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Male vs. female diet strategies call for a cookie compromise

Thursday, January 03, 2002

By Suzanne Martinson, Post-Gazette Food Editor

My husband Ace's secret diet has been stolen. The thieves are a cereal company wanting to cash in on his formerly clandestine way of losing weight: Eat a bowl of cereal and talk about supper in the morning. The Kellogg's motto: Eat Special K twice a day and lose six pounds in two weeks. Pardon my cynicism, but Ha!

It is, however, a known fact that losing weight is easier for men than for women. A guy says, "I guess I'd better lose a few pounds," and before you can say Blame the Kicker, he's carving another hole in his leather belt.

For a woman to make even a small dent in her hips, she has to give up everything she's ever wanted to eat for months, even years. The diet centers are a revolving door of lose a little/gain a little/lose it all again. You don't see many men in these places. I don't know if it's the testimonial part or the testosterone part that keeps them away.

The other side of the losing-weight equation, of course, is exercise, and a man can break a sweat quicker than a woman, too. For us women, maybe it's a whole lifetime of being told not to sweat. Heck, when I was growing up, girls didn't sweat at all. We perspired. This early training did not bode well for our futures.

Of course, one of the reasons women get married is to learn a man's secrets. Last month, I figured out I still have a lot to learn about Ace. To my absolute astonishment, he's returned to the stage. Even more curious, this taciturn Scandinavian, who made his debut speaking in an English accent in our church's dinner theater, is crossing bridges -- Pittsburgh bridges -- to do it.

"It's only a small part," he tells me when he sheepishly admits he's said yes to PG colleague Johnna Pro's urgings to play the sheriff in the production of "A Bad Year for Tomatoes," which opens Friday night at Veronica's Veil Auditorium. It's over one bridge and a long climb uphill to the South Side Slopes auditorium, home of the long-running "Veronica's Veil."

This is one of the off-season shows, and besides the allusion to tomatoes it appeals to me in another way. There's a lot of talk about turkey.

As far as I'm concerned the play could be renamed "A Bad Year for Dinner," because since rehearsals started, I haven't seen many coming out of our kitchen. True, I am a food editor, but since Ace's exit from newspapering to write a novel, if I were going to work late -- the norm during the holiday season -- he would have supper waiting. No more.

Coming home to an empty house one night after a particularly hectic day, I went from room to room calling his name. Finally, still worried, I remembered: "Tomatoes" practice. My thoughts shifted to starlets and clandestine trysts, but no, he soon appeared, flushed with achievement.

"It's a very funny play," he said.

Last week I sat in on a rehearsal, and the interplay of characters is great. I was an audience of one, welcome at any community theater presentation, just to demonstrate which lines get the laughs. My laughs rung out in the huge auditorium, which seats 800 for the passion play, way fewer for a comedy like "Tomatoes."

Just as important as the script is the costuming.

"Have you been fitted for your costume yet?" I ask. (Thinking about what we wear is another difference between him and me.)

Ace shops best under pressure, and that very night he showed me a new outfit: black Rockport shoes, a bright white shirt (they'll add a badge) and, just for good measure, a cowboy hat. Total cost: $9, possible because of a trip to two thrift stores. (Wal-Mart recently ejected the Goodwill donations boxes from the company's parking lots, and Ace and I vow never to give Sam's owners another nickel of our money.)

We arrived at the Pius Street auditorium, him in his actor's regalia, me bundled up. They'll raise the heat for the six performances, if not the practices.

Johnna greeted us with a "Smokey" hat, but it sat atop Ace's head like a fly on a manure pile. So they opted for the small-town country-western look. She handed him a nightstick.

"We didn't think a small-town sheriff in New England would carry a gun," he explained later.

"More likely an Uzi," I joked.

The bare-bones costume worked out rather well. He was a little late with his entrance -- "Where's the sheriff?" the other players asked onstage -- but his shirt stayed tucked and his cowboy hat stayed on. There was a small clatter when his nightstick slipped from his belt (working out potential crashes are what rehearsals are for).

So for the next two weekends, I will adopt Ace's diet. Mine will be custom-made for nervous wives -- cereal cookies. Peanut butter for protein, cereal for bulk and sugar for energy. I think I'll make the cookies with honey, and I'm going to call my regimen "The Backstage Diet."

"The Backstage Diet" Cookies

1/2 cup Karo corn syrup, honey or molasses
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup peanut butter (we used crunchy)
2 cups Special K cereal or other dry similar cereals (Rice Krispies are good)

Bring syrup and sugar to boil. (We used the microwave.) Remove from heat; stir in peanut butter. Add cereal. Drop by spoonsful on metal tray or waxed paper. Makes 2 dozen or so, depending on size.

"Our Favorite Desserts: 2,000 Favorite Recipes from Home Economics Teachers"

Tickets are available at the door for "A Bad Year for Tomatoes," which will be at 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday and Jan. 11 and 12, plus matinees at 2 p.m. Sunday and Jan. 13 at Veronica's Veil Auditorium, 44 Pius St., South Side. Tickets: adults, $10; seniors, $8; and students, $6.

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