“What’s for dessert?”
It’s the clarion call of children everywhere. Do you notice that they never ask, “What vegetable are we having for dinner tonight?” or “When are we ever going to have Brussels sprouts?” Nope. They all want info about the sweet stuff, and they want it now.
When I was a kid, dessert had to be earned. If I wanted dessert, I had to eat my vegetables first. That was the rule. When faced with a plate full of succotash or the dreaded broccoli, I really needed that info. My plaintive query, “What’s for dessert?” was a calculation, plain and simple. Did I really want dessert? Did I want it badly enough to eat those forlorn veggies? If dessert was nonexistent or uninspiring, like pudding or a piece of fruit masquerading as a sweet, I would simply say, “I’m full.”
But if we were having ice cream or chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, then I would choke down the succotash or somehow manage to swallow that broccoli. Those were the days that I wished for a dog. My friends could slip their vegetables to their dog under the table — why couldn’t I? Oh well, if we did have a dog, he probably wouldn’t have liked broccoli either.
My kids speak that phrase on a regular basis: “What’s for dessert?” More often than not, the answer is “nothing.” I consider I’ve done my bit if I manage to get supper on the table before 9 p.m. and include at least one fruit or vegetable. There might be a box of cookies on the hutch, or a tub of ice cream in the fridge, but the likelihood of me fixing a special dessert to finish off dinner is dismally low.
Birthdays are the notable exception. The deal is, on your birthday you get to name your dessert, be it cake, pie, chocolate mousse, whatever. It’s a tough deal to uphold.
First, there’s the family birthday dinner, usually something special, followed by the chosen dessert. Then there’s the party with friends, which requires an additional dessert. Even if the kid had a massive layer cake for the family birthday, with more than half of it uneaten, there is no way they would allow that leftover cake to be the centerpiece of the birthday party with friends. Second dessert, coming right up. Add on the cupcakes for school for young kids, and that’s a lot of dessert. Did I mention that we have birthday buddies in my house?
My daughter was born on her dad’s birthday, resulting in not one but two pies for the family day (but still only one party with friends, thank goodness). With her brother’s birthday a mere six days later, our house is awash in desserts from the second week of November all the way to Thanksgiving, at which time the proper response to that all-important question is “pumpkin pie.” Moving on to Christmas cookies, Valentine’s candy and chocolate Easter eggs takes the pressure off. “What’s for dessert?” the kids ask. Mom’s stock answer: “Just go look in your candy bucket, there’s bound to be something.”
My favorite dessert to make is brownies. Yes, I use a mix. I like the mix. It tastes delicious, just the way brownies should taste — just like mom’s. Oh yeah, mom used the mix too. And why not? It’s fast, easy, and oh, so satisfying. My favorite dessert for someone else to make me is North Douglas chocolate cake with lots of frosting. If you’re a baker looking for an appreciative audience for your North Douglas chocolate cake, look no further. I’m your woman. I even make house calls.
Which is all to say that I’m having a serious chocolate craving right now, even without giving up chocolate for Lent. What’s for dessert? Alas, the chocolate birthday cake is history, and the Girl Scout cookies have all but disappeared. I’m munching on potato chips right now. Seriously.
What’s for dessert at your house? Can I come over?
• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother and author who writes cozy mysteries under the pen name “Greta McKennan.” She likes to look at the bright side of life. Her column runs on the last Sunday of every month.