This is a story about longing. It is about delayed gratification. It is not, as the title suggests, about what she’s having — not this week, friends. It’s about what she’s not having.
I’ll explain. For years, I’ve dealt with acid-reflux problems. It’s been a low-level nuisance. I took medications for a while. I popped Tums like candy. I still sleep on a crazily tilted, elevated mattress that looks like a torture device and makes my husband cling to the side like it’s Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.
Then I learned about “The Acid-Watcher’s Diet,” a book by Dr. Jonathan Aviv, a New York City ear, nose, and throat specialist. People in my heartburn Facebook groups (yep, those exist) swear by it. The 28-day plan heals damage by eliminating acid-producing delicacies such as fried and processed food, tomatoes, citrus, and coffee while incorporating plenty of low-acid options, such as kale, broccoli, melon, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. It’s not a permanent eating plan, although there are elements to carry beyond the month. I could never do that; I love my dim sum and tacos too much. But a month? To calm the angry acidic ocean churning in my stomach? Worth it.
Thus ends the infomercial portion of this story.
I had just one problem: work. I harbored plans to try Demet’s in Medford, an old-school doughnut parlor in business since 1983. Doughnuts, safe to say, are not part of my healthy eating plan. Tragedy! My editor, a kind and merciful person, told me it was OK. I didn’t have to eat doughnuts right now. We’d work around it. No problem.
But I insisted. Why? Because I wanted to conduct an experiment about the power of craving and restraint. I wanted to observe what would happen when I walked into that heavenly smelling wedge of Americana and ordered a half-dozen majestic doughnuts — none for me, all for my kids and husband. Would I crack? Would I crumble? Would I stab someone with a carrot before I could complete my act of martyrdom?
Food is unique in this way, in its bewitching capacity to reduce willpower to crumbs. I can easily walk into a store and resist the urge to buy a pair of shoes. I have no problem muting social media ads for cruises, furniture, and spas. I do not binge on Netflix unless I’m also on NyQuil. Just the same, indulging in any one of those things won’t keep me up in the night feeling like a smoldering Satan is dancing a jig on my chest.
But food inspires a sharper, more primal need; it giveth and it taketh away; it satisfies and it burns. It fills a very real void — hunger. Eating, unlike Netflix, is an essential activity. Nobody can fault you for it. Yet it can cause pain. Plenty of it.
With these disquieting thoughts nibbling at the edges of my mind, I chomped on a banana and cruised down an unremarkable stretch in Medford until I saw the groovy brown and orange sign — a 1970s rec room palette to be sure. I had arrived. Now what would I do?
Owner George Koleas was on the scene, greeting guests. He took over the shop from his father, Peter, who died in 2017. Friends bantered. Someone’s mom was getting around better now that she moved her furniture to one floor. Someone else was rhapsodizing about jelly doughnuts.
“Gotta have my damn jellies,” she said to the cashier. I do, too, lady, I thought. I do, too.
I stepped toward the counter as I’d done so many times in so many places, but this time it felt like an execution. I’d never thought about it before — the simple equation of want and reward. I’d been free.
Now I felt like a caged animal. I scanned the menu quickly, not wanting to let on that there was anything amiss. My eyes rested on an egg sandwich. Eggs were safe, but not when slathered with cheese and served on a flavored bagel, croissant, or English muffin. And certainly not eaten “extreme”-style, topped with hash browns. (A signature, says Koleas, “like a breakfast buffet.”) I couldn’t even get an iced coffee. Too acidic.
“What are your specialties?” I squeaked, stalling for time. Would I break?
How did this cylinder of sugar wield so much power over me? It came to represent my willpower, my health, my (temporary) happiness.
The cashier smiled approvingly. There were plump, glossy honey-dipped; Demet’s specials, chocolate glazed, with gooey sugar tips, frosted and topped with sprinkles; jelly-filled, bursting with a forbidden sweetness. They stood at attention, fried in vegetable oil, ready for the taking. They had done their job. Could I do mine? At this point I was almost sweating.
I ordered a half-dozen assortment and slunk toward a booth, clutching the white paper bag like contraband. I just sat for a while, taking it all in: the brown leather stools, the lavender counters, the completely wholesome surroundings, the familiar lilt of heavy Boston accents. It was all so innocent, so safe.
I could just have one, right?
At this point I began to feel angry. I was annoyed. It was just a doughnut. Why was I making such a big deal out of a dessert? I took out a chocolate frosted with sprinkles and placed it atop the bag to give it a good talking to. I stared at it as if it were a misbehaving child. How did this cylinder of sugar wield so much power over me? It came to represent everything: my willpower, my health, my (temporary) happiness. It was just a doughnut, yes, but also so much more. It represented joie de vivre, carefree pleasure. If I ate it, you see, I would be normal again. I wouldn’t be up in the night popping Tums. I wouldn’t be sleeping on four pillows. I’d be just like the lady who needed her damn jellies.
But I wasn’t like that lady. Not this month. In that moment, I thought about how what we deny or allow ourselves isn’t only about fleeting pleasure. It’s about identity, options, freedom. Choice is a luxury. So are doughnuts.
I slid my temptress back into the bag and drove home with it on the passenger seat, stealing glances every now and then. I touched it at a stop light. I rotated it this way and that. Where would it end up? On my son’s plastic orange breakfast plate or falling out of my mouth on the Alewife Brook Parkway?
I got home, and I placed the sack of doughnuts next to my (lonesome, unused) coffee maker. Then I made myself a cantaloupe smoothie and went on with my day.
I’m writing this story surrounded by my kids’ dirty dishes. There are doughnut crumbs on their plates. They devoured them — fluffy, dense, springy, sweet. I didn’t have a bite.
Poor me, I know. Things could be worse. I will go to Demet’s someday again. I will eat a doughnut. But not right now. Right now, I’ll wait. And waiting, I think, has made me a more thoughtful and appreciative eater. The trip was a game-changer for me. I had never, ever eaten mindfully before. I didn’t need to. And I’m as surprised as you that I finally did it at an old-fashioned doughnut shop, not some spiritual retreat honoring the hypnotic powers of kale.
So this week, what she’s having is an epiphany — and also another fruit smoothie. But, next month, a doughnut.
Demet’s, 199 Mystic Ave., Medford, 781-395-8422Kara Baskin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.