It’s all in the phrasing. Might we be discussing the karmic justice of an individual receiving his due, or the pleasures of the palate and the dream of dessert after dessert, sans retribution in the regions of waistline or hips?
When I think of “just desserts,” like most people, both interpretations of the expression come to mind. But this morning, I’m contemplating cakes and pastries, though that may come as a surprise so close on the heels of the first of our heavy eating holidays in a season that seems to offer one sweet temptation after another.
With no pounds gained despite a hearty Thanksgiving meal and the leftovers that have followed – including a mini-size slice of pumpkin pie in the evening – this is a time of year when baking feels de rigueur.
That’s not only for the home front, but as part of traditional, neighborly gift-giving.
Yet delighting in delicacies of the sweet sort can be more – slowing to socialize over coffee and dessert in a cozy café, or exchanging the drink date for the delectable dessert date in its place – both sensuous and affordable.
Having perused an article in the New York Times, “Out for a Decadent Treat,” I am reminded that “just desserts” is indeed decadent, but also part of the pleasure of the season. Too often, we hurry through all of it, and enjoy too little in the process.
Dashing Through the… Holidays
Do you savor your seasonal pleasures – decorating, shopping, visiting, or cooking? Or do you find yourself on a Must-Do track that is expected, tiring, and accomplished on automatic?
What if you reset expectations and allow yourself to take a breath? What if you do less in order to appreciate more – sharing an hour or two with a friend, perhaps over coffee and cake or hot chocolate and cookies?
I used to fret over every detail and tradition, not to mention every bite of anything especially good, worried about putting on weight. I made myself crazy over images of the ideal holiday (and yours truly in some glorified role), and part of the ritual involved baking for everyone else but avoiding desserts I loved because I thought I must – or else.
Those days are done! Might I suggest that if you find yourself in a similar position, you consider reconsidering?
Are you devoted to decorating until you drop? Are you making major meals and bountiful buffets, or dates that drain the wallet at an expensive time of year as it is – when you could focus instead on Holidays Light, including just desserts? If ever there was a time to tell yourself – slow down, you move too fast – would it be now?
The Comforts of Baked Goods
There is little so comforting (to me) as freshly baked bread or an incredible pastry with substance – an apple turnover or even a warm cinnamon roll.
My own experience with the boulangerie or patisserie in Europe aside, even in my little burg of residence there are several small restaurants with a distinct focus on their array of sweets, with everything from carrot cake to petits fours, and breadier options like German stollen and Italian pannetone.
It is easy to steer clear, convinced that these goodies are the bad guys when it comes to holiday indulgence-turned-excess.
But the real point is about excess rather than moderation.
I readily admit that reaching a stage in life when moderation is possible has not been a given. I spent decades as yo-yo dieter, winding up heavier after each onslaught of deprivation and consequently, more and more discouraged. It was only when I lost weight in slow and measured fashion – not starving myself or depriving myself entirely of the tastes I love – that I found success.
That success doesn’t mean I don’t fluctuate a few pounds; I do, like most of us. But it’s recognizing that moderation allows me to enjoy foods I love including my favorite desserts that enables me to enter the holiday season attentive about eating but not obsessive.
The Pleasures of the Palate, and More
Among my favorite desserts this time of year are cakes that tend to be somewhat heavier (perhaps due to the cold weather), including pineapple upside down cake, Russian apple sharlotka, and long the tradition in our household, pecan pie with a French twist.
I even love those beastly fruitcakes that inspire so much abuse! At least, I enjoy those that are well made (Harry and David fruitcake is a favorite), and I enjoy a very small slice with a cup of coffee. In fact, anything with fruit and nuts appeals to me, particularly recipes that mingle a bit of the tart with the sweet.
In case you’ve noticed a trend, no, these are not low calorie or “healthy” versions of dessert recipes. In some instances, I bake entirely from scratch and in others, I start from pre-packaged ingredients and go from there, relying on moderation (and portion sizes) so as not to pack on the pounds.
Incidentally, one of the reasons I routinely make “mini” versions of my favorite desserts – pineapple upside down cake and pecan pie in particular – is that it allows for the variety of several tastes without feeling compelled to consume an excessive amount.
Baklava is a long time favorite which was a special treat when I was growing up. As with other foods, certain aromas, textures, and tastes bring back rich memories.
Lest you think I don’t eat anything but heavy desserts this time of year, not so! Dana at The Kitchen Witch has incredible recipes (accompanied by equally delicious stories), and this delight, Orange with Cardamom Syrup and Honey Yogurt, is irresistible and virtually guilt-free.
Slow Down and Enjoy the Holidays
At the moment, I am again lecturing myself on the value of taking a deep breath; I am learning to commit to less, to do less, and consequently, to be less stressed around those I love so that we all enjoy the holidays more. That includes appreciating a cup of coffee and just desserts if I so choose, and saying no to rushing around with unrealistic visions of what is required.
Some of the harried pace is unavoidable, but just how much is our own inability to take some distance and regain perspective?
- As you head into your holiday season, will you be baking and enjoying the fruits of your own labor?
- Might you consider “just desserts” for a gathering or night out?
- What are some of your tried and true dessert recipes during the holiday season?
- Do you struggle with moderation at this time of year, then throw up your hands in surrender?
Pineapple Upside Down Cake, via Wiki and Flickr under Creative Commons 2.0
Apple Sharlotka image, via my kitchen and Yours Truly