New Carbs

Along with everyone else, you’ve probably been reading a lot about carbs recently:  “Good carbs,” with their fiber and vitamins, and “bad carbs,” which we need to start avoiding. I don’t know about you, but when I read these reports something seems amiss. As someone who has spent decades devotedly exploring the world of carbs, I know in my bones that there’s far more to the carb picture than the scientists have puzzled out.  Recently I decided to do my own close-observational study and record my findings about different kinds of carbs. The results:

FOREIGN CARBS: How is it that a foreign name can add innumerable benefits to any dish? For example, on Tuesday I had the chance to compare two identical food items. The first was a donut at a 7-11; the second was a beignet I purchased not long after, across the street at Patisserie Antoine. 

The donut produced a heedless urge in me to wolf it down, followed by an avalanche of remorse. The experience with the beignet could not have been more different, although I suspect that Antoine buys his beignets from the same supplier as 7-11. As he pronounced the word “beignet” and placed the pastry on the tiny table I was seated at, I found myself purring. Instead of hurriedly zooming off, I lingered, eating in a civilized manner, and engaging in a most delightful flirtation with Antoine, despite the fact that I had flunked high school French! I spent the rest of the day smiling. Regrets? Zero -- especially about having given my phone number to Antoine.

SILLY CARBS: Next I decided to delve into some carbohydrate-related mysteries. Why do we 1) have a sense of well-being when we nibble candy that’s molded like a high heeled shoe? 2) Feel rapturously giddy when we drink a cocktail that’s a preposterous color? 3) Forget about waistlines when pasta shows up on our plates in adorable curlicue shapes? 

I mused about these questions as I waited for Antoine the next evening at a waterside bar. I played with my Blue Hawaii’s little parasol and asked myself: Why is it that scientists are so damned obsessed by the intricate chains of oligosaccharides they find in complex carbs?

Feeling woozy inspiration, I challenged the hunky, sunburned stranger next to me to a contest: whichever one of us said “oligosaccharide” slower would have to buy the next round of Blue Hawaiis. He eyed me up and down, then agreed. Soon everyone in the place was shouting “oligosaccharide” and demanding that I dance on top of the bar. How could I refuse? Never before had I cared less about how my behavior appeared to others.  My conclusion: Silly Carbs often lead to excellent exercise sessions.

Antoine never did show up. Frenchmen! 

OVERPRICED CARBS: As I nursed a hangover the next day, my intercom buzzer sounded. It was Antoine, pleading in French. I buzzed him up and, in response to his knock, opened the door. There he stood, holding out an exquisitely wrapped box.

“Chocolates?” I snapped. “I’m not that easy.”

“Do you know how adorable you are when you are angry?” he murmured.

“Don’t try that suave stuff on me,” I said. 

But I grabbed the box of chocolates from him anyway. As I did so, I saw his eyes fall on a label the store hadn’t removed from the box. He swore as he reached over and tore it off. But I’d caught a glimpse of much he’d spent. That’s when I experienced the miraculous effect of Overpriced Carbs. Indeed, even before I’d tasted a single one of the candies, I felt overwhelmed with forgiveness. 

Antoine popped a  truffle into my mouth. It was a fitting ending to my carbohydrate research, and I was pleased with my contributions to science.  For a moment, I did wonder if Antoine had planted a phony price tag on the box, but even if he had, wasn't that sweet in its own way?   


Polly Frost is a playwright whose humor has appeared in The Atlantic and The New Yorker. She can be found on the web at

July 28: Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin eloped on this day in 1814.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.


When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).