I was reading John McPhee’s wonderful essay “Heirs to the General Practice” about rural family practice doctors when I came across a passage in which one of the saw bones described his breakfast as a piece of coffee cake and some bacon. Immediately I craved coffeecake for breakfast. Ignoring the lingering pain for some minor surgery I had last week, I rushed to the grocery store Monday morning to seek out some coffee cake for breakfast.
Naturally, they were all out. Everyone else must have read McPhee’s 100-page essay as well, even though it appeared in The New Yorker more than three decades ago. They all must have read that passage and decided that they, too, must have coffee cake. Maybe a few wanted the bacon, too.
I don’t know what it is, but when I read about food, I want to eat. This rarely happens when I see characters chowing down on a TV show or in a movie. But if I am reading a description about the catering service on set for the Lord of the Rings, or about the food in an officer’s mess in a history on the Second World War in Europe, I am taken by the description, meager as it may be, and I suddenly want to eat what I am reading about.
As you might imagine, I avoid all magazine articles on food, whenever possible. I shudder to think what might happen if I started to read those. I had a book on the recent food trends on my wish list for several months before reluctantly deciding I’d be better off without it.
You might think this is hyperbole. After all, I am a writer, and I write for a living. I need to be entertaining to my readers, and hyperbole helps with this. But I’m not really exaggerating. Let me give a recent example to illustrate this–by way of complaint.
Entenmann’s Coffee Cafe is completely impractical for breakfast. I know this because, upon awakening this morning, the passage in McPhee’s essay had not yet left me, and I was still craving coffee cake. So out I went, this time to a different grocery store. And this time, I struck pay dirt. I bought an Entenmann’s Crumb Coffee Cake.
According to the good people at Entenmann’s, a serving of Coffee Cake is 1/9th of the cake in the box. If anyone in charge at Entenmann’s is reading this, let me just say that you’re kidding yourselves and your customers if you think 1/9th of a coffee is a practical size. I am the only coffee cake-eater in the house. At 1/9th of a slice, it would take me 9 days to consume the entire coffee cake.
So far, so good, right? I paid 6 bucks for the cake, so that’s 66 cents per day for breakfast. A bargain!
The problem is the cake, while satisfying, wasn’t particularly moist when I ate it this morning. Tomorrow, I imagine it will be less moist. By Saturday, I might have to switch from a fork to a knife. Cutting that penultimate slice on day number 8, I fear, will require technology that hasn’t been invented yet.
How to solve this problem? Here’s how:
I was craving coffee cake because of that darn McPhee article. So why not have a big slice for breakfast. Instead of 1/9th, I took one quarter. At some point, later in the morning, Kelly decided join the fun. She took the equivalent of about 1/18th of a slice. Then again, she didn’t read “Heirs to the General Practice” and suffer the jealousy of that coffee cake and bacon breakfast.
I was busy with work today. I had a late lunch. The post-surgical pain kept me from wanting to move around too much. I needed something for lunch that would be quick. I remembered the coffee cake. Knowing me as she does, Kelly tried to hide the coffee cake under the loaf of bread. That’s like a fat grizzly trying to hide behind a thin tree. I saw through her charade. I started to cut a small slice of cake, and then decided that if it was too small, and I was still hungry, I wouldn’t want to have to get up again. So, I cut another quarter slice of coffee cake.
At this rate, the cake should be gone by tomorrow.
All of this I offer as evidence of my weakness when I read about food. No exaggeration, right? I’ve tried to think of possible solutions to this. I came up with a short list:
- Tell John McPhee to stop including food in the profiles he writes.
- Stop reading profiles by John McPhee
- Stop reading.
Numbers two and three are a lot less practical than a 1/9th slice of coffee cake. Anyone have John McPhee’s phone number?
I have to go now. I just heard the kids ask what we are having for dinner. It may turn out to be a fend-for-yourself night. And somehow, while writing this, that box of Entenmann’s coffee cake has crawled back into sight.
 This is not hyperbole. It is pure exaggeration.