This mouthwatering bird is a classic, and every family has their favorite version. Well here’s mine, which is made with just a few ingredients but has served my family and me very well over the years. Follow this recipe for a golden bird with juicy meat and some of the tastiest potatoes you could hope for. Stick with small Yukons — they are the perfect size, and their waxy skins become nice and crunchy.
Simple Roast Chicken and Potatoes
(Makes 6 servings)
- One 4-pound whole chicken, legs tied together
- 1 ½ tablespoons grapeseed oil
- 12 small Yukon gold potatoes (about 6 ounces each), halved
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
Position rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 425°F.
Place chicken on large heavy rimmed baking sheet. Rub ½ tablespoon of oil all over chicken and season with salt and pepper. In medium bowl, toss potatoes with remaining 1 tablespoon oil to coat. Season potatoes with salt and pepper and place them around chicken.
Roast for 55 minutes, or until thickest part of chicken thighs reach 160°F and the juices run clear when pierced and potatoes are tender but crisp on outside. Transfer chicken and potatoes to platter and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Meanwhile, pour pan drippings into small liquid measuring cup. Spoon off fat from drippings, reserving 1 tablespoon of fat. In small heavy saucepan, heat reserved fat over medium-high heat. Whisk in flour. Continue whisking for about 1 minute to cook flour. Whisk in pan drippings, broth, and any juices that have accumulated on platter. Simmer, whisking, for about 2 minutes, or until gravy thickens slightly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve chicken and potatoes immediately with gravy.
Leftover chicken can be stored airtight in the refrigerator for up to two days and used for sandwiches, salads, or soups.
- Calories: 586
- Total Fat: 26 g
- Saturated Fat: 7 g
- Sodium: 273 mg
- Carbohydrate: 56 g
- Fiber: 6 g
- Protein: 35 g
- Diabetic Exchanges: 4 starch, 4 lean meat, 4 fat
This article is featured in the September/October 2020 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
Credit: Photo by Ray Kachatorian. Excerpted from Good Food, Good Life by Curtis Stone. Copyright © 2015 by Curtis Stone. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
THE BLUE LOBSTER
1980 – Harpswell, Maine
John Nelson and I were lobster shopping for our dinner at “Bibbers” out on the point. Bibber called us over to a saltwater tank off by itself, away from the many others churning with ordinary “reds.”
“One in a million,” he said. “No, actually, make that one in every TWO million, accordin’ to the latest survey.”
Indeed! The only lobster at Bibber’s place with its own private condo was a living, gill-fluttering cobalt blue lobster, as rare as a cave painting of Gomorrah’s senior prom date.
“I’ve only had 6 others like this one in my 30 years as a colorful, white-bearded, pipe-smoking New England lobster man,” said Bibber.
“What’s the fate of this old boy?” I asked Bibber.
“First off, it’s a she, not a he. Second, she’s still under 2 pound. Soon as I get her up to somewheres over 3, she’s off to the big city. You’ve heard of New York City? Well, that’s where she’s off to — a place called The Blue Lobster, an exclusive establishment known only to its very select members as ‘The B.L. Club.’”
Bibber went on to explain that he and only one other lobster merchant on the East Coast supply The B.L. Club with “blues.” Why? According to Bibber, “most other merchants are either unknowing of such a place or they’re too short-sighted or wrapped up in their work to bother separating the rare blues from their regular catch. Even if they knew about the money involved, why bother with solitary confinement — or working ‘em up to size — or packin’ ‘em up and havin’ to ship ‘em off special? Most figure that’s just too much trouble for … well, for whatever it’s worth, from a dollar standpoint. Too busy makin’ money to be makin’ even more! Some loony way of thinkin’, huh?”
“So, how much money are we looking at here?” I asked.
“None a’ your bee’s wax, sonny boy,” Bibber replied.
“What sort of place is this Blue Lobster?” Nelson asked. “Is it a zoo, or, like … a museum?”
Bibber smiled. He fired up his pipe and shinnied up onto the edge of the table supporting the blue lobster’s tank. “The Blue Lobster, my friends, is a restaurant. That’s right, it’s a restaurant, and one like no other. But even more so, it’s an elite society, one in which only very, very few people have ever gained tenure.”
“So,” I said, “you go there and you eat a blue lobster! What’s the big deal? They gotta taste the same as red ones, right?”
Nelson shot me a reproving look. “It’s the idea of eating something so rare … isn’t that it Mr. Bibber?” he said.
Bibber shrugged. “You tell me. All I know, is, they been in business near as long as me, they’re rakin’ in the semoles big time, twenty, fifty, maybe a hun’ert times what I bring in workin’ my tookus off year after year.”
“This is crazy,” I said, eyeballing the blue lobster waving at us from between Bibber’s legs. “How much? How much for this baby right here, right now?”
“That depends, sonny. How much you willin’ to pay?”
That shut me up. A moment passed. Bibber vaulted off the table, scooped up a net full of detritus, flakes, algae and a half-eaten hot dog, and dumped it into the blue lobster’s private abode. He moved to another corner of the shop and we followed. After a while, he said, ”The Blue Lobster opens for one night only, usually once or, occasionally, twice a year. There’s a waiting list of 200 names. Most of those folks know they’ll never get called, not in their lifetimes but, nevertheless, just bein’ on the list is considered a real status symbol. And, a’course, bein’ Number 15 carries much more weight than 16, and so forth.”
“Tell us more,” said Nelson, scowling at me to keep my mouth shut.
“As soon as a blue lobster becomes available, the restaurant contacts the lucky duck at the top of the list. That person’s notified that his or her ‘blue’ will be served with all the trimmin’s at 8:00 p.m. on thus-and-such a date. The person writes out a check for the full amount … ”
“How much is it?” Nelson asked politely.
“I’m told it’s gone up as high a hun’ert thou. Yep, that’s the last amount I heard, one hun’ert thousan’ smackaronies. Anyways, that person sends a check to the owner, shows up on the predetermined date and heartily, hungrily devours the most expensive lobster dinner in the universe. I guess for some folks, that’s the ultimate! When you think of it –- one in every two million bugs and only a wee percent of that for the eatin’. Not to mention – the souvenir! Good Golly, those souvenirs alone might be worth twice the cost of that meal in no time at all!”
“What’s the ‘souvenir,’ the guy’s bowel movement?” I said, receiving an elbow in the ribs from Nelson.
“It’s a baby-blue tie-on bib with a blue lobster hand-stitched into it. Linen or silk, somethin’ like that. Talk about your status symbol! They say that all 9 people who’ve eaten there have their bibs mounted on the most prominent walls in their homes … estates … … mansions … wherever. It’s not likely you’ll ever find one in a flea market or tag sale, that’s for darn sure.”
“So, who’s got those bibs?” Nelson asked.
“Oh, let’s see. The very first customer was some wealthy Russian oligarch, the same Roosky what bought Hitler’s 770K Mercedes.”
“Who else?” I asked.
“Uh, hm … Bob Hope, I think. Ivana Trump. Barbra Streisand, she’s one. Oh, and Old Blue Eyes, Frank Sumatra. There’s a man who’d rather die than eat a lobster; and so, as the story goes, he brought his friend Don Rickles along. Rickles ate the lobster and Old Blue Eyes kept the bib.”
Who paid?” I asked.
“Come on — who cares?” barked Nelson.
“Gentlemen, I’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Bibber. “What can I do ya’ for, today?”
FIVE-STAR RESTAURANT REVIEWS
A recently retired TV writer moved to New England where he applied for a job as a freelance journalist at his new hometown’s local newspaper. For his “trial writing assignment,” the job applicant is given this background information on the article he is to present:
–The nationally-acclaimed food critic, Sir Gladstone Wellington, having recently attended four of New England’s so called “five star” restaurants, is scheduled to address the Head Chefs of these establishments with a verbal evaluation of their respective diner gastronomiques. Additionally, our prospective freelance journalist has been informed that the four chefs’ expensive culinary presentations are categorically served “totem-pole” style, that is: virtual pyramids of foods served atop each other and, traditionally crowned with dramatic swirls of finely-pared ribbons of varying flora.
On the day of the scheduled address, the “auditioning” journalist is seated behind the four chefs at a local country club and joins them in applauding the famous Gladstone Wellington as he takes the stage and taps the live microphone. “It’s obvious to me,” Wellington begins, “that each of you takes great pride in the originality — the artistic ingenuity — with which you’ve chosen to present your dinner entrees.” (The chefs smile and wink at the attending journalist, obviously vying for glowing reviews).
“In fact,” Wellington continues, “I noticed that when your servers emerge from your kitchens brandishing these New-England-styled sculptures of food, patrons’ heads swivel around as if watching a fashion show; they gasp and even appear to salivate as each elegant objet d’art is paraded throughout your respective establishments. I even overheard one elderly lady say to her husband, ‘My goodness, Harvey, is that your dinner or Carmen Miranda’s hat?”
The writer begins scribbling in his notepad as Sir Wellington continues speaking. “At this time,” he says, “I’d like those of you who consider these ‘haute style’ ceremonious servings to be the key element of running a successful restaurant, to kindly declare yourselves by raising your hands.”
Four hands shoot straight up while the writer continues note-taking.
“Duly noted,” says Wellington, cupping his chin. “Let me conclude with this observation: I couldn’t help noticing that, once they’ve been served, your patrons, using available utensils, laboriously begin dismantling your ‘creations.’ After scraping those ornate little curlicues to one side, your customers begin rescuing their respective slabs of meat or fish from the potato mattresses into which they’ve been squashed, surgically scraping the potatoes off the undersides of their meats, then proceed salvaging or even attempting to recognize whatever vegetables lay matted like soggy doormats under those potatoes. Finally, after separating the foods on their plates, and having sampled and usually rejected the sauces you’ve much-too-generously splashed on, your diners begin to eat and, as often as not, or shall I say most often, soon come to realize that the quality of the actual food they’ve been served is sub-standard — desiccated beef and fish; shoe-leather slabs of week-old lamb; duck medallions with the consistency of toilet plungers; lobster tails and shrimp tougher than a motorman’s glove. It’s as if one’s gorgeous dance partner at a Masquerade Ball removes his or her mask at the end of the night only to reveal the hideous visage of a shriveled, ancient mummy!”
After a stunned silence, one chef holds his breath until his face takes on the pallor of overly-boiled pot roast; two silently weep tears saltier than reconstituted consommé, and the fourth chef simply wilts like the herbs topping his priciest main courses.
The auditioning writer turns in what he’s written the next day, amusing the editor by renaming the four restaurants — The Gyp Joint, BASTA fazool, Can You Dig It?, & Something’s Fishy, — and clinches a staff job with the title of his article: “Just Desserts.”
Featured image: Shutterstock
“I like to keep it casual, obviously,” she said. “As you can see, it’s a quarter after seven and we don’t have food on the table yet.” My friend Megan was aproned and buzzing around the kitchen while music from the band Beach House’s latest album emanated from a bluetooth speaker nearby. In another room, an enormous charcuterie board kept a crowd of young, stylish dinner guests at bay, as did an impromptu bar covered with bottles of red blend.
I was finally attending one of her supper club nights. A rising star baker and chef at an acclaimed local restaurant, Megan has been experimenting with recipes on her friends at monthly dinner parties around the city for a year or so. This one was a special occasion: a mutual friend’s birthday.
I’ve cooked with and for family and friends in various contexts for decades, but this dinner party was different. It was an event.
In attendance were some friends, friends’ exes, strangers, and acquaintances with whom I have awkward sexual histories. Mostly everyone was young and dressed in impractical, vintage clothing from thrift stores. We were passing time on the balcony, visiting raucously and vaping cannabis, when a friend told me she and her fiancé would need to be awake at 5 a.m. for work and it was already past their normal bedtime. “I would hate to be a dick,” she said, “but if this dinner doesn’t get started soon, I might have to ask if we can take ours to go.”
Of course, that wasn’t going to be an option, but luckily — as though our hostess had intuited the conversation and correspondingly timed the evening for maximum tension — it was time to be seated.
Almost a century ago, in her iconic volume Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home, the authority on how to behave, Emily Post, wrote that “to give a perfect dinner of ceremony is the supreme accomplishment of a hostess!” Much has changed, culturally, since Mrs. Post doled out her indisputable advice for entertaining, but a few things have not: we still enjoy eating dinner and many of us like to do it with company.
Post’s rules for hostesses assumed that anyone who would attempt a dinner party might have at her disposal a butler, chef, secretary, chambermaid, footmen, and valets. She would need engraved invitations, stark white, unblemished table linens, and polished silverware. Her guest list would require a careful balance of new and old money, bombastic socialites and quiet intellectuals.
The dinner party of the early century was a tradition steeped in luxury, a routine for flaunting one’s social and material assets. Some have lamented its demise over the years, mourning the loss of keenly executed gatherings that featured Tiffany silver and sloshed celebrities. (Could it even be the end of conversation as we knew it?) Those kinds of posh events could be a thing of the past. I wouldn’t exactly know, since I’ve never been to one. But dinner parties needn’t be reserved for the rich and famous. After all, the two most important components are food and people, and these can be provided in manners both creative and inspiring without spending a fortune.
At the supper club, Megan’s menu comprised of four courses plated and served to the table of 20 or so guests. This might seem like a cost-prohibitive endeavor, but we each paid 20 dollars to take part. By sharing the cost, we could all dine like aristocrats with millennial wage money. Megan made us roasted Brussels with labneh sauce, tomato risotto, maiale al latte, and candied fennel and carrot cake with browned butter hazelnuts and honey Italian meringue buttercream. Supper club nights give her the chance to try new things in the kitchen.
The difference between dinner and a dinner party, foodwise, isn’t immediately obvious, but the menu should induce excitement in your guests. Emily Post refers to “fancy dishes” that must be served in lieu of “plain food.” To host a successful dinner party, you don’t have to dig through a library of cookbooks and scour your city’s farmers’ markets in an effort to turn your home into a fusion tapas restaurant. But you should bring something to the table that turns heads, whether it’s a spicy slow-braised main course or a gravity-defying dessert. If your guests are bringing food too, don’t let them steal your spotlight.
The other component of a dinner party — people — should also break with your normal dinner routine. If you want to curate an unforgettable evening of stimulating conversation, your guest list should reflect some social diversity. In spite of my proposals to update and democratize the dinner party, the purpose of the event should retain the same spirit as that of Emily Post: to forge socialization and community. Of course, you’ll want to avoid sparking heated political discourse or cramming a too-awkward group into one room, but you also want to breathe fresh air into everyone’s social lives. Finding the perfect balance can be tricky.
Fashioning formal traditions into your gathering can lend it a tone of importance. At the supper club, guests were encouraged to give a toast to the birthday guest of honor in between courses. Though we weren’t especially familiar with public speaking at a party, hearing people command the room with stories and well-wishing gave the dinner an elegant dynamic. If you have a theme, or some other important reason for gathering, use it to engage your guests throughout the dinner. You could even invite some particularly interesting academic or comic to give an after-dinner speech, in which they entertain your crowd with an edifying or humorous presentation while you put finishing touches on the dessert.
The goal of your dinner party should be to provide an atmosphere for fun surprises and novel interactions. Though it might take some hard work and ingenuity, providing good food and company should never require a small loan.
By the end of the supper club, my friends who had earlier groaned about a 5 a.m. wake-up time seemed to forget that they needed to be home at all. I left before the carrot cake was cut (a decision that will haunt me for years to come), but the evening left me inspired and believing that elegance should no longer be confounded with expense.
Featured image: Illustration by M.L. Blumenthal from the April 2, 1927, Post (©SEPS)
American beer has gone through a transformation in the last 30 years. Wherever you are in this country, you’re bound to be about 15 minutes from at least one craft brewery. Everyone and their brother-in-law seem to be brewing small batch IPAs these days, but these are the old-timers who started the trend.
D.L. Geary Brewing Company
Proudly bearing the title “New England’s First Craft Brewery,” Portland, Maine’s Geary Brewing Company got into the craft beer game ahead of the curve. More than 30 years ago, Karen and David Geary began brewing their signature pale ale after David learned brewing techniques with the help of a Scottish nobleman. Today, dozens of breweries make up Portland’s beer scene.
Boston Beer Company
As the story goes, Jim Koch found his great great grandfather’s Boston lager recipe in an attic in the ’80s and started his craft beer empire. Koch’s business acumen skyrocketed the Samuel Adams brand into a household name. The company’s Boston brewery sits in the old Haffenreffer Brewery, an 1870 facility in Jamaica Plain that earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to their classic brewery tour, Boston Beer also offers exclusive tours into the barrel room where patrons can get a closer look at the fermentation and aging processes and try pairings of Belgian-inspired brews with chocolate or barrel-aged beers and cheese.
America’s oldest brewery will be celebrating its bicentennial in ten years. Richard Yuengling, Jr. is the fifth generation of owners to run his namesake brewery in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. They still make the lager and porter that “Eagle Brewery” boasted for their “purity” and “cleanliness” in 1829, when it was sold to local coal miners. When you visit their historic site, you can enjoy a lager in their Rathskeller bar then jaunt down the road to get some Yuengling’s ice cream. It’s the (now unaffiliated) ice cream business that helped D.G. Yuengling & Son survive Prohibition.
The dachshund mascot “Frankie” has graced beer labels and truck sides for this historic Michigan brewery since the 1930s. The Frankenmuth Brewery itself has been around for even longer — since 1862 — situated in the small city of Frankenmuth along the Cass River. “Michigan’s original microbrewery” has had its share of hardships over the decades, from fires to tornados, but they still manage to turn out 36 different styles of beer, many of which have taken home awards at international competitions. When you’ve had your fill of beer, the world’s largest Christmas store is just down the street.
Stevens Point Brewery
Wisconsinites have been enjoying Point Special lager since 1857, and the brewery even served it to troops fighting in the Civil War. It only became available to beer drinkers outside the Badger State in 1990; in 2003, the lager won the gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival. The company prides itself on being Wisconsin-owned again after years of changing hands, and a walking tour of the brewery will afford you a close look at how their brews are made, aged, and packaged.
Minhas Craft Brewery
Though it’s gone by many names — Monroe Brewery, Blumer Brewery, Huber Brewery — the Minhas Craft Brewery, now owned by Canadian siblings Manjit and Ravinder Minhas, has been around since 1845. During Prohibition, the Monroe, Wisconsin facility even made ice cream and Blumer’s Golden Glow Near Beer, a nonalcoholic brew. The offerings at Minhas nowadays might deviate from your typical expectations around craft beer (they make Boxer lager and Axehead malt beverage), but a visit to the historic brewery offers the chance to see a large collection of 19th century brewing machinery and advertisements housed in an on-site museum.
Abita Brewing Company
Beer from this Louisiana brewery can probably be found at a bar near you, since they distribute to almost every state. Abita attributes the clean taste of their beer to the source of the water they use, the artesian wells of Abita Springs. The bayou brewery also makes root beer and cream soda using Louisiana sugar cane. Just a short drive from New Orleans, this small-town stop offers beer lovers a taste of some of the first inventive brews in the south.
August Schell Brewing
August Schell founded his brewery (and his town of New Ulm, Minnesota) in the mid-19th century. The grounds of this historic property feature roaming peafowl, gardens, and a brick and stone mansion, built by Schell in 1885. The brewery has been passed down in Schell’s family since the beginning, and, in 2002, they acquired the beloved Grain Belt Beer.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
See where one of the first — and still among the most acclaimed — American Pale Ales was born. Ken Grossman opened his brewery and first brewed the iconic Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in 1980. Since then, the company has become known for sustainable practices like composting, CO2 recovery, and solar power. The Chico, California location is where the brewery picked up steam (hence the name), but Sierra Nevada opened a second operation south of Asheville, North Carolina in 2012.
In 1983, Mike Hale opened his Washington brewery, a beacon in the formerly pale ale-less Northwest. Now, the Seattle operation offers a variety of flagship and seasonal brews, and they’ve turned their warehouse into a seasonal event space that hosts music festivals, standup comedy, and dance parties.
If you’re a coffee drinker, you probably fall into (or hover between) three different camps: the drip coffee loyalists, Starbucks junkies, and a newer brand of coffee snob who seeks out the finest beans and brewing methods. Whereas drip coffee drinkers are perfectly happy with a daily dose of Folger’s or even the stuff of gas stations, the Starbucks crowd demands a frothier, sweeter fix. The last lot, sometimes called the “third wave” of coffee culture, denounces both as bastardized excuses for java.
Coffee snobs revel in an ever-changing landscape of single-origin beans and brewing technology, and shops have been cropping up around the world catering to their heightened taste. These cafés are strikingly similar in their gritty, minimalist atmospheres and menu offerings, and they’re popular with urban millennials who crave impromptu offices with sparkling water and Swiss cheese plants.
In a way, Starbucks has created the monster, and whether it can keep up with a more conscientious coffee constituency remains to be seen.
According to Peter Giuliano, the Chief Research Officer of the Specialty Coffee Association, the various waves of coffee preferences can be tied to generations. In the early and mid-19th century, people would roast coffee at home, he says. Then first wave companies, like Maxwell House and Folgers, began commercial roasting establishments in bigger cities and grew significantly throughout the early 1900s. By the 1960s, these companies were ubiquitous, and the reaction to them constituted a second wave: Peet’s Coffee came in 1966 and Starbucks in 1971. Giuliano says that the third wave of the ’90s — characterized by coffee houses like Intelligentsia and Counter Culture — displayed a tendency to roast beans lighter and paid careful attention to the finer details of flavor.
What exactly are the flavors to be found in coffee, besides… coffee? The SCA has created a guide, the flavor wheel, that presents the range of flavor profiles that coffee can exude. These can be exotic and exciting, like coconut, rose, and blueberry, or a sign that something has gone wrong, as in phenolic, animalic, or petroleum notes. Often, lighter roasts will embody lighter flavors, those floral and fruity, while a darker roast will take on tones of caramel, spice, and smoke. These subtle notes are the reason many people have been embracing the third wave.
As a city-dwelling millennial, I will lunge at any and all coffee available, downing any gas station’s Colombian blend, modifying my pumpkin spice latte, indulging in a seven-dollar espresso shot, or even settling for a host’s Keurig machine. I spoke with Devony Schmidt, a Harvard law student and coffee tourist, about what makes for good coffee.
“I started drinking and caring about coffee when I was in high school in Memphis,” Schmidt says. “During undergrad, I took a coffee cupping class on campus, and someone from the local roastery walked us through different flavor profiles.” A cupping class serves as an introduction to fine coffee for many aspiring connoisseurs. From there, a world of flavor awaits.
Schmidt has travelled all over the world drinking coffee — from Finland to Vietnam to Australia — and she is as picky as they come (“I have a hard time telling you a place in New York or Boston that I like to go for coffee”). We have both noticed a prevalence of third wave cafés across this country, in likely places like Denver or Austin, but more recently to be found in college towns and Midwestern cities as well. She says Starbucks was a good introduction to the broader world of coffee for the U.S., and it appears as though Americans might be ready for the complex — and sometimes expensive — implications of specialty coffee.
Good coffee starts with good beans. Like grapes and cacao, the flavor of coffee is influenced heavily by the soil and farming practices with which it is grown: its terroir. In recent years, single-origin beans — those sourced from a single growing region — have spiked in popularity. The terms “single-farm” and “single-estate” have even entered the language of consumers looking for a uniform taste. While most coffee is made from a blend that could feature beans from any number of locations, single-origin buyers know exactly where theirs is coming from.
Schmidt says that, in her experience, this makes all the difference: “If I’m making coffee for myself in the morning, I always drink a single-origin, because there’s one overwhelming flavor profile that really defines the coffee.”
Of course, what happens to the beans after they’re grown is just as important. This is where many so-called coffee snobs take issue with Starbucks. The roasting process determines much of the flavor of the resulting brew, and the Seattle chain is known for roasting its beans on the dark side, to put it lightly.
Third-wave coffeeists might savor the subtle — or glaring — differences in coffee flavor profiles, but for a chain café uniformity is the goal. That’s why Starbucks beans are heavily roasted — or burnt, as many coffee critics have claimed. A lighter roast will preserve the delicate characteristics of a coffee bean, while roasting it further gives it a bolder taste that can be replicated en masse. The dark, bitter coffee that the green mermaid churns out is also suited well to its milky, sugary drinks. The ones that have led millions to drink there in the first place.
The final steps that stand between farm and mug are grinding the beans and brewing them. Pre-ground coffee is a no-go for Schmidt and others like her. She extols the difference in quality that one can experience simply by opting for whole beans and grinding them to order. “The difference between fresh ground beans and pre-ground ones is huge!” she says. “Some coffee blogs will say you need a burr grinder (and you can get purer flavor with one), but if you’re just starting out, any normal electric grinder will do the trick.”
The coarseness of your grind will depend on which brewing method you’re using. These can range from a five-dollar plastic pour-over to an espresso machine priced in the tens of thousands. Of course, the latter isn’t necessary for an enhanced coffee experience. A French press, with coarse grounds, is perfect for making coffee for a group with more control over temperature and steeping time than a drip machine. Schmidt uses her trusty chemex each morning. Personally, I swear by the quick and transportable Aeropress that produces almost-espresso with fine grounds.
The move toward a more authentic relationship with coffee didn’t spring out of nowhere. Millennial culture has been known — and sometimes derided — for making mainstream the pursuit of adventurous and complex flavors in food and drink. Sriracha hot sauce is more prevalent than ketchup in many refrigerators, a double IPA may be preferred over a domestic lager, and pairings with the likes of fennel, truffle, and vanilla have never been gutsier. That the newest crop of adults would embrace a global coffee culture is hardly a surprise.
“For me, it became a good way to experience a city when I travel,” Schmidt says. “You can get a feel for a particular city or location by drinking their coffee, but you can also learn a lot about the world in general by learning about the coffee you’re drinking.” She cites the exciting coffee scenes of places like Myanmar and Melbourne. In the latter, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Starbucks amongst the thriving milieu of local Australian cafés.
Giuliano, of the Specialty Coffee Association, says their research indicates that Starbucks might be just fine here in the U.S., though. While people like specialty coffee because they perceive it to be better tasting, crafted by professionals, and more sustainable and ethical, they might not necessarily give up on Starbucks in making the switch. “People might get turned on to Neapolitan-style pizza, but that doesn’t they stop eating Domino’s,” he says. Giuliani’s data suggests that third-wave consumers often encountered gateways to specialty coffee in other shops, like Starbucks or Caribou, and they still return to those mainstays even after seeking out more refined coffee.
“We are in the middle of revolutionary period,” Guiliano says, noting the definite changes in the way Americans are drinking coffee. “There is a shift to people drinking better coffee, having more preference in regard to flavor, drinking in the afternoon, and even as a culinary indulgence.” These trends, however, don’t divert remarkably from Starbucks’ offerings. With their new Starbucks Reserve brand, the big box café is offering a wider variety of roasts and brewing methods at select stores. Even Folgers is attempting to jump on the bandwagon, with the release of their new 1850 series. Their light roast, called Lantern Glow, offers notes of “Lemongrass Jasmine Tea Top” and “Sweet, Lemony Undertones,” according to their website.
Schmidt is also skeptical that third-wave coffee can inflict the same damage on the chain in America. She believes that, for all their virtues, specialty coffee shops can seem overwhelming and elitist to casual consumers, and there could always be a place for a unicorn frappuccino in the U.S. market.
Schmidt and I inevitably turned the conversation to our Starbucks drinks-of-choice, when we are forced to suck it up and patronize the place, of course. She finds herself ordering a pumpkin spice latte about once a year, and I fondly reminisce over the discontinued 2016 drink, the Chile mocha. Neither of us takes the full four pumps of syrup that are standard. “I like to call myself an unsnobby coffee snob,” she says. “I also like good wine, but there’s a soft spot for the stuff that comes in a box.”
Sophie Kerr was a prolific author of short fiction for the Post, publishing several stories in the magazine each year through the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s. Her fiction focused on cultural divides between urban and rural communities as well as those separating men and women. The Sophie Kerr Prize is now the largest undergraduate literary scholarship in the country. Her story from 1932 follows an eligible bachelorette’s complicated romantic decision through the lens of cuisine, proving that “human felicity is made up of many ingredients, each of which may be shown to be very insignificant.”
Published on February 13, 1932
Miss Mabel Arden stood before her mirror and purred as she looked at herself in her new black velvet dress and the little black velvet hat cocked over her right eye. Slender! Sylphlike! A proper indentation at the waistline instead of a mean little bulge! It was really wonderful what exercise, and an iron horse of a masseuse, and going without sweets like a martyr, had done for her. She could easily pass for thirty or less, and not in the dusk with a light behind her, either, but in the full stare of unshaded electric lights, or a harsh white sunbeam. And Mabel had been born just on the wrong side of 1890.
Savilla came in at this moment. She held a square white box in her hand. “Mist’ Simms come,” said Savilla. “He brought his reg’lars.”
Mr. Simms’ reg’lars was a cluster of gardenias, flowers as white and sweet as the flesh at the point of the v neck of Mabel’s new frock. Mabel pinned on the flowers carefully, still regarding herself with intense pleasure and appreciation.
“Get my gloves and my short black fur coat, please, Savilla,” she said. “And my little black-and-gold bag.”
Savilla obeyed. “You look manifisum!” she commented. “Slickes’ gownd you evah had. Gonta knock Mist’ Simms a loop, y’are, Miss Mabel.” In her expression there was a certain speculative quality. Mabel knew that Savilla was wondering how soon that dress would descend to her, and whether she could get into it.
“I won’t put on the coat,” said Mabel. “Leave it in the hall with my gloves, and bring the shaker and glasses and ice into the living room right away.” She turned slowly from the mirror and went in to meet Edward Simms and knock him for a loop, though she knew it wasn’t necessary. She could knock Edward Simms for a loop in the oldest, dowdiest rag she possessed. He was like that. He was, in fact, so devoted, and had been so devoted for so many years, that he might be said to be permanently looped by Mabel.
Still, it was nice to see his face as she entered in her black velvet magnificence. It changed from his ordinary welcoming smile to a look of admiration that was downright abject. “My Lord, Mabel!” he exclaimed. “How do you do it? Every time I see you you’re younger and more beautiful!”
“It’s my new frock.”
“It is not! It’s you. Gosh, but you’re lovely! I’m getting to be a fat old man, but you’re receding into your teens.”
Savilla appeared with a tray on which were a small silver shaker, a bowl of ice, two glasses, and a plate bearing four tiny canapés. Mabel unlocked the dignified mahogany bookcase — it had held her great-grandfather’s law library once upon a time — and took from behind its doors of brass-wire mesh and pleated green silk two interesting liquid containers, one square and one round. These she handed to Edward Simms, who received them carefully and proceeded to measure, with deft exactness, two portions from the square container and one portion from the round.
He looked up inquiringly. “No absinth tonight?” he said.
“I forgot,” said Mabel. She produced another container, and with a solicitude bordering on reverence, Edward doled out eight drops. Then was heard the tringle-trangle of ice against silver, and then the two glasses were filled with a cold, pale yellow fluid, teasingly aromatic, tempting the eyes, the nose, the palate.
“To the most beautiful woman in the world,” said Edward. He sipped critically. “It’s perfect, like you,” he said. “It’s just right.”
He went on talking. Edward Simms always talked a good bit.
“I know nothing more restful and agreeable,” he said, “after a hard day’s work than to come into a room like this, and look at a wonderful creature like you, Mabel, and taste a drink like this, all as a preface to a very good dinner at Rovi’s. Call me a sensuous pig if you like, call me a hedonist or a materialist or what not, but that’s the way I feel, and I glory in my shame. I only wish I could look forward to the same delight every night of the world. Why won’t you marry me, Mabel? I’ve dangled so long.”
“Are you going to begin that all over?”
“Begin it over? When did I ever end it? We’re so congenial, Mabel. And I’m not a bad sort; you know it. And I’m so crazy about you, always have been, always will be.” He paused, shrugged. “You’re going to laugh at me and turn me down again. All right, but I shan’t lose hope until I see you married to someone else. And even then there’s Reno.”
“If you’ve finished your nonsense, let’s go,” said Mabel.
Edward’s car was waiting, a trim sedan with extra cushions. It had been raining and the streets were polished gray steel, barred and spangled with gold from the lights, and the air was fresh and cold. Mabel leaned back and relaxed. There was something she wanted to tell Edward Simms, but it wasn’t kind to spoil this hour. She looked at his profile as he sat beside her driving. Kind, good, congenial, funny, and fairly handsome, though a little too fat. “He eats too much,” thought Mabel. “Nobody can feel romantic about a fat man. He talks about eating and drinking, and then proposes to me. He ought to see how impossible he makes it.” She gave a sigh for Edward Simms’ impossibility. He would feel it when she told him her piece of news. Far better wait until after dinner.
At Rovi’s they were received with acclaim, Signor Rovi himself ushering them to their table, the best in the house, properly lighted, shielded from drafts, removed from the path of passing waiters and far from any service table. There was no music at Rovi’s, no entertainers. People came there to eat well, and were never disappointed.
“Have you ordered?” asked Mabel, her interest quickening. She had lunched on a lean chop and a sliced tomato, and the delicious savory odors all about made her feel like a lean chop herself. Besides, no sane woman could feel anything but interest in a dinner ordered by Edward Simms.
“Yes, I’ve ordered. I hope you’ll like it.”
“I know I’ll like it,” said Mabel truthfully. “Nobody orders a dinner as you do, Edward. You know a great deal about it.”
“You know just as much. Think of the dinners we have at your apartment. Savilla’s a marvelous cook, but you’ve trained her.”
The waiter was serving caviar — true caviar, richly gray black, clinging to the spoon. Squares of hot toast and halves of fresh-cut lemon and grated mild onion and egg came with it. Also a pepper shaker containing cayenne. At this, Mabel looked surprised. “Try just a grain, Mabel,” urged Edward. “It’s not orthodox, I suppose, but it’s exciting.”
It was exciting. It was stimulating. “You’re right, Edward, as usual,” Mabel granted.
After the caviar there were cups of consommé Bellevue, the essence of clam and chicken, the spoonful of rich cream, all perfectly blended as a major chord of music. Ripe olives, supersize, shining, juicy, and titbits of celery heart accompanied the soup.
“But no toast or crackers or bread,” said Edward firmly. “People who eat bread with soup are all wrong, in my opinion.”
“I’m willing to forgo the bread, but I don’t entirely agree with you. Take an old-fashioned vegetable soup, for instance — ”
“But that is not a soup, Mabel. Old-fashioned vegetable soup is a meat-and-vegetable stew, and bread goes with it perfectly. And of course there are soups which contain toast or crusts as part of their ingredients, and that’s all right. But don’t muss up a consommé like this with anything starchy.”
“It’s true. And of course a purée is enough in itself; any bread just makes it stodgy. Oh, dear, this is so good. You make it very hard for me to stay thin, Edward. Do tell me what’s coming next?”
Her question was answered by the waiter, who approached, bearing a covered copper dish. He opened it and held it for her inspection. There, each on its own toasted pedestal spread with giblets chopped to paste, were two plump partridges, wrapped in vine leaves and the thinnest, most wafer-like slices of salt pork, done to a turn in their own juicy steam.
“And they’re just right,” said Edward, sniffing. “Not too high. People who eat very high game are simply scavengers! Pardon me, Mabel, for using the expression.”
Brown toy balloons of soufflé potatoes and a spoonful of tart grape jelly were the partridges’ companions. Mabel could not help eating everything, picking her bird to the bones, its supporting canapé to the last crumb. Edward Simms was likewise omnivorous. They ate leisurely, taking the full value of each delicious morsel. But if Mabel was silent, she was thinking, and her thoughts were divided. It was going to be harder than she had expected to tell Edward what she must tell him, and she was glad that she had not done it as they drove down town. It would have been a crime to bring to this meal any emotion but enjoyment.
After the partridges came a green vegetable, young, tender, green string beans, cut into slivers and cooked only the magical few moments to bring out all their infantile delicacy, then touched with melted sweet butter, and served piping hot on hot plates.
“I hesitated between these and a salad,” said Edward, “but they had nothing very distinguished in the way of salad greens, so I thought these would be better.”
“These are just right,” said Mabel.
“I’ve ordered no dessert,” he went on, “but there’s a marvelous poached pear with almonds and lemon Rovi bragged about, or frozen fresh pineapple.”
“What are you going to have?”
“The pineapple, I think, and we’ll make the coffee at the table. I’ve told Rovi not to grind it until we are ready for it.”
“Edward,” said Mabel gravely, “these little matters of grinding coffee and choosing a dessert and working out a menu are very important to you, aren’t they?”
Edward met her gravity with an impish twinkle.
“My dear Mabel, I like to dine as well as I can. So, I am safe in saying, do you. I don’t think it reprehensible to make all my meals as interesting and enjoyable as possible. Let me remind you that we mortals spend approximately one-eighth of our waking hours at table, supplying our bodies with their needed fuel. And if we do not supply our bodies with their needed fuel they balk or stop on us, and we — well, we’re done for. Taste is one of our five senses. My palate likes a good meal as much as my hand enjoys touching an agreeable surface, or my nose smelling those gardenias, or my ears hearing your very charmingly modulated voice, or my eyes resting on your most attractive face. I see no harm in good eating, as long as I make it a means to life, and not an end. Forgive me — you brought it on yourself by that scolding look in your eyes.”
The coffee machine was placed on the table and Edward watched the waiter measure the water and light the flame. Then he went on: “You’re the only woman I know, Mabel, with really civilized ideas about and appreciation of good food. You’re the only woman I know I’d trust to order my meals. We have many other small, livable tastes in common. And I don’t see why you won’t marry me. It isn’t only that I love you — ” He paused, and for an instant Mabel saw Edward Simms strangely changed from the man she knew into a wistful, imploring boy. And in that instant she realized she hadn’t the nerve to tell him what she must tell him — not tonight, at least. That boy she had seen would be too easily, too much hurt. She must contrive some way to let him find out for himself; he would bear it better if she didn’t put it into words.
“What d’you think about going to a movie, or to see the last half of the hockey at the Garden? You’re really much too elegant for either, but any show we’d go to would be half over,” said Edward as they finished their coffee: The wistful boy was gone. Edward the middle-aged was selecting a cigar with absorbed inspection.
Mabel sighed. Life, even when one is slim and dressed in new and successful black velvet, can present complications. “I’d like a movie,” she said. “A harrowing one, where I could cry.”
“And hold my hand?”
“If it’s sufficiently harrowing,” said Mabel. It wasn’t any use trying to be serious with Edward. She might as well enjoy herself and give him a good time. It would, she thought, probably be their last.
In the theater she could not keep her mind on the picture. Edward had wangled the best seats in the house — he always managed to do that, no matter how big the crowd was — and he had brought her through the mob without letting her be pushed or hustled. It was a Dietrich picture, and Mabel was crazy about Marlene; indeed, it was envy of Marlene’s thin and shapely legs which had helped her through this last hard two weeks of reducing. But now she regarded Marlene and her legs with indifference. How — how was she ever going to break it to Edward that Dean Kennedy was coming back!
Dean Kennedy, after fifteen years of absence! Dean Kennedy, her one great romance, her dream, her ideal! Dean Kennedy, so tall, so dark, so thrilling, black hair flung back wildly — not brushed flat like Edward Simms’ thinning locks — brown eyes that laughed and teased and mocked and drew her heart helplessly to him. Dean Kennedy was coming back, and what was more to the point, he was coming back a widower, for that silly moon-faced Cara Mai Kennedy, who had simply tricked him into marrying her when he was a mere twenty-five, not old enough to know his own mind — Cara Mai had, according to the letter Dean Kennedy had written Mabel, “passed on into the beyond” more than twelve months ago. So he was coming back to see all his old friends, and, again quoting the memorable letter, “most of all, I want to see you.”
It was this letter and the two which had followed it that had sent Mabel to the rowing machine and the masseuse, had kept her steadfast on chops and sliced tomatoes, and finally, as the moment of Dean’s coming drew near, had caused the purchase of the velvet dress. In all these fifteen years she had not seen him or heard from him. Dean and his Cara Mai had dwelt in Chicago and had not been very well off, Mabel imagined, nor had Dean been very successful; but that, of course, was Cara Mai’s fault; she was not the sort to inspire a man to his best efforts. Mabel tried to think kindly of Cara Mai when she thought of her at all, but she suspected that she had been a drag and a burden.
Ah, well, it didn’t matter. Mabel had a nice little patrimony, and that would ease things for Dean at first. Afterward, he would naturally make great strides toward success, for she would aid and encourage him. She would understand him. Look at Edward Simms — how well he had done. Why, Edward was positively a rich man, and if Edward Simms could be successful, how much more successful Dean Kennedy could be! All their crowd had looked to Dean Kennedy to do great things; they knew he had it in him; and if he hadn’t done them, circumstances or influences or a certain person must have prevented him.
Having thus brought her thoughts back to Edward Simms, she began to remember how devoted he had been during all these far-away, silent Chicago years of Dean Kennedy; how truly devoted in every way, not obtrusively but steadily and firmly. No matter what happened, Edward was always there, taking her places, bringing her flowers, advising her investments, and helping her make out her income tax; in every way surrounding her with attention and solicitude. Everyone they knew asked them to parties together, and took it for granted that it was a permanent attachment, if not an actual engagement. Mabel had a guilty feeling that she had accepted far too much from Edward, but she tried to abate this by reminding herself that he had offered much more. Certainly their companionship had been delightful. Edward knew his way about. He knew how to do things.
It came to her in a flash of divination — the way to reveal Dean Kennedy to Edward. She would give a dinner — a dinner for six, which was the best number for Savilla to manage — and ask both men, a married couple — perhaps her Cousin Rufus Arden and his wife — and another woman — that nice blond Mrs. Tree who did bookbinding. She would plan a truly wonderful dinner as a farewell tribute to Edward, but there and then she would make her feeling for Dean Kennedy unmistakably clear. Edward was not an insensitive or stupid man. He would take the hint. He would bow himself out of the picture without any painful explanations, arguments or emotional farewells, and he would, she felt, thank her for having spared him.
Caution prompted Mabel at this point and reminded her that in case Dean Kennedy was not coming on with serious intentions and should go away without asking her to marry him, this course made it possible for her to continue on with Edward as before, since nothing would have been said. She therefore clinched it in her own mind that she must know Dean’s feelings accurately before she arranged to dispense with Edward. No matter how much she glowed and thrilled over Dean Kennedy, she owed it to herself to learn if he was glowing and thrilling in return, before she opened her door and deliberately set Edward and his kindness on the cold steps outside. It occurred to her that in all probability nice blond Mrs. Tree would like to make a grab for Edward if she found him available. She rather hoped this wouldn’t happen. Edward would never be happy in a bookbinding studio; he would hate the smell of glue and leather.
It was all thought out by the time Marlene had given her lovely legs their final extended showing, and Mabel was so pleased with her neat swept-and-garnished state of mind that she was particularly agreeable to Edward all the way home. She would almost have liked to kiss him good night, she felt so sorry for him, and so sympathetic, but since he didn’t make any motion toward kissing, she couldn’t very well do it; and besides, he might have misunderstood and not known it was sorrow and sympathy which prompted her demonstration. When she entered her own hallway she was glad she hadn’t kissed Edward, for there, on the table, lay a telegram from Dean Kennedy:
ARRIVING TOMORROW SIX PM STOP YOU MUST HAVE DINNER WITH ME STOP WILL PHONE AS SOON AS I GET TO TOWN
Only by resolutely counting several zillion sheep did Mabel get any slumber that night, and she couldn’t have counted so many had she not pictured herself haggard and dull-eyed for meeting Dean Kennedy the next day. Once asleep, however, she dreamed blissfully of orange blossoms and wedding bells until so late in the morning that Savilla came in to see what was the matter. And over her cup of coffee without cream and sugar, her one meager bit of whole-wheat toast and her six unsweetened prunes, Mabel continued to dream. Savilla noticed it.
“You mighty swimmy this mawnin’,” she said — “mighty swimmy an’ smily. Wisht I felt so good. Wisht I hadn’t played de numbahs yestady. Los’ fo’ dollahs, quicker’n scat.”
“I’ll give you four dollars, Savilla,” promised Mabel, “and that blue crêpe dress of mine with the rhinestone buttons.”
“An’ de blue hat too?” asked Savilla cagily.
“Yes. And the blue bag, and the blue-and-white-striped scarf.”
“You musta come into love er money, Miss Mabel. That blue dress pret’ near new. Lawd knows I need clo’es, but they ain’t no need for you to divest yourself to nothing thisaway,” remarked Savilla, meanwhile making haste to remove the blue dress and hat from the closet.
“Take it along. I hope it brings you luck.”
“Yas’m, hope it does. Now, what you goin’ to have for your dinner?”
“I’m going out for dinner, Savilla.” She almost trilled the words, she was so happy.
“Yas’m. Want a li’l’ sumpin serve’ befo’hand, as usual?”
“Yes. No. No, I think not. Or, I’ll tell you. Fix the tray and leave it in the ice box, and if I want it I’ll serve it myself. And you can go out.” She didn’t want anyone, not even Savilla, near for that first moment.
By telephone she ruthlessly called off all the day’s engagements. There was a meeting of a hospital committee, and another of the executive board of the Working Girls’ Club, a bridge luncheon and a tea at which she had promised to help receive. Mabel listened unmoved to the reproaches of fellow workers and hostesses, disposed of them without a qualm. This being done, she proceeded to devote the time before Dean Kennedy’s coming to a prolonged, restful beautifying. A swim and massage, a manicure, her hair shampooed and dressed, a pedicure, vibration for shoulders and arms, oil rub for elbows, mud pack for her face — Mabel did everything on the list and returned home about half past five to dress. She had told Savilla to give the apartment an extra cleaning and put roses and white narcissi on the piano and the desk — not too many, just enough to look charming and homelike. Everything being ready, she again put on the black velvet dress and sat down to wait.
The telephone rang at half past six and she flew to answer it. It was Dean Kennedy. His voice sounded just the same; she could hardly control her own to reply. He would, he said, just dash over to the hotel and clean up, and then he’d be right along. He wouldn’t be ten minutes. Mabel put down the receiver with trembling hands. In ten minutes — ten minutes — after fifteen years! Now that he was so near, she could not believe it. She ran her dryest, most indelible lipstick over her lips, powdered her nose, smoothed her eyebrows, put a dot of her most treasured perfume on each ear lobe and one on her bosom, regarded her hair at every possible angle and questioned herself in the mirror. Was she pale? Did she look too excited, too expectant? She didn’t know; she couldn’t tell. She walked about, breathless with anticipation, but at the sound of the doorbell she pulled herself together. “Be your age, Mabel,” she whispered. “Be your age. Have some dignity.”
She walked slowly to the door and opened it. “Why, Dean,” she heard herself exclaiming in a flat, conventional voice, “how quick you were! You said ten minutes, but I didn’t believe you. Come in.”
He was just as tall, just as handsome as ever, his black hair still waved tumultuously, he was still laughing and gay and impulsive.
“Gosh, Mabel,” he said, “it’s good to see you! We’ve both changed a lot, of course, but you’re awfully good-looking yet, even if you’re not the girl you used to be. And what a pretty little apartment you’ve got here.”
“Y-yes, it’s very comfortable.”
“And we’re going out to dinner, just the way we used to do.” He laughed. “And I can’t afford to take you to a better place than I did then. Hope you don’t mind. I never was much of a money-maker, Mabel. We’ll have to go to some cheapish joint, my dear, and you looking like a million dollars too. Shall we push off? I’m starving.”
He had always been like that, she thought fondly — frank, open as the day. How sweet of him to remember and allude to the few times he had taken her out in the long ago. When she went to put on her coat she discarded the velvet jacket and took a plain, long, black cloth, and she laid the velvet hat aside and pulled on a green felt that had seen much service. It wouldn’t do to embarrass him with her finery. Query: Would it embarrass him? She didn’t know, but she wouldn’t take the chance.
“Now,” he said when they were on the street, “we’ll walk to the corner and get a downtown car. Funny, the city’s changed so much I don’t know my way around, but there used to be a lot of table-d’hotes in the Forties and Fifties. I suppose there are some left. Or look” — he pointed up the avenue — “what about that place? It looks all right.”
Mabel opened her lips to say that it was an awful dump and she didn’t believe there was a thing fit to eat ever to be had there, but she closed them again without speaking. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered but that Dean Kennedy was beside her, his hand on her arm. So she went along with him into the noisy restaurant, glaring with lights, reeking with stale food odors, unmistakably what he had said he could afford: a cheapish joint — a very cheapish joint.
“This is fine,” said Dean, and took a table nearest the pantry door, so that every waiter passing in and out must graze them. He picked up the scarred menu as an unshaven bandit with spotted apron and shirt front came for the order.
“The table-d’hôte is only sixty cents here,” said Dean beamingly. “Vegetable soup or fruit cocktail, choice of baked bluefish, roast pork, pot roast with noodles, or corned beef. Boiled potatoes, cabbage and succotash, salad, and for dessert, apple or squash pie, rice pudding and mixed ice cream. Coffee, tea or milk. I’ll have the soup, the roast pork and vegetables, and apple pie and a glass of milk. What are you going to have, Mabel?”
“I think I’ll have the fruit cocktail and — and the — the pot roast — and salad — and no dessert,” said Mabel, trying not to shudder. “Just black coffee.”
“O.K., chief,” said Dean; then to the waiter: “Rush the stuff right along, boy.” He tossed the menu card aside, put his elbows on the table and smiled at Mabel. “A nice cheery little place,” he said. “But after all, we didn’t come here just to eat. Let me look at you, Mabel. What have you been doing with yourself all this time? You wrote me that you were on committees and things! Not much of a life, that, I should think. But you haven’t lost weight on it. . . . Ah, here’s food, and my soup has the waiter’s thumb in it. I always did like waiters’ thumbs.”
“Send it back,” said Mabel faintly. It made her sick to look at the greasy, tepid fluid.
“What for? It’s all right. Quite a good thumb, in fact.”
The bandit grinned at Dean knowingly. He banged down before Mabel a small glass dish containing a sliver of peach and a sliver of pear, a segment of pineapple and half a lurid aniline-red cherry. Then he brought a basket containing three broken gressini and a twist of grayish bread, slashed twice for breaking, served two pieces of doubtful butter, filled their glasses and retired.
Dean seized the bread and broke off a hunk and began on the soup. Gingerly Mabel lifted a spoon to attack the alleged fruit cocktail, then changed her mind and wiped it hard on her napkin.
“Dean,” she said, “what have you been doing all these years? That’s what I’m interested to hear.” She thought, “If he talks, I won’t see him eating soup off the point of his spoon.” But it was not much better when he began to talk. He hadn’t, it seemed, had a very good time of it. Not that he hadn’t worked; he’d simply slaved, he’d worn himself out in devoted loyal service to one employer after another, but he never seemed to get on. He didn’t care, he assured her. There were so many good things in life besides money. He’d always had friends — good, kind, devoted friends. Every time he had lost a job he had the satisfaction of knowing that he left behind him associates who sided with him and felt he’d been unjustly treated or unappreciated.
As he talked, Mabel felt herself warm with sympathy and understanding. How terrible that he should have been so treated — how terrible, how wicked! She would have liked to take his unworthy employers and push them into the river! She listened avidly to every detail; she murmured and clucked with indignation. She said “ohs” of horror and “ahs” of pity. She was his partisan, his defender. And when a mean, little, irrepressible imp of observation within her asked her if he had always taken such huge bites and chewed with his mouth open, she shoved that imp aside and forgot him.
She herself could not eat. The pot roast had been poor meat to begin with, and cooking had worsened its estate. The vegetables were watery and heavy. The coffee, to put it concisely, was vile. Dean sat there lapping up everything, though his order of pork looked more deadly than the pot roast, and the apple pie was a truly fearsome pastry. She could have wept for him. Poor dear, to have his taste so vitiated, so depraved. But never mind, there was her dinner party to come, and she would show him what a dinner should be. With his naturally fine instincts, he would instantly grasp the message she intended to convey.
“Do you mind,” asked Dean, “if I take your butter? They’d probably charge for an extra portion.”
She passed him the butter and did not tell him that it was not butter at all but a substitute, and sadly watched him eat it. “Let’s go back to my apartment,” she said. “I’ll make some coffee for you.”
“What’s the matter with yours? Isn’t it all right?” he asked with surprise.
“Oh, quite, but I believe I can make better,” she assured him brightly. “I have a maid who’s a very good cook, but I do a bit myself sometimes. I enjoy it.”
This remark turned Dean’s mind to Cara Mai. All the way back to the apartment he told Mabel what a wonderful little woman Cara Mai had been, how domestic in her tastes, what a good cook, how well she had managed on his limited income. Mabel listened to this also, but not with the same interest she had given to the saga of his business career. She was glad to escape to her kitchen and start the promised coffee.
While she was doing this she discovered that she was very hungry, and she opened the ice box, where she saw the cocktail tray and the anchovy canapés she had told Savilla to prepare and then had forgotten. Mabel ate them all and was glad to get them. They strengthened her. When she carried in the steaming, bubbling coffee she felt equal to hearing more about Cara Mai.
“Now,” she said, “we’ll be quite cozy. Perhaps you’ll have a drop of liqueur with your coffee. I have some Marc de Bourgogne — the real thing, and very old — and if you’d rather have something sweet, I’ll give you either Strega or green chartreuse.”
“No, thanks,” said Dean. “I don’t care for anything. And give me only half a cup of coffee, Mabel. The darned stuff keeps me awake.”
“Half of these tiny cups won’t keep you awake; besides, this is fresh made. It’s coffee that has stood too long that keeps people awake.”
But he would not be persuaded, and he took only a swallow of the half cup she gave him, after it had become tepid. It spoiled Mabel’s enjoyment of her delicious brew to see him. Still, it was Dean Kennedy, and he was here in her own apartment with her, after the long, long time of separation. She reminded herself that this alone ought to make her madly happy.
He had gone back to telling of his various jobs and how they had disappointed him. Mabel was no fool, and she recognized a familiar note. In her social-service work she had met many men and women who, with the best intentions, were never able to cooperate, who objected to everything proposed and argued endlessly about the smallest of points, who could not submit to the elastic give and take which measures the success of any group of human beings associated for one purpose. She did not want Dean Kennedy to seem one of these troublesome beings, but common sense forced her to acknowledge that in a business organization, where certain authority must be respected and obeyed, Dean might, he inevitably must be, difficult to handle.
But now he turned to telling Mabel what she most wanted to hear. “You must know why I’ve come on here,” he said. “It was to see you. I’ve always thought of you a lot, Mabel, but in a nice way. Not in the least derogatory to Cara Mai, you understand, nothing to which she could have taken exception, even if she had been able to read my mind. As a matter of fact, Cara Mai used to speak of you every now and then.”
“Did she? What did she say?”
“Well, it sounds rather conceited, I suppose, but you mustn’t take it that way. Cara Mai was a good bit of a tease and she always maintained that you liked me a good bit.” He laughed his engaging, boyish laugh. “I hope it’s true, Mabel. You do like me, don’t you? I’m counting on you liking me.”
Mabel struggled between annoyance with Cara Mai and gratification. “I do like you, Dean,” she said at last, generously. “Cara Mai was right. I like you very much.”
Dean reached over and took her hand.
“That’s sweet of you, Mabel. I hope it means to you what it means to me. You understand me, don’t you?”
“Y-yes,” said Mabel. Was this commonplace phrase a proposal of marriage? It must be. It couldn’t be anything else.
He let go of her hand and rose. “Then that’s all right, my dear. Now I’ve got to run down to Philadelphia for a couple of days — I’m looking into a proposition there — but I’ll be back on — let me see — on Friday, and I’ll call you up as soon as I get in. Couldn’t we have dinner together that night?”
“I’d like to have a little dinner party here, Dean, for you — some of your old friends. I thought of Rufus Arden, my cousin — you remember him and his wife Polly, don’t you?”
“Of course I do. I’d love to see them.”
“And — and Edward Simms. You remember him?”
“I should say so! How is he, anyway? He was always such a stodgy old slowpoke — sort of dumb, but a good sort in spite of it. He’s married, I suppose.”
“No, Edward isn’t married.” She didn’t want to expatiate on that. “Then I’ll ask another woman. If I can find anybody of the old crowd I’ll get her, but if not, I know a sweet little Mrs. Tree; she does bookbinding — ”
“That’s odd,” interrupted Dean. “Cara Mai was so interested in bookbinding.”
“We’ll have dinner at quarter of eight.”
“Isn’t that awfully late?”
“Oh, no! Most people dine at eight unless they’re going on to the theater.”
“I like dinner at half-past six, or seven at the latest. However, for once it doesn’t matter. Goodnight, my dear.” Before she knew it, he had swept her into his arms and kissed her twice. And he was gone before she could say a word.
As Mabel looked back over the evening, she became conscious of the fact that she was not rapt in the ecstasy she had anticipated. She knew she ought to be rapt in ecstasy. Dean loved her, he had asked her to marry him, or had fully implied it, and he had kissed her. Why — why wasn’t she satisfied; why wasn’t she putting vine leaves in her hair and waving banners and dancing and caroling supreme joy? She was forced to realize that the most likely reason for her dereliction was an attack of acute indigestion, and as she dosed herself with hot water, bicarb and peppermint, with just a drop of spirits of ammonia, she kept going farther and farther down from the proper pinnacle of happiness, and thinking of the vile dinner she had eaten, and the viler one she had watched Dean eat. It also occurred to her that never in all the times she had dined with Edward Simms had she been afflicted with indigestion of any kind. As she filled the hot-water bag to lay it upon her aching stomach, she was horrified to find that she was contrasting Edward’s entertainment of the night before with what Dean had offered this evening, and finding the first vastly superior.
“But with the dawn,” as says the popular song, “a new day is born,” and Mabel rose blithely, without indigestion and without those treasonable criticisms of Dean which had bothered her. She could see clearly now that Dean’s unfortunate tastes and habits would vanish away as soon as she demonstrated better ones to him. So, telephone in hand, she summoned the desired guests for her dinner on Friday night, and then proceeded to collogue with Savilla on the menu. This had assumed a double importance, for not only must it be a fitting vale to the advanced gourmetism of Edward Simms, but it must also be an ave to higher and better ideas of dinners for Dean Kennedy; an introduction to proper eating which would inevitably lead him into permanent acquaintance with it.
The two days before Dean’s return passed like two minutes to Mabel. There was her own new status of an engaged woman — practically engaged, that is — and the coming true of the one sentimental dream which had kept her from marriage until this time. She thought a great deal about her future with Dean, and she was surprised to feel numerous small doubts and uncertainties about it. She didn’t, somehow, seem well-acquainted with anything but his appearance. He looked just as he used to, but when he talked he was a stranger, and not a particularly endearing stranger at that. Assailed by such notions, Mabel decided that it was far wiser to concentrate on planning her dinner. So she filled up her time with scurrying about markets and delicacy shops, talking to Savilla, trying out various effects in table setting, arrangement, and choosing which of her four evening gowns she would better wear. The newest of the lot, a sapphire-blue velvet, was too exhilarating in color and too formal in style for a small home dinner. This left one of those black-lace standbys such as every woman keeps for rainy evenings and dull parties, an orchid crêpe, out-of-date, but very becoming, and an eggshell satin which had been her best last year and was still in style and good condition. Finally she selected the orchid crêpe; its delicate tone would be regretful for Edward and hopeful for Dean, and it wasn’t short enough to be quite passé. “Now that I am slimmer it will be longer,” thought Mabel; “hips do take up skirts so dreadfully!”
So, on the night of the dinner she put on the crêpe and a twisted string of fine amethyst beads caught with a gold flower. She covered her table with a fine filet cloth and set it with creamy old queen’s ware service plates and thin, pinky, amethyst glass. Pale pink lilies in a Lowestoft bowl for centerpiece, and her four Old Chelsea figurine candlesticks with tall cream candles gave a note of naïve gayety. But not too gay; all the color was low key; it did not hit the eyes, but had to be looked for; yet when observed, it was gratifying. Mabel felt satisfied with her table.
Her living room looked very well, too, for Edward Simms had sent her a quantity of roses and she had put them into deep tumbler-like vases of yellow Spanish glass. He had also sent a spray of orchids for her to wear — two perfect mauve blooms, just as if he had known what a harmony they would make with her dress. It made her sad to think these were the last flowers she would ever receive from Edward; he always chose flowers so charmingly. Poor Edward — would he, she wondered, be very much cut up when he knew? She wondered so much about it she forgot to be disappointed that there were no flowers from Dean; though on such an occasion he might very well, even though poor, have managed a small tribute.
Cousin Rufus Arden and Polly were the first to arrive, and then came Mrs. Tree, looking young and innocent in bright baby blue, which only a fresh complexion can stand. Polly Arden was in exotic scarlet. Between the two Mabel’s mauve was just a bit washed out. It wasn’t auspicious to have her two women guests fade her away, but she tried not to mind. Edward and Dean came in together; they had met, it seemed, at the entrance downstairs and were so jovially renewing old acquaintance that they didn’t pay the attention to their hostess which the occasion merited — at least Dean didn’t. Edward, naturally, didn’t yet know what the occasion was.
When Savilla’s sister, Pearlie, waitress by the hour, brought in the tray, Dean waved the glasses away. “Never touch the stuff,” he explained. “Not principles, merely stomach. The very smell of it makes me sick.”
“You’re an unfortunate man,” said Edward. “I sympathize with you, but I will gladly drink your share, provided there are no other claimants.”
“There are other claimants,” said Rufus Arden. “If I miss a drop of anything as good as this I’d deserve punishment.”
“And what about us women?” put in Polly. “Ladies first is my motto — first in everything.”
“There’s too much of this cursed feminism about,” said Rufus gloomily. “Take it, Polly. I don’t want to be nagged for a week. Besides, I know Mabel will make it up to me. Won’t you, Mabel?”
Mabel allowed as how there was plenty for all. She took one herself and drank it hastily. She felt she needed it after Dean’s refusal. When it was down, she began to recover, but her first glowing, anticipatory mood was dimmed, and with its dimming she looked a little coolly at Dean, thinking that anyone who could eat pork and soggy potatoes as he had eaten them the other night ought not to have any stomach at all. Also she became aware that his dinner clothes were a sloppy misfit, contrasting painfully with Rufus Arden’s and Edward Simms’ super-tailoring. She was glad when Pearlie announced dinner. Here, at least, she was sure of results. Dean Kennedy could not eat the dinner she had provided without experiencing such a revelation in taste as would make him into another man, gastronomically speaking. And more and more Mabel was realizing that she wanted him to be another man, and not himself.
In the little ceremony of seating her guests, her confidence returned more fully. Dean had had no chance to know good food, and he hadn’t money enough to buy good dinner clothes. He’d had a thin time, a bad break. She gave him a tender glance, marveling that all he’d been through hadn’t broken his spirit or altered his most undeniable good looks. With these to go on with, she could soon help him to all that he should have; she would supply the lacking elements of care and taste. It was her mission and her great joy.
As these ideas raced through her mind Pearlie began serving the first course, and a shout arose simultaneously from Cousin Rufus and Edward Simms.
“Blini!” they chorused. “Blini, blini, blini!”
They were the most perfect blini — little, melting, hot, thick pancakes, each proudly upholding a burden of fresh caviar and a high hat of sour cream! “What have I ever done to deserve this?” moaned Edward Simms as he took the first bite. “This is food for gods, not mere mortals.”
“I really should have had something lighter,” said Mabel, beaming, “but I know how you feel about caviar, Edward. . . . What’s the matter, Dean? Don’t you like them?”
Dean put on a conscientiously polite manner. “I’m sure they’re very nice, but somehow the flavor is so queer — ” He laid aside his fork. “I’ll just wait for the next course, if I may.”
“Good Lord!” snorted Rufus Arden. “Any man who can’t eat blini, and such blini — Ouch!” Polly had kicked him in the shin with strength and accuracy. He subsided. The blini of all the guests but Dean were eaten in an aching silence. At last Mrs. Tree had presence of mind to say soothingly, “Of course it’s an acquired taste,” but Rufus muttered, “Acquired me eye,” and gave Dean a hard and mean look; so Mrs. Tree’s tact was lost.
Pearlie now brought in the soup, a clear green turtle laced with dry sherry, a few morsels of the luscious, translucent flesh swimming languorously in the soothing tide. Tiniest, crisp, toasted sandwiches of highpowered cheese touched magically with cayenne and a drop of Worcestershire came with the soup, served piping hot from a covered dish. The dying conversation revived under this stimulus. Dean, Mabel was thankful to see, ate the most of his soup, and Cousin Rufus and Edward began to talk of the historic green turtle served at Birch’s in London, and to contrast it unfavorably with their present portion.
In this conversation. Dean took no part, for he was now chatting absorbedly with little Mrs. Tree on the subject of bookbinding; at least he was holding forth and she was listening as if, thought Mabel with annoyance, she was hearing nothing less than a divine revelation. Cara Mai’s name entered into Dean’s monologue and Mrs. Tree looked sweetly condolent. “Just who,” Mabel asked herself bitterly — “just who does Dean belong to, anyway?” She wondered if he himself knew.
After the soup came her chief dish, and she watched to see what effect that would have on him. The plumpest of milk-fed chickens had been carefully boned — Mabel had stood over the butcher and harangued him to do his best work — then stuffed with a bland, insidious mixture, mostly bread crumbs and sweet butter, with a mere whisper of herbs and a merer flicker of minced fried onion and minced broiled bacon; then the filled birds had been roasted to a rhapsody in browns, from palest beige to darkest gamboge; and being roasted, were served one to each person. Mango chutney chopped and jellied and cut into slices; sweet-potato pone bread in soft, flavorsome squares; and for piquancy and contrast, tiny fleurets of cauliflower steamed and masked in a sharply lemony hollandaise, were the good companions of the chicken.
“I was wondering what vegetable you’d have,” said Edward Simms. “This is absolutely right. And that sweet-potato pone’s a triumph.”
At least someone appreciated her efforts, thought Mabel. Dean said nothing. He did not touch his chutney after one taste, and he put more salt on the chicken. Mabel hoped that Pearlie did not see this treasonable act, for if it were reported to Savilla there would be lightning in the air. Rufus Arden and Polly were eating and exclaiming, and as for Edward, he redoubled his appreciation. But even when this course was finished and the salad was coming on, Dean still said nothing about the dinner.
Mabel always mixed her own salads at table. It was a rite. Pearlie brought in a tray with a bowl of snowy-white endive hearts and sprigs of emerald cress; another large bowl, empty, and a small one; crystal flasks of oil and vinegar, small open holders of various seasonings, and on a separate dish a crust of bread and a clove of garlic.
“The question is,” she said, indicating this last: “Shall we, or shan’t we? I put it to vote.”
“Aye,” said Rufus, Polly and Edward Simms instantly.
“Just as the others say. I dote on it,” offered little Mrs. Tree.
“What are you all talking about?” asked Dean Kennedy blankly. “I don’t get you.”
Mabel explained that they could have garlic in the salad or not, just as they desired. She began to pour measured oil and wine vinegar into the small bowl, and to add the salt and fresh-ground pepper and the grain of mustard, but her hand shook; it made her so nervous to have to point out the obvious.
“Salad?” asked Dean even more blankly. “Call that a salad?”
“Why, yes, Dean,” said Mabel, almost spilling the oil. “Of course it’s a salad.”
Dean smiled indulgently. “But, my dear girl, I — well, I don’t want to be rude, but I hardly call that stuff a salad.”
“What do you call a salad?” asked Edward Simms. “I’d be interested to hear.”
“My idea of a salad — the only kind of salad that’s worth eating — is a nice fruit salad — all kinds of fruit and nuts chopped up, you know, and a nice thick mayonnaise all over it.”
“But not for dinner!” gasped Mabel. “Surely not for dinner, Dean.”
“Certainly for dinner. Cara Mai and I used to have it almost every night because I’m so fond of it. She used to put every sort of fruit into it, and sometimes pieces of marshmallow, and then the mayonnaise — a lot — all over everything. Most delicious thing imaginable. I do wish you’d asked your cook to make one tonight, Mabel. It’s very simple, you know; just some nice canned or fresh fruit and a bottle of mayonnaise, and there you are. There’s nothing in the world I enjoy so much.”
A long silence followed this speech, at last broken by Edward Simms. “I think we might as well have the garlic,” he said gently.
“Yes, I think so too,” said Rufus. Both men avoided looking at Mabel, but their shock and horror dwelt upon their faces.
“You’ll really love it when you try it,” chirped Mrs. Tree to Dean.
Mabel said nothing. There was, she discovered, nothing to say. She rubbed the cut garlic lightly on the crust of bread and dropped it into the bowl with the endive and cress. Then she poured in the dressing and, taking her wooden fork and spoon, began lightly to lift and shift the salad with deft, delicate touch, so as not to bruise it, but to cover each leaf and stem with shining savory film, complementary to its chilled freshness and greenness. All the time she was doing it — and it was not a short process — something in her head was repeating over and over: “You cannot marry a man who eats fruit salad with mayonnaise every night for dinner. You cannot marry a man who eats fruit salad with mayonnaise every night for dinner. He is irreclaimable. He is lost. He is gone. Make up your mind to part with him forever, here and now. It is better so.”
Then, as Pearlie brought the cool plates, each already bearing a whorl of Virginia ham baked to meltingness, sliced paper-thin and cunningly curled to resemble a generous rosebud; then, as Mabel served the salad she heard her voice, as one far away, saying to Dean, “Do you care to try it, Dean, even if it isn’t” — she shuddered — “fruit salad with mayonnaise?”
No, he thought he wouldn’t. “It looks rather anemic to me,” he said jokingly. “Not the thing for a real man, all that grass. I don’t believe in trying strange foods, as a matter of fact. There’s too much attention given to food anyway; too much importance laid on it. A good plain meal, meat and potatoes and bread — ”
“And fruit salad,” said Edward Simms, “with mayonnaise. Don’t forget that.”
“Exactly — fruit salad with mayonnaise. There’s a meal that’s worthwhile. You can get it anywhere, any time. This business of fussing about with a lot of queer things, just to eat! It’s silly. It’s insignificant.”
“My dear Dean,” said Edward Simms, “a very wise and learned man — no less a person than the great Doctor Johnson — once said that human felicity is made up of many ingredients, each of which may be shown to be very insignificant. I count a dinner like this one a part of my felicity, and I heartily congratulate the exceptional taste which planned it and directed its preparation.”
“And I agree with you,” said Polly Arden. “I only wish I were as clever as Mabel.”
The last of the salad plates disappeared at this moment and the dessert was served. It was Savilla’s masterpiece, an evanescent apricot soufflé, light and hot as a July breeze, sweet as young love, filled with the essence of the most exquisite and subtle fruit that grows. Following it came a custard sauce, fluffed with whipped cream, strengthened cunningly with nothing less than old apricot brandy.
Edward Simms spoke with his mouth full; he could not wait: “Call this insignificant?” he said to Dean Kennedy. “Prefer fruit salad with mayonnaise to this, would you?”
“Oh, don’t scold him,” said Mabel. “Everyone knows what he likes best.” She said it almost gayly. She had made her decision. There was — she knew it now — a weight off her heart. She wasn’t going to marry Dean Kennedy. No, she definitely wasn’t going to marry Dean Kennedy. She couldn’t do it. The old romance had died a quick and permanent death; smothered, she thought merrily, suffocated and drowned, indeed, in fruit salad with mayonnaise for dinner. It had been on its way to perish before that. Reason had triumphed over sentimentality. The years since their youth had changed them too much; he wasn’t what she remembered or what she wanted except in externals. Perhaps, if she had started out with him long ago, in place of Cara Mai, there might have been adjustments, harmony; but it was too late. She couldn’t see herself any longer in the role of helper, comforter, inspiration and guide to — she looked at Dean, and chose the words deliberately — to a disgruntled, troublemaking, conceited man with an obstinate, confirmed lack of taste for the things she liked and knew about. Edward Simms was perfectly right; it was the small, livable tastes in common which made marriage possible. Edward Simms. . . . Edward Simms. . . . What about Edward Simms’ years of thoughtful devotion, his generous care, his watching out for her, his easy, amusing companionship? Why, Edward was the real romantic. And here he sat beside her, smiling at her over the soufflé, the same kind, tender, knowledgeable person he had always been. She felt her relieved heart go out to him yearningly as to her true mate.
“This is a great occasion, Mabel,” he said as he met her glance.
“You have no idea how true that is,” replied Mabel happily. “Now, shall we go in for coffee? It’s the kind you like, Edward. And, Dean, please take care of Mrs. Tree.”
We are pleased to bring you this regular column by Dr. David Creel, a licensed psychologist, certified clinical exercise physiologist and registered dietitian. He is also credentialed as a certified diabetes educator and the author of A Size That Fits: Lose Weight and Keep it off, One Thought at a Time (NorLightsPress, 2017).
Do you have a weight loss question for Dr. Creel? Email him at [email protected]. He may answer your question in a future column.
People commonly use food to deal with stress. After all, food is an enjoyable distraction and easy to find. When you feel stressed at work, a vending-machine candy bar may only be steps from your office. At home, our well-stocked pantries and refrigerators make emotional eating an easy way to cope. And once in the kitchen, what foods call to us? It certainly isn’t lettuce or carrots. Most likely we hear a siren song from ice cream, chips and salsa, cake, or some other high-calorie food.
One TV commercial shows a sniffling, downtrodden young woman paying for items at a convenience store. She places ice cream, potato chips, and a box of tissues on the counter. The elderly cashier empathetically says, “Oh, honey, he broke up with you again?” Viewers understand this because emotional eating is so common. This young woman is using food to deal with sadness, abandonment, and anger.
In my weight management groups and individual sessions with people trying to lose weight, I frequently ask, “What influences you to eat when you aren’t hungry?”
Many people respond by saying, “I’m an emotional eater.” Even among those who deny emotional eating, we often discover patterns of weight gain during stressful times and life transitions that suggest otherwise. And it’s not just negative stress – positive stress also can influence eating and physical activity. Exciting life transitions, sometimes referred to as eustress, can impact our behavior. These stressors may include the birth of a child, a job promotion, a new house, or a new relationship. We might gain weight because we party and stop exercising at college, take on the unhealthy habits of a spouse during our first year of marriage, use food as entertainment when we travel, or celebrate anything and everything with cake. Over time, eating during periods of eustress or distress becomes a pattern that seems normal. We eat without much awareness of the circumstances and emotions that contribute to our food choices.
Redefining pleasure can help us eat healthy during times of celebration and still enjoy life. Monitoring weight, physical activity, and diet can keep us from veering off track during exciting times. But for many people, persistent distress is more connected to unhealthy weight than positive stress. With or without awareness, stressed-out employees, moms and dads, college students, and even children self-medicate with food.
I don’t want to turn you into an unemotional robot when it comes to eating. I do want to help you become intentional about how you react to stress. Being deliberate and aware of our reactions is often a challenge, because the interaction between emotions and eating is complex. Fortunately, we can begin making positive changes without understanding every detail of why we eat.
To simplify, let’s accept that emotions affect everyone’s eating habits to a certain degree. Your unique patterns may be so ingrained that you barely notice them. To better understand your patterns, it may help to answer the following questions:
- How often do you emotionally eat?
- When do you tend to do this (evenings, weekends, or when your mother-in-law visits)?
- How much food (and what) do you usually eat?
- At the time, do you realize you’re eating because of your emotional state or is it more like a mindless grazing pattern?
- Do you lose your appetite when you’re stressed but then end up overeating when you finally relax?
- Do you intentionally plan emotional eating (making sure you’ll be alone or have your preferred foods)?
- Do you eat until you’re uncomfortably full and/or feel out of control?
As the questions above illustrate, people have different patterns of emotional eating. You may be a grazer — tasting food as you hurriedly prepare dinner or inching your way through a sleeve of crackers while helping a reluctant child complete his homework. Maybe you tend to not eat when you’re stressed, but overcompensate later when the pressures of life subside. Or you may be a frequent binge eater, consuming food until you’re uncomfortably full, feeling out of control and only eating in private, and feeling embarrassed and guilty when you finish. If the last sentence describes you, consider seeking professional help. A therapist skilled in eating disorders can help you better understand your behavior.
In the next article, we’ll cover how to cope with emotions in a healthy manner.
Come back each week for more healthy weight loss advice from Dr. David Creel.
Topping most of our resolutions this year is a repeat from the past: weight loss. But who’s to blame for this obsessive desire to trim and slim our figure? Automation? Hollywood? Feminism? France? Here’s a 1934 doctor’s take on America’s ongoing weight-loss craze:
Originally published in The Saturday Evening Post, September 22, 1934
Before the establishing our modern knowledge of diet, it was taken for granted that the shape anyone might have had been conferred upon him by providence, and the best one could do would be to make the most of it. There was little to be done in making the least of it. Nature creates human beings and animals in all sorts of forms and sizes. A Great Dane takes many a roll in the dust, but never achieves the slimness of a greyhound; a draft horse of the Percheron type travels many a mile pulling heavy loads, but never gets small enough to be a baby’s pony. Nevertheless, the basic framework can be modified as to the amount of upholstery. Every woman knows that she can, by suitable modification of her diet and by the use of proper exercise, cause the pounds to pass away.
No one has determined certainly the cause of the recent craze for reduction. Perhaps it was the outgrowth of criticism of the female figure that was popular in the late ’90s. The textbooks of the ’90s had much to say about corset livers and hourglass shapes. The preference for the boyish form may have been the result of the gradual change in the amount of clothing worn by women. The multiple petticoats and the heavy underclothing of the late ’90s began to give way to single garments in what was called the empire style. The styles have tended toward the slim figure, covered by less and less clothing. Perhaps the change was the result of the coming of the automobile; that, too, has been a most significant factor in the change of our body weight.
A Matter of Form
Walking, up to 1900, was the accepted mode of transport for the human body in the vast majority of circumstances. Then came the motor car. Today there is in this country one motor car for each five persons, and walking is gradually becoming a lost art. Walking used to be the form of exercise primarily responsible for burning up the excess intake of food. With the gradual elimination of walking and with the coming of the machine in industry, there has been less and less demand for energy in food consumption and more and more tendency toward maintaining a slim figure by a reduction in the consumption of food. The person who takes no exercise and who eats the diet that was prevalent from 1900 to 1905 will put on weight like an Iowa hog in training for a state fair.
The suggestion has even been made that feminism was responsible for increasing the popularity of women like men. Within the last quarter century more and more women have come out of the home and into various clerical, manufacturing, promotional, industrial, and statesmanlike occupations. No doubt, the bobbing of the hair and the binding and suppression of the breasts, as well as the thinning of the figure and simplification of the costume, were women’s response to the necessity for greater ease of movement and less encumbrance while engaged in such work. A fat girl gets lots of bumps from office furniture in modern designs.
Then came the war, and with it there was intensification of all these motivations; the war made serious demands on women. The slightly suppressed desires for freedom merged into strong impulses and urges that suddenly seized every feminine mind. What had been merely a somewhat languid interest suddenly became a dominating craving. Reducing became the topic of the hour, and the craze for reduction was upon us.
It has been urged by some that the final stimulus for slenderness was a sudden change in fashions promoted by the modistes of France. Be that as it may, the French women themselves never succumbed to the craze for emaciation as did their American sisters.
The French are far too sound a race from the point of view of feminine psychology to urge the cultivation of manly traits in their women. No doubt, the French fashions did incline toward women of somewhat thinner type, but the modistes did not, like our designers of costumes, adopt an all-or-nothing policy. Individualization in form and costume has more often been the mark of France, whereas standartization and uniformity have dominated the American scene.
American manufacturers of ready-made clothing, with the beginning of the 1920s, began to produce models for slim women, hipless and bustless. As the women went into the department stores to purchase, they found it difficult to obtain anything that would fit. They came out wringing their hands and crying that most famous of all feminine laments, “I can’t get a thing to fit me.” And when a woman cannot get a thing that will fit, she is ready to fix herself to fit what she can get. There were promptly plenty of experts ready to help her through the fixing process.
To Make the Person Personable
Advertisements began to appear of nostrums to speed the activity of the body and to lessen its absorption of food. Phonograph records were sold, giving explicit instructions regarding exercise and diets. The radio poured forth systematic calisthenics and played tunes for the performance of these motions in a rhythmical manner. Plaster fell from many a living-room ceiling while women of copious avoirdupois rolled heavily on the bedroom floor. The springs and frames of many a bed groaned wearily beneath the somersaults of some damsel of 170 pounds. Pugilists who had been smacked into insensibility on the rosined floors of the squared rings became heavily priced consultants for ladies of fashion and of leisure who embarked on programs of weightlifting: Department stores offered, in the sections devoted to cosmetics, strangely distorted rolling pins with which it was claimed fat might be better distributed about the person. Shakers, vibrators, thumpers, bumpers, and rubbers manipulated electrically, by water power, or even by gas, were offered to those who cared to try them.
Out of this turmoil came a demand for a scientific study of overweight, its effects on the human body, its relationship to economics, sociology, psychology, happy marriage, the maintenance of the home, and physical and mental health. In response to this demand, research organizations in many medical institutions began to study the factors responsible for obesity and the most suitable methods for overcoming the condition without injuring the general health. Whereas, in scientific medical indexes of a previous decade, an occasional article only might be devoted to this subject, the indexes of recent years show scores of records and reports in this field.
The Do-or-Diet Spirit
The first response to the craze for reduction, as I have said, was the development of extraordinary systems of exercise, with the idea that a woman could keep right on eating the same amount of food that she formerly took and that she could get rid of the effects of this food by excessive muscular activity. Quite soon the women found out the error of this notion.
Walking 5 miles, playing 18 holes of golf, or even 6 active sets of tennis does not use up enough energy to take off any considerable amount of weight. Even the playing of an excessively severe football game removes from the body relatively little tissue. A football player, it has been reported, may be found to weigh from 5 to 10 pounds less after a football game than he weighed before, but most of this loss of weight is merely due to removal of water from the body, which is promptly restored by the drinking of water after the contest is over. Actually, the terrific strain of one hour of football burns up not more than one-third of a pound of body tissue.
Thus reduction of weight is for most people simply a matter of mathematics, calculating the amount of food taken in against the amount used up. Reduction is a matter of months and years, not of days. The investigators have shown that it is dangerous for the vast majority of people to lose more than two pounds a week. A greater loss than this places such a strain on the organs of elimination and on tissue repair that its effects on the human body may be serious and lasting.
When women found that weight could not be permanently removed to any considerable extent by excess exercise, they began to try extraordinary diets. The diets first adopted were selections of single elements. They have been characterized as perpendicular rather than horizontal reductions. The phrase refers to the nature of the diet rather than to the effect on the human form. In a perpendicular diet, the partaker eliminates everything except one or two food substances and limits himself exclusively to these. In a horizontal diet, one continues to eat a wide variety of substances, but eats only one-half or one-third as much of each. Perpendicular diets are dangerous because they do not provide essential proteins, vitamins, and mineral salts. These will be found in a properly chosen diet which includes many different foods, but smaller amounts of each. So women began eating a veal chop alone, pineapple alone, hard-boiled eggs alone, or lettuce alone. The phrase “let us alone” best expresses the proper attitude to assume toward a woman on a perpendicular diet. The constant craving for food and the associated irritability make the woman on such a diet a suitable companion only for herself, and sometimes not even for that. Certainly, she is no pleasure around a home. Among the first of the books of advice to be published on diet was one concerned only with the calories. No doubt, successful reduction of weight was easily accomplished by the caloric method, but the associated weakness, illness, and craving for food soon brought realization that there was more to scientific diet than merely lowering the calories.
The next extraordinary manifestation was the 18-day diet from Hollywood. The exact origin of this combination does not appear to be known. Perhaps it appeared first in print in the columns of criticism of motion pictures of a well-known Hollywood writer. In her statements on the subject, it was said that the diet was the result of five years of study by French and American physicians, and that the diet would be perfectly harmless for those in normal health. If the French and American doctors spent five years working out the 18-day diet, they wasted a lot of time. Any good American dietitian could have figured out an equally good combination, and probably a much better one, in an afternoon. The vogue of the 18-day diet was phenomenal. Restaurants and hotels featured it in their announcements. Hostesses, anxious to please their dinner guests, called each of them by telephone to know which day of the 18-day diet they had reached and served each guest with the material scheduled for that particular meal. It was said that a Chicago butcher bragged that he had eaten the first nine days for breakfast.
The 18-Day Sentence
The 18-day diet had peculiar psychologic appeal. For the first few days it consisted primarily of grapefruit, orange, egg, and Melba toast. Melba toast, be it said, is a piece of white bread reduced to its smallest possible proportions; then dried and toasted so as to be developed into something that can be chewed. By the second or third day, when the participant had reached the point of acute starvation, she was allowed to gaze briefly on a small piece of steak or a lamb chop from which the fat had been trimmed. Then two or three days of the restricted program followed, and again, when the desire for food reached the breaking point, a small piece of fish, chicken, or steak could be tried. Thus the addict passed the 18 days, during which she lost some 18 pounds. Then, pleased with her svelte lines, she began to eat; three weeks later she could be found at the point from which she had first departed.
For years it has been recognized that human beings need magical stimuli in the form of amulets, powders, or charms to aid in the concentration necessary for success in love, religion, health, or business. The human mind needs some single object to which it may pin its hopes, its faiths, and its aspirations. Moreover, there was the psychological appeal of mob action. There was the desire to be doing what everybody else was doing at the same time. Then there was the thrill of competition. One could hear the addicts of the Hollywood diet asking one another, “What day are you on?” And the answer came back, “I’m on the tenth day and I’ve lost eight pounds.”
With the mystic appeal of Hollywood, land of mystery, with the psychological understanding of human appetite, with the introduction of the Melba toast, the Hollywood diet swept the nation.
The Calorie Gauge
The one thing necessary to reduce weight successfully in the majority of cases is to realize just how many calories are necessary to sustain the life of the person concerned and what the essential substances are that need to be associated with those calories. Most of us enjoy our food. We eat food because we like it, and we eat without thinking what the food will do in the way of depositing fat. The researches in the scientific laboratories that have been made in the past 10 years indicate that we eat more food than we need, particularly at a time when energy consumption is far less than energy production. It has been generally assumed that the weight of the body is definitely related to health. There are standard tables of height and weight at different ages for all of us from birth to death. It must be remembered, however, that these are just averages and that any variation within 10 pounds or even 15 pounds of these averages is not incompatible with the best of health in a person who inclines to be either heavy or light in weight as a result of his constitution and heredity.
There are two types of overweight: One … in which the glands of internal secretion fail to function properly; the other … due to overeating and insufficient exercise. The glands of the body, including particularly the thyroid, the pituitary, and the sex glands, are related to the disposal of sugars and of fat in the body. In cases in which the action of these glands is deficient, a determination of the basal metabolic rate of the body will yield important information. This determination is a relatively simple matter. One merely goes without breakfast to the office of a physician who has a basal-metabolic machine, or to a hospital, all of which nowadays have these devices. One rests for approximately one hour, then breathes for a few minutes into a tube while the nose is stopped by a pinching device, so that all the air breathed out can be measured. By appropriate calculations, the physician or his technician reaches a figure which represents the rate of chemical action going on in the body. A rate of anywhere from –7 to +7 is considered to be a normal metabolic rate. A rate of anywhere from –12 to +12 may be within the range of the normal for many people. If no other special disturbance is found, the physician is not likely to be concerned about the metabolic rate within such limitations. Rates well beyond these two figures, however, are considered to be an indication of failure in the chemical activities of the body — namely, either too rapid or too slow — and measures should be taken promptly to overcome the difficulty. If the basal metabolic rate is –20, –25 or –30, the physician will prescribe suitable amounts of efficient glandular substances to hasten the activity. Moreover, he will at this time arrange to repeat his study of the metabolic rate at regular intervals. He will watch the pulse rate and the nervous reaction of the person to make certain that the effects of the glandular products that are administered are kept within reasonable limitations. If, on the other hand, the basal metabolic rate is found to be +20, +25, or +30, he will make a study of the thyroid gland and will provide suitable rest, mental hygiene, and possibly drugs to diminish this excess action. Rarely, indeed, is a person with a metabolic rate of +25 fat; in most instances, such people are thin, sometimes to the point of emaciation. There are periods in life when the human body tends to put on fat. As women reach maturity, as they have children, as they approach the period at the end of middle age, there is a special tendency to gain in weight. Men are likely to spend more time in the open air, eat more proteins and less sugar than do women, and therefore are less likely to gain weight early. The common period for the beginning of overweight is between 20 and 40 years of age; in women the average being usually around 30. Among men, the onset of overweight is likely to come on eight to ten years later.
A man doing hard muscular work requires 4,150 calories a day; a moderate worker, 3,400; a desk worker, 2,700, and a person of leisure, 2,400 calories. A child under one year of age requires about 45 calories per pound of body weight, about 900 calories a day. The number is reduced from the age of six to 13 to about 35 calories per pound, or 2,700 a day; from 18 to 25 years, about 25 calories per pound of body weight may be necessary, or 3,800 a day. Thus, a person 30 years old, weighing about 150 pounds, may have 2,700 calories; a person 40 years of age, weighing 150 pounds, may have 2,500 calories; a person 60 years of age, weighing 150 pounds, may have 2,300 calories. A calorie is merely a unit for measuring energy values. In the accompanying table examples are given of the number of calories in various well-established portions of food.
The overweight child at any age is quite a problem for the doctor. Most times it is the result of a family that tends to eat too much. Children of fat people are likely to be fat because they live under the same conditions as do their parents. If the adults of the family eat too much, the children can hardly be blamed for doing likewise. Investigators at the University. of Michigan say that the normal person has a mechanism which notifies him that he has eaten enough. Obese people require stronger notification before they feel satisfied, and many disregard the warning signal because they get so much pleasure out of eating. “Pigs would live a lot longer if they didn’t make hogs of themselves,” said a Hoosier philosopher.
If a physician has determined that excess weight in any person is not due to any deficiency in activity of the glands, but primarily to overeating, it is safe to take a diet that contains a little more than 1,000 calories a day, and that provides all the important ingredients necessary to sustain life and health. A menu like the following, outlined by Miss Geraghty, provides about 1,000 calories as well as suitable proteins, carbohydrates, fats, mineral salts and vitamins:
For those who want to reduce intelligently, here is another menu that includes all the important ingredients:
If you simply must have afternoon tea, add in 150 calories that the sugar and accompanying wafers will contain.
Every woman who has heard of these diets insists that they provide about twice as much food as she usually eats. This merely means that she is talking at random rather than mathematically. These diets do contain a wide variety of ingredients, but they are chosen with exact knowledge of what they provide in the way of calories and important food attributes. Quite likely, the women who protest eat a smaller number of food substances, but it is likely, also, that they eat so much of each of these substances that their calories are far beyond the total. Furthermore, they probably fail to keep account of the occasional malted milks, cookies, chocolates, or ice cream that they have taken on the side.
From the accompanying table of caloric values, it is possible to select a widely varied meal that will provide any number of calories deemed to be necessary; and if the meal is selected to include a considerable number of substances, it will have all the important ingredients.
In taking any diet, it is well to remember that calories are not the only measuring stick for food. A pint of milk taken daily provides many important ingredients. If bread, potatoes, butter, cream, sugar, jams, nuts, and various starchy foods are kept at a minimum, weight reduction will be helped greatly.
Over the radio and in a few periodicals that do not censor their advertising as carefully as they might, there continue to appear claims for all sorts of quack reducing methods. If only most people had some understanding of the elementary facts of digestion and nutrition, the promotion of such methods would yield far fewer shekels to the promoters. It is a simple matter to get rid of excess poundage and, in general, it is quite desirable. One merely finds out first how many calories per day constitute the normal intake, and tries to get some idea of the number necessary to meet the demands of the body for energy. One selects a diet which provides the essential substances and which permits some 500 to 1,000 calories less per day than the amount required.
Under such a regimen, steadily persisted in, the fat will depart from many of the places where it has been deposited, but not always from the places where it is most unsightly. For this purpose, special exercises, massage, and similar routines may be helpful. But persistence more than anything else is required. It is just a matter of pounding away.