Like all members of my family, I view the completion of significant tasks deserving of a reward. I’m like a good dog and master all in one.
So when I finished mowing in record time – I was a blur of elbow grease-powered stick-to-itiveness – I decided I should have some “real” food.
Let’s be honest – everything I eat is pretty much real. But by using quotation marks on “real,” I was distinguishing between my constant health-minded, anxiety-quelling nibbling and the hearty comfort food I craved. I felt entitled.
I was alone, so I decided to sit at the counter at the Corner Café, which I love, but no one else in the family shows an interest in. I guess it’s kind of a diner thing, what with the freedom of swiveling stools, servers calling you “hon” and cooks slamming bells when orders are up.
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It’s more than a meal; it’s like a show and a reward on the same bill.
My server’s name was Sammie, and she was top-flight. I was the only customer at the counter – even better since I’d just mowed and not showered – and she must have burned a hundred calories just checking on me.
When you feel pathetically deserving the way I did, being catered to is like a salve. It’s like being babied by your mother. And face it, most of us miss mom’s comforting.
When it came time to tip, I went with 20-plus percent and almost left more when Sammie brought me an iced tea to go.
Being rewarded as I had, my pitiful I-just-finished-a-hard-week-and-mowed state of mind had been soothed.
For the record, I had meat loaf, a baked potato, salad and tea. I brought the doughy dinner roll home, along with a taste of meat loaf for my wife, and a whole cinnamon roll. Comfort food seems to cultivate generosity and the desire to share, not to mention long naps.
The concept of rewarding yourself has its limits – largely because of other factors that weigh on the equation.
Had I forgotten about my heart-healthy, weight-conscious diet, I might’ve had a cinnamon roll myself or maybe some pecan pie. And there was always the ultimate option – the Devilish Double To-Die-For Chocolate Pie.
OK, I made that last one up, but every restaurant that caters to people with a sweet tooth has something similar. Call it an emergency craving, a critical situation in which nothing can meet the need like dark, rich chocolate bursting with feel-good ingredients.
After a childhood in which chocolate and I were close friends, I quit eating it after a doctor told me to lay off some of the traditional migraine “triggers.” Chocolate led the pack, a nose or two ahead of aged cheese and red wine.
Migraines were no fun back in the day, so I pretty much abstained cold turkey.
I don’t remember when I actually stopped eating chocolate, but it was no small blow to the mighty Knopf System of Achievement and Reward. The parting lasted until October 2015, when another doctor advised me that getting to the hospital to have my heart looked at right then might be more important than getting back to work to put out a newspaper.
I checked in and was operated on the same day.
Long story short – everyone says that, but what a challenge for a wordy person like me – I had plaque in one artery removed and a stent inserted in another artery that was 90 percent blocked.
I changed my diet, started exercising and began taking enough pills to get slapped with a lifetime ban from all professional sports, including those not yet created.
Making those changes was quite the effort, and I was rewarded – not by myself but by good fortune.
Although I still carry my migraine pills everywhere I go, I haven’t had one since the procedure. My guess is the headaches might’ve had something to do with blood pressure and perhaps had less to do with trigger foods.
So I’m back in the chocolate fold, although sparingly because of the calories and fat content involved. I figure that two squares of dark chocolate aren’t going to kill me, at least not the way a slice of Devilish Double To-Die-For Chocolate Pie might.
As far as aged cheeses and red wine go, I’m not pushing my luck for something I can live without. Why push the envelope, I figure, and possibly ruin what fortune threw my way?
I’ve added a long-lost tool – chocolate – to the vaunted Knopf System of Achievement and Reward. There’s something about that deep rich flavor that answers the door when that I-just-finished-a-hard-week-and-mowed state of mind comes knocking.
If you have a system of self-reward – and we all do – you can tell me about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.