how many people still do that today?  These days, we have water with our meals (it's part of our gallon of water a day, after all).  Once again, unless we're at a restaurant where we have a choice of beverages available, water is the way to go.

Besides bread, milk and iced tea, dessert was also a necessary component of the meal.  It might only have been jell-o (there's always room for jell-o), or pudding, or a small bowl of ice cream, but dinner was just not complete without dessert.

I think that's the reason why so many people reach for something sweet in the evening just before bedtime.  It's not unusual to crave that dessert we didn't get after dinner before going to bed.  I think there is still an innate craving for something sweet to end the day.

In fact, the theory behind the whole art of cooking is about balancing the 5 flavors: sweet, bitter, salty, sour and umami.  If one of them is missing from our meal, it could possibly explain these after-dinner cravings.

So, on National Dessert Day, I think it's a good idea to pay homage to the time-honored tradition of dessert.  You can make something yourself, or pick something up at a bakery on the way home from work.  You may decide to eat out and order something from the dessert menu, instead of ignoring it like you usually do (admit it).  It's a good day to enjoy something decadent that you wouldn't ordinarily have, free from guilt.

We certainly do live in different times now than we did in the past, for better or for worse.  On the one hand, it certainly makes sense to cut back on sweets and carbohydrates, as we know more about nutrition and healthy living.  On the other hand, we are denying one of the 5 flavors we crave as humans, or trying to fool it with fake sweeteners.

Our predecessors seemed to know that the key to living life well lay in moderation, and that all options were always open. We seem to have lost that today in a world where we're cutting back on everything and leave some food groups off the table completely: no sugar, no carbs, no gluten, no fats, no fried foods, no meat or animal products, no processed foods, and certainly no desserts.

Is that truly the best way to live?

On National Dessert Day, I hope you will think about adding a touch of sweetness and joy back into your life!  Bon app├ętit!!


Enjoy previous seasonal blog posts:

Spine-Chilling Reads
Some good, scary books to curl up with on fright-night! 
Tea Superstitions
Double, double, toil and trouble ... Fire burn, and cauldron bubble ...
Happy Halloween 
Making the holiday fun.
Halloween Traditions
From pumpkin carving to hot apple cider, family traditions make holidays memorable!
Recipes for the Season
Update your repertoire with some new recipes for Fall!
Bucket List for Fall
Taking advantage of everything fall has to offer!
Back to the Farm
Fall is the time to head to the farm to pick pumpkins, visit the animals, go on a hayride, and sip hot cocoa by a bonfire.
October Planning
Time to make lists ... menus, recipes, family reunions, Christmas cards, Christmas gifts, parties, special events, carving time on the calendar.
Fall Has Arrived
And we've got apples!
Brandied Fruit 
Time to put up your Brandied Fruit to marinate and mellow in time for the Holidays.
15 Minutes of Fame
Just a mention is thrilling, but being included in this company is the real claim to fame!
Apple-Pickin' Time!
With so many apple varieties to choose from, what kind of apple is best for baking?
Harvest Time
There's nothing quite as satisfying as growing your own food.
We're Jammin'
When the harvest is bountiful ...
Pumpkin Pie
Have you ever made a pie from fresh pumpkin instead of canned?  Do it!  It's not difficult and so worth it!
A Different Kind of Thanksgiving
Just can't stay out of the kitchen on Thanksgiving!
It's Baking Season!
On your marks,
get set ...
A Cabin in the Woods
Getting away from it all is a tradition worth keeping.
Counting our blessings ... may they always be plentiful and abundant.
Taking Care of Holiday Guests
Breakfast burritos can make you a winning host!
Our Latest Obsession:
Olive Oil ... once you find your favorite, nothing else will do!
Heirloom tomatoes ... the ugly ducklings / beautiful swans of tomatoes.
Wine Poached Pears
Perfect for fall, perfect for dessert, perfect on a cheese board, perfect in a gallette!
A Rustic Tart for Fall
A free-form tart or galette with layered wine-poached pears is a perfect dessert for fall.
Pear Tart, Part Deux 
There's a time for rustic, and a time for elegant.
Family Heritage Tour
A trip back to the old country in search of the abuelos.
A Difficult Anniversary
A few years ago we lost our Mom.  It feels like it was just yesterday.  The anniversary of a great loss is always hard
It's All About Family
Giving thanks and honoring those who came before.
My Boy
A tribute to Max.
Bless the Beasts
Spreading goodwill upon the creatures we share this earth with ...
Top Chef - Colorado
A celebrity in the family!
A 2-Page Spread for Thanksgiving
Some of our sweetest moments ...
The Icing on the Cake
Does a bakery really need to make frosted layer cakes?
What's Your Favorite Cake?
If only I could pick just one!
In Honor of Veterans Day
The suicide rate among our Veterans is sky high.  We can do something about that.
Baking Cakes
Basic baking tips for beautiful layer cakes.
Of Natural Disasters and Charity
A humbling reminder that nature is in charge, despite our best-laid plans.
Healing Warriors Program, gives away a state-of-the-art electric wheelchair!
Congrats, HWP!
Healing Warriors Program received a huge honor, and we were invited to the Pentagon to see it!
Donate if you can!
Healing Warriors Program,
my sister's nonprofit, does very important work for our service members' complete health and wellbeing.

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