Tag Archives: no sugar holiday

A Year Of No Sugar: Post 93

My six year old is soon to be seven, but she still uses a handful of words she hasn’t realized yet that she herself made up. One of them is “gladfully,” which she uses to mean “thank goodness,” as in: “We arrived just in time for the movie, gladfully.”

Pastry Smorgasbord

There’s something inspiring about that to me, about the fact that she assembled that word one day, out of necessity to express a particular emotion, and drawing from all her previous experiences… and it worked, so here she is still using it. When we’re kids we’re much more used to figuring stuff out, to winging it. By necessity, kids are improvising all the time. As Indiana Jones once famously said, “I’m just making it up as I go along.”

This year, we’ve been making it up as we go along too. Looking back to this time last year I realize how awfully clueless we were about what A Year of No Sugar would entail: we had yet to fully understand what fructose was, its many, many aliases, and what the deal was with omnipresent “no sugar” ingredients like sugar substitutes and sugar alcohols. I had yet to go through my banana, date, coconut, oligofructose, and “what do you mean I can’t have carob?” phases. I had yet to read David Gillespie’s Sweet Poison, and through it to discover dextrose as a non-fructose sweetener. All I knew was that Dr. Robert Lustig’s YouTube lecture had convinced me: sugar was a toxin.

Now, as we sit on the doorstep of being done with our No Sugar Year, I feel a crazy mix of emotions: relief, delight, surprise, apprehension. What happens next? What was it all for? Have we changed our lifestyle for the better, or have we merely stubbornly proved a point? I took offense when a friend termed our project an “intellectual exercise,” as if that characterization somehow minimized our effort, but does it? And is it? Perhaps the answers to those questions will be slowly revealed to us as we progress forward into 2012: the Year of Figuring Out What to do Now.

Ilsa At 12:01

Recently, we’ve had a whole series of family conversations about this what-happens-next business, and a lot of talk has centered around looking forward to things we haven’t been able to enjoy this year. This morning I took a breakfast table poll and found out that Greta misses BLTs as much as anything, and that Steve misses restaurant condiments perhaps even more than dessert: ketchup on his french fries, salad dressing on his salad, mayo on his sandwiches. After careful consideration, Ilsa decided that, in addition to maple syrup, she was looking forward to having Jell-O, (which is kind of funny since we never make Jell-O.)

Me? I miss a good chocolate chip cookie, for which we never did find a suitable fructose-free replacement. If we ever make it back to Italy, even if it’s in February, I intend to have more than one gelato. I look forward to being able to eat out without giving our waitress the Spanish Inquisition.

It’s safe to say that Steve is especially excited about the end of our No Sugar Year. I know this because during our Christmas travels he bought a handful of Dutch chocolate bars and a 64 piece Lebanese pastry sampler for us to enjoy “after the first.” I’m trying not to be alarmed about this mild case of gourmet sugar hoarding- after all, how many husbands would’ve been supportive of a family project like this one? Then, the other night when I expressed a lack of interest in a sugared dessert, Steve made the comment, “Hey- I want my wife back.” I must admit, this kind of freaked me out. Back? Had I gone somewhere? Was I no longer the person who loved a good Reese’s Peanut Butter cup? Have I become a permanent killjoy?

I don’t think so, at least I hope not. The way I see it, it’s quite the opposite: my appreciation for food and where it comes from, what it’s made of, and what is required for its preparation has gone up manyfold. More than anything this year has taught me how much I love food, how important it is, and how little attention our culture collectively pays to it. Food is the stuff of life- we are what we eat- feeding yourself well is caring for yourself- choose your favorite slogan. It’s all more true than we could ever fully realize.

This year has taught me that, just like anything toxic- alcohol, nicotine- we need as a society to start handling sugar (fructose) with care, as potentially addictive, potentially dangerous. I wonder, can we even do that? Do we have the self-possession to realize that “moderation” does not mean “whatever the amount I eat is”?

I’ve come to understand that sugar, while fun, is nutritionally “expensive.” Why would I want to waste my allotment of it on vending machine cookies or breakfast cereal? Why not save it for that truly something special? Americans instead simply decide to have it all: the good, the bad and the ugly… and then are tragically surprised when health ramifications ensue. No one ever told them sugar could be really, truly harmful.

Steve likes to cite the fact that the ice cream Sunday got it’s name from the fact that the soda shop that invented it only served it on Sundays. Just think of that. Can you imagine Friendly’s only serving ice cream one day per week? Consequently, my 2012 proposal to my family is to have dessert with actual sugar in it once per week. After this year, that sounds to me like a whole lot, but then again after our adventures at Christmas visiting relatives and friends, watching how much sugar is involved in their everyday lives, I think it will be a reasonable compromise.

Likewise, after tonight we’ll return to eating bacon and ketchup without fear. We’ll buy Hellman’s Mayonnaise again for our tuna fish sandwiches. I won’t blanch at restaurant bread that has a teaspoon of sugar in the ingredients. Heck, I may even stop taking pictures of my food.

Some things, however, will stay permanently changed. Juice is off the table; soda always was. I almost never bought cookies or other store-bought desserts before, moving forward those will remain promoted to the “never-never” list. I will continue to check my crackers and other products, avoiding anything with sugar as a filler ingredient. Fast food restaurants are still entirely out. Chain restaurants will be in the category of “in case of extreme emergency.” Instead of them, we’ll stubbornly continue to seek out good restaurants, local restaurants, places where they actually make the food they serve. At home, I will continue to make my own pizza, yeasted breads and quick breads. Perhaps most significantly, I will continue use dextrose for everyday baking and cooking.

My Frist Piece Of Candy In A Year

Am I worried about going forward with the rules changing in this fashion? Nervous we’ll go overboard like an alcoholic who thinks he’s got his act together and can “handle” it? I am. But Steve likens our No Sugar Year to what he experienced in the Marines. “You go through an experience that changes you,” he says, “and you get out and you say, “’Now what?’ But still, you really aren’t the same. That conditioning is always there. That’s how I feel.”

I honestly don’t expect us to plow through those Lebanese pastries in the fashion we would’ve a year ago. Rather, I imagine we’ll have a bite or two- as we each did with our allotment of one of Grandma Sharon’s famous Christmas sugar cookies- and then say “That’s good. And sweet!!”

Only time will tell. Gladfully.

A Year Of No Sugar: Post 86

Oh yeah- Thanksgiving. The mother of all quintessentially American holidays… and- not coincidentally- the mother of all gluttonous holidays as well.

Check Out Those Cranberries!

It’s kind of amazing all the different foods that we’re supposed to concoct in order to have it be “real” or “traditional.” It’s daunting. In fact, I have a dear friend whose family bags the whole thing and makes a large Thanksgiving pizza. Not just turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes- oh no!- but cranberries, gravy, and whatever other sides you grew up eating with them: maybe peas, corn, applesauce… maybe green bean casserole with the crunchy tin-can onions on top or strawberry Jell-O with little banana UFOs floating inside, or perhaps yam casserole drenched in brown sugar, butter and tiny marshmallows… No matter what, everyone seems to have a food it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without. (For the record, for me it is my mom’s Oyster Stuffing. It. Is. So. Good.)

So once you get through making all the mandatory foods, the “it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without” foods, and anything special or new that you decided to throw in this year – you’ve got yerself a fairly serious Mount Kilimanjaro of food.

However, despite the fact that it was a ridiculous starch-fest (more stuffing with your mashed potatoes, my dear?) and the fact that many of those “traditional” dishes (marshmallows? Did the Pilgrims have those?) can practically cause instant diabetes, despite all that we got through the entire meal- with only minor modifications- No Sugar style.

Glucose Syrup - YUM!

Gravy is always a prime suspect- but Mom bought it at Whole Foods and checked the ingredients so we were safe on that account. She also made that green bean casserole and I was amazed to find only dextrose (!), not sugar or any icky variant thereof, in the ingredient list. Well, yay! Not that this was health food you understand, but still.

My proudest achievement of the day was my dextrose cranberries, which I had practiced earlier in the week just to be sure they would meet everyone’s Official Turkey Day Fruit expectations. I mean, these might be the only cranberries some of our guests would eat all year! In the making, I was amazed on many counts:

  1. It was ridiculously easy. Because everyone I know always buys those cans of jellied stuff saturated with High Fructose Corn Syrup, I’d gotten the impression it was rocket science- instead its about as easy as making oatmeal.
  2. I was very stressed about gaining the correct amount of sweetness and jelly-like texture. The problem was solved by cooking the berries in a mixture of boiling water and dextrose, and then adding a healthy dollop of one of my newest favorite things: glucose syrup. More on that in a minute.
  3. Did you know cranberries pop when you cook them? How much fun is that?

Luckily, I had recently gone in search of glucose syrup- thanks once again to No Sugar guru David Gillespie- in the attempt to make one of his No Sugar recipes. Glucose Syrup? It sounded scary, like an ingredient for a science experiment involving frogs and tweezers. And it sounded even less appetizing than dextrose. Hmm. But I really wanted to make his granola bars recipe, and my attempt to do without resulted in a delicious granola bar confetti- it just didn’t hold together at all.

So like dextrose, I found it online. I purchased a tiny tub of the mysterious stuff, which arrived looking more like an ingredient for my laboratory than food. It’s clear, gooey, and tar-like in consistency… it gets absolutely everywhere when you try to measure it. Yuck- this was not the kind of ingredient anyone was going to want to lick the spoon of. Then again, I reasoned, Gillespie had never steered us wrong yet.
And of course, he was right: glucose syrup is the perfect solution for anything that needs not only sweetening, but also the viscous thickening that many traditional sweeteners provide: molasses, for example. More and more lately, I’ve been using dextrose powder, to the point where I actually almost forget that I’m making any modification. If the recipe says “1/2 cup sugar” I read “1/2- ¾ cup dextrose. But there are situations where dextrose alone just isn’t going to create that thick texture you need. Enter: Glucose Syrup. Wearing a cape. The cranberries are saved!!

One GF pie by Katrina and one regular pie by Eve!

Lastly, I need to talk about the pie. Our Sugar Dessert for the month was to be our Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. But because, as I described, I’m so used to my big orange container, I completely forgot at first and used dextrose in the crust rather than actual sugar. When I got to mixing the pumpkin with the spices, I had to remind myself- go get the sugar.

The pie was delicious, as pumpkin pie always is. It only takes ¾ cup of sugar in the entire recipe, so compared to many desserts, the swetetness is fairly mild and not likely to cause us all Banana-Cream-Pie-style headaches. Actually, our monthly dessert passed with such little fanfare that it made me wonder- have we entered a new stage here, where sugar just doesn’t matter so much any more? Can it be, after eleven months of diligence, and with the help of magical ingredients like dextrose and glucose syrup, that we can get to a place where we are conditioned to be perfectly happy with a vastly reduced level of sweet? Have we really, at last, shunned sugar?

And I couldn’t help but also wonder… if I had used dextrose in the pie filling too, would anyone have noticed?

A Year Of No Sugar: Post 67

We all have some funny coincidences in our lives. Personally, I happen to have a lot of birthday coincidences: my husband and dear friend Katrina share the same birthday… three of my bridesmaids were all born in February… my younger daughter was born just one day after my mom’s birthday… and so on. Perhaps the oddest coincidence of all is that in August my dad’s birthday falls just one day before… my mom’s boyfriend’s birthday. Ahem. Now, I don’t know much about astrology, but it seems to me that there is something going on there.

So this year the girls and I traveled to celebrate both of these birthdays, and fortunately for us my mom and dad don’t live too far apart for that to be possible. But if you’re like me you’ve already realized the unique conundrum this posed for us this year: birthday cake.

Dad's Dextrose Poppyseed Cake

Yes, what would be our August dessert? I pondered this. My brain resounded with the immortal wisdom of Highlander… “There Can Be Only One!!” What would we do? Uh…could we eat a half a piece of cake at each celebration? Would we skip dessert at both celebrations? Certainly we couldn’t shun dessert at one birthday- that would be like choosing sides, and worse… be tantamount to Birthday Treason. (They might be forced to read us our Birthday Rights- “You are under Birthday Arrest. You have the right to remain loud and silly. Anything goofy you are photographed doing can and will be used against you on Facebook…”)

I mean, these are two people I love in very different ways. They are apples and oranges. I’m grateful at least that their birthdays had the decency to fall one day apart so I always have the opportunity to celebrate everyone- but this cake thing presented a new, unprecedented problem. For the first time in our entire Year of No Sugar I had a choice to make: whose birthday got celebrated with sugar, and… whose did not. Ack!

Ultimately, I used my understanding of the two birthday honorees to figure it out. My dad is pretty adventurous when it comes to food, and always willing to question tradition in the interest of trying something new. I know he is interested in our family’s No Sugar project- we’ve had a series of conversations on the subject of what-the-heck-we’re-up-to.

On the other hand, John, who has been with my mom for the last twenty-five years or so, is more of a person who knows what he likes and likes what he likes. For his birthday dinner, for example, we were going to the Italian restaurant that has been his favorite for the last few decades. He also has a very live-and-let-live philosophy- he is entirely neutral on the subject of our No-Sugar adventure.

Then there’s my mom. Like Dad, Mom is supportive of our family project in spite of the fact that I’m pretty sure she’s worried I fell on my head before coming up with the idea. Mom’s the one who reads all my posts practically before I can even press “publish.” Yet, she’s also the one from whom I got my love of celebrations, and my implicit understanding that there are just certain things you do to celebrate a birthday. You have a special meal. You have decorations and presents and sing the birthday song. And you have a fabulous cake.

So it was decided that Mom would order a fabulous cake with a New Orleans theme, and that would be our *official* August dessert. Meanwhile, I was planning to make dinner for Dad at his house, so I would make him his longstanding favorite for dessert: poppy seed cake.

With dextrose.

God help me if it turned out awful. I know Dad wouldn’t mind, but I’d feel terrible.

But you know what? It didn’t turn out awful. Dad loved it. Everybody loved it. I was astounded. No one even asked if there was sugar in it! Afterward I told everyone that there was, technically speaking, no fructose/sugar in the cake at all. It was Dad’s turn to be astounded. My seventeen year old brother’s reaction was along the lines of “uh, yeah, whatever.” He didn’t care. Does it taste like cake? Must be cake. What I cared about was that he had eaten the whole piece- everyone had.

Now, truthfully, the cake wasn’t quite as “floofy” (that’s a technical term) as usual, but I think playing with the amount of dextrose might fix that. And while we’re being picky, the cream cheese frosting seemed, if anything, a bit too sweet to me- another thing which could be tweaked. All in all, I counted it a success.

John's Real Deal Cake

And of course, the next night we had cake- again! Except this time it was the real-sucrose-deal. We picked up the gorgeous confection from the Riviera Bakery where they are famous for fun things like Dr. Seuss-inspired shapes, edible candles, and cakes that look like giant hamburgers. John’s New Orleans cake was a vision in purple, green and gold, complete with white-chocolate Mardi Gras masks, and Fleur de Lis. Inside, three thin chocolate layers were interspersed with “cookies & cream” filling. It was literally a work of edible art.

Perhaps predictably, it seemed overwhelmingly sweet to me. I was surprised to find that I couldn’t finish my slice, and then noticed that neither could the girls. It was very good, but good in the way candy is good- you only need a few bites and it’s enough.

So in the end we were able to participate fully in both birthdays… apples and oranges. And we certainly got our fair share of cake. Thank goodness.