In true soap-opera style, The Young and the Smug delight in casting the first Doan's at poor souls who are "turning 50."

"Turning" like an overripe peach.

"Turning" to the waiter and asking for a bowl of stewed prunes.

"Turning" the shopping cart down the Metamucil aisle.

WELL . . . today a certain foodie steps gingerly into that Golden Year pasture, along with 11,000 birthday guys and gals who hit 50 today . . . .

And an aged manatee named Snooty floating around somewhere in Florida.

Be a lamb. Help cast my upper plate to the wind. There's a platter of wisdom awaiting . . . if I can make friends with 50.

Did you realize that there are food implications in every nook and cranny on the campground of life?

Culinary writers search for foodish meanings in everything . . . day and night.

Over the past two weeks, a somnambulistic dream sequence has been playing in my subconscious as I've tried to sleep.

The obscure ending is always the same . . . .

Scene I: The camera slowly pans in on a smirking Martha Stewart. She haughtily displays her corn-rowed cat, Bruschetta-scented chicken eggs and a calendar crocheted entirely from cinnamon dental floss. Pointing to June 2, she shrieks, "Ha! You peon! Soon, very soon, you'll know how it feels to be 50!"

Scene II: Fast forward to June 2, 1998.

The blatant symbolism begins . . . .

We see a Jean-clad woman - dozing. Turning over (TURNING!), she hears the distant ringing of a bell (TINNITUS!).

With great trepidation, she eases herself from donut-to-heating-pad-to-floor. Feverishly unwinding her Charmin helmet, she Shakes the Polident from her Madison County Bridge and nervously shuffles to the front door. Peering out, she gasps!

IT'S THE AVON LADY . . . doin' the Mashed Potato to the theme from "Hawaii Five-O."

End of movie and nightmare.

Yep . . . that food thing is always just around the corner. From 5 to 50 - it shadows us through life and beyond.

Perhaps on the other side, we'll all sit down together in a vast cafeteria. Depending on our level of goodness, we'll dine on either sauteed turkey beaks or hot fudge sundaes.

Wow! How 50 unleashes rants and raves. But hey . . . that haunting food thing . . .

Our tastes change drastically over the years. A person's age truly does affect preferences in eating - particularly sweets.

Here's a delightful discovery: There really is a Sugar Association. They tell us that folks love foods that taste sweet.

Quelle surprise!

"The urge for sweetness is indeed ancient," says sensory neurophysiologist Inglis J. Miller. He backs the premise with an example of scientists discovering a Neolithic cave painting depicting a fellow taking honey from a hive.

Oh Pooh!

Sweetness determines food preferences in early life. Newborn babies smile when presented with a sweet taste Another study shows that fetuses take in larger amounts of amniotic fluid when the fluid has been sweetened. (Enough of that!)

In other words, pleasure produced by sweetness is literally hard-wired into brain circuits. The pleasure response serves a heavy-duty psychological need.

Toddlers, like newborns, continue to go for sweet tastes. Even in sandwich choices, youngsters choose sweet concoctions like peanut butter and jelly. The ultimate sweet selection? Peanut butter and marshmallow creme - Fluffer Nutters.

Around the age of 15, sugar preference levels begin decreasing. As we age and begin to shrink, so do our tastes, Bud! Nerve endings in the mouth begin dying around age 45 (another hideous truth).

It is recorded that a brave research person counted taste buds and found that young adults have up to 10,000, while elderly people only measure in at 6,500. The diminished tasting abilities parallel with a decline in sugar consumption.

For years, it was believed that sensitivity to all four basic tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter) declined equally with age. Recent studies have debunked this premise.

There's a marked decline in sensitivity to salt and a somewhat lesser lowering in the ability to identify bitter tastes as we age. But sensitivity to sweet and sour remains high.

As much as 80 percent of taste is actually aroma. Declining ability to smell also impacts how foods taste. Eau d'age!

With sincere sweetness, the Sugar Association offers us senior citizens a few taste-enhancing tips:

To boost food's natural flavor, cook with herbs, fresh or dried; flavored vinegars, reduced stocks and hot sauces.

They say "a sprinkle of brown sugar on carrots or a sweet potato," perks up bored taste buds.

So now that you've been dragged through the angst of aging, here's a comforting tidbit: There's no need to reside in Bland Land just because your clock has taken a licking, and keeps on ticking.

Yes! There IS hope for the fiftified!

Pass me the cane, Sugar!

In the spirit of every frivolous FIFTY joke ever uttered, we present several special recipes dedicated to this premise: When one crosses the grated divide from Forty to Fifty, out go the teeth, the golden arches fall and chomping beloved Jordan almonds is taboo.

But for those who must adhere to a soft diet because of health complications (TMJ, chemotherapy, facial trauma and such), we hope these recipes will offer tasty nourishment.

*****

RECIPES

PINEAPPLE-CHEESE CASSEROLE

20 ounce can crushed pineapple

1/2 cup honey

3 tablespoons flour

1 cup Cheddar cheese, shredded

1/4 cup margarine, melted

1/2 cup cracker crumbs

Drain pineapple, reserving 3 tablespoons juice. Mix honey, flour and reserved juice in bowl. Stir in pineapple and cheese. Place pineapple mixture in lightly greased casserole. Mix butter and cracker crumbs and sprinkle on top. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 30 minutes. Serves 6.

- Each serving contains 354 calories, 15g fat, 52g carb, 286mg sodium, 20mg cholesterol.

- From the "Non-Chew Cookbook" by J. Randy Wilson

HOT CRAB-AVOCADO CASSEROLE

1/4 cup butter, melted

3 tablespoons flour

1/4 teaspoon red pepper

1/4 teaspoon thyme

2 cups milk

2 avocados

15 ounces crab meat, drained and flaked

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Blend butter, flour and seasonings in saucepan adding milk gradually. Cook until thick, stirring constantly. Chop avocados and coat with lemon juice. Add crab meat and avocado, mixing well. Place in large casserole and sprinkle with cheese. Broil for 2 minutes or until golden. Serves 6.

- Each serving contains 342 calories, 27g fat, 12g carb, 762mg sodium, 81mg cholesterol.

- From the "Non-Chew Cookbook" by J. Randy Wilson

EGG / BEEF / SPINACH TREAT

2 pounds lean beef, twice ground

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 onions, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, mashed

1/2 pound mushrooms, finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon oregano

10 ounce package frozen chopped spinach

4 eggs

Brown ground beef well in oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Add onions, garlic, and mushrooms; reduce heat and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft. Stir in nutmeg, pepper, oregano, and spinach; cook about 5 minutes longer. Add eggs; stir mixture over low heat just until eggs begin to set. Serves 6.

- Each serving contains 362 calories, 21g fat, 5g carb, 225mg sodium, 271mg cholesterol.

- From the "Non-Chew Cookbook" by J. Randy Wilson

CHOCOLATE BREAD PUDDING

4 eggs

2 3/4 cups milk, scalded

2 cups bread crumbs

1 square unsweetened chocolate, melted

2/3 cup honey

8 packets Equal sweetener

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix 2 eggs with milk, bread crumbs, chocolate and 2/3 cup honey. Pour into greased casserole and bake at 325 degrees F. for 45 minutes. Separate remaining 2 eggs. Add 8 packets Equal to stiffly-beaten egg whites. Add vanilla and egg yolks. Top warm pudding with egg mixture. Serves 6.

- Each serving contains 298 calories, 10g fat, 46g carb, 167mg sodium, 182mg cholesterol.

- From the "Non-Chew Cookbook" by J. Randy Wilson

PUMPKIN SOUP

1 large onion, sliced

1/4 cup butter

1/2 teaspoon curry powder

2 cups canned pumpkin

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 cups heavy cream

2 1/2 cups chicken stock

Melt butter in skillet, add the onion and saute until soft. Sprinkle with curry powder and saute an additional few minutes. Add curried onions, pumpkin and salt to food processor or blender. Process until well mixed, then pour in heavy cream, while continuing to process. Transfer pumpkin puree to a large saucepan and heat slowly with chicken stock. Serve steaming hot. Serves 4.

- Each serving contains 577 calories, 56g fat, 16g carbs, .08mg sodium, 15mg cholesterol.

- From the "Non-Chew Cookbook" by J. Randy Wilson