October 1, 2014 § 2 Comments
Like a kid who has gone off to college, Year of No Sugar has gone off into the world and is having all kinds of adventures. Sometimes I just get to hear about them, like when my agent calls up to say “Congratulations! YONS is being translated into Chinese!”
Other times, it shows up on our doorstep, like this past Sunday. All day we had a cameraman and interviewer from a Russian television show follow us around, filming us chatting at the Farmer’s Market, shopping at the supermarket, cooking at home.
I was amazed and delighted that 2-3 million Russians are interested to find out about our family and our adventures not eating sugar. And I was dismayed to learn that this is, at least in part, because Americans aren’t the only ones suffering from excess sugar intake. According to our interviewer Sergey, Russians suffer from a holdover mentality of deprivation, (much like Americans who survived the Great Depression I imagine). During the time of the USSR, he told me, it was difficult to find foods that were “tasty.”
“Now, even though things are readily available,” he told me, “When they find something good, the tendency is to always take it- and a lot of it.” For example, he said his wife almost never leaves the house with their five-year-old son without buying him an ice cream- even if he doesn’t ask for it. Sometimes, he says, his son will want the ice cream mainly for the free toy that comes with it.
When questioned about this, Sergey’s wife responded “Don’t take away his fun of being a kid!”
So you see, we Americans don’t have a corner on the unnecessary sugar market, or the unfair marketing to kids market, or even on the parental guilt market either. Unfortunately, despite cultural differences, the language of Too Much Sugar is one more and more countries are becoming are all too fluent in. And the “Western diseases” that come with excess sugar consumption- from diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome to heart disease, hypertension and liver disease- are becoming “Everyone Diseases” instead. The other day I read an article about the epidemic of obesity in Africa. http://www.theguardian.com/society/the-shape-we-are-in-blog/2014/jul/07/obesity-nigeria
You know you have to rethink the problem of obesity when you realize it so easily coexists with malnutrition. Sugar used to be so expensive that one of the diseases it caused (gout) was known as the “rich man’s disease.” Now, sugar is so cheap that poor people around the world are subsisting on it instead of actual food. They are at once malnourished and obese.
So, as Americans export our fantastic way of eating (processed, packaged, fake and fast foods), what happens? In Japan, men’s obesity rates are up by 100%. China now has the second largest number of obese people after the US. In Israel, 50% of adults are overweight. http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4491919,00.html
Are you scared yet? Kinda makes you look at that Coke can with your name on it another way, doesn’t it?
But it also makes me understand why it’s not just an American conversation anymore: it’s an Everyone Conversation. The Chinese version of Year of No Sugar will appear next year, (August 31, 2015); and a Hebrew translation is being made for Israeli release, (TBA). Sergey and Egor will be telling our story in Russia, (airs this November). And, in English, there’s now an audio version of the book as well. http://www.amazon.com/Year-No-Sugar-Memoir/dp/B00KSLH9N2/ref=tmm_aud_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1412168145 It’s exciting for me to know Year of No Sugar can be perhaps a tiny, little part of trying to push this global pandemic back in the other direction.
So have fun Year of No Sugar! Take good care of yourself. But don’t forget to send me a postcard- you know how I worry.
June 12, 2014 § 9 Comments
Can we talk about chocolate? First of all I’ve discovered that, apparently nothing rhymes with it. According to the unerring wisdom of the Internet, it rhymes with charming words like “slut,” “butt,” “gut” and “mutt.” This is probably why we don’t see any chocolate candy bars with cute rhyming names because they’d have to be something like: “Glutbutt’s Chocolate Nutty Sluts”!
But we all know chocolate doesn’t really rhyme with “nut,” because if it did we’d pronounce it “choc-LUT,” as opposed to “choc-LET.” (My computer goes on to insist that chocolate also rhymes with blanket, beechnut, carrot and zealot. My computer is, apparently, a moron.)
It seems nothing really rhymes with chocolate. Likewise, nothing really can take its place. During our Year of No Sugar I found lots of sugar replacement strategies that worked great, or at least pretty well. I managed to make banana ice cream, shortbread, brownies and coconut cake all of which passed effortlessly for sugar-containing (read: fructose-containing) treats.
But not chocolate. Chocolate, we came to realize during that sugar-free year, was the one thing we simply could not have, or even approximate.
Now, this isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of “Sugar Free,” chocolates on the market to choose from, but in the marketplace “Sugar Free” usually means traditional sugar has been replaced with one of two things:
- fake sugars (Aspartame, Neotame, Saccharin, Sucralose which are marketed as Nutrasweet, Equal, Sweet n’ Low, Splenda)
- sugar alcohols (usually Maltitol but also Xylitol, Sorbitol, Isomalt etc.)
Because of reported possible side effects ranging anywhere from gastric distress to infertility and cancer, our family chose to away from both of these categories as well. So “Sugar Free” chocolate was also out.
Instead, we fed our inner chocolate lover with baked goods made with unsweetened cocoa. And those were good, often really quite good. But nothing ever came close to replicating the experience of a bite of actual, snap-when-you-bite, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate. Accordingly, at the end of our Year of No Sugar, when we all chose a special treat to have at midnight- what did I choose? A Reese’s Peanut Butter cup. Ahhhh- chocolate at last.
So you can imagine how intrigued I was to find out recently that some friends of ours have recently taken up the pastime of home-chocolate making. Immediately, I wanted to know: could they make chocolate with a non-fructose sweetener? Could one make chocolate with… dextrose??
Now I’ve been down this road before. Similar to chocolate, sugar has some unique, magical properties that can’t always be replicated. Not only does sugar sweeten, but it also preserves, it thickens, it fills, it transforms things from one state to another. Therefore, using an alternative ingredient in sugar’s place may meet one need of the recipe, but not another. Exhibit A: Dextrose Jelly. In my book, Year of No Sugar, I tell the story of how I tried to make Concord Grape Jelly using dextrose in place of sugar, but suffice it to say that (spoiler alert!) I ended up with quite a few jars of an only just passable grape sauce instead.
Nevertheless, in the case of chocolate, my friends Tom and Robin were game to try. So one day recently I arrived at their home armed with my beach-ball-sized, orange, plastic barrel o’ dextrose.
Let me just say right now: making your own chocolate is unbelievably complicated. It’s the kind of thing that’s so convoluted that half-way through you begin to wonder how on earth it ever got invented in the first place. It’s not the kind of thing I would do to relax in my free time at home, any more than I would choose to build a particle accelerator out of matchsticks and used chewing gum in my backyard. But nonetheless this is Tom’s hobby.
Tom began by taking cacao beans he had already roasted and running them through a Champion juicer. Immediately, I was in out of my depth. Tom was talking about “volatiles” and “acetic acid” and “particles below 20 microns.” There was vocabulary, which being a word-person I can handle, but there was also lots of chemistry, which, being a word-person, makes me vaguely nauseous.
I tried to keep up. After grinding, the cacao bean “nibs” are separated from the husks via a complicated winnowing apparatus known as Tom’s hairdryer. Then back into the juicer they go, for a second grinding, which turns the nibs into a cocoa “liquor,” a rich-looking brown paste. The paste then gets ground by another specialized machine- a “melanger”- which refines all the grains down to a smooth consistency.
Then came an important moment- the step in which we would add the dextrose powder in place of sugar. But when we did, Tom was not pleased with whatever was happening in the melanger. He wondered aloud whether the mixture would “seize,” which definitely sounded like a bad thing, and made repeated frowning faces into the revolving mixer.
“It’s behaving very differently,” he said raising an eyebrow. “Well… we’ll see.”
“How does it taste?” Robin asked when he sampled some.
“Not very good,” he said matter-of-factly.
At this point I was quietly fearing for the life of the Dextrose Chocolate, who without warning was now under 24 hour surveillance in the chocolate ICU. Doctor Tom didn’t seem to like its chances for survival, and even if the patient survived, I wondered: what kind of quality of life could it possibly hope for as a chocolate that doesn’t taste good? And who does one contact to administer last rites to a blob of cocoa paste?
It would be awhile before we found out the answers to these questions: the melanging step lasts hours– I came back the next day for the final steps, which included “tempering” the now super-smooth paste by heating it in the microwave to exactly 120 degrees. Once the correct temperature is reached, you quickly reduce the temperature to 81 degrees. This is accomplished by spreading some of the paste on a marble slab and working it back and forth with a spackle thingy. (That’s a technical term.)
Patiently, Tom smoothed the chocolatey blob back and forth like the world’s most delicious wall plaster until he could tell from experience it was ready to “seed” the rest of the batch. Tom was talking about the four different types of butterfat crystals and the fact that the time-length for heating is not linear because of the changing crystal structure. He also said, and I quote, that “chocolate is a non-Newtonian liquid.” If you figure out what this means, please do not tell me.
Then back to the microwave! Are you with me? Now that the correct chemical whatzit had been reached we wanted to reliquify our chocolate to allow for spreading it into the bar molds. After this was accomplished, Tom checked carefully for evidence of any “bloom” which would’ve required the tempering process be done all over again. Incidentally, this is the point at which many chocolate makers kill themselves.
So do you want the good news or the great news? The good news is that the chocolate worked– the consistency was right, the liquid turned into actual, snap-able bars, tempered properly with no bloom and everything. The better news? It’s not only good- it tastes like… chocolate! Real chocolate! After licking one of the spoons used to portion the bars, Greta was fully prepared to arm-wrestle Robin for dibs on the spatula. It was very dark, yes, less sweet, yes. But no weird aftertaste, no “gastric distress.” There’s no fructose in sight and yet- it is nonetheless, undeniably real chocolate.
Who would’ve guessed that chocolate might rhyme with… dextrose? I mean, besides my computer.
April 28, 2014 § Leave a comment
A Monday morning dose of Super-Awesome: glowing review of Year of No Sugar in FIRST for Women!!!
From article The 6 Paperbacks We’re Reading Now: “I certainly learned a lot about the benefits of reducing sugar, but the best part was how much I laughed!” – Melissa Sorrells, FIRST associate editor
Pick up the May 12 issue today!
April 18, 2014 § 2 Comments
My husband Steve made breakfast this morning: No Sugar Crepes! The girls and I ate them up!
Here is a short video on how to pour and flip crepes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1DgmbMMOgA. Two crepes is about one serving.
1 cup Flour
2 Tablespoons Barley Malt Syrup
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter- melted, plus extra for the pan
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup warm water
4 large eggs
Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl. In a separate bowl mix all wet ingredients. (Note: the sticky barley malt syrup can be difficult to measure so just put some in a bowl and microwave for a few seconds and it will become more liquid-y and easier to measure.) Now combine all ingredients together. Let sit for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator to let the gluten relax.
Melt a little butter in a Crepe pan or 8 or 10 inch frying pan. Once the butter is melted add just enough batter to coat the bottom of the pan… about 1/4 cup. (Not as thick as pancakes, but if it is too thin it will be difficult to flip without breaking.) Cook for about one minute then flip, bottom should be golden brown. Now add your filling:
Apples sliced thin
Only put a small amount of each. Now fold in half like an omelette and continue to cook for 30 seconds or so. Serve hot and enjoy.
March 6, 2014 § 2 Comments
I haven’t read the book French Women Don’t Get Fat, but perhaps I should.
We just got back from a week in Paris where we did nothing but eat wonderful, rich food everywhere we went. And despite recent reports that even the famously-thin French are getting fatter, I couldn’t help but think that, to all appearances, the French just don’t do obesity.
Not only do you simply not see many overweight people, but the entire culture seems geared toward a slender, more agile people, to whom we klutzy Americans bear little resemblance: teeny tiny bathrooms, waiters fitting six people around what Americans would term a “table for two,” elevators that reminded me disconcertingly of being buried alive. The shower in our apartment was so far elevated off the ground that some mornings I had the sense I was mounting an alpine expedition armed only with a towel and hand soap. After the first day of our trip I switched from my American satchel (in which I have been known to stuff my entire full-length down coat and still have room left for a bag lunch and an umbrella) to a much smaller purse, because I had no desire to sweep clean every nearby shelf and countertop everywhere I went. Paris is oriented toward people who are comfortable being Small. Efficient. Compact.
How can they get away with this? I thought. Haven’t they heard about the fact that the rest of the modern world is blowing up like the Sta-Puff Marshmallow Man? About people getting too fat to fly coach? Or use tanning beds? Or be buried in a regular casket?
Apparently not. Sure, they’ve picked up a few bad American habits over the years- I hear fast food and snacking are on the rise- but we saw little evidence of such. I’m neither the first nor the last person to ponder some version of the French Paradox, but after considering the matter for the week I did have a few sugar-related insights.
For one thing, the French have no qualms about getting all militant about certain aspects of their food. Baguettes by law may contain only three ingredients: flour, salt and yeast. (The weight and price of them is controlled by the government too.)
Now let’s think about that for a moment. Legislating ingredients? In America, land of the bucket soda and fried butter on a stick, the concept of legislating a food’s ingredients– beyond making reasonably sure it contains neither arsenic nor broken glass- seems positively Orwellian.
And yet, after reading too many American bread labels that resemble more closely the fine print on a liability waiver than a food description, how lovely, how very civilized it seemed to me, to be able to simply buy a loaf of bread and know that it contained only what it needed: flour, salt and yeast.
No antifungal agents!
No Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Shortening!
And, need I even say it? No added sugar.
Speaking of sugar, it’s worth noting here that the French have no aversion to sugar. In fact, in restaurants, it is generally taken for granted that diners will have three courses: appetizer, entrée and dessert; “Pris Fixe” menus always allow for a dessert choice.
One could get into trouble here, no doubt. Some might succumb to the siren song of a creamy chocolate mousse or fluffy little profiteroles… me? I am a sucker for a beautiful, shiny fruit tart- every where we went there seemed to be a luscious Tarte Tatin lying in wait, ready to pounce.
We handled such temptations as we have learned to do- declining dessert most times, saving it for special, and when we did have it, ordering one serving for the four of us to share. Two bites apiece can be surprisingly perfect.
That being said, I noticed something I’ve experienced before in Europe: many desserts simply aren’t as sweet as one expects them to be- or should I say as sweet as Americans would expect them to be; they’re much more sophisticated than that. Whereas it often seems Americans only recognize one melody in our Song of Dessert- !SWEET!– the French have a flair for intertwining harmonies and rhythms that emphasize a much broader field of taste interest: from creaminess and flakiness, to fruit, floral and spicy.
It’s this greater range that allows the French to arrive at insanely delicate things like Macarons (little tissue-paper-esque sandwich cookies) in flavors of Rose Petal and Mint. A recent offering from upscale confectioner Pierre Herme is described as being the flavor of “Smoked Tea, Saffron, Iris, Carrot and Violet.” On their website this limited edition bite is described as “offering an otherworldly experience.” Take that Oreo.
Am I waxing a little too poetic here? (You’re lucky, I stopped just short of comparing American desserts to Britney Spears and French desserts to Madame Butterfly.) And certainly, there are exceptions. If you’re waxing nostalgic for good old-fashioned blast of American-style sugar, all one need do is find the nearest crepe cart and order one avec “beurre et sucre” (butter and sugar), or, if you prefer, Nutella (sweet hazelnut spread) Wham!
Perhaps I’m getting too preoccupied with dessert details in a blog concerned with avoiding sugar. Aren’t we just talking about two different degrees of the same problem? Who cares about subtle versus blatant when we’re talking about the health scourge of the world? But then there’s this: you can order dessert without added sugar in France. Yes. During the course of our trip I encountered plain yogurts, cheese courses, and fresh fruit plates all presented right alongside the crème caramels and sorbet trios, all as if these were perfectly legitimate desserts! Try that in an American restaurant and see how far you get.
So it all comes down to a fundamentally different attitude towards dessert, and, really, a fundamentally different attitude toward food: rather than sating oneself with a ginormous “Death by Chocolate” sundae, you have a tiny cookie flavored of saffron. Rather than crappy supermarket bread with 147 ingredients that will last indefinitely on your counter, you buy a fresh loaf on your way home from work at the boulangerie. It’ll be stale in a day or two, but who cares? We’ll have eaten it by then and bought another.
Sure, not everyone can afford to buy those saffron or rose petal cookies, and yes, they have cheap crappy cookies in French supermarkets too. Surely, someone is buying those. But people are eating cheeses, plain yogurts, and fresh fruit for their “treats” too. And because the price is regulated, everyone can afford a nice three-ingredient baguette. Which is nice, because I’d like to think that everyone has the right to good quality food. The right to just have food in our food. N’est-ce pas?