I picked up my snacking habit from my dad. Beginning when I was a little kid, I would sometimes get to hang out with my father in my parents’ bedroom, after the other kids had gone to bed. We’d watch marathons of sitcoms, with my mom delivering plate after plate of celery ribs spread with cream cheese and chunky peanut butter, or cucumber sandwiches, spread lightly with mayonnaise on white bread. A resealable jar of peanuts, sauteed with garlic, rounded out the evening; I didn’t like them, at first, but my dad insisted I try some, if for no other reason than to mask the smell of the garlic hanging thickly in the room by having them on my breath, as well. Somewhere between “The Wonder Years” and “Doogie Howser, M.D.,” bags of thick-cut potato chips would appear, dragged lazily through thick bowls of clam dip, one of my dad’s specialties, where he dumped a can of minced clams onto a brick of cream cheese. These were special evenings, spent with just my dad, in the too-brief window before he went back to sea to fight pirates, or move oil through wild overseas jungles, when it was just us: hanging out together, snacking, and laughing uproariously at decidedly mediocre 1980s sitcoms.
A scrappy, wiry guy most of his life, my dad’s weight ballooned as he got older, finally topping out at around 230 pounds — a fair amount of weight for someone who stood 5′ 11″. He never could understand where this weight gain came from, blaming, at different stages, his quitting smoking, or, much later, his fight with cancer. To the rest of us, the reasons for his weight gain later in life were pretty clear: a steady 4:00 PM diet of potato chips dipped in cream cheese, mixed with a fair amount of gin, packs on the pounds and slows down bloodflow pretty quickly.
I recently purchased life insurance, a process that necessitated a battery of blood tests from the insurance company’s doctors, to make sure that I’m not a heroin addict, or pregnant, or a secret nicotine user. It was the first physical examination of my inner goings-on that I have had in about 15 years, and I was nervous about the results. Would testing reveal that I have the corroded, exhausted liver of a 65 year old man? Did my sedentary, well-fed, snack-grazing, pork-worshipping lifestyle put me in immediate danger of gout, or within a stone’s throw of a life-changing diabetes diagnosis? In the slow, inevitable march toward becoming our parents, just how far had I progressed?
As it happens, I’m just fine. All of my organs are performing well, and all systems are operating within their normal range, which was quite surprising, considering how little I think about what I eat, and how much time I spend sitting in front of a computer. My cholesterol was the only reading that was a tiny bit higher than it should have been. And, the way an addict tries to moderate their drinking, so that they’ll never have to actually quit drinking, I have decided to try taking some basic, non-life-changing steps to easing my cholesterol number a little bit lower. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not talking about going running barefoot, or swapping in the fruit cup for the bacon at breakfast. I’m thinking more like, “Not dipping potato chips in cream cheese,” or “eating a bowl of Cheerios here and there” or, “snacking on some Wheat Thins once in a while.”
Here is my recipe for Wheat Thins.
Homemade Wheat Thins
Adapted from a recipe by King Arthur Flour
- 1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
- 5 teaspoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for topping
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- 4 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
- 1/4 cup cold water
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Place the flour, sugar, salt, and paprika in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the processor for 10 seconds.
3. Add the butter chunks, and run the food processor for 10-20 seconds until the mixture forms thick crumbs.
4. Mix the water and vanilla together in a separate bowl. With the processor running, pour in the water mixture through the feed tube. Run the processor for 30 seconds to incorporate.
5. Dump the crumbs out onto a work surface, and press into a ball. Divide the ball in half, shape the halves into fat rectangles and place one on a silicone baking mat or a sheet of parchment paper. Keep the other half covered with some plastic wrap, to keep it from drying out. Roll the dough out until it is thin (1/16th-inch) and covers almost the entire mat. Try to roll it out as evenly as possible. Lightly sprinkle the dough with flour if it sticks to the rolling pin.
6. Cut the dough into 1 1/2-inch squares with a pizza wheel. The crackers won’t spread as they bake, so they can be quite close together. Sprinkle with a generous pinch of kosher salt.
7. Bake for 5 – 10 minutes, rotating at least once. They may cook more quickly, depending on how thick you were able to roll them. They are done when the edges just start to brown. Keep a close eye on them after five minutes as they burn quickly. Transfer the crackers to a cooling rack. Serve with cream cheese.