My dad makes the best pies. His crust is always perfectly buttery and flaky. His apples just soft enough without becoming mush. His pumpkins or squash flavored exquisitely. The syrup from berries thick and rich. My grandparents have also been known to make the most delicious baked goods, from cakes to bars and cookies. I have been dubbed a baker as well. I have won competitions in the past, and it was my profession for years. None of us bake very often anymore. Baking is our lineage, our legacy, but the tradition is losing its trajectory. Even still, we are homemade.
We didn’t go out to eat much when I was a kid. Between my parents, they made all of our dinners, breakfasts, and bag lunches until my sisters and I were old enough to help. We learned to cook. We made simple dishes: whole roasted chicken, pasta with Italian sausage, biscuits, pancakes, and tacos. We always had something with meat, some kind of carbohydrate, and a side of vegetables, usually boiled.Occasionally the boiled vegetables were replaced by a green salad that was drenched in ranch dressing. Maybe we’d saute our asparagus with butter and onions.
And then there were cookies. My dad and I spent many hours bouncing ideas off of each other for the fair. Chocolate dipped orange shortbread sandwiches, triple layer chocolate fudge cakes, lemon bars, fruit tortes, peanut butter blossom cookies (Best of Show winners), mint wafer cookies, chocolate brownies (also Best in Show), pies, jams and jellies, and anything else we could come up with to win. Every day for years it seemed we had butter softening on the counter, and as I grew older I also grew wider. But that didn’t matter back then, not as much as that first bite of those perfect confections, with the heavenly aroma wafting through the house. I was proud of my success. I was proud to carry on our family traditions. But I never seemed to notice the fat that stuck to my bones.
I have dealt with my weight for most of my life. By “dealt with” I mean I always thought my weight was a problem even when it wasn’t. I was never overweight until college, but I was always larger than my friends. Most of them were skinny enough to reveal ribs, to wear bikinis without shame, to put on strapless shirts and dresses without fear of falling out. At one time in my twenties I lost an entire sixty pounds in a year. I had stopped baking at that point, and never really picked it up again, but still managed to gain back all but the last ten pounds.
Here I am now, realizing that as hard as my parents tried to teach me to eat healthy, they did not know what healthy eating was. All of our home cooked meals were disproportionate, derived from the cravings of one person or another, and far lacking in fiber. We are meat eaters and white flour pasta, butter and oils, and plenty of sugar. We’re not exactly strangers to fast food, but we don’t need it to get fat.
Here I am now with a diabetic mother and three diabetic uncles. I switched to drinking black coffee this year, an act that was easy enough, but still leaves me wanting for a mocha with heavy whipped cream on occasion.
Here I am now, thirty years old, without a fitness schedule, with fifty additional pounds on my arms and stomach and thighs, with an ever tightening work uniform, and a tongue that protests fruits and vegetables alike. I do eat them, I really do, but not near as often as I should.
Here I am, trying to figure out how to eat healthy, how to lose weight, how to be happy in my own skin. Here I am, reminiscing about brownies and cookies, warm and fresh and sweet out of the oven, and cursing myself for buying a pint of ice cream. As often as I get cravings for the rich foods that I grew up with, the ones I still make, I spend time looking up recipes that are supposedly better and healthier for me. It is an addiction. I surf the internet for hours, yet I’m still not sure what makes food healthy. I still don’t know how to eat a meal without wanting to vomit it up moments later (I have never been bulimic, but it has crossed my mind countless times). I don’t know how to say no to sweets and junk food. I can’t say yes to apples. In the same way that I wonder how my friends can afford to live alone in apartments or houses, I wonder how their dietary habits are different from mine. I wonder how I have come to have to regard for my body.
Here I am, homemade. 5’7”, 200lbs.