For my son's 20th birthday recently, I baked a chocolate cheesecake with a homemade cookie-crumb crust topped with chocolate curls and raspberries, much to the astonishment of the birthday boy.
"Wow, Mom!" Benjie exclaimed. "I didn't know you knew how to make stuff like this!"
You'd think I was the chair of the Evil Sugar Committee or something.
Which, as far as the family is concerned, I guess I am.
Also the Evil Dairy Committee, the Evil White-Flour Committee, not to mention the Evil Processed-Food and Evil Red Meat committees.
And yet, to be fair, before I so much as watched a single "Fast Food Nation" about the abomination of modern food, there were two things I didn't like to do in the kitchen: Make a pot roast and bake. Both seemed more like a science than an art, and I failed dissecting frogs in high school biology.
Not only did I not trust myself to perfect a baked dessert, but on the occasion when I tried, my all-American kids were all too attuned to their Nutty Buddy bars and pudding cups to know the value of a homemade confection. Which would leave me making my way to the refrigerator in the middle of the night to eat half of what was left and then the next day, the other half, just to get rid of it.
Clearly, yes, I admit to baking, and then consuming half of, the infrequent lemon meringue pie for Father's Day. There are those occasions when I made "fail-safe" fudge at Christmas and burned cookies with the kids. As for birthday cakes, we commonly went for ice bcream cakes at Dairy Queen. This was less because of my inabilities and more because of that yummy, gooey chocolate stuff in the middle, which, dare I admit as chair of Evil Sugar, I miss.
But apparently none of my earlier baking attempts were enough to make a memory in the mind of my 20-year-old son, who has known me as a rising vegetarian-vegan, sugar-hater for most of his life.
What he remembers more clearly is my banana "ice cream," which is nothing more than frozen bananas whipped in the food processor, and my raw, vegan, date-sweetened carrot cake with cashew cream lemon frosting. Note the word "raw," read "no-bake," and seriously, if you have an evil food committee in your own house, I suggest Googling this recipe. I recently served this treat to a bunch of traditionally oriented 60-year-old men, the kind who think tofu tastes like the sole of a tennis shoe, and there were raves all around.
In my defense, more and more of us are moving in this direction for health and environmental reasons. A recent Pew Research study says 36 percent of Americans now prefer milk alternatives. That same study recorded 73 percent of Americans saying they were "very" or "fairly" focused on healthy and nutritious eating. Even America's sweet tooth, which peaked in 1999 at 26.7 teaspoons a day, is down a whopping four teaspoons.
Still, for now at least, most Americans are used to fried chicken and strawberry shortcakes at their Memorial Day picnics, making it a hard road for aberrants like me. Try falling asleep on the couch at Christmas next to a bowl of your once-favorite Andes creme-de-menthe candies on the coffee table, over which you believe you have dominion, only to wake with four wrappers in your hand, and chocolate in your mouth, which, yes, happened to me.
Likewise try staying the course when your son invites half the college Ultimate Frisbee team for birthday cheesecake, each of whom deems yours the best cheesecake ever, prompting one to declare "We need to make Wednesday Cheesecake Night at the Hooks from now on!"
It's almost enough to make you run to the store and load up your cart with several bars of Baker's chocolate and a couple of five-pound bags of Domino's.
But health and self-conviction call.
This is one house where Mom and apple pie don't compute.
Face it, guys; I'm more like Mom and brown rice.
Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent has been writing about family life since 1988. Visit her website at www.debralynnhook.com; email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or join her column's Facebook discussion group at Debra-Lynn Hook: Bringing Up Mommy.