June 22, 2012 § 17 Comments
Can you believe how much sugar has been in the news lately? Between Mayor Bloomberg’s soda embargo and HBO’s high profile documentary on obesity in the US, not to mention the new statistics coming out weekly pronouncing sugar responsible for everything from hemorrhoids to hammer toes (Sugar makes you fat! Sugar makes you stupid! Sugar makes you really, really annoying at parties!) it seems to me a wonder that we all haven’t started treating the stuff like rat poison rather than our favorite ingredient for summer fun.
But it is our favorite ingredient for summer fun (and spring, fall, and winter fun) and it all goes to show how terribly addicted we all are- both biologically and socially- to this ingredient which has been proven comparable to cocaine in the effects it has on our brain. As I’ve alluded to in prior posts, ever since our family’s official Year of No Sugar concluded, I’ve been living the strange life of a reformed addict… like the alcoholic who is convinced they can drink “occasionally,” or the rare person who can smoke the “once-in-a-while” cigarette without getting hooked. Can one have “just a little” sugar? The slope is sooooooo slippery that I continue to be unsure.
I’ll give you a for instance: a few days ago, I took our two girls strawberry picking. I was in a panic because strawberries have had a rough year- what berries there are have almost been picked out of our area farms already. For a good hour the kids ran up and down the rows exclaiming over especially big or funny-shaped examples… it was like a perishable treasure hunt. In our enthusiasm we picked two full flats- a good $45 worth of the pretty little orbs. It was a great fun. Once we got them home, however, I was forced to contemplate what on earth we would, in fact, do with all of them.
Sure, we’d eat a lot of them plain, or sliced on our cereal and oatmeal. But what else? In the past I would’ve made a host of pies, breads, scones and muffins. With the remainder I would’ve made steaming pots of strawberry jam. In short: sugar, sugar, and LOTS of sugar. This year…? In the midst of my sugar identity crisis I’m paralyzed by indecision- and thus the strawberries sit undisturbed, taking up a ridiculous portion of our fridge, and not getting any younger, mind you.
I’d like to pick up where I left off last year experimenting with some no-sugar jams using Pomona pectin, or maybe attempting some no-sugar freezer jams/fruit spreads… but these things take time and patience. These days those things are in short supply as I’m frantically packing our older daughter up for her first-ever week of sleep-away camp and (by the way) trying to finish this little book I’ve been working on entitled A Year of No Sugar (remind me to tell you about it sometime…) so here’s my Official Prediction: in a panic at the eleventh hour I’ll wash and freeze the lot of them, discarding a depressing amount that have already shriveled while I was having my extended Hamlet moment of indecision (To bake? Or not to bake? That is the question…).
Meanwhile, summer rolls onward and sugar pops up on a regular basis to say “Boo!” In the last week our family has celebrated a graduation, a birthday, our anniversary, and Father’s Day not to mention the arrival of the local carnival and, of course, summer itself. Even without this celebratory traffic-jam, a day doesn’t go by when I don’t confront the Sugar Question: lemonade at the farmer’s market? Cotton candy at the fair? Chocolate buckeyes by the register at the local sandwich counter? Ice cream? Ice cream? Ice cream?
Is it good enough that we don’t drink soda (now in garbage pail size!), don’t buy candy bars (still legal!), don’t buy processed or added sugar foods (now, with more ingredients than ever!!)? Maybe. It’s something I struggle with every day while the world keeps spinning around me, largely oblivious, despite the increasingly scary statistics and revelations.
Even if the bucket soda ban and the HBO series aren’t perfect, and of course they aren’t, they’re terribly important by virtue of the fact that they’re trying to begin the conversation. They’re sending up the first real flares that something is amiss- that we need to take a cold hard look at what people consider “food” and what its doing to our bodies as a result.
Meanwhile, I’m back to the drawing board on another important problem: my strawberry surplus. Anybody have a good recipe for strawberry soup?
January 13, 2011 § Leave a comment
You know, if I hadn’t been there myself, I would’ve said it wasn’t possible. But I am astounded to report that our now-six-year-old Ilsa had a lovely family birthday party Tuesday night, complete with presents, candles, her requested birthday meal, and a special dessert… which we really did do (drumroll please…) without sugar. YES!
Even better is the fact that she had no idea anything was afoot in the dessert department- which makes me SO glad. The last thing I want is to have my kids growing up feeling warped and deprived because of their crazy-ass mother’s hair-brained projects. Sure a “Year Without Sugar” means one thing to you and me- but to a six-year old? It might as well be forever.
On the other hand, it might as well be three seconds too. That’s the plus side- 99 percent of the time Ilsa forgets about the project entirely: she still asks for dessert regularly and tells me about eating cupcakes at school with an innocence that I find utterly charming. This morning we had oatmeal for breakfast, which I jazzed up by adding some lovely cut strawberries and blueberries. I was pretty impressed with myself, but she was not. After a few bites she said to me, “I wish we could have some maple syrup or something on this…” she thought for a moment, “But… we can’t? Because of the sugar…?” “Yes,” I said gently.
“But it’s not forever,” I added hopefully.
Now, promptly after this conversation I ‘m am fairly confident she went off to school and had her usual second breakfast of Frosted Flakes, (more about that in an upcoming post) so don’t fret too overly much on her behalf.
Meanwhile Greta, our ten year old, has a much more fully-developed consciousness about what it is we’re trying to do here and how she feels about all of it. Trouble is, that opinion varies from moment to moment. One minute she’s shocked, simply shocked that I am serving a frozen pizza to our family that has (gasp!) evaporated cane juice listed as the ninety-seventh ingredient… the next she’s eating Skittles at All School Meeting, or sneaking peppermints from the jar near a store cash register.
Hey- I’m no ogre. When Greta got that handful of Skittles, she reluctantly came over and asked me if she could eat them. She had been having an exceptionally hard day at school and a well-meaning soul had offered them in an attempt to cheer her up. I told her truthfully that I was going to leave it up to her- at which point she departed with lightning speed, presumably in case I decided to change my mind on that pronouncement.
I don’t think I’m going to though. We’re doing this project as a family, and for the most part the food of the family comes through one conduit: me. I do the vast majority of the menu planning, shopping and cooking in our house, not to mention lunch packing, so consequently the vast majority of what the kids eat is being affected by this experiment. In other words, while I am strict and very serious about sugar and it’s myriad faces, and following our rules to the fullest extent possible- am I going to be the Sugar Nazi? No. After all, this experiment is in part about teaching our children to make good, informed, conscious choices about what they put into their bodies. We have set up the guidelines, and already we’ve all learned a lot we didn’t know before about our food; but only they can figure out what this project specifically means for them.
Which for some reason makes a small victory like the other night’s birthday dessert all the more significant to me. After our traditional birthday meal of english muffin pizzas (after finding alternative, no-sugar brands of English Muffins and marinara sauce, or course) paired with some spinach, we stuck a candle in what I fervently hoped would be a delicious grand-finale… banana splits: bananas halved, banana ice cream (Steve’s famous single-ingredient recipe: frozen bananas he runs through the Champion juicer), topped with strawberries marinated in balsamic vinegar (but omitting the called-for sugar), whipped cream (ditto) and a fresh cherry on top. PS- no added sugar.
It looked pretty decadent, but I was petrified. What if it was awful? What if it tasted like cardboard? I took a bite. Hey- wow! Happily, the girls were exclaiming as they ate- the banana ice cream was the key- perfect and sweet all on it’s own, creamy like the best gelato… and the cream and strawberries made it just the right amount more colorful and complex. I sighed a HUGE sigh of relief… and I began to think we might just make it through this project after all.