Dessert was not a common thing in my house growing up. We had nutritious meals with meat, vegetables (lots of peas because Dad liked them), and a potato or salad, with milk for the kids and water for the adults. On birthdays we could pick our cake of choice and it was relished because it was so unusual. There was more at holiday time but not to excess and leftovers went home with company.
Which is why ice cream was so special. My father’s favorite flavor was mint chocolate chip and sometimes he would pick up ice cream for a special treat. In the summers he would sweet-talk my mom into letting us all pile into the car and go to the next town over to visit the Frosty Freeze with its walk up window and simple flavors on a sugar cone – sometimes with sprinkles or a chocolate shell for a wild time. Ice cream became associated with fun and family, a time when eating a dessert was okay because we all were doing it and it didn’t have to be consumed alone behind closed doors.
When I was about 10 or so, my dad began to sometimes invite me to go with him on a nightly walk. He had a sedentary job and, I realize now, enjoyed the chance to stretch his legs and just let things sort out in his head. We talked about all kinds of things while walking wrapped in the blanket of a dark night – how things were going at school, boys, scouting, my mom and brother, food and weight issues, which were also a problem for him.
And sometimes we would magically find ourselves in front of an ice cream store and walk home licking some mint chocolate chip or butter pecan. It was our secret, though I’m fairly sure Mom knew exactly what we were up to. That stolen ice cream, the secret dessert, was shared with someone I did and do adore. I wasn’t fat or criticized for having it and I enjoyed every bite, especially since I had something my brother didn’t get. So much for being perfect.
What I just now understood – literally today – is that when I have ice cream now, I’m trying to replicate what that time was like. When dessert wasn’t forbidden or bad for me, when I could eat it in public and just be one of the people eating ice cream. Today when I buy ice cream, I tend to look around furtively to see if anyone is watching me, the fat woman buying fattening unnecessary food.
Sometimes it is necessary as long as it’s not out of control. I’ve been buying different brands and flavors trying to find something that’s satisfying but not too addictive, and have finally concluded that I’d rather have the good stuff than the “lite” version. And the way to do that safely, prudently, is to have it scoop by scoop from an ice cream shoppe, purchased one at a time when I’m ready to eat it instead of calling me from the freezer. It’s about portion control, a variety of flavors, and eating in public, not hidden away at my house.
I’ve found places to do this, both near my office. I can walk out and get a treat after lunch once or twice a week and have either amazing ice cream down one street, or fabulously wonderful gelato or sorbet down another. I can get my fix in the middle of the day rather than at night and avoid the temptation of having the stuff in my house in the first place.
Grown up ice cream. I wish my dad was here to share it with me.