December 12, 2018 § 2 Comments
If you’re a sugar-avoider at this time of year, it’s hard not to feel like the Grinch. If you’re a clutter-avoider, you may well feel like you’re channeling Scrooge. So if you’re like me you’re a… a Scrinch. Basically, this time of year represents a nexus of everything I’ve ever written about. Too much sugar? Too much clutter? It’s all here. No wonder celebrants suffer from “holiday hangovers” and vow a slew of New Year’s resolutions. The problem with too much is that it never feels like enough until… it feels bad.
My goal at Christmastime is to have fun without ever arriving at the hangover part. An important part of this is practicing what I preach and avoiding excess sugar AND excess stuff in my gift-giving.
The holidays are tricky in this regard and Christmas is super tricky. This year I got a request to write about Christmas stockings in particular, which might be the trickiest of all. In a holiday that is chock-full of deeply weird traditions- trees in the house, shrubbery on the ceiling- the tradition of hanging our socks up for Santa to fill with treats is so especially strange that I am particularly fond of it.
But there are several key considerations with stocking stuffers. Firstly, no matter how big your stocking may be, there’s always a clear size limit. (I’m a stickler on this: in order to be a “stocking stuffer,” it must actually be physically stuffable in the stocking. Sorry, wall calendars.) Also, stocking contents are usually in addition to whatever “real” gifts are waiting under the tree, so probably there is a real budgetary limit as well. Santa has his work cut out for him, right? We need cheap, we need special and fun, we need small. And if you’re like me, and a Scrinch, then pile on top of those considerations the fact that you’re not wanting to overdose everyone on candy and chocolates either, OR wreck your home or the environment with crappo, plastic, break-in-five-minutes toys and hilarious, but-they-end-up-in-the-landfill joke gifts. (Seriously, no one really wants that taco-flavored coffee.)
If you know me, you probably have already guessed that I have given an inordinate amount of thought to The Stocking Problem. Before we go any further let me point out that yes, if you are avoiding sugar (which is cheap) and avoiding plastic crap (which is also cheap), it is going to be very, very easy to spend more money in the process of trying to avoid those things. So I recommend trying to work the problem backwards: decide how much money you want to spend on a person and then set aside some portion of that to spend on their stocking. No matter how much you set aside, of course, it won’t be enough, but that’s the nature of Christmas, so we’re used to it.
In the stocking stuffer category I’ve found most solutions to avoiding both sugar and clutter fall into two main groups. They are: No Sugar But Still Special Food, and Nice Versions of Small Things They Really Do Need/Will Use. Below are a few ideas I’ve used over the years… website links are beneath each idea. BTW no one is paying me to say any of this because I’m simply not that big a deal.
- No Sugar But Still Special Food:
Dried Cherries: Shhhhh! Don’t tell but I am totally doing this this year. I mean, Santa is. I hear. Chukar Cherries offers dried Rainer, Tart and Bing Cherries without added sugar in 6 oz bags for
about $10 each, or in tiny 1.85 oz. snack bags coupled with pistachios, cashews and almonds, 12 pack for $39, so $3 each. Other dried fruits or freeze dried fruits can be great too, just be sure to check that they don’t contain added sugar, artificial sugar or sugar alcohols (if advertised “sugar free” be on the look-out for sucralose, erythritol, mannitol, isomalt. I’d avoid these things as well.)
Tea in a Tin: Not so much a kid gift, but adults hang stockings in our house too. Try: Harney and Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice Tea, which, due to its combination of spices, tastes as if it is sweetened… but it isn’t. Seriously, I wouldn’t kid you about this. $8. Also consider hot sauces, little jars of special olives stuffed with garlic, fancy French mustards, olive oil so prized it comes with an eyedropper… anything you can’t buy at the supermarket automatically counts as “special.”
Popcorn: There’s just something fun about the idea of food that explodes. Unflavored, unpopped popcorn is your best bet in the no added sugar department, so ignore the millions of “gourmet” flavored varieties that include everything from maple bacon to booze… instead how about corn still-on-the-cob? All you need is a brown paper bag and you can pop it right off the cob in your microwave. It really is kind of fun and you’re avoiding PFOAs! (The very nasty chemicals coating microwave popcorn bags.) At $5 for a two-cob bag you are paying a premium per cob for the novelty of it of course, but then again it’s the cheapest thing on this list so chalk it up to the Elves’ Union or something. Or, if you have more stockings to fill, they also have a package of ten cobs for $17, giving you a much better deal per cob.
- Nice Versions of Small Things They Really Do Need/Will Use
Personalized Pencils: School supplies that are fun but usable can be great. Scented or shaped erasers, a stapler that looks like a man-eating shark- you get the idea. I love personalization as a way to make something mundane into something special- and kids LOVE having their name printed on things. You can get 24 in a variety of colors or designs for around $10.
Big Fluffy Slipper Socks: Last year I found some super-fluffy, plush slipper socks for my two daughter’s stockings. At $20 a pair, they were on the expensive side, however the upside was that they took up a lot of room in the stocking. YES! This year I found this site (below) and I love both the slippers and the socks which are priced between $7 and $12. However- be careful of buying Santa-themed items- how much use will these really get after X-mas day? Instead I’d go with cuddly polar bears and penguins which are good all winter long.
Fun Soaps: Soap is so great. It can be made in so many shapes and scents, and everyone needs it (unlike, say, scented candles or potpourri, which really aren’t for everyone.) Best of all, it’ll eventually get enjoyed and used up all at the same time. The Vermont Country Store has wonderfully cute animal-shaped soaps on a rope, for about $15, as well as soaps shaped like the gang from Peanuts. Please tell Santa I want the Snoopy.
So let me know: what do you think?
What other No Sugar/ No Clutter stocking stuffers have you found?
November 20, 2018 § Leave a comment
Forget that stuffing in a box! Re-posting this video from two years ago, so you can follow along to make my favorite stuffing, with No Added Sugar. A holiday without a boatload of added sugar is not only possible but it is delicious and something you don’t have to feel guilty about afterwards!
Important note:Make the stuffing the day before, allowing the flavors to combine nicely.
Link to a post that has the full recipe for the Oyster Stuffing: https://eveschaub.com/2016/11/17/thanksgiving-stuffing-without-all-the-stuff/
November 13, 2018 § 2 Comments
When it comes to Halloween candy, how much is too much?
Halloween is over, but the memory lingers on. You can find it in the form of new residents of kitchen counters across the land: bags, pillowcases and plastic pumpkins full of added sugar. Have you ever looked at one of these bags and wondered: So. How much sugar is in there?
I mean, sure, it’s a lot. A ridiculous lot. But how much of a ridiculous lot?
While looking at my daughter Ilsa’s haul soon after it appeared, it suddenly occurred to me to wonder this very thing. So, in the name of questionable, nosy-parent, food-nerd science, I set about to find out. Ilsa’s candy bag weighed in at just over three pounds. I dumped the contents onto a blanket and sorted it just like the kids do after coming home with it, grouping by type… Kit Kats over here, Sour Patch Kids over there, weird off-brand candy no one will trade you for over there.
I compiled a list of all the different candies. And then it was time to figure out the sugar content of each and every piece. (After checking many sites, I found this one to be the most useful: https://www.nutritionix.com.) Once I added it all up, Ilsa’s fairly average candy haul turned out to contain approximately: 795 grams of sugar.
To put this in context, on their website, the World Health Organization currently recommends added sugar not exceed 10 percent of daily calories, or 25 grams per day. So, if we divide the amount of sugar in Ilsa’s Halloween bag by the WHO’s recommendation per day— 795/25— Ilsa’s candy is enough to provide her with all her added sugar for 31 days.
Interestingly, though, there’s more. The WHO website then goes on to further recommend that, actually, it would be even better if people restricted added sugar to 5 percent of daily calories, or half the amount they recommended just a minute ago, in the previous sentence. http://www.who.int/elena/titles/guidance_summaries/sugars_intake/en/
By this new and improved standard, of course, Ilsa’s candy lasts twice as long, or about two months. This assumes, of course, that she hasn’t eaten added sugar anywhere else in her diet.
But even if one never eats any dessert at all, we know that most people are getting added sugar from other sources in their diet. From juice. From ketchup. From store-bought chicken broth or salad dressing or crackers or mayonnaise or bread or flavored yogurts… you get the idea. What this means is that having more than one piece of candy per day is extremely likely to make you exceed your recommended daily limit of sugar. So if you can manage to limit your kids candy consumption to one piece per day (dare we hope for every other day?) that’s best. That’s the first take-away.
But there’s another, more important take-away; it starts with the fact that one pound of sugar is equal to approximately 454 grams. If Ilsa had brought home a three pound bag full of sugar- just sugar, without nuts or rice crisps or additives or any other ingredients- it would amount to… 1362 grams. So, working backwards, knowing that her bag actually contains 795 grams of sugar tells us that her bag is just over fifty percent pure sugar.
I promise not to ask you what time the two trains will meet. But here’s the kicker: weighing in at three pounds, Ilsa’s bag contains, roughly, a pound and a half of pure sugar, right? As we’ve already concluded, this means that the WHO would recommend she eat her candy over the course of a month or two, but really more like three or four if you include the fact that she will very likely be getting added sugar from some other sources in her diet.
Meanwhile, according to Livestrong.com, the average American eats three pounds of sugar per week. https://www.livestrong.com/article/474832-recommended-grams-of-sugar-per-day/ So what the WHO is recommending Ilsa eat in one or two months, the average American is consuming it’s equivalent in… (wait for it)… three and a half days.
Let me say that once more, because it’s important:
The amount of sugar the WHO recommends we eat in one or two months, the average American eats in three and a half days.
Try to imagine eating 95 pieces of candy, an entire trick-or-treater’s bag, in three days. That’s about 27 pieces of Halloween candy a day. This level of sugar consumption is not theoretical- this is what the average American already does, Halloween season or not. So. Does the obesity epidemic make a little more sense now? (Not to mention the diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, liver disease, and hypertension epidemics?)
In this light, the statistics bear revisiting:
- Right now, sixty percent of Americans are overweight or obese; if nothing changes, within two decades it will be ninety percent.
- Already, being a healthy weight in the United States is the exception, not the rule.
- Perhaps worst of all, this generation of children will be the first in modern history to live shorter lives than their parents.
We’d like to think that Halloween is a special time of year when we indulge in sugar a little more than we should. The reality— and the real lesson of my nosy-parent science experiment— is that those big bags of added sugar do not represent the exception. They represent the rule. It’s Halloween in America- Every. Single. Day. And the consequences of our unwillingness to recognize this fact are enormous.
I know no one wants to be the dorky parent who hands out erasers or nickels at Halloween, or the no-fun parent won’t let her kid have more than one piece of their hard-earned candy every day or two, but you know what? I, for one, am embracing my dorkiness. Also, I’m hiding Ilsa’s candy bag in the freezer.
May 18, 2017 § Leave a comment
Everyone who has a kid knows that there are moments when they surprise you utterly. Not like the time you caught them drawing on the wall with a sharpie. Like, in a good way, I mean.
Last night I had one of those moments. I came home from doing an errand to find my 12 year-old, Ilsa, shouting: “Don’t come in! I have a surprise for you!!!”
I know moms everywhere will forgive me for my next thought:
When Ilsa finally allowed us to see the table, though, I stopped in my tracks. The table was set for dinner- which was lovely in and of itself- but beyond this, sitting just to the side, was a beautiful… something. A platter that called to mind perhaps the tarts stolen by the Knave of Hearts. She had even styled it with a sprig of apple blossom, as if the folks from Martha Stewart Living would be stopping by to photograph it for the cover at any minute. They could have, too: it was as pretty and summery as anything I have ever seen.
Now, those of you who know me will recall that Ilsa has long been an improvisational baker. For whatever reason, and despite the fact that her mother is a confirmed recipe-slave, my youngest daughter simply has no patience for step-by-step instructions in the kitchen. Now that she’s old enough to use the stove and oven by herself, occasionally we are treated to her impromptu experiments, which I’m amazed to report, are always edible, and often surprisingly good.
On this occasion Ilsa had outdone herself. The little cake/tarts were moist and perfectly browned; the berry compote-like-mixture on top delicate and jammy. She was skeptical: too much baking soda, she said. I was skeptical right back: “I don’t know,” I said, my mouth full of tart, “These are really good.”
Hmmmm. I thought, as I took another bite, “Ilsa?” I asked. “Did you use sugar in these?”
“Nah” she shrugged. “We didn’t have any, so I just used the berries.”
So. I just want you to remember this story when people tell you kids need sugar. Must have sugar. That denying them sugar is, well, just plain mean. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it till I’m blue in the face, kids need lots of things: Love. Support. Nourishing food. Fun. Failure. They need a lot of things, irreplaceable things, things for which there is no substitute, but sugar isn’t one of them.
I’m not going to lie to you and say my kids don’t ask for dessert, don’t want cookies when they see them in bakery cases, don’t accept when people offer them candies to suck on: they do. Who among us is not conditioned to hold out their hand when offered a treat? But when they get those treats, how often do they say “Ew. This is so sweet!” and throw it away? You’d be amazed.
Just the other day in the parking lot of the school a friend gave us a chocolate eclair from a famed Italian bakery (yes- lovely, deeply well-meaning people still hand me sugar even though I wrote a whole book about avoiding it) and Ilsa clamored from the back seat to try it- terrified the way youngest children always are that she was going to miss out on something amazing. She took one bite and handed it back to me. She did not want any more.
“It tastes like… you’re just eating sugar!” she said disdainfully. “Why would they do that?”
November 17, 2016 § Leave a comment
I’m cooking this year for Thanksgiving, and when that happens- believe it or not- I always look forward to it. Many people I know groan at the prospect of being responsible for this preposterous, Brobdignagian, and above all, deeply American feast. It’s no wonder: between the 47 must-have dishes, (“what do you mean you didn’t make the green Jell-o with the little bananas floating in it?”) and the obligatory mid-morning turkey-roasting nervous-breakdown (“Is it supposed to still be frozen inside?”), all we need to complete the collective sense of impending doom is Paul Revere riding through the living room calling out “The Relatives are coming! The Relatives are coming!!”
In the midst of all this madness, who could blame us for allowing “avoiding sugar” to fall to the bottom of our priorities list? Well, I’m here to tell you that you needn’t despair of your sugar-avoiding ambitions. Whether you’re cooking yourself, or just bringing a dish to help weigh down the table at someone else’s home, Thanksgiving doesn’t have to mean “oh well” in the no-sugar department.
Let’s pinpoint the potential pitfalls: as always, if something has been store-bought, you’re probably in trouble. Whether it’s a package of gravy, a pre-glazed or brined meat, or a package of insta-stuffing- you’re going to encounter a whole host of added sugars, long before the pumpkin pie makes its appearance. I mean, look at these lists of ingredients I found for the most popular brands of instant stuffing:
Holy cow! High Fructose Corn Syrup, Molasses, Honey, Raisin Juice Concentrate… I count five different names for sugar in those ingredient lists, and that’s without even getting into any of the other, highly-questionable ingredients like mono and diglycerides (trans-fats), partially hydrogenated soybean oil (more trans-fats), BHT butyl hydroxytoluene (also used in embalming fluid) and DATEM (Diacetyl Tartaric Acid Esters of Monoglycerides- yum!). Google any of these and you’ll come up with a host of websites devoted to telling you that these “ingredients” cause cancer, cancer and also cancer, endocrine disruption, diabetes, and your head to fall off.
So! How hard would it be- really- to make your own stuffing? Honestly, it’s not bad at all. Chop up some crusty bread, add some sauteed vegetables and spices, and bake in the oven in a casserole dish. Voila! No added sugar, no nasty chemicals.
Incidentally, this is a subject near and dear to my heart: in my house growing up, Turkey Day was always all about the stuffing. You could lose everything else, up to and including the turkey itself, (which I actually did for years as a quasi-vegetarian), but the one dish it could not be Thanksgiving without was my mom’s famous Oyster Stuffing. If you feel like trying something new to go along with your uber-traditional meal, I highly recommend giving it a shot. Getting the oysters pre-shucked at a fish market is a little pricey, but my idea of a virtually indispensible holiday treat. My advice? Scrap the shrimp cocktail this year- try this instead.
(I like to make it a day in advance and throw it in to re-heat while other things are cooking. Also- it makes the most incredibly wonderful ingredient for leftover turkey sandwiches.)
Here it is:
Eve’s Mom’s Famous Oyster Stuffing
2 lbs of bread torn or cut into 1/2 inch pieces (make sure it does not contain sugar as an ingredient… Your best bet is to buy bread from (gasp!) a real baker… if you can find one. Let it get a little stale- 2 days or so.)
3/4 c. fresh parsley
2 Tbsp finely grated fresh lemon peel (I always use organic lemons if using the peel to avoid pesticides)
1 Tbsp crumbled sage leaves
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/2 lb butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 cups chopped onions
2 cups chopped celery
3 cups (1 1/2 pints) shucked oysters, drained
1 egg, lightly beaten
Combine bread and chopped parsley, lemon peel, sage, pepper, and 1 Tbsp salt in a large bowl and mix well. In a 10-12 inch skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and add onions, sauteing for five minutes or till translucent. Add celery, saute 1-2 minutes more. Add the sauteed vegetables, oysters and egg to the bread and spices and gently stir together. Cook in a buttered 9 by 13 inch casserole dish, covered with aluminum foil at 350 degrees for 40 minutes, remove foil, cook for 20 minutes more allowing top to brown nicely.
March 8, 2016 § 4 Comments
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s been a lot happening in the world of food policy, and because I am a tremendous Food Nerd, I am here to breathlessly point out this quiet but seismic shift. To sum up, if there is a Sugar Anti-Defamation League out there (and I assure you there is) they are having a very, very bad year.
It all began last April, when the World Health Organization recommended that we- everyone- should restrict to between 10 and 5 percent of total daily calories our intake of “free sugars” (translation: added sugars, as opposed to say, the sugar in a piece of whole fruit). http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/sugar-guideline/en/ This was huge news in the sugar world, not only because it made headlines, and not so much because anyone thinks it will radically shift the way any one person actually chooses their food, but more importantly because of the impact this can have on food policy around the world. What this means, at heart, is that what we consider acceptable food on a global scale is truly, if ever-so-glacially, changing.
In January, the US government followed suit, releasing new federal dietary guidelines telling Americans, officially, and for the first time ever, that they should be limiting their sugar intake to no more than 10 percent of daily calories. http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/ http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/01/07/new-diet-guidelines-urge-less-sugar-for-all-and-less-meat-for-boys-and-men/?_r=0 Again, this is the kind of thing that will find its biggest ramifications in eventual changes to things like school lunch policy and food stamps.
You can recommend till you’re blue in the face, but what then? Some would add a stick to go with the carrot, which is where soda taxes come in. And there’s good news on that front as well because a study has found that soda taxes work: specifically in Mexico where their recently implemented tax has resulted in the decline of soda purchases anywhere between 6 and 17 percent. http://press.psprings.co.uk/bmj/january/sugartax.pdf
This is excellent news, because the idea of helping solve the obesity crisis via strategic taxation is all the rage, especially in Europe. Did you know Finland, Hungary and France already have their own versions of a sugar-sweetened beverage tax? No? https://www.euractiv.com/section/agriculture-food/news/fat-taxes-do-work-eu-report-finds/ Who’s next? Maybe England. Aided by the lobbying efforts and a public awareness campaign by food celebrity Jamie Oliver, Britain’s parliament is considering a tax on sugary beverages, as well as other measures to reduce childhood obesity. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/oct/22/jamie-oliver-expects-kicking-sugar-tax-sweetened-drinks
These are all good signs, right? To some degree.
Not to be a downer, but I’d have to be in pretty big denial not to notice that there’s still a pretty big sugar-shit-storm raging out there, with no signs of abating any time soon. I’ll give you a for-instance: a few weeks ago I found myself in a hospital cafeteria, surrounded by people who were overwhelmingly choosing to have soda for breakfast. Not high school or college students, mind you, but full-time adults who fold their own socks and everything. It was like a horror movie especially for Pilates instructors and people who work at Whole Foods. All by itself, this observation would’ve been bad enough, but to make matters infinitely worse, do you know who most of these people clearly were? As indicated by their ID badges, scrubs and white coats they were doctors, nurses and other health professionals.
Health professionals. Having soda. For breakfast.
And just yesterday I was sitting in a local cafe at breakfast time, idly watching patrons wander by with trays full of what should’ve been food, but really was sugar in various guises and forms. There was the tall, thin, twenty-something guy who had a 15 ounce Smoothie with which to wash down his enormous slices of chocolate cake and Tiramisu. (I kept silently looking over, hoping a friend was going to at least join him to eat the second dessert, but no such luck.) There was the well-meaning Dad who arrived at a table full of youngsters with a tray containing cupcakes, pastries, and a stack of thick, dinner-plate-sized cookies. Did I mention that this was at 9:30 in the morning?
Really, it would’ve been worth someone’s time to videotape the open-mouthed look of stupefaction on my face. I couldn’t have looked more aghast if these plastic trays had carried the results of someone’s frog dissection from biology class. At any rate, perhaps that would’ve been a healthier breakfast.
I don’t want to tell everyone how to eat, honestly I don’t. I just can’t believe that, if they knew about sugar what I know about sugar, that most people would be making these choices. Sure, we can enjoy a cupcake occasionally, but when it becomes the focal point of breakfast? That’s when we start to get in seriously big trouble.
But let’s go back to the good news, which is actually bigger than all the latest taxes, recommendations, celebrity awareness, and double-blind studies put together: the really good news is that people are talking about this. The sugar conversation is being had. For the first time, companies are adding words like “No Sugar Added” to their labels, because suddenly there is a cultural recognition on some level of why that might be a really good thing.
No longer is sugar the innocuous, cheap, filler ingredient that makes everything better with no consequences. And, if I had to guess, that’s what really keeping the Sugar Anti-Defamation League up at night.
That’s okay. They can always have a nice soda for breakfast.