June 14, 2011 § 3 Comments
I’ve been experimenting with brownies, and no, not that kind. Sheesh. I’d really almost forgotten how much I LOVE to bake. Sure, once in a while I get to make our Monthly-Agreed-Upon-Sugar-Containing-Special-Treat… but that is like dispensing water to a goldfish with an eyedropper.
I miss everyday cookies. I miss after-school cakes. I miss just-because pies. I miss having something sweet for no particular special occasion at all. Is it really just the sugar? Or is it something more metaphorical than that?
I’m not sure. But now I have my elephantine-size jar of dextrose and the world of treats is opening up again. First, I made Strawberry Ricotta Cake– whose recipe is available at David Gillespie’s website howmuchsugar.com– and the angels sang. Then, last week I began playing around with brownies in the hopes of bringing something to my daughter’s fifth grade class that wouldn’t invoke any gag reflexes. I was shooting high- I didn’t want to fall back on banana-and-raisin cookies, which I imagined the kids- who haven’t yet learned how to be as aggressively polite as grown-ups- would be tentative and lukewarm about. I wanted something more dramatic than that… something that looked and tasted like something they’d choose for themselves… on purpose. Something they might actually be surprised to know contained no added sugar.
So of course I went a little overboard, baking three different batches in two days. Everyone in my house was delighted with the sudden flood of brownies and repeatedly being asked to (sigh!) taste them.
The first two batches came from David Gillespie’s website again, but this time from a paid subscription portion of the site, which is to say that if I gave you the recipe I’d have to kill you. That’s okay, because unlike the Ricotta Cake, I didn’t have lots of luck with the Chocolate Fudge Squares Recipe: they came out undercooked and pudding-y inside, and my attempts to bake them longer did result in a better brownie, but a tad cakey and dry.
For the third attempt I decided to be truly daring and improvise a dextrose version of my favorite King Arthur Flour brownie recipe- you can imagine my shock when it actually worked and they were quite good. As in: if-you-didn’t-know-it-was-a-dextrose-brownie-you’d-never-know-it-was-a-dextrose-brownie-good. I’ll post the recipe here. If you read the last post you know that the kids ate them up, no questions asked, nary a surreptitious napkin spitting in the bunch. I was so proud you’d have thought I invented a cure for Fruit Loops.
Most recently, I tried the other day another howmuchsugar subscription recipe: Coconut Cake. As you may recall, we have a coconut pudding cake recipe that is much beloved in our house, but has yet to make it onto our Desert Island Dessert list… so this seemed like a good next attempt.
And how. Seriously, the kids were so excited by the wonderful smell of baking coconut and warm cake they couldn’t wait for it to cool completely before attacking the top with spatulas full of dextrose-cream-cheese icing. It was a bit of a runny mess as a result, but boy was it good! And it was so nice to have this ordinary, everyday-feeling cake, without having to feel required to go crazy and make the Mona Lisa of desserts since it would be a-whole-nother thirty-some days to till we got to have another one.
So dextrose is starting to look a lot like our friend. I can’t lie to you and say the desserts which result from it are just as sweet as what our culture is used to: they’re decidedly not. At thirty percent sweetness of traditional table sugar, you basically can’t fit enough dextrose into most traditional recipes to achieve that level of sweet-iousity. To us, however, with our recalibrated taste buds, they taste plenty sweet, maybe even preferably so. We don’t have to feel quite so completely in denial of all things sweet-ish, which is lovely.
Now, we just have to work on the image problem: dextrose just sounds too clinical, too science-y. I don’t care how good they are, you won’t find “Dextrose Coconut Cake” on the menu of your favorite restaurant anytime soon, and “Glucose Coconut Cake” is even worse, like something astronauts might eat in space. So how about it people, suggestions?
June 10, 2011 § 1 Comment
Now that we are creeping up on- dare I say it?- halfway through our Year of No Sugar (!!!) there is a very pleasant law of dietary inertia setting in, that is: a person not eating sugar tends to stay not eating sugar. Compared to our shaky beginnings on January first, we’ve acclimated significantly to the challenges of shopping differently, eating differently, and talking to people about it. I still make mistakes, dumb ones, like just the other day when, for variety’s sake, I picked up a package of Applegate Farms organic ham slices at the health food store instead of the usual Applegate Farms organic roasted turkey, without double-checking the ingredients… um, Eve, hel-lo? Still, we’ve gotten to a point where we might be what you’d call… fairly well used to it.
To celebrate meeting the nebulous milestone of being “fairly well used to it,” Greta, my eleven year old daughter and I did a short presentation for her fifth grade class which we might’ve titled “Yeah, Like, What the Heck is Greta’s Family Doing, Again?” I was nervous. I realized that for all the talking and reading and thinking and agonizing I’ve done on this subject, I haven’t spoken before a group about it at all. Sure they’re fifth graders, not a congressional inquiry, but nonetheless I had visions of difficult biochemistry questions being lobbed at me by kids who aren’t about to give up their chocolate-covered Twinkies without a fight.
Worse, as I made up my notes for the talk, I was having trouble striking the right chord somewhere in between being the world’s most boring health teacher (“Can anyone tell me the incredibly fascinating difference between lactose and galactose? Hmmm?”) and scaring the pee out of them (“Well, according to what I’ve been reading, sugar causes obesity, heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, prostate and breast cancer, not to mention elephantitis of the pores, rampant yellow toe fungus, the end of the world and not getting asked to the junior prom!!! AIIIGHHHH!”)
Most of all, I worried about the same thing all mothers of pre-teen girls worry about: budding eating disorders. The last, last, LAST thing I wanted to do in the course of discussing important topics like the national epidemic of obesity, was to inadvertently encourage some fifth grade girl not to eat. Have I put enough pressure on myself yet? Just wait till I have to talk to The New York Times– I’ll melt into a little savory puddle on the floor.
But I think it went okay, after all. I focused on some key terms and statistics I thought might perk their interest: how every man, woman and child consumes on average 2.7 pounds of sugar per week (I held up a five pound bag of sugar to demonstrate one person’s two week allotment. Interestingly, the kids seemed rather unfazed by this), what a “Western Disease” is (guesses included “pneumonia” and “malaria”- so good we talked about this one), and how doctors decide whether a person is a healthy weight, overweight, or obese. I mean, you hear about an “epidemic of obesity,” but what does that really mean?
I put the BMI (Body Mass Index) formula on the board: weight in pounds times 703, divided by the square of your height in inches. Amazingly, the kids really perked up at this. There were sudden shuffling noises as kids grabbed for pieces of paper and pencils, presumably so they could calculate their own BMI, although I have to admit that I wasn’t about to start figuring out what sixty-six squared is on paper. I demonstrated how I got my own BMI by plugging in my own height and weight… and whipping out my handy dandy calculator.
The other two most popular part of the hour was more predictable: when Greta distributed my most recent dextrose dessert effort: carob chip brownies. I was delighted to see that everyone ate their entire brownie- which to me equals success, not just for my changed palate, but to kids who may very well view sugar as one of the four food groups. That’s one of the things you can still say about kids at this age- they haven’t learned to varnish their opinions yet in the name of politeness. Most fifth graders aren’t going to eat a yucky brownie just to be polite to someone’s mom.