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The don't-try-it diet.

The evening meal becomes the evening mess when hubby opens his big mouth and takes over the cooking chore,

Nothing will put a man on a diet faster than getting caught in a rainstorm without an umbrella and staying dry below his waistline.

My weight problem can, of course, be laid at the oven door of the one who does the cooking. At the time I joined plights with my dear wife in the trough of holy wedlock, or however that goes, my physique would have made Apollo sick with envy. (Upon proofreading this, dear wife struck out the words "with envy," but luckily I caught her little prank in time.) Today, however, after umptytwo years of marriage (or is it umptythree?-you know how time flies when you're having fun), the flat midriff of my once-macho torso has begun to assume the contour of a weak-staved water barrel.

Mr. Shakespeare, you'll remember, had Hamlet say to Horatio, "There's a divinity that shapes our ends." If divinity has shaped my ends, I reasoned with my conscience, there isn't a whole lot I can do about it, right? After losing that argument, I then pointed out that I happen to be one of the unfortunate gastronomic victims who seem to gain five pounds from eating three ounces of cashews. And even if I remember not to inhale when walking past a bakery, that aroma must seep through my pores and add another two pounds. Conscience replied, "Don't be silly-it's your dear wife's square meals that are making you round."

So the question became: Do I put my umpty-whatever years of marriage on the line by suggesting we finish our meals with a toothpick instead of a dessert, or would I begin having my trousers made by the tentand-awning people? The situation came to a climax only this week, when I was faced with one of her butterscotch pies with a meringue reaching halfway to the ceiling.

"I'm-ah-starting on a diet," I bravely announced to one and all-one being all at the time. "That creation looks to have come from the angels' own ovens," I hastily added, as one and all looked down the full length of her nose with one of those looks that go clear to the bone. (I might add that m dear wife was already a tad testy. After her cat, Lump, got its white hair on my best suit, I had suggested that she have the little beast dyed navy blue.)

"So maybe you'd like to take over putting together three meals and four or five snacks a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year for umpty-two years" (so it is umpty-two), she snapped.

"At least I'd lose a few pounds," I snapped back.

"It's all yours," she huffed, with a huff that lifted a section of the meringue and deposited it over the butter dish.

You talk about a drunken sailor trying to win an Olympic gold medal on the balance beam. My culinary experience to date had consisted mainly of opening a can of Campbell's pork and beans. And I usually had trouble doing that. If I felt really creative, I would doctor the beans with bacon and onions-Beans Hobo, I caUed it. The recipe served two-my faithful dog Brutus and me. And sometimes faithful dog would turn away with a whimper.

Nevertheless, now that I had stuck my big fat neck out, I wasn't going to stick it back in untill had thrown up something (a pretty good choice of words, as it turned out) that would give my dear wife something to shoot at. (And I'd rephrase that if I had time.)

While collecting my wits (not all of them, of course, on this short notice, but at least a quorum), I decided to launch my blubber attack by serving salads. When the female of the species wants to make a salad, the ingredients, of course, are right there at her fingertips. I couldn't even find lettuce, but I did come up with half a head of cabbage. How long it had been half a head I didn't want to speculate.

When I couldn't find the chopping thing-and I darned well wasn't going to give her the satisfaction of having to ask where she hid it-I took the cabbage to the shed and subjected it to the hedge trimmers. Because the bin where she keeps the carrots and radishes when she is making salad was empty, I added petite squares of butternut squash to the cabbage. In place of radishes I cleverly added maraschino cherries. As a final gourmet touch, I made raisins do for bacon bits sprinkled over the top. The dressing was my own creation of olive oil and honey.

"Now here's a salad that will stick to your ribs," I said as I stuck it in front of my dear wife.

Needless to say, she was struck dumb by my ingenuity. But I didn't notice for a while. When I did I said, "Go ahead, dig in."

She replied-rather rudely, I thought, considering an the trouble I'd gone to-"A dog wouldn't eat it." And, by golly, she was right. She and Brutus shared a microwave pizza. I sat there until 9:30 getting the stuff down. The next morning I had gained two pounds.

O.K., if they wanted perfection I'd give them perfection. That afternoon I went into Babbs Super Valu and came out with head lettuce, radishes, green peppers, tomatoes, horseradish (how did that get in there?), wholewheat croutons, low-cal cucumber dressing-the works. Then-just because I couldn't find a pan big enough to mix the stuff in and had to use the foot tub (which I had washed out really well)-my dear wife threw up her hands (no comment) and wouldn't touch it. I had to sit there and eat that rabbit fare until my nose twitched, while she sat across from me devouring another microwave pizza and passing the orts down to Brutus.

The next night, for a change of pace, I stopped at Hardee's and picked up two garden salads with lowcal French dressing. In retrospect, I probably should have left well enough alone. But I had this horseradish, see. And I like horseradish. With the right dosage, not only does it clear out the sinuses, but there's nothing like it for flushing the tear ducts-much better than the peeling of onions.

There are those people, however, who, after one mouthful, exclaim, "What in the name of all that's holy did you do to this salad?" And when you reply that you livened it up with a tad of horseradish, they get on their high horses and ride off into the living room with plates of wine cheese and packets of Ritz crackers.

Well, I can take a hint. If she wanted a salad break I'd give her a salad break. Wiping the tears from my eyes so I could see the cupboard door, I began searching for her cookbook, an heirloom left by her Aunt Lizzie. After I'd found it and blown off the dust, I went through its dogeared pages looking for a piece of resistance, as it's known in gourmet circles, that would make Julia Child look like the proprietor of a hot-dog wagon. What I finally selected had been identified by Aunt Lizzie as New England Potpie. A hand-scrawled note on the margin claimed the recipe had won first prize at the Reese Homecoming, 1917.

Unfortunately, I ran into problem No. I right off the bat: I knew where to find the salt and pepper, but where does a woman keep her chutney, rosemary, reginald, marjorie, and stuff like that? An encrusted container of hedge garlic was the best I could come up with. Problem No. 2 was finding a cover to match the kettle I had selected to cook the chunks of lean beef, potatoes, and noodles (onions filling in the chinks). No. 3 consisted of keeping nosy wife at bay, for this was the first real food she had smelled since she had so thoughtfully foisted the cooking chore off on me.

Problem No. 4 arose that evening when we shared a can of pork and beans and a side dish of head lettuce. I shared it, that is. She generously gave her share of the beans to Brutus and took the lettuce out to the elm stump for the deer. That woman is all heart-and mouth.

"Where is what you've been cooking all day, for goodness' sake?" she wanted to know.

"It's for tomorrow night," I explained. "But it'll be worth the wait . . . just you wait."

Thoughts of pheasant under glass no doubt dancing in her pointy little head, she went to bed early. I stayed up another two hours with my culinary creation.

I should explain that both my dear wife and I suffer from a chronic affliction of my dear wife's that our doctor has diagnosed as "restless legs." No, it has nothing to do with shopping. Rather, about every 30 seconds after she hits the hay, her feet lash out, toenails at the ready-ready to sink into anything or anyone within range. She's ripped to shreds so many sheets I'm seriously thinking of having the next set made of sailcloth.

This particular night, at around 3 a.m., her unusually large toenails failed for the first time in months to embed themselves in the calf of one of my scarred and trembling legs, and she sat up.

"What in heaven's name-" she muttered.

"You've been dreaming of bicycling up Mt. Everest again," I muttered back.

"I didn't dream that!" she enunciated quite clearly. "What in the world is it?"

"You must be referring to my New England Potpie," I said. "It was to be a surprise for tonight."

"Potpie!" she yelped, as if she'd never slept with a potpie before. "What on earth is it doing in bed with us?" '

"It's following your Aunt Lizzie's recipe," I said, fumbling for the light switch. "Cook all day," I quoted, "take to bed, and keep at body temperature . . . return to stove the next morning . . . and cook till suppertime . . . serves six."

"Good grief," she moaned.

"She was your Aunt Lizzie, not mine," I reminded her, checking to make sure one of her restless feet hadn't dislodged the kettle lid.

My dear wife spent the rest of the night sleeping on the sofa. And instead of serving six, the potpie served only one-Bruws loved it. Although I noticed he was eating grass the next day.

I'm wondering now if grass might be the answer to my weight problem. Could it be that my dog is smarter than I am?

You don't have to answer that question. It has already been answered. Several times.
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Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:May 1, 1989
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