Eating is an activity made for Guilty Pleasures.
Whether it's sugar overload, the beauties of junk food or something you probably should have given up after college, our tastes stay with us, and darned if we don't keep circling back to the same shame-inducing delights time after time.
Here's a shopping cart's worth of indulgences, with an extra helping of guilt on the side.
Cookies with faces
A round cookie, unless it's an Oreo, doesn't offer many options. But a cookie with a head or a face certainly does. While I hate shortbread cookies — give me a Samoa or a Thin Mint over a Trefoil any day -- I'm particularly fond of Animal Crackers, and I think that's because they have faces. Publix, my grocery store, makes particularly delicious animal crackers that have a variety of interesting animals, which I eat in order of how bite-offable their body parts are. (This makes me sound like I need serious therapy, but come on, we're talking about cookies here.) I like to start eating the parrot-shaped ones shaped by biting off their tails. Teddy Grahams, my other favorite small animal-shaped cookie, are essentially graham crackers, but with tiny arms and legs that just beg to be broken off between my teeth. Let's see an actual graham cracker offer that. -Andy Dehnart
Caviar may bring to mind images of Russian royalty scarfing blinis and toast points, but fish roe has a far more primitive appeal: It’s a salt lick for humans. Spoon a couple fish eggs into your mouth, savor their cool smoothness with your tongue and then chomp – with one bite, you send a satisfying rush of salt to your brain. Think potato chips, but without all the preservatives. The good news is you don’t need to pay $100 an ounce. Slum it with $3-an-ounce fish roe, use some of your savings to buy a nice bottle of wine (or two) and even if you can tell the difference (which, OK, you totally can), after that third glass of wine you probably won’t care. Don’t think your local supermarket carries caviar? You’d be surprised. Fish roe from the lowly lumpfish is nearly always available, stored next to the other forgotten salty fish, such as sardines and herring. For an equally cheap but even more awesome treat, hunt down a Scandinavian specialty store or bribe a friend going abroad. Four words: Caviar in a tube. -Lori Smith
Jujubes, better known for their complicit role in the theft of countless fillings, are a dentist’s best pal. Here's a candy described by its own manufacturer as having a “hard, break-glass quality texture.” Created in 1920, the little dabs of rock-solid delight are, yes, an acquired taste. They’re impossible to bite when cold, squickishly mushy when warm and, well, they taste like soap. (I mean, really: violet-flavored candy?) But there I am, stuffing my mouth. A full bag — Jujubes are best bought in bulk — can disappear in the course of a single viewing of “Swingers.” Talking also isn’t advised mid-Jujube; you sound like you have marbles in your mouth — which, to be honest, you sort of do. It’s frankly amazing that these little buggers are even sold anymore. Each time I visit the candy shop, I’m convinced the Farley’s & Sathers Candy Company will have come to its senses and done away with them. (It bought the Heide candy line, which includes Jujubes and their lumpen cousins, Jujyfruits, from Hershey in 2002.) Yet Jujubes are always still there, awaiting another chance to do battle with my poor jaw. -Jon Bonné
If summer beverages were people, lemonade and iced tea would be dainty elderly ladies, and the Slurpee would be the stoner who bursts in late to the party wearing paisley board shorts and neon-colored flip-flops. There’s nothing nutritional or healthy about Slurpees, but they sure are fun. As kids we tried to only visit our local 7-Eleven when the female clerks were working — the Slurpee machines were still behind the counter then, and only the women would mix flavors (in kid lingo, that’s called a “suicide”). Now the Slurpee spouts are out in the store, meaning you can freely compose a drink that’s one part blue raspberry, one part root beer, one part grapermelon and one part Purple S’crème (looks purple, tastes vanilla). Some states, including my birthplace of Minnesota, no longer have 7-Elevens in their states, but for those who do: slurp on, my icy-mouthed brethren. -Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
Starbucks-speak When first starting my Starbucks ritual, I found the lingo required to order a beverage obnoxious at best. Whether it was the part-English, part pseudo-Italian sizes or the plethora of drink modifiers, it came off as difficult and pretentious to my wee newbie ear. Not until I stopped fighting it, and fully embraced my java overlords, did the pleasure of the Starbucks lexicon take hold. Now I mentally practice my order so that it may roll fast and deliberate from my tongue. Why order a venti Caramel Macchiato when I can order a venti, light-iced, half-caf, upside-down Caramel Macchiato with soy and an extra shot of vanilla? Joy! Beyond the simple fun of being bilingual in Beveragese, there’s the extra kick of becoming more fluent than my server. Now it’s a game of baffle-the-barista. The longer the order, the more I love it. Just remember: a tall, 140 degrees, double caffè latte with one shot of vanilla (leave room and add whip!) beats out a grande, low-fat, no-whip, dry Caramel Steamer. Ah heck, double-cup it! -Ree Hines
Red Bull Sugarfree It’s an acquired taste, somewhere between chilled baby aspirin and sour limes. You never forget the eye squint and full-body cringe the first time you down a Red Bull, the energy drink that put the “all” back into all-nighters. Stick to the sugar-free version which, at a mere 10 calories, won’t wreck your diet. Let it glide down your throat and feel the caffeine jolt directly into your veins. Two sips later, the scattered thoughts in your mind achieve clarity, your mood lightens and the urge to rearrange the junk drawer overtakes you. With 80 mg of caffeine packed into an 8 oz. can, it’s as strong as a big cup of coffee, with twice the punch of a Diet Coke. Ignore the hype over the so-called detoxing effects of the taurine or its B-vitamin cocktail; Red Bull isn’t supposed to be a health drink. Just enjoy the buzz. One thing, though: Because it’s so closely linked to teens and clubbing twentysomethings, a full-fledged grownup seen drinking a Diet Red Bull in public invites unsolicited comments about arrested development. Whatever. Just call me twitchy. -Jane Weaver
A person in their 30s, with a family and a mortgage, should not have to schedule lunch for a time where nobody will notice a bag of ramen being prepared. And yet that's what I find myself doing -- dressed in a suit and tie, using the 190-degree water in our office kitchen to heat up a bowl of six-for-a-dollar soup. That's not because I'm a penny-pinching cheapo (well, not just because of that). It's all about the taste. Really. Whether it's chicken-flavored Oodles of Noodles or something higher-end (as much as 99 cents a pack!) from the Asian supermarket by the office, it's hard to go wrong with a hot lunch that comes with its own seasoning packets chock full of monosodium glutamate. Plus, does any other lunch food have that kind of versatility? Paired with a tuna sandwich, it's part of a well-balanced meal. On its own, it serves as the perfect light lunch. Plus it's easy to spice up. Add vegetables, hot sauce, beef, chicken, random leftovers … ramen noodles can be pretty much anything you want them to be. If that's wrong, I don't want to be right. -Craig Berman
State-fair food Summer just isn’t complete without a visit to the fair, but not so much for the has-been rockers and blue-ribbon farm animals. The true main attraction of any fair always will be the artery-clogging food. Classic fair fare always will be popular. Those jumbo corn dogs, saltwater taffies, and variations on the lemonade shake-up aren’t going anywhere. But I’m drawn in by the passing fads of the deep fryer. Gooey Snickers bars, covered with batter and fried to a golden crisp, make me melt. A crispy Twinkie on a stick is five-star junk food. If I feel like being healthy, I’ll search for a stand selling deep fried veggies — some nutrients are bound to survive the heat. I firmly believe that deep-frying increases flavor as well as calories. So go ahead and splurge your whole week’s calorie intake in one afternoon at the fair. Just be careful not to lose it on the Tilt-A-Whirl. -Traci McMurray
It is 3:20 p.m. I am drained. It has been a day of deaths: my petunias died; my toilet died; my Word document died. I drag myself to my bookshelf. Hidden behind “The Grapes of Wrath” is my jar of paradise. I pick it up. I open it. There is a sensual smoothness to the cream; I have dipped apples in it, smeared it on bread and layered it on waffles. I realize I have nothing to dip in it. But as my grandmother often said: Sometimes the best thing to dip is ... your finger. Anyway, certain things are not negotiable. Even when I'm on a diet, I sneak in a few licks. (If no one is looking, the calories don't count, right?) I don't share. Ever. So I dip. I slowly lick my finger and taste the hazelnut sweetness. No one is around so I double-dip. I'm ready for the day again. Nutella, thank you. -Monica Bhide
The Cheesecake Factory
Despite living in the food haven that is New York, I am embarrassed to admit that I end up frequenting … The Cheesecake Factory. Valentine’s Day, birthdays, run-of-the mill Friday night cravings: my boyfriend and I find ourselves driving to the middle of Wayne, N.J., to a mall to wait in a 40-minute line. Any place that gives you vibrating alerts while you wait to be seated can’t be considered haute cuisine, but there’s nothing like Cheesecake's comfort food. While I'm suspicious of restaurants that aim for more than one type of cuisine — say, Korean-Japanese restaurants — Cheesecake indulges in a free-for-all. Their 30-page menu/notebook embraces Asian, Cajun, Italian and American. They do it all and it’s shocking that they do it all well. It’s indulgent for other reasons: huge serving sizes, 30 kinds of cheesecake for desert (not including other cakes and treats). After an overly satisfying meal, we’ll usually waddle back into the car, complain about being stuffed and say that we should try some other restaurant next time — knowing that it won’t be long before we trek back to The Factory. -Sam Go
Beer and cotton candy
Some foodstuffs only work when eaten in context, and the context for cotton candy is: baseball games. Because if you’re going to polish off that hot dog of questionable provenance with something sweet, you’ve got to opt for something as frivolous as sticky spun sugar the color of a baby’s room. But that’s not all. Add in a cup of standard ballpark beer — the bigger the cup and worse the beer, the better the effect. (C’mon, your mouth is full of cotton candy; like quality matters right now.) This is a treat for the seventh-inning stretch: an endless rotation of sugar and carbs, sugar and carbs, pointlessly decadent and completely wonderful. A combo so humiliatingly good that once you’ve tried it, you’ll be hooked. On Barry Bonds’ test results, I swear: Don’t you dare pair these two anywhere but at a game — it’ll taste like crud. But on the hard plastic seats of a stadium, it is the makings of a hallowed tradition -Jon Bonné