Better Than Chocolateby Susan Waggoner
Be careful what you wish for. . .
Food writer Annie Wilkins is on an express elevator to fame and fortune, thanks to research scientist/husband Tom's remarkable invention: fat-free, carb-free, calorie-free chocolate that tastes better than the real thing! Once reduced to writing walleye-on-a-stick articles for Minnesota Menus, now she's living large/p>/em>… See more details below
Be careful what you wish for. . .
Food writer Annie Wilkins is on an express elevator to fame and fortune, thanks to research scientist/husband Tom's remarkable invention: fat-free, carb-free, calorie-free chocolate that tastes better than the real thing! Once reduced to writing walleye-on-a-stick articles for Minnesota Menus, now she's living large in showcase houses and hobnobbing with the hoi polloi. Annie and "America's Sexiest Scientist" Tom happily accept their new status as the nation's most happening Fabulous Couple.But as a high-profile spokesperson, Annie's got a corporate responsibility to change her hair, her style, and lose twenty-five pounds. Her kids are becoming too worldly too fast and Tom's in demand for a lot more than just his candy. If this is the American Dream, Annie needs to wake up because all of a sudden her marriage and her sanity are in jeopardy. . . and she's about to bottom out on top!
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Better Than Chocolate
By Susan Waggoner
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Susan Waggoner
All right reserved.
Anyone who still has the October 2002, issue of Martha Stewart Living can see, on pages 27 through 31, the story that has made the "Pumpkins!" issue something of a collector's item. Twenty dollars on eBay, although for this you will also get articles on Bedlington terriers, maple syrup, player pianos, acorn crafts, and macaroni and chevre, the new comfort food.
The magazine didn't usually do personalities, and this made the spread all the more eye-catching. Here's someone I should know about, readers must have thought, gazing at the woman wearing a garnet chenille sweater over black silk trousers. The best of the pictures shows the woman at a pickled-oak worktable, one foot twined pensively around a chair leg. The table is fifteen feet long and bare except for a computer, a bowl of green and golden pears, and a ream of blank paper that is supposed to be mistaken for a finished manuscript. Beyond the table is a row of windows, beyond the windows a sweep of green lawn, beyond the lawn a dock dipping down to a blue expanse of lake. The woman at the table gazes across this vista thoughtfully, as if inspiration will rise from the thin mist hugging the water.
The lake is Minnetonka.
The woman in the garnet chenille is me. And the entire spread -- "Annie Wilkins at Home" -- glows with what can only be described as, well, star power.
It wasn't planned that way. Initially, Martha was going to fly out to interview me herself. I'd been thrilled by the news, heady at the prospect of rubbing elbows with the woman whose tips for embedding violets in ice cubes and basil leaves between sheets of ravioli represented an altogether different world from the peanut-butter-and-jelly-encrusted planet I lived on. But when that day in midsummer actually came, Martha was ensnared in her own problems. Like a saucepan full of homemade caramel, the ImClone stock scandal had reached a surprisingly swift boil, and Martha had stayed home to preserve an appearance of unruffled normality. She might as well have made the trip, because being grilled on The Early Show as she tried to shred cabbage did her no good at all. In fact, so reversed were our respective poles that week that someone actually thanked me for "saving" the October issue.
I don't think it was quite that extreme -- the Bedlingtons article and a recipe for homemade marshmallows could easily have carried the day -- but I did add a certain pizzazz to the issue. Perhaps it was the slant of light. Or the Vivaldi the photo-shoot boys had brought on their boom boxes. Or the espresso we were swilling out of huge French coffee cups. For whatever reason, I looked as close to ravishing that morning as I ever would. My hair had the high-quality gloss of a good ganache. My sweater hung casually from my collarbone. My breasts were apples of garnet chenille.
I say all this without fear of boasting because, of course, it was all illusory, as handcrafted as the acorn Pueblo people on page 68. On the day I go back to now, the day on which this story begins, the MSL spread was months in the future. Ditto my collarbone. Martha Stewart had no idea who I was and wouldn't dream of sending Neil, her personal person, to Minnesota to do my hair and makeup, as he did that morning. Strangers were still inhabiting the house on the blue lake, scattering toast crumbs over countertops no longer to be theirs, desecrating my future pantry -- their mudroom -- with salt-and-snow-caked boots, curling ribbon and attaching bows in the gift-wrap room we would convert to an emergency office equipped with microwave and minibar, networked laptops, and a distressed leather chaise said to have belonged to Milton Hershey -- a fact mentioned, if you read them, in almost every one of the stories written about us that year.
On the day this story begins, my highest achievement in the world of glossy culinary/lifestyle magazines was an article in Gourmet entitled "Baby Goes Bistro: Provence with Your Toddler." It had been published at the height of the Peter Mayle frenzy, and despite numerous follow-up pitches, I'd failed to sell them anything since. I had, however, gotten other assignments because of it, mostly from regional magazines who considered a Gourmet writer living among them something of a catch. Which is why, on this day in question, I was sitting in half a bedroom in suburban Minneapolis -- half a bedroom made into an office by virtue of a rented wall -- contemplating a rather scattered array of notes. My article "The Walleye: A Fish for All Seasons" had yet to acquire the je ne sais quoi so highly prized by my editors at Minnesota Menus. It had yet, in fact, to acquire any words at all.
Beyond the rented wall, in the half of the room that remained her bedroom, my four-year-old daughter, Sophie, was amusing herself with a box of crayons and a roll of butcher paper. Like Picasso before her, Sophie was working through a blue period, her pockets filled with the periwinkle, cornflower, blizzard blue, and cerulean she had worn to nubs. The air was thick with creativity and the smell of Crayolas. Our Labrador retriever, Scout, hovered nearby, indifferent to art but always on watch for the stray graham cracker. I heard the crinkle and rasp of paper and Sophie's running narration. "I like this one best," Sophie informed Scout. "See? This one is no good. Now I'm going to make a new one. It's going to be the best one. See how I'm making this lady's hair? It goes up into the sky."
Excerpted from Better Than Chocolate by Susan Waggoner Copyright © 2006 by Susan Waggoner. Excerpted by permission.
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