June 20, 2011 § 10 Comments
I’ve been on pins and needles all this last week, worried about Thursday. Thursday Vermont Public Radio reporter Steve Zind came to interview me about the No Sugar project.
See, here’s the thing. As I sit here writing my fifth sentence, (does “Ack!” Count as a sentence?) I realize I’ve already gone back and changed the first sentence at least three times. That’s what I love about writing- the process of going through and getting it to say exactly what you mean to say in exactly the way you mean to say it. This is the reason I’d be a truly terrible politician, for example, or trial lawyer, or radio interviewer for that matter: I don’t really do “off-the-cuff.” I live in perpetual awe of those who can.
Instead, I do the opposite. I love finally finding the right word that hits your meaning on the head like a soft, firm hammer. I love the fact that I can sit down and write for ten minutes and when I look up I realize it has actually been two hours. I love going back and reading something I thought maybe wasn’t all that great and totally surprising myself by being entertained or interested by it after all- as if it had been written by somebody entirely different from me.
But the interview went fine- I mean it probably went great. Steve Zind is an incredibly nice guy, and besides that he was honestly interested in our weird little project. He asked great, to-the-point questions and worked to steer me back on course whenever I got away from the original question too far or completely lost my train of thought. (Hello? Earth to Eve!) He even went with me to the supermarket for a bit of grocery shopping and it was fun sharing with him my nomadic life on the fringes of the supermarket. Like the old adage, we stuck to the store’s outer perimeter of produce, meat and dairy, steering clear of the darker inner sanctum of processed everything. Like we were on a recon mission, we ventured in on our rappel ropes only to quickly nab boxes of Shredded Wheat and Triscuits before zipping back out as if those scary florescent Cheetos might suddenly launch a surprise attack.
In addition to not being so terrific on the spot, another insecurity of mine is the whole not-being-a-doctor thing. I mean, I can read David Gillespie’s Sweet Poison and watch Dr. Robert Lustig’s “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” till I am blue in the face, (I am up to four times through The-90-minute-Bitter-Truth at this point) but I just can’t quite seem to keep all those metabolic transactions in my brain at one time. No- that’s not true. I can keep it in my brain, mostly, but not in the super thorough I-know-this-stuff-like-the-back-of-my-hand-way that is required when you are called upon to coherently explain the matter to someone else.
But I did my best anyway- and ever since I’ve been going it over in my head wondering how much of an idiot I really sounded like. Of course, another bad thing- but also a really good thing- about being interviewed is that sooner or later someone will ask you a question you haven’t heard yet, and haven’t prepared an answer for.
“What about joy?” he asked me as we drove toward the Price Chopper. “Isn’t some part of eating fundamentally about joy?” It’s a great question. Way better than “but you eat honey, right?” or “have you lost any weight?” or any of the other questions we regularly get asked.
I don’t remember my answer, but using my super-human powers of interview revisionism, I would like to re-answer that question now. What I should’ve said is this: A lot of people, my husband included, either take or used to take tremendous joy in smoking cigarettes. The question is, at what point does that joy get overridden by the realization that this thing is very probably addictive, and going to kill you? Because that’s what we’re talking about: diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, liver disease, prostate cancer, breast cancer and… have I mentioned anything that scares you yet?
My Aunt Bonnie died of alcohol-induced diabetes. Although I didn’t know her very well, my understanding is that she didn’t have the money or the insurance to care for her illness, but she sure as heck wasn’t about to give up drinking. That wasn’t even on the table. The way my cousin tells it, Aunt Bonnie made her choice.
Bottom line: how much substance-related joy would you be willing to give up, if you knew it was going to kill you? Cigarette smokers, drug addicts and alcoholics the world over have been forced to answer that question time and again, and I suspect, eventually, all us sugar consumers will be too.
Can we have occasional sugar? Sure, if we think about the right way: like the occasional drink, or the occasional cigar or cigarette (if we’re one of those rare individuals who can smoke the occasional cigarette.) If we can restore sugar to its place in our culture as something truly special. I don’t know about you, but if I eat something at every meal including breakfast and snacks… I don’t consider that special.
That’s what I should’ve said.
June 3, 2011 § 8 Comments
I sat in my doctor’s white-box office in Rutland yesterday morning, ready to hear the diagnosis: I was anemic.
Or: I had thyroid disease.
Or: I had lyme disease.
I wasn’t entirely ready to hear a diagnosis of diabetes, another ailment which has been suggested to me, in large part because the sheer irony of that would’ve been unbearable. (Headline: “Woman Stops Eating Sugar: Instantly Becomes Diabetic!”) After more than two months, I felt it was at last time to discover the truth behind why I have been having recurring exhaustion attacks which shut me down for between one and three days at a time and render me so helpless that I lack the ability to do even the most basic, low energy activities: reading, knitting, smiling. Basically I stare vacantly into space, feeling like Oscar the Grouch on valium, and feeling annoyed at all that isn’t getting done. Wait- scratch that. I feel too crappy to care about all that isn’t getting done; I feel annoyed because sitting on the couch feeling crappy isn’t living.
But now was the moment of truth. Maybe I’d even find out the reason why virtually every time I’ve been to the doctor in the last fourteen or so years that we’ve lived here I’ve complained of “fatigue” of one sort or another, as he pointed out when I originally went in two weeks ago.
So I was prepared. What I wasn’t prepared for was for him to come in and tell me how ridiculously healthy I apparently am. He went through all the results with me line by line: white blood cells, urine sample, Lyme titer, the good cholesterol, the bad cholesterol, the ugly cholesterol… all the while using words like “excellent,” “exactly what we’d like to see,” and “very terrific.” (I swear, at one point he really did say: “Very terrific.” Mrs. Boersma, my twelfth-grade English teacher, clearly has never met my doctor.) He even said I drink enough water! I mean, who drinks enough water? Nobody!
I like my doctor, incidentally: he doesn’t rush me. He answers all my questions. He doesn’t tell me I’m crazy. And, every single visit he manages to refer to me as “young” at one point or another, a fact which endears him to me increasingly with each passing year.
But I don’t honestly know whether to be happy or sad at this news. I mean, where does it leave me? The last, most recent episode was so profound that I found myself morbidly depressed, thinking “I can’t go on like this.” Lying around and sleeping much of the day away on the living room couch might sound wonderful to many in our sleep-deprived, overworked society, but it’s not. Sleeping all the time, only to wake up wanting to sleep more isn’t luxurious or relaxing… it just feels like death.
So on that cheery and completely unmelodramatic note I will mention the fact that since last weekend I have fully recovered once again. With my regained energy I’ve been back to my old tricks, baking homemade hamburger rolls, making no-sugar waffles for breakfast and homemade mayo for the kid’s school-lunch tuna fish. I ‘m probably just a little too excited about opening the Andre-the-Giant-sized container of dextrose which arrived the other day, to use the sweetening ingredient in some of David Gillespie’s no-fructose dessert recipes. Strawberry Ricotta Cheesecake here we come! Ah, enthusiasm, how I missed you.
After my appointment and a few requisite Rutland-area errands I decided to celebrate my straight-A blood-work report-card by enjoying a very special treat: lunch at my favorite new restaurant, “Roots,” which specializes in local-fresh-organic food. (If you live around here, right about now you are saying “In Rutland?” Yes. You can have a lunch in Rutland that does not offer you “chips with that” or free refills.)
My beef, cabbage and rice dish arrived and was the perfect accompaniment to the blustery, brisk day outside, the kind of early June day before summer has completely made up its mind whether to come or not.
I sighed with contentment. I cracked open a new knitting magazine. I took a bite of cabbage and rice.
Oh my. That is so good.
Hmmm. So, there’s nothing “wrong” with me, I thought. Well, things could be worse.
February 17, 2011 § Leave a comment
Once again, I’ve been attempting too much around here (baking all our bread, making every meal from scratch, leading after-school activities, learning to bungee-jump in my spare time, re-grouting the bathroom blindfolded) and it started to get to me again. The other night I went to bed at 9PM! Which to my mind means that pretty soon I’ll be showing up for the early-bird special at the all-you-can-gum buffet. Beyond feeling old, I’m feeling incompetent too, because it seems that nothing is getting done around here except the things that don’t stay done for more than a few minutes.
Let me give you a for-instance: on Sunday I mixed up a nice batch of no-knead bread, only to have to pitch it last night when I discovered it fermenting in a soup on top of the toaster-oven, a good 24 hours after I should have turned it out onto a lightly-floured surface and let it rise an additional two hours before baking for 30 minutes at 450 degrees. Instead of a lovely loaf of crusty chewy bread, I got a slimy mess to scrape into the trash, before piling the gooey bowl on top of the desert island of dirty dishes we’ve been amassing in the sink.
Meanwhile, our family has been much anticipating our special Valentines Day dessert. Our family-agreed upon once-a-month confection being… (drumroll please): chocolate mousse! Now, I’ve never made chocolate mousse before, so this places more than a little bit of pressure on the chef… I mean, what if it turns out awful? Or deflates? Or does whatever it is that goes wrong with mousse? As one of only twelve official desserts of our family’s YEAR, that would be, to put it mildly, an enormous disappointment.
Nonetheless, I set out Monday night— after a long day schlepping to BJs warehouse to push around a shopping cart larger than a Volkswagen and read ingredients with a magnifying glass, then leading a two-hour after-school activity, and finally driving two additional kids to their corresponding homes, while picking my younger daughter up— to find the only chocolate mousse ingredient my pantry lacked: heavy cream.
Dutchie’s in West Pawlet? Closed Mondays. Sheldon’s in Pawlet? No heavy cream. Mach’s Market down the road? Yes! Heavy cream hiding on the top shelf behind the half and half… score! We hurried home so I could heat up the potato pizza leftovers from the night before and concentrate on making a beautiful Valentine’s Day dessert to show my family how much I loved them and make their tummies feel all happy and full. Despite the deprivation of the “Mommy’s idea” no-sugar project, this was one of only twelve nights this year I could indulge my affection for my family in the form of a sugar-containing treat.
That was when my older daughter Greta, in an effort to be helpful, read out loud the pivotal part of the recipe that I had somehow missed: “must chill for a minimum of two hours.” I stopped. I wilted. The dish mountain in the sink loomed at me like Kilimanjaro. The potato pizza had not been a hit the night before and was not likely to inspire more confidence on it’s second trip to the dinner table. There was no bread. No time to make dessert. And everyone was hungry.
I wanted to lie down on the couch and cry, but it was covered with a huge pile of unfolded laundry. So instead, I stood still in the middle of the kitchen and looked lost. Fortunately for me, Steve came home at precisely that moment, recognized the look on my face and took over: he took steaks down from the freezer for dinner, heated the potato pizza for a side dish, and handed me a pink bag with a pretty pink dress in it: Happy Valentine’s Day. He might as well have been wearing a cape and tights.
We all felt much better after eating dinner, despite the fact that the laundry and the dishes didn’t magically disappear. The kids were disappointed that our special dessert would have to wait, but I explained to them that- sugar project or no sugar project- there is only so much that Mommy can do.
Remind me to write that on my mirror, or my forehead, or something, would you?
January 9, 2011 § Leave a comment
Here’s one for you: how is a DRY CLEAN ONLY tag like sugar? (This inspirational metaphor came to me after I discovered this morning I had shrunken my favorite winter hat in the wash after failing to read the tag.) Answer: precisely the moment you make the assumption it isn’t there, is when it will be. Call it Murphy’s Law of Hats and Sausages if you will.
You see, Friday night I had grand plans of trying out a new soup recipe, so I headed with the kids in tow to the store with a shopping list that read:
- 3 oz. Spinach
- 8 oz. Tortellini
- 1 lb. Sausages
I was feeling optimistic about cooking more meals from “scratch” and thereby avoiding the sugar issue altogether.
Silly me. Although the spinach and milk posed no problem, I was in for a surprise at the refrigerated pasta products section as package after package of tortellini revealed the presence of sugar thirteen or fourteen ingredients down. Strike one. Fortunately, I was delighted to find that the small bags of cheese tortellini by the dried pasta section would work.
Next, wandering by the seafood section the kids clamored for one of our favorite treats: smoked salmon. Because I’ve been feeling like the sugar drill sargent of late, any edible indulgence that doesn’t involve sugar is suddenly very, very attractive. Buuuuuuut- can you guess? Oh yes, our favorite brand of smoked salmon let us down in the sugar department. Luckily the brand next hook over would do.
On to the sausages. And you can see where I’m going with this, can’t you? You wouldn’t think it’d be hard, but try finding supermarket sausages without sugar, I dare you. By this time I was pulling my hair out in large fistfuls wondering if we’d be reduced to eating dirt sandwiches for the next twelve months. What have I gotten us into? I wondered. It was at this moment I found a package of sweet sausages which listed in the ingredients dried apples and fruit juice.
Now, making rules for our project thus far has involved splitting quite a few hairs and the fruit juice issue has been a big one. As Dr. Lustig points out in his lecture Sugar: The Bitter Truth, fruit juice is sugar- and without the fiber of the originating fruit it is every bit as detrimental as the other forms of sugar we know and love. Our rule regarding fruit juice has therefore become this: no products containing fruit juice unless they contain actual fruit as well. Therefore we have been able to buy Polaner All-Fruit Jam with which to flavor our yogurt, as well as fruit sauces, fruit leather and fruit gummi-like snacks for the kids to take in their lunches. It felt like a bit of a stretch, but technically the sausages did have both fruit pieces and fruit juice- so the sausages went into my basket with a sigh of relief.
Phew! I was deeply grateful catastrophe would be averted for yet another night. That night as I prepared the soup I realized I will have to revamp my definition of “convenience foods” to include virtually anything that has a list of ingredients. Nonetheless, despite everything, we had done it. Tonight we would eat, a nice, interesting, and fairly homemade meal- with no sugar.
I went to pour in the six cups of organic chicken broth I have stored by the box in our pantry, when a terrible thought occurred to me. I stopped. No. Couldn’t be. But what if….? Cautiously, as if defusing an explosive, I turned the box over to check the ingredient list: Organic Chicken Broth… Organic Chicken Flavor… Natural Chicken Flavor… Organic Evaporated Cane Juice- DAMN!
January 5, 2011 § Leave a comment
Today I spent a fair amount of time at BJ’s Warehouse in the attempt to buy food. This is a really good idea, at the rate at which I am getting rid of food around here.
Happily- I did manage to fill my cart, but not without some serious label reading. More than once I picked up a package which listed sugar as the umpteenth ingredient (gotcha!) only to go back to the drawing board and find another brand of the same sort of item which (hooray!) did not. Two seemingly identical bags of pistachios revealed their true nature when flipped over: one had sugar listed among a myriad of other ingredients, the other listed pistachios and sea salt.
See, now was that so hard? Is is so hard to just put food in our food? I mean, I’m just saying.
But forgive me: I’m tired and cranky from all that small type and realizing I had to throw my favorite breakfast cereal out this morning (Crispy Hexagons, how could you?) Okay, some sugar items are pretty blinking obvious- Nutella, hello?- but I continue to be blindsided by many others, ie: the number of items from the health-food store/section of the supermarket that I have now been forced to take an honest, unflinching look at… call it the Evaporated Cane Syrup Brigade, if you will. What? You mean I can’t have peanut butter Clif bars anymore?? Wait, nobody told me that!
Meanwhile, last night when dinner was over our five-year-old started describing the kind of little thingies-with-the-something-inside she would like for dessert and I gently reminded her about the “family project.” She was sad for a moment- but quickly rebounded, much to my surprise. Despite our preconceptions about the love affair between children and sugar, I’m beginning to wonder if the family project may actually end up being harder on Mom and Dad. After all, we’ve been around a lot longer, we’ve had a lot longer to get hooked.
January 2, 2011 § 1 Comment
Day two of the project and the going is s-l-o-w… which is to say that we are finding sugar everywhere besides on top of the door frames, and if we suddenly found it there too I imagine we’d hardly be surprised.
At breakfast we avoided sugar with success, (hooray!) until afterwards when the kids wanted to open the “Make Your Own Gummis!” kit they got for Christmas… (awww!). That’s right: we didn’t even make it to lunch. I have decided that, by necessity, this coming week will be a “clearing” week, devoted to shedding our sugar like layers of an onion- unlike many households we have no high-fructose corn syrup to get rid of, but cane sugar? Powdered sugar? Brown sugar? Just plain sugar? And I hate wasting perfectly good, perfectly expensive, and in some cases, perfectly labor-intensive food. This doesn’t mean we’ll be consuming the leftover Christmas candy canes- those are going in the freezer- but the last of my homemade bread with maple syrup in it? We’re eating it.
At the same time I have high hopes of not traumatizing the kids too much with this admittedly way-way-outside-the-mainstream plan… Gradually eliminating the sugar in a gentle, phasing manner seems somewhat more appropriate than one day tossing half our pantry into the garbage. Which, despite our label-reading ways, we could very easily do.
So we’ll finish the last of our Bunny Grahams with cane sugar. We’ll make the Gummis today and eat them. When we go to have our grilled cheese sandwich lunch we’ll wince after realizing the organic ketchup, of course, has sugar as it’s third ingredient. Sigh. Sigh. Sigh. And yet, I’m hopeful because it’s progress. After mulling this project over for so long in my head, it’s finally begun to inch forward.
November 4, 2010 § Leave a comment
Halloween is a tough one. It’s the only holiday I can think of that is so utterly centered on the joyful celebration of cheap candy. I mean, total junk. Every year my kids come home with an incredible assortment of not just the classics- Tootsie Rolls and Hershey bars, but some truly weird stuff: eyeball gumballs encircled by bulging veins, gummy cheeseburgers, packages of barbeque chips and unlabeled “mystery taffy.” The Halloween candy bag is the graveyard where crappy candy goes to die.
Even after a hefty parental culling and sorting process, it takes us months to get through so much as a small portion of their gargantuan haul, mostly because we adhere to a strict one-piece-per-night-and-maybe-not-even-then policy. It doesn’t help that I fully resent the role I am pulled into of being a spokesperson for the candy companies: I explain what each one is, impatient for them to choose so we can move on to our bedtime routine. “Snickers? well that has caramel and nuts inside. Three Musketeers? Well, it has this mush inside… I don’t know how to describe it. You just have to try it. Skittles? Well they’re like fruity M&Ms. Yes, they’re good! They’re all good! It’s candy for crying out loud!” How did I get roped into this, anyway?
Three days before Halloween this year I realized we still had half-full bags of last year’s candy in the back of our top pantry shelf and I, heaving a huge sigh of relief, finally pitched them into the trash without remorse. I have several friends who would likewise pitch the entire trick-or-treat business with similar enthusiasm. One family we know avoids the whole business altogether and just stays home, while others go out grudgingly, knowing full-well most of the evening’s proceeds will have a date with the garbage can before Thanksgiving rears its equally gluttonous head.
Me- I’m pretty conflicted about the whole thing. On the one hand, I have memories of trick-or-treating being one of the high-points of my childhood years, to the point that when my friends started deciding we were “too old” to go I was genuinely mystified and definitely disappointed. Why couldn’t we still go? Who doesn’t like to dress up in costumes? And get free candy? Instead we got cheap cans of shaving cream and— being too timid to assault any actual property— started spraying each other in the street. The cops showed up in about four seconds. Welcome to the suburbs. « Read the rest of this entry »