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Published: Wednesday, 7/19/2006

Who needs high-fat traditions?

A zillion years ago, someone decided that the appropriate way to celebrate a birthday is with a decorated cake topped by lighted candles. That was, of course, long before we counted calories, fat grams, and carbohydrates.

The question now is, "Do we have to stick with tradition?"

Must the celebration of birth always come with a cake, usually with that dreadful high-fat frosting that builds up higher and higher when the roses, leaves, and other decorations are added? If only blowing out the candles eliminated the calories. But, it doesn't. Instead, we return to our homes after the party wishing we had been served a smaller piece or at least hadn't eaten the cluster of roses and the frosting ruffle.

Don't you love it when they give the birthday person the biggest piece of cake with the most frosting, and it's usually the one with their name on it? The longer the name, the larger the piece of cake.

All of this came to mind in a personal warm-up to a July birthday. Cake and frosting are not on the diet or even the wish list, but sometime between today and Aug. 1, I will be presented with the confection by a well-meaning friend, I am certain.

So what would I rather have? I'll tell you in a minute. In the meantime, what about other folks who would just as soon forget the traditional cake in favor of a more favorite food on their birthday anniversary.

Kevin Housler was removing a branch near the top of a large cottonwood in the yard when I called out the question: What would you rather have than cake on your birthday? He didn't hesitate a second with an answer.

"Lemon meringue pie. I love it," he said. "Of course with candles stuck in the meringue." A member of his high school-age tree-trimming crew also responded.Steven Spratt of Pittsford, Mich., thinks lighted candles on a pizza would be a fine substitute.

Merrilee Whalen, a third- grade teacher at Burroughs Elementary School, prefers skip the cake and give her an ice cream sundae with a candle or two to wish on. Hot fudge would make it a perfect birthday dessert.

Mary and Ed Altweis kept the pie score high. Ed may not want to share a strawberry-rhubarb pie with his name on it. Mary is evenly divided between key lime and red raspberry.

Mary Ellen Say, a retired Toledo teacher, doesn't stray from the cake category either, but make it a cheesecake, her favorite. A drizzle of chocolate and a sprinkling of nuts would make her happier than roses and writing.

Retired food editor Kay Prokop of Seattle says to forget any kind of cake or pie and bring on a whole steamed Maine lobster and plenty of butter.

Only one person in my informal survey of friends and neighbors disagreed with my theory that traditional cakes are overrated, and she, surprisingly, is a top sales person in a health food supplement product line.

Mary Sue Miller of Bryan, Ohio, believes that birthday cakes are personal. "When your mom makes you a cake with your name on it, it's personal and special. I am in favor of tradition."

How does this sound? Fresh pineapple cubes in crme de menthe spooned into a pineapple shell with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream and covered with baked meringue? Add just one candle. How can I wish for will power without a candle?

Just remember you can't have your cake and diet too.



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