SWEET SMELL OF
13 November 2002
It was cold and I bundled up in my warm jacket and gloves. I put new batteries in the
bike light and took off for the club. This is my clubbing day, not my biking day.
It's 0.6 miles to the club, hardly enough time to warm up. On the way, I pass
Albertson's (formerly Lucky's) supermarket, just coming to life. At 7:00, the sign has
read for years, they sell "hot donuts."
This morning as I passed by I could smell the donuts, presumably hot and fresh from the
oven. It hit me that it's been nearly a year since I've had a donut.
It's not the packaged donuts that get me. I could probably buy a box of Entemanns
without feeling the need to gorge. It's the bakery donuts, especially still warm from the
oven. Glazed and sugar donuts in particular.
They say that one reason fat people get fat is that they are trying to recreate the
special tastes from the past. Our taste buds change over time, or maybe it's just that the
special things we remember are special because of the circumstances and that it's not
really the food itself, so we keep eating, hoping to recreate that thing that we remember
as being so wonderful.
The donut taste for me came from Berkeley in the early 60s. We were holy guys in those
days and often went to daily Mass on the opposite of campus from where I was living. After
Mass we would walk down to a donut shop on Euclid Ave. where the glazed donuts would be
warm and soft and squishy and I'd have a couple with a big mug of hot chocolate with a
glop of real whipped cream floating on top of it. I can still taste how great that was.
Warm donuts these days (or at least a year ago) never quite lived up to that
experience....but I kept eating, thinking that maybe I just hadn't found the
Food was always a very big deal in our family. It seems that most of the pleasant
memories that I have of childhood revolve around comfort food--and rarely vegetables!
Maybe it was because food was one of the things that my father actually liked and, except
for his irritating habit of choosing the dinner table to get angry with everyone, there
are a lot of pleasant food memories associated with him.
I remember we would do taste tests. The flat where we lived had a kitchen and attached
to it a laundry room. It probably opened into the outdoors at one time, because there was
a window which from the kitchen to the laundry room. I remember setting up a taste test to
see which milk was the richest. My father would go into the laundry room and we'd open the
window just enough to fit a glass through it and he'd do the tasting.
Naturally, the milk we preferred was always the richest.
Then there was the potato salad. My father created his own and I've never tasted any
quite like it. The secret, he always said, was to slice the potatoes wafer thin. Then he
added onions, minced sweet pickles, Best Food (Hellman's) Mayonnaise and sweet pickle
juice. It's still my favorite. I was his taster, letting him know if it needed more salt
or not. I could eat gallons of potato salad--and over the years probably did.
My mother is a wonderful cook and made great desserts, fantastic enchaladas (the art of
which she'd learned from a Mexican neighbor), and then those great hockies (fried bread dough) that I could
eat a dozen of at a sitting, slathered with real butter.
At holiday time, food took center stage. It was always the same group of relatives, and
always the same unpleasantness. It would start out happy, but as the evening progressed
and my grandmother got "the way she got," one by one, my mother, sister, father
and myself would find excuses to go to the kitchen, where we'd sit until time for dinner,
leaving the grandparents and my godfather to kvetch at each other.
There was little to talk about at dinner, so we talked about the food--and it was
delicious. I've never found another turkey stuffing to match my mother's. And then after
dinner there were chocolates from See's candy, which my godfather brought every year.
See's is still my favorite "special" candy, but that is definitely one of those
"trying to recapture the taste" sorts of things. If presented with a box, I can
eat half a dozen trying to find that wonderful taste of my youth. Someone told me a bit
ago that the company has been taken over by a another corporation and the recipe changed
slightly. I never will recapture that taste.
So it's no wonder that the smell of donuts reminds me of happy times and happy tastes.
But I didn't stop at Albertson's this morning. I went on to the club, where I did my 45
minutes of sweaty exercise. Then I went to Weight Watchers, where I found I had lost half
a pound (hey--I'll take it. After the 7 lbs last week, I didn't expect miracles again!)
and then came home to my daily breakfast of oatmeal and blueberries. As I eat, I marvel
that my cholesterol has dropped from 215 to 135, that my blood pressure has dropped from
150/90 to 135/88 to yesterday's 120/80.
They say "nothing tastes as good as thin feels." Well, I'm not thin, and
never will be, but no matter how good those donuts taste, "nothing tastes as good as healthy