Carbs, A Love Story

The other night I reunited with my own true love, and although I know it’s bad — hell, it’s flat out wrong to try to turn back time — does it help you to know that when I wandered off to the point of no return, both of my parents gazed on and my husband was at my side?

All it took was a basket of warm, flaky, buttery dinner rolls, and I was in a sensory blackout courtesy of my old bad boy flame. Seduced by the yeasty sweetness of it all, I ate most of the first basket and a generous portion of a second.

And when I finished it all, I felt sick.

I felt guilty.

And now I’m afraid there’s no going back.

Once upon a time, food was just food. Nothing spelled happiness like my mom’s spaghetti and meatball casserole, where a 350-degree oven baked the sauciness out of the Bolognese, leaving a crispy pile of melted cheese, overdone meat, and best of all, crunchy pasta. Sunday mornings were only complete when my dad came home with a brown bag full of still-warm bagels. I would kill for a greasy slice of pizza, a salty bag of Wise potato chips, a gooey hunk of homemade chocolate cake.

This was of course decades ago when we didn’t know any better. Grown-ups chain-smoked while kids bumped around in the backs of station wagons with nary a car seat or even a seat belt in sight. We rode our bikes and roamed the streets until dark, when our moms called us in for dinners of meatloaf made mainly of breadcrumbs, mashed potatoes, frozen peas, and French bread and butter.

My love affair with carbs continued well into my college years when I drank buckets of beer and ate my weight in late-night munchies. Let’s just say kale was NEVER on the menu back then.

Oh, carbs. Just thinking about my old constant companion makes me want to weep. We were so good together back in the day — just carbs,  a youthful metabolism, and me. Deep sigh.

But like any long-term relationship, one can always pinpoint the time when things started to go sour. For me, the steady diet of cheap pasta and Ramen noodles went south shortly after I graduated and got a bad “New Wave” haircut. Without the long locks to hide the rolls (both my love’s and mine), it was obvious that carbs weren’t so good for me anymore.

And so, I instinctively scaled back — well, just started seeking out the “good” side (fruits, beans, whole grains). Although I looked and felt better (as in, people were asking the less-puffy me out on dates), I still had some late night rendezvous with my old dough boy. Still young and naive, I didn’t realize that those kinds of booty calls not only lowered my self-esteem, but also resulted in an actual bigger booty.

Cut to today when it’s become a near criminal act in suburbia to openly consume mass quantities of carbs. Thought police from the Biggest Loser and beyond have called out carbs as the worst possible partner in health. (And trust me, you do NOT want to piss off Jillian Michaels. That woman will make you do an extra 1,000 push-ups and will scream in your face if you even dare to glance at a cracker.)

And so I find myself simultaneously pulling away from, yet pining away for, the “bad” carbs all the time. When I’m feeling blue, I hop on Facebook to steal a peek at my former love — my news feed is always full of pics of homemade caramel, designer cakeballs, and this time of year, mountains of Christmas cookies, latkes, and other holiday treats.

The other foods I’m forced to live with are about as unsexy as Adam Levine taking a dump. (OK, maybe that’s still sexy to you, but that’s where I draw the line.) You know it’s bad when your favorite restaurants stop using old-fashioned words like “meat,” “chicken,” or “fish,” and instead urge you to “choose a protein.” Thinking about having a smoothie? Just be sure it’s loaded with antioxidants. If it isn’t non-dairy, gluten-free, vegan, and full of soy, then you might just be committing a cardinal consumption offense.

When ordering a meal is like taking a Chem 101 final, it’s a sure sign that the Appetite Armageddon is upon us.

At least I know that I’m not alone in my pie-eyed (pun intended!) mooning for my old beau. In recent years we’ve seen the rise of the $6 cupcake, a nationwide obsession with artisanal breads, a proliferation of handcrafted beers, and an intense fetisization of lactose-coated carbs like mac ‘n cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches.

This is not just an American phenomenon, mind you. My friends from NYC’s Clinton Street Baking Company are now enjoying international success with their new restaurant in Tokyo.

The love affair with carbs knows no country, nor does it discriminate.

All of this to say is that I — we — are not alone in lovin’ carbs long and large. Does it mitigate my guilt knowing that? You betcha! I’m guessing (hoping, praying) that you are fat like me and don’t give in to the siren song of the everything-free existence, which can’t be that healthy.

Maybe it is for your body, but it sure as hell can’t be good for your soul.

So if you see me ordering a dark beer, a cheese platter with extra baguette, and a side of fries (which I really did order, just last night!) don’t judge me. I’ve seen the end of days (well, on The Walking Dead), and I can tell you that when the shit hits the giant fan, all anyone wants is a crust of bread.

And if you want to be the hit of the holiday party, consider bringing a trough of bread pudding. This recipe comes straight from my childhood and Boston’s own Rosie’s Bakery. Owner Judy Rosenberg has been making outrageous desserts long before it was fashionable.  From the pages of The All-Butter, Fresh Cream, Sugar-Packed, No-Holds Barred Baking Book (original 1991 publication date!), I bring you…

Bourbon Bread PuddingMakes 8 servings

1 cup heavy (whipping) cream 1 cup whole milk 4 large eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/4 cup bourbon 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg 1/4 teaspoon salt

3-4 croissants, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (4 cups), or 1/3 to 1/2 French baguette, split lengthwise, generously buttered, and cut into 1/2 inch cubes (4 cups) — NOTE: Judy recommends the croissants over the French bread to make it “extra special.” (Read: more likely to harden your arteries by the last bite.)