How Count Chocula and Cancer shaped my childhood

When I was growing up, my parents never let me have junk food. I was an only child, and until I got old enough to sleep over at friends' houses and see how the other half lived, I was just plain ignorant when it came to Count Chocula, Fruit Roll-Ups and any sugary, caffeiney, carbonated drink. It was all Shredded Wheat biscuits and skim milk at my house.

(I began drinking coffee before I started school. But that's an ironic story for another time.)

My parents were horrified when I came home from my first slumber party raving about ravioli from a can ("with meat, Momma!"), and a divine red nectar that tasted like cherries - only better.

Where I saw this:

My parents saw this:

(Note: I'm pretty sure that in the 80's there were plenty of preservatives.)

I began to beg for this:

But my mom wouldn't let this near me:

"But Daddy, he's a pitcher, with a pitcher!"


And so it went.

When I asked why I couldn't have these delectable delights, their unanimous answer was this:


Now, if you're looking for a way to scare a kid into steering clear of anything, just tell them it will give them cancer.

For years I was terrified of eating Spam less it turn my insides black and make me into eight year-old worm food.

(Then, I wondered whether the worms would get cancer from eating me.)

Is this considered child abuse?

I'm sure that my parents had the best intentions. And technically, maybe, they were right on some level. Diets high in processed, synthetic, sugary, fatty, salty foods have been linked to certain cancers.


And as scared as I was of eating anything in a cellophane wrapper, I was also curious. Junk food became a sort of forbidden fruit.

Kind of like those signs you see near electrical doohickeys that say, DANGER: HIGH VOLTAGE and a picture of some guy with lightning bolts shooting through his head. And even though you know why the sign is there, and you know what will happen if you touch the electrical doohickey, you still sort of want to touch it. Just to see. Like maybe The Man is trying to trick all of us into not touching this thing. And I'm asking why? WHY CAN'T WE TOUCH IT?!?

Maybe that's just me.

But my point is that I'm pretty sure that my parents' lesson about junk food cancer backfired, leading me down a treacherous, powdered donut-laden path.

Because here in my adult years, I love me some junk food. And I don't know when the transition occurred. One day I was scared straight, and the next I was shoving Mallomars in my face.

Just like that.

And now, here I am, struggling to lead a healthier life for the sake of my non-existent future children, all the while wondering how I can steer them in the right direction when the time comes.


Man, some Count Chocula sounds pretty good right now.

Armchair Expertry

Have you ever noticed the gross imbalance of experts to laypersons in Internetland? It doesn't matter how many articles I read, if there is a "comments" section, it's always teeming with experts on whatever the topic of conversation is that day.

Whether it's health, finance, real estate, celebrity gossip - there has never been a time that an anonymous armchair expert has failed to come to the aid of ignorant readers in a benevolent attempt to set the record straight.

Their word is gospel, and the "comments" section their pulpit.


So I've decided that as long as I remain incognito, and post my expertise opinions in random forums floating through the vast nothingness of cyberspace, having nothing to gain or lose by being right or wrong, with absolutely zero accountability or consequence, I, too, can be an expert!

And because I'm a self-proclaimed expert, I can pull from my extensive knowledge of everything to bestow my mind blowing realizations on the collective cyber proletariat.


I can't wait to share these gems:

* Cancer sniffing dogs accurately predicted the earthquake in Haiti.

* By the year 2034, roughly 22.7% of the population will have been killed by falling space debris.

* Eating a sausage-only diet will result in extreme olfactory sensitivity and possible x-ray vision.

* Reupholstering every item in your home will increase its value by 364%.

* Palm trees eat human souls (and some monkey souls).

* The "S" is silent in the word, "Specific".

* Sacagawea was a lesbian.

It's probably best that you don't refute these claims.

I'm an expert.

What Hollywood Has Taught Me

...about the future of American eating:

And this:

And, of course, this:

In other words, we're screwed (and possibly cannibalistic).

More on this to come, but for now let's ponder whether or not there is already a "Grease Group" in our personal food pyramids.

Or not.

Perhaps it's better if we don't.


Up Yikes Creek

"Yikes" is my word of the moment. And I realize that no one has used "yikes" in normal conversation since Nancy Drew was all the rage, but I have a good reason. I promise.

One of my resolutions for 2010 (apparently, people still do that) was to stop swearing. This is a difficult confession for me because my swearing was certainly more than occasional. Maybe even borderline sailor.

I blame road rage.

"Yikes" has become one of my go-to faux swear words. I use it instead of, um...uh, another word that usually precedes words like "storm" and follows words like "holy".

Are you pickin' up what I'm puttin' down?

Another faux swear word I've added to my vocabulary is "eff". Okay, I know that isn't totally faux. And I know this because I would feel weird saying it in front of a child, or yelling it down the aisle in the supermarket (Don't forget the effing eggs this time!).

I get that I need to work on this one a little harder.

But, being a born and raised Texan, I've taken to "dang" and "durn" (the Southern version of "darn") quite well, and "heck" has also wormed its way into my verbal repertoire.

No problem.

And I am happy to report that for the most part, 2010 has been pretty swear-free. And by "swear-free" I mean that I've cut my swearing down by some kind of large percentage.

Just in case you're a visual learner like me, please observe:

Clearly, January was a difficult month, what with all of the conscious habit changing and all.

Faux Swearing was on the rise in February, and actual swearing was down (against all odds).

Faux Swearing took the lead in March. Hallelujah!

So here I am in March's homestretch, feeling pretty durn good about my efforts.

I'm sure some will argue that faux swearing is just as bad as regular ol' swearing, and to those people I would like to point out the tiny green slice of the pie known as Keeping My Trap Shut (which, if you'll notice, had a bit of a surge in February).

But, if you know me at all, you know I have real problems with that. Real problems. Like, the kinds of problems you never, ever talk about in mixed company.

In other words, I don't like green pie.

Watch Your Back, Martha...

'cause I can officially make a pot roast without a Crock Pot.

That's right!

You heard it here first.
(Not that you would ever hear it anywhere else.)

During my first years out of college, I was the Crock Pot Queen. My granddad bought me a super fancy one as a graduation present (we're all about practicality in my family), and believe me when I say I left no Crock Pot recipe stone unturned.

Chicken and dumplings? BAM!

Stew? You got it!

Chili? In the bag, baby!

Queso? Spinach dip? Awwwwwwwwww yeah!

But pot roast... oh, man. Pot roast was my specialty. It was the pride of my Crock Pot recipe collection.

1 rump roast (or shoulder roast. Whatever was on sale, really.)
1 bag of baby carrots
3 or 4 potatoes
2 cans cream of mushroom soup (sometimes with garlic if I was feelin' sassy... and didn't have any plans to breathe on anyone.)
1 packet of dried onion soup mix

Best. Dinner. Ever. for a 23 year-old with a crappy job, an even crappier apartment, and little to no kitchen experience. And, for what it's worth, I impressed many a fellow 23 year-old with my pot roast makin' skillz.


It's been years since I last made a pot roast, and last week I got a hankerin' to do just that.

So I whipped out the old recipe just to make sure I remembered all of the ingredients before heading out to the store. But then I got to thinking about my new health and food goals, and whether or not my fail safe pot roast recipe was a win anymore.

The truth is, I can't control any of the flavorful ingredients in this recipe. The canned soup is exploding with sodium (870 milligrams per can!). And the onion soup mix contained a mind boggling 610 mg of sodium in one packet! 870 x 2 + 610 = way more salt than I thought. Not to mention the addition of salt to season the roast. Even dividing it all into 5 servings still made the sodium intake daunting.

The reality of it made my heart hurt.

I was crushed.

But then I vaguely remembered hearing something, some time, somewhere about how before Crock Pots came along, that people actually made pot roast in the oven.

Hmmm. Seemed a bit fishy. Sometimes my brain can't be trusted with facts.

So I did some research on the Internets.

And, lo and behold, my hazy recollection spoke the truth!

And so it was that I actually made a real live pot roast in the oven, using all fresh, unprocessed, naturally occurring ingredients.

It wasn't nearly as difficult as I had imagined, and took about the same amount of time to cook as my nifty crock pot recipe of yore.

And it was delicious, y'all!

I have my girl, Ree, over at The Pioneer Woman to thank. She's a kitchen goddess and my #1 girl crush.

(And I hope she doesn't mind my sharing her recipe.)

PW's real, honest-to-goodness pot roast (adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks):


* 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
* 1 whole (3 To 5 Pounds) Chuck Roast
(I used a 3 pounder for just D and me.)
* 2 whole Onions (I used sweet yellow onions. They were delish!)
* 6 to 8 whole Carrots (Organic! It made me feel healthier.)
* Salt To Taste
* Pepper To Taste
* 3 to four cups Beef Stock
* 3 sprigs Fresh Thyme, or more to taste
* 3 to 4 sprigs Fresh Rosemary, or more to taste

Preparation Instructions

First and foremost, choose a nicely marbled piece of meat. This will enhance the flavor of your pot roast like nothing else. Generously salt and pepper your chuck roast.

Heat a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Then add 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil (or you can do a butter/olive oil split).

Cut two onions in half and cut 6 to 8 carrots into 2-inch slices (you can peel them, but you don’t have to). When the oil in the pot is very hot (but not smoking), add in the halved onions, browning them on one side and then the other. Remove the onions to a plate. Throw the carrots into the same very hot pan and toss them around a bit until slightly browned, about a minute or so.

If needed, add a bit more olive oil to the very hot pan. Place the meat in the pan and sear it for about a minute on all sides until it is nice and brown all over. Remove the roast to a plate. With the burner still on high, use either red wine or beef broth (about 1 cup) to deglaze the pan, scraping the bottom with a whisk to get all of that wonderful flavor up. When the bottom of the pan is sufficiently deglazed, place the roast back into the pan and add enough beef stock to cover the meat halfway (about 2 to 3 cups). Add in the onion and the carrots, as well as 3 or 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary and about 3 sprigs of fresh thyme.

Put the lid on, then roast in a 275F oven for 3 hours (for a 3-pound roast). For a 4 to 5-pound roast, plan on 4 hours.

Thank you, Ree. I love you (even if you have no idea who I am).

Lesson #1: Facebook Will Ruin Your Social Skills

Dear Future Child,

In the not so distant past I, your future mom, was a social butterfly. (I don't know why the butterfly is considered social, but please just trust me that this is a universally accepted meme, and go with it.) Your mom had scads of friends, and a social engagement or three to attend every weekend. (In my mind) I was ethereal and lovely, witty, enchanting, and a bunch of other convivially superlative adjectives.

In other words, I never met a stranger, and in turn, strangers loved me.

Fast forward 7 years or so.

Now, meeting new people is painful. When I meet people, I find myself standing awkwardly, fidgeting with my rings, stuttering about random things that aren't even true. Mostly. And I'm sure I leave people feeling uneasy, and vaguely questioning whether I ate a lot of paint chips as a kid (Tommy Boy, anyone?).

I wish I had an excuse for this behavior. I want nothing more than to be able to tell you that I had an unfortunate lobotomy experience that resulted in extreme social ineptitude. But I can't. I can't even pinpoint the time of my social (mental?) demise.

I can, however, blame Facebook.

I am convinced that Facebook has turned me into a social doofus, because I just don't know how to relate to people face-to-face anymore. If I don't have time to think up a witty response to a status update, I have nothing.

(Please don't tell my Facebook friends. On Facebook, I can still retain a shred of my formal social glory.)

I fear that I won't even be able to relate to you, my own Future Child, without a blue and white user interface to bond us.

It's cold out here is Social Dweeb Land.

And yes, Future Child, I realize the incredible irony of writing about the tragic loss of my extrovert self on a blog.

Though, I have to say that I'm relieved that you have such a firm grasp on semi-obscure literary devices at such an imaginary negative early(?) age.

Future Mom

P.S. Just to be on the safe side, it's probably best that you never use the Internets at all.

Goals, Jr. (is prefereable to "Goals, II")

Attention: I am a dork.

Moving on.

First, an all-important The Fifteen Pound Goal update:

I went to the gym yesterday, and ellipticized for approximately 45 minutes while watching Wolf Blitzer and Glen Beck on side-by-side televisions. My gym is hilarious.

(Sidebar: Is "ellipticized" a word? Because it should be. What other verb could possibly explain what one does on an elliptical machine? Like its cousin, "Jazzercize", sometimes words must be created in order to improve the descriptive qualities of our beloved English, no? Now I've forgotten my point... oh, the gym. Right.)

The elliptical machine told me that I burned 423 calories! Really?!? I mean, I was sweaty and tired after, so maybe it's possible that I burned an entire dinner's worth of calories. Clearly, it's been a while since I've been to the gym.

Then I went home and ate a bowl of cereal. This is what happens when D is out of town.

Which brings me to Goals, Jr - i.e. other goals I forgot to mention yesterday.

Eating more healthfully/organically/sustainably, being one.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch falls into none of these categories.

My bestie and I have this running joke that there is a fine line between being a foodie and being a fatty, and I've been thinking that I want to be on the right side of that line. Because, see, I love me some food. All food. I'm not in the business of discrimination.

In fact, I can really break it down for you. Besides D, my greatest loves in life are as follows:

2)Dark Chocolate

(All proper nouns, by the way.)

Without these four delectable slices of life, I just don't know how I'd get by. They have sustained me for 29 years and I can't just turn my back on them. That would be rude. Feelings would be hurt. And I've never been good at breaking up. That's why I stayed in some relationships for months (even years!) after they went the way of the toilet. But, I digress.

So I have to find a way to incorporate my loves into a healthier lifestyle, although I have yet to find a healthy recipe that uses butter...or bacon.

Moderation, man. It's the wave of my future.

Besides finding a way to reconcile my love of unhealthy foods (except for Dark Chocolate. Word on the street is it rides the fence.), I am making a move towards a more organic/all-natural diet.

Hello, grass-fed beef and free-range chicken (peace-loving pork and free-love fish?)! We don't eat a lot of meat as it is, so I think this will be the easiest progression. I just need to buy the stuff and cook it (sans butter. Sniffle.).

I'm also going to start shopping for produce locally, supporting my community farmers and whatnot. It seems like the right thing to do. Plus, the other day, I bought some Chilean strawberries and they were pure crap.

Seriously bad.

Then, coincidentally I read an article about how off-season fruit shipped in from other countries is sometimes weeks (weeks!) old by the time it reaches my local supermarket. Super yuck, y'all!

That article prompted me to look up farmers' markets in my 'hood. There are a few that are really close, and am excited to check them out this spring.

Plus, when I really thought about it, I decided that buying produce from local farmers is a great way for us to achieve a more sustainable, planet-friendly lifestyle since we won't be paying for as many foods to be shipped via uber-polluting planes, trains and ships.


(And, yes, I realize that even the local farmers have to transport their wares somehow, but at least they travel a shorter distance. It's call reconciliation, people.)

Did I mention that I want to start eating at least two servings of (locally and hopefully organically grown) vegetables with every dinner? I'll address that one at a later date.

As for now, I'm tired of typing.