April 23, 2014 § 4 Comments
When I was a kid my Dad taught me how to make “Hot Grape Nuts.” At the time we followed a recipe they used to print on the box which called for brown sugar, but during our Year of No Sugar I rediscovered this extremely simple recipe and just left the sugar out. Between baked goods, sweetened cereals and running-out-the-door convenience food, breakfast can be the hardest meal of the day to do No Sugar style, and a quick hot cereal made with full fat milk can be just the ticket. (And much though I love it, you really can eat only so much oatmeal.)
Hot Grape Nuts
(makes 2-3 servings)
- 1 cup Grape Nuts cereal (similar No Sugar cereals that work equally well can be found under names like Nutty Nuggets or Kashi’s Seven Whole Grain Nuggets)
- 1 1/3 cup milk (I use full fat milk)
- 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
Put all ingredients in a saucepan on the stove and heat until just about to boil- the edges of the milk with start looking frothy. Turn heat down to a simmer and cook one minute.
Top with your favorite berries or sliced banana and a little extra milk if you like.
December 9, 2013 § 7 Comments
Is it April yet? How about now?
As if receiving the advance reader copies of Year of No Sugar this past Friday wasn’t exciting enough– the wonderful PR people at Sourcebooks are up all night designing lovely things like this “6 Ways to Live Sugar Free” promotional sheet… how cool is this?
Click on the image to the left to see all three recipes.
January 25, 2012 § 1 Comment
I’ve had a little time to reflect now on the Year of No Sugar and the effect it has had on me, so here it is: It’s made me a sugar junkie.
Well, sort of. This is why: like never before, I now really notice what sugar does after I eat it. When I eat a cookie, or have a piece of chocolate, here is what happens: I enjoy it. Then I realize my mouth feels… funny: cloying and overly sweet like I just drank maple syrup- yuck. A few minutes pass and I feel a small headachey feeling creeping around the base of my brain, followed by a weird energized feeling… a sugar “buzz” if you will. After a while, of course, it passes.
Sometimes I don’t care a bit about whatever dessert option might be around, while other times I find myself wondering if, perhaps, there’s one more piece of that hazelnut bar we bought back at Christmas time… (no, there isn’t.) And then I think, well, maybe just one of those three remaining mini-pastries from the Lebanese shop… Yesterday was a moment when I gave in and had one mini-pastry after lunch (a particularly weak time of day for me) and, yup. there it was again: enjoy, yuck, headache, buzz. All from basically two bites worth of honey, pastry and nuts.
But I’m glad January is over and with it the aftermath of not just all that leftover holiday sugar which came cascading home with us, but also the remains of the many celebrations in our house that also follow Christmas- not just New Years, but my mother’s birthday followed by my younger daughter’s as well. You might recall that last year we skated by the sugar issue by concocting a banana split that had everything- whipped cream, cherries, banana, homemade ice cream- everything except added sugar. Would they hate it? Would Ilsa feel deprived on her birthday of all things? Oh, the parental horror! It wasn’t until the kids exclaimed happily over the first few bites, that I relaxed a bit- we just might make it through this year after all.
2012, however, has already been markedly different. I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out what I do and do not actually want to eat, sugar-wise. But if you aren’t not eating sugar, how DO you know when to stop? Do you refuse to have dessert to celebrate your own mother’s birthday at the restaurant that has the best bread pudding you’ve ever had? Do you not have a piece of the special peanut butter and chocolate pie your daughter requested for her seventh birthday, even though that’s your Achilles-heel of desserts? Do you not join in and have a slice of the mint ice cream cake you labored over for all the kids at your daughter’s clown party? Oh, and of course there are all those leftovers… After all my work to make them, do I simply throw the rest away?
I’m not being rhetorical here, I really don’t know. No, not even now.
Although Sweet Poison author David Gillespie had told me that after a while you “just don’t want” the taste of sugar anymore, during our entire Year of No Sugar I found I kept wanting things: the croissants at our favorite bakery, an ice cream cone on a hot day, ketchup on our french fries. Sure, we got used to skipping, substituting, going without, but did we ever stop wanting?
Then the other night my husband and I had a babysitter night, so we went out to try a new restaurant. At the end of a nice meal Steve became convinced I wanted dessert. A year ago I wouldn’t have even considered it a proper meal out without that final sweet component- like fireworks being intrinsic to the fourth of July- but this time I demurred. I was full. I didn’t want any. Still, he kept encouraging me to pick something from the menu. There was no convincing him that I didn’t, in my heart of hearts, want the chocolate chip cookie sundae but- much to my astonishment- I didn’t. I mean, I really didn’t!
All this month I’ve been playing guilty catch-up from a year of denial, with my kids, with my husband, with myself: it’s pretty hard to say “no” now, after my family gave sugar up for a year, on my say-so. Because I thought it was a good idea. Because I thought it would make us healthier. Because I wanted to write about it.
So I don’t say no as much as I want to right now. Selfishly, I don’t want my kids to think I’ve become the Scrooge of the food universe, or my husband to think he’s lost his fun wife who used to get all giddy at the thought of combining chocolate and peanut butter. I still do, after all. I’m still fun. Right?
So did we order the ridiculously sinful chocolate chip cookie in a cast iron pan with ice-cream and whipped cream on top? Sure we did, because I’m still fun, damn it. I was almost embarrassed by the conspicous decadence of the thing when it arrived- I felt as if we had a circus elephant sitting on our table. I had a few bites and of course it was very good- in the way that only a warm cookie with cold ice cream on it can be. Very good. But then I put my fork down. I was happy to see that really, really, I could take it or leave it.
And if that’s the ultimate legacy of our year, I’ll take it.
January 1, 2012 § 13 Comments
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.”
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.
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.
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.
June 27, 2011 § 6 Comments
May 29, 2011 § 5 Comments
Something is definitely wrong.
And I’m totally stunned by that fact. I think I was starting to feel so good, so healthy, that nothing could touch us- that our commitment to No Sugar was so profound that it would be the cure-all for all things. No more colds! No more hang nails! No more trouble finding a parking spot at the All-School Concert! Of course, this is silly, but the mind thinks silly things, makes deductions in the background when we aren’t looking that we realize later are deeply flawed, and, you know, dumb.
The problem is me: I’m sleeping all the time. I cannot get enough sleep. This isn’t your everyday, I’m-a-busy-tired-mom fatigue- which feels very normal to me- this is… strange. Like, I went to bed the other night at 9:30, slept until 6:30- a good nine hours- and then after the kids were off at school fell into a stupor for another two hours when my worried husband finally pried me off the couch with a crow-bar and made me eat something. I did not feel rested, or ready to get up. This morning after the kids got off to school I ate a piece of toast and then rendezvoused with the couch until nearly eleven AM. The morning gone, I woke up disoriented and kind of scared… what is happening to me?
My normal interest in our family meals, varying the kids lunches, making a good breakfast- all has gone out the window- I’m surviving at this point until the next time I can lie down and zonk out. Consequently, this week has been sketchy in the food department and I’m long overdue for visits to our supermarket, BJ’s Warehouse, stocking up on wholesale organic produce from our buying club, you name it. We’re out of everything: no fresh fruit in the house, no vegetables, no cream cheese, no milk, not even emergency Amy’s Bean Burritos in the freezer… my mental list of what we need is getting ever-longer and I haven’t even got the energy to get up off the couch and find a pencil.
Fortunately I don’t feel this way all the time- this is the third episode in the last perhaps two months. I hate it, but then after a few days it subsides and I figure it was a virus or something. But last week I decided the third time was the charm and I went to my general practitioner who ordered blood-work. According to him, by the way, five months of No Sugar shouldn’t show up in any significant way- except in our blood sugar count, which of course varies constantly.
So some of the suspects are: anemia, lyme disease, and thyroid disease. Fun stuff. And I know what you’re thinking, but no, definitely not pregnancy (phew!) since my dear “aunt” just visited last week…
Meanwhile, I’m trying very hard not to go back to sleep right now. It’s a very weird feeling to sleep and sleep and sleep and finally wake up ready to do… nothing. No energy, no strength, no va-va-voom. I’m getting a lot of reading done, since that’s one of the few things I have enough stamina for. I’m about to start “Suicide by Sugar” by Nancy Appleton, and I’m curious what she can tell me at this point that we have not already learned in our No Sugar journey thus far- so I’ll let you know how it goes.
Wish me luck. Better than that: wish me energy.
January 26, 2011 § 1 Comment
It’s funny, but the more I want to define “sugar-free,” the more elusive the concept becomes. It reminds me of the time in college when my roommate and I went to the local co-op. We were both delighted to find local milk in returnable glass bottles, but when the time came to buy more milk, she said, “Wouldn’t it be easier to just get milk at the regular store and pour it into the glass bottle?” Turns out, while I had been enamored of the environmentally-responsible aspect of using a returnable glass bottle, she had been enjoying the fact that the glass bottle was pretty. Lesson learned: the end does not necessarily define the means.
So it is with “sugar-free”: a term which may seem self-explanatory, but it’s definition may all depend on how you got there. You may be surprised to learn that often “sugar-free” does not, in fact, actually indicate an item or recipe that is free-of-sugar.
Let me give you a for-instance. A few days ago I started looking for recipes that might aid our family in our year without sugar- in particular recipes which might have a dessert-y feel to them. However, when you google “no sugar dessert recipes” you get everything from recipes containing agave, molasses, honey, or apple juice to recipes calling for your favorite “sugar substitute,” (Splenda, Sweet N’ Low, etc.) to those which call for “only” a tablespoon of sugar. So defining “sugar-free” is going to depend a lot on your reason for avoiding sugar in the first place. Are you avoiding sugar due to: diabetes? Trying to lose weight? Just generally trying to be more healthy?
As it turns out, our society is so sugar-saturated that the majority of “no-sugar” recipes I found… have sugar in them, or at least artificial sweeteners. Here’s an idea: how about including no sweeteners at all? But I’m being intentionally naïve, because the whole point of plastering the words “no-sugar” on a product/recipe is code for “but it’s still sweet– amazing!!”
Similarly, we all know when we peruse the aisles of the supermarket not to pick up the items labeled “sugar-free” unless we like consuming chemicals which cause a high percentage of laboratory rats to become amnesiac lepers with terrible foot odor. In restaurants, for maximum clarity, instead of asking for “sugar-free” anything, I say this: “I’m not eating sugar. I was wondering if the pickled beef tongue has any form of sugar as an ingredient?” which is about as clear as I can be.
On a related note, it finally occurred to me today to do a search to see if a project such as ours had been done before. And, like so many things involving sugar, the answer is a resounding yes, but no. I admit I trembled a bit when, after googling “year of no sugar” an entire page came up of seemingly similar bloggers who had gotten there before me- years before in some cases. But then I looked closer and was pleased to see that there are some very key differences.
For one thing, every no-sugar blog I found excluded only “man-made” or refined sugars such as white sugar, artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup. One blog entitled “my years without sugar” (myyearwithout.blogspot.com) lists 100% fruit juice, molasses and pure maple syrup as some of her favorite natural sweeteners. Another at healthylifestyleforu.com described savoring oatmeal raisin cookies containing honey and molasses.
For another thing, every blogger I found was going it alone- no baby, children or husbands on board. In our case, it’s our whole family, all four of us, which does indeed give me nightmares that I am torturing our children and giving them future eating complexes and therapy fodder, thanks for asking. But it seemed pretty much useless to me to do anything otherwise- we are a family, we eat as a family. If we can’t do this together- and if we can still remains to be seen- then that’s a more valuable insight to me than anything I could ever do successfully all by myself.
So I have to say, the fact that our project is forging, perhaps, some new ground makes me feel pretty good. Alone. But good.