Guilty Pleasures: Temptation is Everywhere
By Julie Freestone and Rudi Raab
When Julie was a child and then a teenager, she and her sister would travel from Manhattan to the Bronx to go to Krums, a candy store that sold red pistachio nuts. Eating them stained your hands but it was worth it. It wasn’t until many years later that Julie discovered the nuts were dyed; you could buy them in their natural form and not have discolored hands for days.
With many of us spending more time in our homes, we may be indulging in some guilty pleasures that we normal don’t allow ourselves. Or we may be dreaming of comfort food we can’t get but wish we had. That’s how we ended up making Knishes a few weeks ago. Craving for Jewish food usually eaten at the Seder which we had but only virtually. Here are some of our thoughts about this subject.
Julie doesn’t remember eating white fish when she was young, although surely she did. But what she does recall is that as an adult, living outside of New York City, whenever she came there to visit either her father or aunt, one of them would go (usually to Zabar’s) to get white fish as a special treat. And then later, she discovered that Noah’s Bagels (before it was sold to a corporation) had white fish spread that was delicious. Our friend Larry went this week to get bagels (for them and us) at Boichik Bagels, a new favorite, and they do have whitefish spread, but it’s insanely expensive (and reportedly very salty) and Julie’s decided she would rather fondly remember the old days. Cream cheese is fine.
Rudi has an equivalent indulgence. His mother would from time to time as a treat for herself and him buy a little tub of a yucky concoction called Fleischsalat, i.e. meat salad. It has lots of mayo lots of pickle chips and strips of bologna. Yes, terrible.
You put that on a fresh breakfast roll and enjoy the crusty yeasty roll and the rest of it. After he moved to the US, his mother would always have it on hand when he came to visit. After her death, Rudi’s nephew carried on the tradition. The last time Rudi visited Germany, he ate a whole ½ pound with four rolls and was sick for two days.
Alcohol sales rose 55% in March compared to last year and experts figure it may be the stress. We add that people are probably also hoarding (as we are) and also not worrying about drinking and driving. This is especially bad news now: “People who regularly smoke or use other substances can have impaired immune systems and lung functioning, which might increase risk of contracting COVID-19 and having worse outcomes from the virus,” said Adam Leventhal, professor of preventive medicine and psychology and director of the USC Health, Emotion and Addiction Laboratory at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. He said that, historically, substance use has increased during regional disasters, like in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Today’s pandemic amplifies stress amid job loss, illness, fear, isolation — all of which contribute to substance use.
We have a pretty regular routine: Pour a drink, turn on the news. Maybe the news is driving us to drink? We probably drink too much anyway.
Cookies and cake and sugar, oh my
So before the lockdown, when dinosaurs roamed the earth (was it that long ago?), Julie didn’t eat many sweets. She had a chocolate bar stashed in the closet and ate small bites of it sometimes. Rudi, on the other hand, loves sweet but after his doctor talked to him sternly about being pre-diabetic, he pretty much cut out most dangerous delights. And he stopped his middle-of-the-night munching, which sometimes involved a can of beets or large amounts of potato salad or whatever was in the refrigerator.
Demons entered our house during the last few months. Julie, who hadn’t baked a cookie except for hello dollies at Christmas time, suddenly became a demon baker. Cookies of all sorts began appearing and it wasn’t only to use for barter. She ate/eats them. Rudi seems generally to be avoiding them. And the potatoes that enter our house are rationed and potato salad uses too many potatoes. And eggs, none of which can be counted on to reappear regularly. Rudi has switched to only occasional night raids and they seem to involve leftovers like beef stew (cold).
We think the bottom line may be that the doctor will talk sternly to Julie about being pre-diabetic (she’s not had a problem with that before) and the dentist will wonder what happened to her teeth.
We’re not sure if comfort food falls into the category of guilty pleasures. Rudi would surely eat potatoes in some form for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He’s made Bratkartoffeln twice in the last few weeks. That’s German home fries which we think we described in an earlier blog.
In the past, we would make this potato dish mostly when we went to our mountain cabin, on the last day of our visit there, usually if we had a guest with us. It was a great brunch to fortify us for the trip home. Well, we’re home and we’re eating it. Hope the potatoes, eggs and tomatoes last.
Julie Freestone and Rudi Raab wrote Stumbling Stone, a novel based on their true life stories, which are probably more interesting than stories from home confinement. When they did a book tour in Germany, they ate a number of dishes that Rudi considered guilty pleasures, including many breakfast rolls each morning.