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Monday, April 28, 2008

Disquieting Modern Trends: Dessert Edition

What could POSSIBLY have our jodhpurs in a twist about dessert? Really, we hear you protest: What gives?

This Filipino junior cricket squad who we make wear little argyle vests à la Jimmy Olsen just because it makes us feel saucy.
Well, we’ll tell you. The chance to get a snarky word in edgewise these days has become darn near impossible, with every crotch-grabbing bummer of shared media experience being immediately piled-up on, piggybacked, and otherwise Talmudically commented upon and parsed by every other media outlet, such that you can’t get a penknife blade between a candidate’s utterance and his handler’s subsequent metastasizing spin, between every bum Oscar hemline and its spun-out E.T. frenzy, between every ex-stripper with a heart of gold and the speculation on her proliferating movie options. For guys like us who like to take a moment to mull our responses—not to mention to draw upon our exhaustive knowledge of the pointless corners of the U.S. experience—a day or two can pass before we’re ready to brush from our bellies the crumbs from yesterday’s lunch1 and get around to actually putting our feelings onto paper. So, what are we left with? Oh sure, we mainline the same Daily Kos you do, we have just as many options if not more, what with our direct uptick to Reuters manned boyishly night and day, twenty-four/seven by this Filipino junior cricket squad who we make wear little argyle vests à la Jimmy Olsen just because it makes us feel saucy. We could do all that up-to-the-second stuff. But frankly, in this particular phase of the Great American Spin Cycle, we are tired of it. For now, folks, no more current events here. We shall bitch the classics only. Mom. America. Apple pie.

Especially, today: Apple pie.

Wither Sugar, Sugar?
Dessert has a bad name nowadays. What with carbs, etc., if it’s sweet and not shot through with tons of sugar-simulacra and emulsifiers and stabilizers, then we imagine it probably doesn’t make it into the Kwik-E-Mart. So our first dessert beef is: Where’s the sugar? We are seriously junked-up on diet soda2, so maybe we shouldn’t be the ones to bitch about the disappearance of sugar from our noble grocery-store shelves. But we cannot endorse any desserts leached of the very essence of their being. Sugarless pudding, for example? What is pudding other than sugar blended into a generalized goop? Sugarless cheesecake?3 Fruit? C’mon—fruit is healthy food and it works on top of a bowl of Honey Nut, but dessert it is not. Every time we’re at someone’s fancy dinner party and they serve a fruit tart for dessert—a crust, some kind of jellied spooge, and then slices o’ kiwis till the crowd heads home—we have only one question: à la mode? If the sugar is not refined, then it is not dessert.

When you’re in an Italian restaurant,4 you’re going to face a decision that we will call, well, disquieting. Dessert. Spumoni? Uh-uh, not with the fruits and nuts that make it the frozen equivalent of fruitcake. Tiramisu? Delicious, but there are two problems: it sounds Japanese, and it too often comes in a heathen, sugarless variety (see, supra). And then there is cannoli, a deep-fried tube of dough filled with some kind of oddly sweetened ricotta cheese. Our problems with cannoli are legion. (A) Them things is funny looking. Tubular. Phallic. We do not want to eat them for that reason alone. (B) Creamy fillings are good … though, wait—see A, supra. Maybe a creamy filling is exactly wrong. (C) Possibility of cheese. Ricotta cheese. Which is curd-like and therefore always seems just this side of having turned. We just threw up in our mouths a little bit. (D) European. Get us some chocolate ice cream, please. What we’re saying here is simple: Trouser-snake delectables filled with cheese (other than cream cheese) are inherently suspect.5

True story about flan. Here is how a very fancy restaurant in our nation’s capital used to make it:

• Purchase of a small can of sweetened, condensed milk
• Boil a pot of water
• Without opening the can, boil the can itself for a really long time
• Open the can and remove the little can-shaped blob of gelatinous goo
• Serve as is and charge like ten bucks for it

This, plus we can never seem to pronounce the name of this dessert with the proper clipped authenticity. “Fla. FLa(n). Fluh!” Done. Flan is dumb.

Breyers Ice Cream Is Not “All Natural,” Dudes
This is an ongoing source of dispute among the glucose-intense literati whose soda fountain–style high stools we frequent: Just how natural is “all natural”? Not at all, maintain yr humble authors. We have read enough Morgan Spurlock–style muckraking to know that every word that gets used in an ingredient list is not actually the word you know and love (“sugar,” “corn”, “natural”, “Red #5”), but actually is an empty signifier whose import in that particular context has been carefully circumscribed in a legal pas de deux with the F.D.A. that you could not understand even if you were able to get access to the transcripts of the meetings in which they were wrangled and inked for your consumption. Anyone who believes otherwise is a mook. Ergo, we hold that in the grocery store you need NOT hold forth for the high-end Breyers in order to get your freeze on; buy the house brand, the rotgut that goes like three cartons for $4 and has some cut-rate polar bear smudged on the top6. As Rick Danko heartbreakingly tells us, “It makes no difference night or day/ the shadow never seems to fade away.”7 Your dessert is toxic, dude—build up your resistance and get on with it, like the rest of us.8

Death by Chocolate—Oh, Never Mind
We had a whole “Death by Chocolate” thing we were ready to do until Ashton Kutcher totally spoiled the well with that dumb, dumb, duummb S.N.L. thing a few weeks back. We used to really like Ashton. He went from a role in a crummy sitcom to stardom without seeming to have real talent, then he stole Bruce Willis’s babe and made it all look effortless. But, you know, without any actual apparent talent beyond good looks.

But now, between the cougar–poster-child gig and the WHOLLY INSCRUTABLE Nikon ad9, his stock is definitely falling around the D.M.T. compound. We even took his picture off the spinny plate in the microwave.

Candy at the High’s
We’re just gonna tie this up right here by acknowledging that, really, all of these misadventures in desserting, label-reading, and Death-By-ing at the Cheesecake Factory, etc., with which we have wasted our adult lives have been nothing more or less than a desperate, clawing attempt to get back to that garden of delights where we consumed Serious Candy for the first time: the High’s minimart in Clinton, Maryland. A short bike ride from our droopy lower-middle-class rental homes, the High’s was the place you could (wipe a tear) exchange glass Nehi bottles (which were a bitch to get there on a banana-seat bike, let us tell you) for cold hard change, and exchanging enough of them might get you within striking distance of a Charleston Chew (preferable because of its gargantuan size and extreme chewiness, ergo long-lasting satisfaction), some Pop Rocks (if you were feeling the burn) or—lovely of all lovelies—the $100,000 Bar, which, piled high with toasted rice and “nougat”10 and caramel AND chocolate, was just straight-up-your-nose hard-edge bliss in a red wrapper. Plus look at the name! 100,000 dollars! What’s not to love about that! Keep your flashy, trashy European whatevers; give us a dollar in nickels and a High’s and we are GOOD to go. And by the time we were old enough to drive they had invented Big Gulps and their generic sequelae, which of course was awesome (but also kind of a bitch in the car because, of course, there were no cup holders yet).

Well, campers, tempus fugit. Dessert is busted, Q.E.D., spike the mike, we’re out. Time to send the sherpas to Dean & DeLuca for takeout and a hearty gulping wine, as well as a gross of Charleston Chews (not the nasty chocolate ones, please) for old time’s sake. You, fair reader, have learned what we can teach you. Now go, please: Eat something. You’re making us nervous.