Pulled to Tradition

I can count the number of weddings I have attended on one hand. Maybe two, including ceremonies I was young enough to witness in diapers.

But countless hours of “Cake Boss” and “Ace of Cakes” taught me the importance of buttercream frosting, fondant roses and intricate piping. Everyone pays attention to the wedding cake.

So following my oldest cousin Amanda’s incense-filled nuptial mass, I knew to keep an eye out for a white, sugary tower.

Found it.

Found it.

The reception room pulsed with lights and body heat as Amanda and her ten bridesmaids surrounded the triple-tiered confection. Each grabbed a white satin ribbon that protruded from the cake.

With varying degrees of grace, the bridesmaids pulled, revealing silver charms. Licking off the extra icing, the women held up their prizes. Everyone cheered.

“What’s that?” a man who had acquainted himself with the open bar slurred.

“Cake pulls,” a fellow witness answered. “It’s a Southern thing. Very New Orleans.”

According to Southern tradition, each pull holds a special meaning.

According to Southern tradition, each pull holds a special meaning.

The Victorian-influenced tradition is simple: guests select ribbons connected to silver charms. Each charm symbolizes a different meaning, from luck and prosperity to romance and upcoming marriage. Sometimes brides let guests pick at random, others select specific messages for pullers.

Amanda chose the latter, which is how one bridesmaid knew the significance of pulling a fleur de lis.

“It’s because I just moved to New Orleans,” she said. “It stands for a new beginning.”

As the bridesmaids moved away, Amanda and her new husband took their inaugural bites, missing once and laughing continuously.

Two hundred guests later, the cake was gone.


Trick or Treat?

Rip. Crunch. Chew. Swallow. Halloween candy disappears in mindless raze.

Even the most disciplined dietitians crumble in the sugar-soaked holiday’s wake. It’s impossible to stop with just one piece.

While ghosts and witches elicit screams and terror, the scariest part of Halloween lies in the bottom of pillowcases and plastic pumpkins. Seemingly innocent “fun-sized” chocolate bars and candy hold a horrifyingly high amount of fat, sugar and calories.

What’s worse, the individually wrapped treats rarely include nutritional information. Instead, companies list calories and ingredients on the wholesale bags.

So, before you inhale your sixth miniature Snickers, take a moment to realize what you’re putting into your body.

Halloween takes no prisoners.

Halloween takes no prisoners.

Here’s some of Halloween’s most popular candies. Information from Cooking Light.

1. M&M’s Milk Chocolate Fun Size

73 calories, 2g saturated fat, 9.3g sugar

2. M&M’s Peanut Fun Size

90 calories, 1.8g saturated fat, 9g sugar

3. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Fun Size 

77 calories, 2.7g saturated fat, 7g sugar

4. Branch’s Candy Corn

53 calories, 0g saturated fat, 11.7g sugar

5. Snickers Fun Size

80 calories, 1.5g saturated fat, 8.5g sugar

6. Sour Patch Kids Mini Bag

50 calories, 0g fat, 10g sugar

7. Baby Ruth Fun Size

85 calories, 2.3g saturated fat, 10g sugar

8. Tootsie Pop

60 calories, 0g saturated fat, 10g sugar (contains trans fat)

9. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Snack Size

110 calories, 2.5g saturated fat, 11g sugar

10. Skittles Fun Size

60 calories, 0.7g saturated fat, 11.3g sugar

11. Almond Joy Snack Size

80 calories, 3g saturated fat, 8g sugar

12. Twix Fun Size

80 calories, 3g saturated fat, 8g sugar

13. Kit Kat Wafer Bar Snack Size

 70 calories, 2.3g saturated fat, 7g sugar

14. Starburst Fun Size

2 Starburst candies: 40 calories, 0.8g saturated fat, 6g sugar

15. Milk Duds Snack Size

53 calories, 1.2g saturated fat, 9g sugar


Losing Control

It’s a test: twelve choices of cold, creamy frozen yogurt.

Staring at my options, I debate between chocolate, peanut butter, pistachio and banana nut bread. Tough decision.

What keeps me up at night.

What keeps me up at night.

Seven sample cups later, I’m slightly full and increasingly torn. Pistachio it is.

I pull the lever and pour one, two, three swirls around the bathtub-sized “cup.” It’s time to move on to toppings.

In a move half science, half artistry, I add cookie dough and chocolate sprinkles to my froyo. My sister suggests condensed milk. I acquiesce.

The artist at work.

The artist at work.

The combination scale/cash register reveals the damage. I walk away 6 oz. heaver and $4.37 lighter.

The first bite tastes heavenly; the second, just as good. But three bites into my masterpiece I hit a wall.

I’m full.

But I keep eating. By the time I finish, I’m uncomfortable.

I’ve always had difficulty with portion control. The deadly combination of eyes-bigger-than-stomach syndrome plus there’s-starving-children-in-Africa guilt created a supersized problem.

With its unlimited samples, massive cups and generous self-serve set-up, Yogurtland presents a particularly challenging environment.

However, it isn’t unique. Most restaurants and fast food chains offer more than we can, and should, chew. In the past twenty years alone, serving sizes increased by more than 30 percent.

Likewise, super stores like Sam’s Club and Costco fuel the portion distortion. We can buy more, so we do.

Curbing our appetites can be difficult, but it’s possible. Taking the time to consciously eat and enjoy each bite keeps us from overindulging.

Maybe if we prioritize quality over quantity, it will make eating a little sweeter.


Market Day

Rumbling thunder and sheets of rain clear the Red Stick Farmer’s Market as Karen makes a bumbling, halfhearted entrance. Sodden patrons dart from tent to tent, determined to scoop the freshest gourds and goat cheese. Vendors entrench themselves into Walmart folding chairs.

Frances Chauvin slowly counts her pies – blueberry, Granny Smith, pumpkin, coconut, cushaw – each sealed in store-brand bags. The 81-year-old turns to restock her dwindling display of shoe soles, crispy cinnamon and sugar-dusted pastries. Business was brisk before the rain.

Chauvin perks up as a woman emerges from the deluge. Without hesitation, she asks for pecan.

It is a wise choice.

It is a wise choice.

“It’s for my momma and daddy,” the woman says as Chauvin bends down for a plastic bag. The customer describes how she makes every meal for her 86 and 87-year-old parents.

“I just like to surprise them every once in a while,” she says. “They were so good to me, and my momma really misses cooking.”

Her eyes seem moist. It could be the rain.

Drops of water from the tent ceiling distract Chauvin. Her pies are in danger.

A neighbor uses a bamboo pole to push the pockets of water over the edge of the tent, creating temporary waterfalls. Before Chauvin can ask for help, he walks over.

She gives him a thank you shoe sole.

The rain slacks as a middle-aged man toting a toddler walks up to Chauvin. She smiles and hands him a pre-bagged pie.

“He comes every weekend, pushing his father in a wheelchair,” Chauvin says quietly. “He lets his father pick out a pie and I hold it for them while they eat breakfast. His father has Alzheimer’s and would eat it right away otherwise.”

The pair walks off into the rain, the little boy stopping to step in each puddle.