Posted: July 29, 2010


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

When Matt Denn followed John Carney as the lieutenant governor, Denn inherited a fitness-promoting program called the "Lt. Governor's Challenge."

Fitness was going to be challenged as Denn made his way last Friday to the Delaware State Fair in Harrington. The nutrition component was about to be taken out by the friendliest of fire.

It was coming from Paula Deen, the Butter Queen and Southern Fried Charmer.

Denn, a first-term Democrat, was assigned to go to the fairgrounds as the state's official host for an appearance from Deen, a food sultan whose television style and recipes are so flamboyant and so laden, it is like Mardi Gras meets the Running of the Bulls.

Deen's recipes are things like "Not Yo' Mama's Banana Pudding." The bananas are kind of an afterthought in a list of ingredients that also includes a container of frozen whipped topping, a package of cream cheese, a box of instant French vanilla pudding and two bags of Pepperidge Farm Chessmen cookies. Two bags!

If Deen wanted, she could have catered to the home crowd by whipping up something with chicken, as essentially Delawarean as beaches and legal fees.

She has her recipe for "Buffalo Chicken Po Boys," a conspiracy of  leftover chicken fingers, butter and blue cheese, not to mention mayonnaise, milk and a loaf of French bread.

Also four humiliated romaine lettuce leaves, going quietly.

This is not just cooking. It is food porn. Do not even ask about the "Peanut Butter & Jelly Ice Cream Sandwiches" meant for children. Someone should call in a battalion of fitness trainers to police this, and the vice squad, too.

What is a lieutenant governor to do?

The first step, of course, is to rope the governor in on it, too. The second is to come up with a little of that old political black magic.

Denn decided to propose a joint governor-lieutenant governor proclamation pronouncing Deen's food to be healthy in Delaware for 24 hours surrounding her visit. The key was getting Karyl Rattay, the public health director, to go along. So Denn called her, as he explained on his blog.

"At first I thought I heard Dr. Rattay doing a spit take with the brussel sprout and bulghar wheat smoothie she was drinking for lunch, but she gradually warmed to the idea," Denn wrote.

A proclamation was born.

Whereas, the state of Delaware wishes to encourage its residents to eat healthy foods and to live active lifestyles; and . . .

Whereas, the state of Delaware believes that if you're going to indulge every once in a while, you might as well indulge with Paula Deen;

We hereby warmly welcome Paula Deen to the state of Delaware and declare that for the next 24 hours, Paula Deen's recipes will be considered healthy in the state of Delaware.

Not that Denn necessarily has clean hands on this indulgence stuff, anyway. He comes from a food family. His sister Rebekah Denn is a food writer based in Washington state with an online column called

There is also that little Thanksgiving incident. One year Denn himself made Deen's "Deep-Fried Stuffing on a Stick." He confessed to it on his blog and also used it to butter up Deen. Her favorite thing, after all.

"Stuffing on a Stick is basically what it sounds like: a giant deep fried corndog made with stuffing rather than a hot dog. Some Thanksgiving guests recoiled in cardiovascular horror, but those few who took a chance still rave about it today," Denn wrote.

"So when I made my Stuffing on a Stick disclosure to Paula, her eyes got like saucers. 'Did you really, honey?' she said. 'I did,' I replied. She beamed, put her arm around me and rubbed my stomach. 'You are too skinny for that to be true,' she said."

Denn swears the Deen cookbooks are only an occasional pleasure. He is entitled to the benefit of the doubt, even if it is somewhat suspicious that he is a card-carrying member of a fitness club.

"Paula Deen is just for Thanksgiving and other special occasions," Denn said.

Time to return to the regularly scheduled eat-your-spinach school of government.

"We're doing a lot of serious work to create jobs and help children," Denn said. "For the record, the 24 hours is over, so put down Paula's Gooey Butter Cake and do some pushups."