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The Dessert Dilemma: Everyday Indulgence or Sometimes Splurge? [Plus: Simple, healthy fruit desserts]

Posted Feb 12 2013 8:58am



Love Natalie Dee!  The mouse-over text says “I’m just a pig”

People are of two minds when it comes to dessert. The first group eats it and loves it. The second group eats it, feels guilty about it and punishes themselves for it. There is a third group, who I’m told exists, that doesn’t eat sweets ever but they summer with Mr. Yeti and the Amazon Women. The takeaway message from this completely scientific assertion I just made is that the vast majority of us eat a little somethin’-somethin’ on occasion which means the only question left is “how?”

I’m bad a moderation. Whether it’s due to my addictive personality or the fact that modern junk food is chemically designed to prevail over the 1-bite rule, I am not one of those people who can eat one really good bite of truffle and walk away feeling happy with my metabolic lot and life. At the very least I eat the whole truffle. More likely I eat one and then obsess about the box wherever I’ve “hidden” it from myself. All of which usually leads people to advise me to just abstain from sweets. Like, forever. (Which I totally would if I had a unicorn on speed dial upon which to ride to the Himalayas for the annual meeting of mythical creatures. I think the critter blocked me after I tried to eat his rainbow poop thinking it was Skittles.)

Unfortunately I’m also bad at deprivation. Years of disordered eating (okay, decades) have given me a serious last-dinner mentality which incites me to eat all of whatever treat is placed before me just in case someone (namely, myself) decides to yank it away indefinitely again. This eating of the ALL of it has lead to some pretty severe sugar comas which always makes me regret my over-indulgence. It’s sad that I’m most own worst enemy but I’m working on that and – proof that even really neurotic people can change – I am getting better at it.

This is my compromise: I eat dessert every day. Sometimes more than once a day. And that dessert is something I can eat a whole portion (or two) of without feeling really sick or guilty. My kids also like this compromise. (I’d blame myself for their ridiculous sweet tooths (teeth?)- Remember the candycandycandy Seinfeld episode? Truest sociological study I’ve ever seen – but there’s scientific evidence we come from the womb with a built-in sugar jones.) Call it cultural conditioning or weak willpower or a Pinterest addiction (I swear 80% of that site is dessert recipes), but it just doesn’t feel like dinner is finished without a little something sweet.

This also happens to work perfectly with our new French style of eating . (Sidenote: Which is still going amazingly well. The kids actually ask for their vegetable course now and the one night I felt too tired to bother, the eldest went and cut up carrot sticks for everyone. Blew my mind. And not just because he knew how to use my big knife without adding finger sticks to the pile.) The basic premise is you still eat your same food (with the emphasis on whole home-cooked meals) but you just serve it in small courses giving everyone the chance to try everything and check in with both their palates and their satiety. And the last course is always dessert.

Now, according to this one tiny book that I read (which wasn’t even about French food in general, but about French parenting and was written by an American so is clearly the most trusted authority on these matters) the French generally serve some simple dish involving fruit and cheese. While sometimes I do just put sliced oranges on a plate in the shape of a flower and call it decent, I often like to do a little more which has led to me rediscovering the art of simple fruit desserts. I’m not talking mini almond tartlets of poached pears with raspberry glaze and creme fraiche (although that would be awesome I’d totally eat it) but by that point I’m just done with the cooking. I don’t love cooking anyhow – I only do it because it’s better than the alternative – and so whatever I make can only have at most 3 ingredients and only require one pan, if that.

Here’s a list of some that have been big hits with my family and I’m hoping (read: begging) that you guys will give me some new options in the comments!

- Baked apple slices. The simplest is everyone’s favorite (maybe because Minnesota makes the best apples ever?) but all I do is take one of those IKEA apple slicer/corer thingies and lay waste to four apples. I throw the dismembered fruit in a glass pan, sprinkle with cinnamon and lemon (I use the True Lemon crystals – I still love that stuff so hard.). Then I either bake it (if the oven’s still on) for 10 ish minutes or microwave it for five, or less since we like our apples in the not-mushy state. That’s it. I don’t know what it is about heating up fruit but it does make it taste sweeter. Plus? Cinnamon is one of the best natural means we have for  increasing insulin sensitivity (a good thing) and regulating blood sugar.

- Frozen berries on top of mascarpone cheese. It’s too expensive this time of year to buy fresh berries here and frozen berries are surprisingly tasty. My kids love a mix of blue- and black-berries, microwaved so they get some “sauce” and poured over the top of a dollop of the soft, slightly sweet cheese. Sometimes I’ll mix in a packet of Stevia into the juice but often the berries are sweet enough on their own.

- Watermelon sorbet. Remember that watermelon I in-advisedly purchased? In the middle of winter? In a land that doesn’t grow watermelons even when the sun does shine? Well when I cracked it open it was sweet-ish but disgustingly mushy and mealy. So I cut it up into chunks and froze them. Then I took the frozen chunks, added a splash of lime juice and just enough water so my blender didn’t start wheezing and smoking and blended it all up. It came out in a sorbet-like consistency and no extra sugar was needed. This was the kids’ favorite.

- Frozen yogurt. I didn’t make this one up. Aw heck, I didn’t make any of these up. But you’ve probably seen this somewhere on the internets before: Take an equal measure of yogurt and frozen fruit and blend, blend, blend. Since I use plain yogurt sometimes I’ll add vanilla stevia.

- Chocolate covered banana slices. The trick with this tried-and-true fave is to add a blop (I’m very precise) of coconut oil to the chocolate as you’re melting it. It will make the chocolate harden up like your very own Magic Shell! But without the scary trans fats! Also, the other trick I learned the hard way: do not under any circumstances add water to your chocolate to make it easier to dip. Water, like Mariah Carey music, makes sweet things seize and curdle.

- Pineapple sticks. I give one of my kids a can of cubed pineapple in its own juice (I’ll use fresh when it’s in season) and a jar of maraschino cherries (yeah I know those aren’t remotely good for you, or even cherries for that matter) and let them stick 3 pieces of pineapple and a cherry on a toothpick.

- Frozen grapes. Just like baking apples makes some kind of magic happen, freezing grapes makes them sweeter. I have no idea why. Just be careful with this one if you have tiny kids as they take a choking hazard and amp it up by like a hundred.

- The one fruit dessert I hate: That frozen banana “soft serve” stuff that was making the health blog rounds for awhile. You freeze a banana in chunks and then whip it in a blender until it reaches “soft serve ice cream” consistency. While it does actually reach an approximation of the right texture (I was surprised but if you blend long enough it will really happen), it still tastes like bananas no matter what toppings you put on it. If you love bananas then you’ll be thrilled. But there’s a reason you never see banana ice cream at the store. Just saying. I think this stuff is vile. But I’m throwing this out there in case any of you enjoy it – just because I think something tastes nasty doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it!

So what kind of dessert person are you? Do you feel like you need to end dinner with something sweet? Or are you one that can just completely avoid sweets except for the occasional birthday party or dragon-and-fairy conference? Do you have any favorite simple dessert ideas for me?

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