The thing about heart disease is that, like most diseases, it doesn’t happen to the just the patient, but the whole family. In order to develop healthy habits, everyone has to pitch in for it to work. How fair is it for someone to have to cut out sugar, salt and fats if your wife and daughter are sitting in the corner, eating Twinkies and corndogs.
So once Dad became Captain HeartAttack, Mom and I purged the house of pretty much all bad food. And by bad, I mean all the fun stuff; cookies, chips, hamburger meat, chocolate. It wasn’t too hard for them to adjust, my parents had already been pretty good eaters and only splurged occasionally. I, however, was a college junior who lived off of Ramen, Spaghettio’s, Laffy Taffy and pinot grigio. (I wish I were kidding.) But this was for Dad. So I happily noshed on broiled fish, brown rice, salads and grilled skinless chicken. We were the picture of healthy eating. The American Heart Association would be proud.
That is, until one day when my mother and I broke.
My parents live in the same house that I grew up in, which is about a half a mile down the street from a 7-11. This location made for amazing trips as a kid, riding my bike down to the store to spend my 59 cents on a Suicide Slurpee. (This is a Slurpee with all the flavors. Since there were usually only four, this isn’t quite as gross as it sounds. The trick is to put the yucky flavor, usually pina colada, on the bottom so you drink that first. That way the Coke, Cherry and Grape flavors have time to mix in a sugar-laden mish-mash of unidentifiable icy goodness, guaranteed to give you a brain freeze and make you so hyper that your mom almost let you stay outside on your bike even after the streetlights came on, just to get you to calm the f*ck down.)
It was this 7-11 that I stopped at on the way home from Wal-Mart; grocery bags full of healthy eating, none of which inspired excitement. This was 2002 and people still used cash or check, so while I was pre-paying, I looked to my left and saw something I’d nearly forgotten existed in my healthy eating cocoon – A Milky Way bar.
You see, chocolate had always been a weakness of my father’s; the neighborhood kids knew that when they needed to sell oversized and overpriced candy bars for a school fundraiser, my house was one to hit. He was also the one that got me into my habit of keeping chocolate in the freezer; giant bars of Hershey’s almonds or Symphony with toffee in the freezer so you could break off little bits at a time when the mood struck. (Also, we lived in Texas. Chocolate on the counter plus an errant sunbeam equals goo.) Anyway, once Dad started on a healthy eating regime, all chocolate had been purged from the house. Which meant I hadn’t had a candy bar in what felt like years. So, as I paid for gas, before I had a chance to think about it, I snatched the Milky Way and tossed it on the counter. The cashier rang it up, unaware of my bold and daring move.
Once I arrived home, I hid the candy bar in the fridge; in the dairy door, behind bars of low-fat margarine, their silver wrappers concealing my deceit. Later, as my dad prepared the wander over to the neighbors’ house to chat, I showed my mom the candy bar. Without saying a word, she nodded. We’d wait. And once he had headed out the door, we’d pounce.
And the second we heard the crash of the screen door, pounce we did. My parents owned a tall double door fridge with freezer on one side, so we were able to stand behind the fridge door and hide as we passed the chocolate and caramel concoction back and forth, giggling like schoolgirls passing a joint. (Not that I would know anything about that. Or my mom either. We read about it. In a book.) There was a moment of sheer panic halfway through as we heard the door opening, but it was only a neighbor kid, bored of her house and looking for something to do at ours. (People don’t knock in my neighborhood.) I think she was a little weirded out by the sight of the two of us sneaking candy, but she didn’t understand.
This wasn’t just candy.
This was the culmination of stress, effort and strain; the weight trying not to kill my father with food, a belief in all-or-nothing coupled with a lack of understanding of a truly proper diet for a diabetic with a heart problem finally breaking the two women who just wanted some effing chocolate.
And it was damn good too.
Things are much better now. Mom doesn’t make things involving Milky Ways, but she does make desserts that both she and my dad can eat, such a this Chai Spiced Apple Cake. The goodness of fruit with the spice of warm chai tea. Plus, it’s CAKE. Everybody likes cake.
Chai Spiced Apple Cake
1 Granny Smith apple-peeled, cored and chopped
2 tsps Chai Spice mix (recipe below)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup Splenda sugar blend
1 cup fat-free sour cream
1/2 cup egg substitute
1 cup wheat flour
1 1/4 cups white flour
1/2 cup oil or 1/2 cup melted butter (or 1/4 cup oil + 1/4 cup fat free mayo. Carol uses fat free mayo, which can make the cake a little gummy but Captain HeartAttack likes to toast it which improves the texture.)
handful chopped walnuts
Chai Spice mix
4 tsps ground cinnamon
2 tsps ground ginger
1 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
Preheat to 350.
Grease iron skillet.
Combine dry ingredients and add to wet ingredients a bit at a time, stirring until just combined.
Bake about 35-40 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes clean.
Photo courtesy of Carol and her fancy schmancy camera she won’t let me touch.