In the course of a recent holiday luncheon with friends, and right after I had enjoyed my own ramekin of crème brule (sometimes we share our desserts), one of those so-called amigos remarked that sugar kills brain cells. Like a Grinch who had just spoiled my own Christmas, I snuck home in guilty silence to ponder that revelation.
It did not stop me from following a tradition that goes back through generations on both sides of my family tree: making sweet holiday confections to give as gifts. I can see my Grandma Garrett in her kitchen, flour up to her elbows, rolling out a piecrust or slapping bread dough in a pan. She filled that kitchen with good smells and expressed her love of children and grandchildren by her baked goods.
Then in my early childhood and adolescence I watched my mother roll up a slab of dough that had been filled with brown sugar, cinnamon and raisins, form it into a circle, slit it, bake it (filling our own house with incredible smells), drizzle icing over the end result, decorate it with green and red maraschino cherries, put Saran wrap over it and promptly take it out of our sight. She gave those Swedish tea rings to other people for Christmas, even though her German ancestry actually disqualified her from passing it off as some heritage confection.
When I got my own kitchen and was occasionally bereft of Christmas cash for gifts, I started following suit, baking cookies with a recipe stolen from my mother (who stole it from a church cookbook), making fudge and arranging plates of goodies to hand-deliver like some deranged Santa on a sugar high from taste-testing.
Holiday baking and gifting has to be in my DNA. Otherwise, why would I feel compelled every December to drag out the stained recipe cards and repeat this tradition? And who am I really doing it for . . . family and friends or myself? I mean, Christmas would not come unless I put pieces of fudge, iced sour cream drops, homemade peanut brittle and dipped pretzels in some Currier and Ives decorator tins and then in the freezer for later distribution.
I made fudge and cookies yesterday. Then I wondered why I felt so sluggish this morning. Could it have anything to do with licking the spoon and pan after cooking candy? Or was it because I watched a holiday movie while mindlessly munching on sweetened popcorn?
As I got on my treadmill for the first time in months to try to flush the poison out of my system, my friend’s words began to haunt me. How many brain cells had I killed yesterday? How many brain cells of friends and family will I destroy this holiday season?
Perhaps the bane of our modern life is not, as so many suggest, war and a fragile economy. Maybe sugar is to blame for all the ills in the world. Yet I frantically hold onto the words a friend gave me over the phone yesterday while I was multi-tasking (stirring fudge and talking to her). When I suggested that perhaps the universe is trying to tell me in some pretty direct ways that I should stop trying to say Merry Christmas with poison. She assured me that the universe would never want to do away with fudge.
Perhaps instead of dwelling on the negative aspects of sugar as a brain cell murderer, I should instead focus on ways to build new brain cells. I’m sure that will be rich fodder for a separate blog in the New Year.