Thursday, January 31, 2008

More on guilt and chocolate

"The guilty think all talk is of themselves” Geoffrey Chaucer

JAN: Am I a little obsessed by the topic of guilt? Maybe. I'm going to talk more about misplaced and just plain silly guilt. Then, at the end of this post, I'm going to provide a payoff: A chocolate cake recipe that you can feel really guilty about.

Guilty because it's really heart-clogging rich, and guilty because its deceptively easy.

But that's justifiable guilt, let's get back to misplaced guilt.
The silliest guilt I feel is at the cash register. No matter what store I'm at -- CVS, the clothing store, the electronics store -- even if I've planned the entire purchase beforehand and have not gone overbudget,I feel a destinctive wave of guilt everytime I pay up. Like I'm injuring someone by spending my own money. (luckily, this doesn't happen when I make purchases online).
Even at the register, I don't feel badly enough to NOT buy the dress or shoes or month's supply of bath gel, mind you. Just enough to feel five or ten minutes of discomfort. I used to think I had somehow absorbed my mother's Depression Guilt (that's the GREAT DEPRESSION, not psychological depression.) But my eighteen-year-old son confessed to the exact same feeling in his stomach whenever he buys anything, so now I think maybe it's just some bad gene my mother passed to me, and I've passed onto my son.

I think some of us have acquired Environmental Guilt. I feel bad about tossing an old toaster oven instead of getting it fixed. I read once about a couple in New Jersey that devote their entire life to reusing everything so they don't add to waste disposal problem. Honestly, their whole mission in life was to have the smallest bag of weekly garbage. And then, there's Community Service guilt - We all know that one woman --yes, sorry, it's always a woman --who can't be happy unless she serves on every single town board and charity drive. How about the idiocyncratic guilts that go along with your job or your hobby? (I feel a little ping now and then when I call a tennis ball out -- was I right? Did it actually hit the line before it landed, and I didn't see it -- oh no!)

So I'm wondering, what's the stupidist thing you feel guilty about? And does confessing the guilt (not the sin) make it lose any of its power?
ROBERTA: I feel guilty about spending January in Florida while the rest of you are suffering up north--I'm working hard, really! (I know, your collective hearts are breaking for me:)

JAN: I'm crying real tears, Roberta. Not to increase your silly, misplaced guilt or anything, but do you realize it's snowing up here in New England, today. AGAIN???

HANK: I have a lot of t-shirts. You know, plain white ones and black ones. From, you know, the Gap, and JCrew. When they go on sale, I buy more. They're all stacked up in my closet shelves, still in their plastic wrappers. And when they go on sale, I'll buy still more. What if they stop making them? What if they change them? I think it's-- fashion guilt. I bet there are--oh, I feel too guilty to say how many there are. And no, Jan, I don't feel better telling you. I just feel more embarrassed. (Let me know if you hear of any sales.)

And job guilt? Are you kidding me? If I worked every minute of every day in my reporter job, it wouldn't be enough. I also have not-being-perfect guilt. And how about book-promotion guilt? For that, you need another 24 hours a day. On the other hand, how about doing-too-much guilt?

HALLIE: I've just passed a milestone...virtually all the 'work' I do now is writing or writing related. Predictably, I feel guilty about not looking for 'real' work--aka consistely paycheck-producing work. After years of being a freelance writer-for-hire and hustling for every gig, being completely self directed feels weird and sinful. And scary.

ROBERTA: Hallie, congratulations--it's about time! We're all going to be enriched by the things you write..._
JAN: And in the meantime, you can all be enriched by a single slice of this cake.

Jan's Chocolate Mint Cake recipe.
Take a box chocolate cake mix, follow the directions and make a single layer cake. I use a 8 inch cake pan that is fluted, but a regular 8 inch cake pan or a square brownie pan will also work.

While its baking, mix:
two tablespoons unsalted butter
two tablespoons cream or half and half
one teaspoon peppermint flavor
Optional: you can add two drops of green food coloring, but I think it looks better without the green.
one cup confectioners sugar
Melt btter, add the rest of incredients and stir into a paste.
Let cake cool about five or ten minutes, but not entirely. When it is still lukewarm, spread a thin layer of the mint icing over the top.

Melt one or two squares of semi-sweet baker's chocolate in 1 to 2 (respectively) tablespoons of unsalted butter.
Dribble over the icing while the cake is still warm.With a knife make decorative swirls.

Let cool and serve. Eat two pieces and feel really, really guilty.

Enjoy and try not to feel too guilty.


  1. Jan, I think you and my husband may be related--he suffers from consumer guilt. Not only will he not buy anything for himself, but he won't even look at things. He has no concept of browsing as an end in itself, whether it's at a mall or at an antiques or crafts fair. For him it's painful, while I love it, even if I don't buy anything. Is that a guy thing?

    But I wanted to add a flip side to your (group) observation: I never feel guilty about buying books. Anyone's books, old or new. I rescue orphaned books (which may explain why I have three copies of Gaudy Night). Now, of course, I have an excuse--it's for business.

    And that's my husband's one exception: he will browse in bookstores. Not buy, mind you, but torture himself with looking.

  2. Hey Sheila,

    Most of the time, I don't feel guilty buying books -- unless I go overboard -- but there is, of course, guilt about not reading all these great books fast enough -- sigh.....
    And I envy your husband, he's smart enough to stay out of the stores. I buy AND THEN feel guilty.

  3. I admit to feeling a little guilty about anything that makes me feel more privileged than the average person (whoever that is). That includes anything from being a doctor's daughter and a college graduate (Notre Dame,too, extra guilt) to having a time-share week in Vermont. I feel compelled to qualify my good fortune by saying dumb things like, "We spend a week every summer in Vermont. We got the place cheap on re-sale from a couple getting a divorce." True, but does anyone but me care?

    I think I get it from my Dad. (There's a lot of that parent influence going around.) He was the youngest of five brothers, missed the draft in WWII, got to go to college and medical school. I think he was always careful not to flaunt his success. He always drove basic cars (currently a Chevy Cavalier). The nices car we had growing up was a Chevy Monaco station wagon with leather upholstery, and my Dad always had to tell people, "I got it through one of my patients. It was a demonstrator."

    I feel guilty about not reading more "serious" books. I have three sisters in book clubs who don't own anything not published in at least a trade paperback.

  4. How much time do you have? Today I felt guilty for only spending 30 mins. in the hotel gym, for not schmoozing more at Love is Murder, for packing too much, for turning my nose up at the food then eating 2 Trail Mix bars in my room. But it's only 8:57. The night is young.

    On a regular basis, I feel guilty for going to the most expensive dermatologist and colorist on the planet.

  5. Wow, I'm definitely in kindred, guilty company. But I'm wondering, do you think we'd be more productive without our guilt--or maybe just happier.

    Roberta, still in Florida, but really we're just visiting relatives and the weather's not that nice, really...

  6. Guilt is definitely the least productive thing I do.

    Hey maybe I should feel guilty about guilt. How confusing is that?

  7. I think guilt is not only a useless waste of our energy (of course, not personally being close to guilt-free myself!) but that it is detrimental to our health and well being. How can we enjoy a beautiful sunset when it is clouded with our self recriminations?