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May 22, 2013 / theyellowbungalowla

the magic of afternoon snack…

When you’re nine years old, afternoon snack ranks pretty high on your priority list, just after the latest Barbie doll and how late I could convince my parents to let me stay up (not late). Or at least these things were important to me when I was nine.

When school let out at 3pm, my sister and I would walk the short block over to our babysitter’s house. Our mother was a teacher but she taught at the high school, which was about five blocks away and too far for us to walk alone at that age. When we got older, my mother allowed us to walk up to the high school to work on our homework while she wrapped up her day and prepped the next day’s lesson. But in the early days we went to the babysitter.

Our first order of business, after throwing down our coordinating pink and purple bags (because my sister and I always coordinated in those days), was to find a snack.

I went to grade school in the late ’80’s, when the words “trans fat” were unheard of, and it was customary to give kids Doritos, Cheetos, and the like for after school snack. Each day, my sister, her friend Missy, and I would literally polish off a bag of salty snacks before setting to work on our coloring books, puzzle solving, or heading out to the backyard to “play school” or other games. We didn’t have a clue that our snacks weren’t healthy, nor did our parents. All we knew was they were oh-so-good, the salty crunch drowning out the chatter of my fellow snackers and coating my fingers with neon cheesy goodness. To this day, I can’t help but crave a little bag of Cheetos in the dead of the afternoon, when that salty crunch would give me the pickup that has the power to turn my day around for the better.

The food scene is different these days, but afternoon snack is no less important to a grade school kid.

During my career as a private chef, I spend about a year dedicated to one family. In addition to cooking meals, I also picked their two daughters up from school. The girls were eight and ten years old at the time, and not dissimilar from my sister and I at those ages, although they didn’t have coordinating backpacks like the Lauritzen girls. And so when I began picking the girls up from school, they made sure that I took afternoon snack as seriously as they did. The minute the car doors would close, “What’s for snack?” was often the first question uttered from the backseat, followed by, “can we have ice cream?”

I love the endless optimism of childhood, when already knowing the answer to a question is in no way a deterrent to asking. And asking again. And again. When I was a kid, I’d ask my parents every single night if I could stay up later, already knowing that the answer was no. And yet night after night, I’d ask anyway because I thought there was a tiny chance that my parents would have a momentary lapse of judgment and let me stay up past my bedtime. I figured there was no harm in asking.

And so it went with these young optimists; I guess they too figured that it couldn’t hurt to ask. So every day they asked for ice cream, starting with the most unlikely option and when I said no, they proceeded to work their way through other suggestions like candy, cookies, and other treats reserved for special occasions.

No one likes to be the heavy, so I spent a good amount of time and energy thinking about how to make our snacks fun but still reasonably healthy. Some of our favorites included make-your-own yogurt parfaits, apples with peanut butter, a combo plate with various fruits and cheeses, and cereal “salad,” where we each chose a different combination of cereals to make a “salad.”

But some days, after the endless barrage of questions, I was worn out. And it was here that they saw the tiniest faint of hope and seized the opportunity to bend me just a little further than I typically would go. And so I gave in, and boy am I glad I did, as it resulted in one delicious afternoon snack: toasted challah spread with Nutella and topped with strawberries. I’m not sure how this combination came to be, but I’m guessing that it went a little something like this: they wanted Nutella, I insisted on fruit: the compromise speaks for itself.

Today, one of the girls is celebrating a birthday, so I created a similar snack in her honor. I have a big bowl of cherries in the fridge, so instead of strawberries, I substituted sweet cherries. I love how the cherries look like little jewels swimming in a chocolatey pool of Nutella. I can assure you that this combination is as satisfying as the original, and it made me smile today to think of the circumstances in which it came to be.

Happy birthday, sweet girl…

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