December 20, 2019 § 44 Comments
I’M NERVOUS. Sorry- didn’t mean to yell- but I’m nervous. I’m also terribly excited- because… I have a new project. For some time now I’ve felt that the “Year of No” books really ought to be a series of three. Of course Year of No Sugar was my first book/family torture experiment and Year of No Clutter was the second. I had the idea for this third book ever since YONS was published in 2014, and have been chomping at the bit to do it ever since, but sometimes life gets in the way- you know how it is. So you’ll forgive me for any over-enthusiasm- I promise to stop pacing a hole in the carpet any minute now.
Why three? Well for one thing, I think three is just a really nice, satisfying number for a series of something, (two being too few and four being, you know, maybe a little show-offy.) Also, we did our Year of No Sugar adventure in 2011 when my kids were quite young, just 6 and 11, and the Year of No Clutter escapade took place in 2016 when they were 11 and 16. This third and final venture will involve them at ages 15 and 20- effectively spanning a nice, neat decade from beginning to end in the life of our family. You may recall that I have an ever so slight obsessive bent to my personality, so I do like things nice and neat.
And finally, thematically it will also make a lot of sense. I mean, hopefully to people other than just myself. But that explanation will have to wait. On New Year’s Day I’ll announce just what our family will be doing without for the entirely of 2020.
What do you think it will be? A Year of No People Magazine? A Year of No Taxidermy? A Year of No Cheese? Make a guess in the comments and if you get it right I’ll send you something really, really nice that is definitely probably not a Christmas re-gift from my Aunt Madeline.
February 27, 2015 § 5 Comments
In case you were wondering, once your family has gone to all the trouble of eating for a year without added sugar, the world does not go away. People still ply your kid with armloads of sugar from every conceivable direction. Bowls of well-intentioned free candy turn up in the strangest places: The hairdresser’s. The bank. The dry cleaner. The Farmer’s Market, for crying out loud.
And just in case that fact had escaped my notice, I’d have become aware of it whenever I wanted to wash one of Ilsa’s jackets or coats, because like a little mouse thinking of winter, she squirrels away the free lollipops and Hershey’s kisses and Lifesavers in her many pockets.
Here’s the funny thing though: they stay in her pocket. And just in case you think I’m suffering from an acute case of Mom Deluding Herself Bigtime, here’s another interesting fact: all that candy masquerading as Valentines that the kids exchanged in school two weeks ago? Ilsa’s not inconsiderable portion thereof is still sitting in our kitchen cupboard, untouched. It’s in good company, because it sits on top of the candy she’s received at various birthday parties and Christmas. At the very bottom of the pile is her large sack of Halloween candy: also largely untouched. This is, mind you, on the very bottom shelf of the cupboard, well within my kids’ reach.
Now, did I say “largely untouched”? Yes. Ilsa and Greta have each had, I’d estimate, about three to four pieces of their Halloween candy since they collected it four months ago. As if to drive the point home still further, one child in Ilsa’s fourth grade class who was absent for Valentine’s Day sent home a handful of candy with Ilsa this week so it has yet to officially make its way to the pile in the cupboard. It consists of: three Starbursts, two pieces of bubblegum and a mini package of Whoppers, which have been sitting on the kitchen counter for the last four days, presumably enjoying their solitude.
Now- I’m not going to lie to you. My kids do try out sugary things once in a while, almost as if they are checking to see if they are still there, and whether their mom will turn inside out or grow horns when they do it. I make a concerted effort not to.
And I think that’s as it should be. The world will continue to do what the world does, and my kids have enough information to make these decisions themselves at this point, if anyone does. They know what I think. And I figure the more I belabor the point now, the more it will backfire.
So instead I just quietly hold firm to the things I am in control of: no matter how many times Ilsa tells me she prefers vanilla, I still buy plain yogurt. Dressing up our oatmeal in the morning means adding raisins. “Dessert” in our packed lunches means an apple or an orange. Drink choices are milk or water. Actual, sugar-containing dessert remains a “once every couple of weeks” occasion, and in modest portions.
When the kids go out into the world- as they are doing increasingly as they are growing older, and further away from our official Year of No Sugar- they will make their own decisions about whether to choose sugar in their food or not. Two recent occurrences give me reason to suspect, however, that all is not lost.
Just the other night Greta (who is now nearly 15) and I were out at an event, and she was offered a tall glass of root beer, which she accepted (after a significant sidelong glance at her mom).
After one sip she remarked “it’s SO SWEET!!” and then “It’s REALLY GOOD!!” She proceeded to drink about half of the tall glass. (Later on, she told me, she went back and finished it mainly because grown-ups were still chatting and she was bored.)
Not long afterwards, she interrupted my conversation with some friends to ask if we could go- she was tired. Really tired. She didn’t look well- didn’t look like her normal cheerful self. Amazingly, I failed to put two and two together until we were in the car and Greta did it for me.
“I think it was the soda,” she said. “Too much sugar.”
As for Ilsa, (who is now ten), last week we were lucky enough to play host to a documentary film crew from the popular Middle Eastern show Khawater. For the interview, the affable host Ahmad AlShugairi had requested we have on hand some examples of different high sugar meals and contrast them with no sugar alternatives. I had a lot of fun with this one- we focused on breakfast and I had the bizarro, upside-down experience of trying to find the sugariest yogurts, cereals and pancake mixes on the shelves at my local supermarket.
Consequently, after the interview was over and the crew had left we had all this crazy sugary stuff lying around- including a bowl of Cheerios Protein cereal- which despite being marketed as a healthy cereal for adults, has more sugar then even the sweetest kid cereals (17 grams of sugar per 1 ¼ cup serving. Compare that to Froot Loops, for example, which are 15 grams of sugar for 1 ¼ cup serving). Ilsa was curious: could she eat the bowl we had poured as a prop?
Hmmm. I reminded her it was veeeery sweet, but told her she could if she wanted to. Just as with Greta’s soda, Ilsa liked the cereal A LOT… at first. About halfway through the bowl she remarked that it was awfully sweet. Maybe she wouldn’t finish it after all. And then she said she didn’t feel all that good.
“Yeah, isn’t it amazing what sugar can do when you aren’t used to it?” I said, hopefully offhandedly.
Fast forward to this morning: Ilsa enjoyed- along with her egg and some orange slices- a bowl of her new favorite cereal: Rice Chex. It has 2 grams of sugar per serving. (I think it makes her feel adventurous to have a cereal with a bit of sugar in it somewhere- but appreciates the fact that it doesn’t give her tummy ache.)
Meanwhile, for the last week the rest of the box of Cheerios Protein sits forlornly in our kitchen, untouched. (I kind of feel bad throwing away food- even sugary food- so I’m procrastinating.) I wonder if it’s lonely, but then again, perhaps it will make friends with the Halloween, Christmas, and Valentines Candy. After all, they have a lot in common.
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.
May 12, 2014 § 21 Comments
You’d think there’d be a good online reference for all the Sugar Aliases out there, wouldn’t you? One that’d tell you ALL those different names for Sugar-With-A-Capitol-“S”, (which is to say ingredients that contain extracted fructose, ie: the BAD GUY in sugar). And there are some sugar-name lists, but, I’ll venture to say, perhaps none as comprehensive as this one.
One big problem is that many of the Sugar Name lists out there fail to distinguish between sweeteners that contain fructose and those that do not– thereby committing the unforgivable sin of lumping innocent and lovable brown rice syrup in with such metabolic evils as crystalline fructose! (Can you imagine?)
In compiling this new comprehensive list, many of the terms I already knew, but some I had to research further. I hope you appreciate all the articles I had to read with titles like “The Biological Synthesis of Dextran from Dextrins,“ and the fact that I now – against my will- know what a structural isomer is. Yes! I did that for you.
So, (insert trumpet fanfare here) here is my Up-To-The-Minute, Pretty-Much-Alphabetized, Family-Sized LIST of Sugars-to-Watch-Out-For:
PS- Find a new sugar name? Send it to me!! I’ll add it.
THE SUGAR ALPHABET (54 different names and counting)
- Barbados Sugar
- Beet Sugar
- Brown Sugar
- Brownulated Sugar
- Buttered Syrup
- Cane Juice
- Cane Sugar
- Cane Syrup
- Carob Syrup
- Castor/ Caster Sugar
- Confectioners Sugar
- Crystalline Fructose
- Date Sugar
- Demerara Sugar
- Dehydrated Cane Juice
- Evaporated Cane Juice
- Evaporated Cane Syrup
- Evaporated Sugar Cane
- Florida Crystals
- Free Flowing Brown Sugar
- Fructose Crystals
- Fruit Juice
- Fruit Juice Concentrate
- Glazing Sugar
- Golden Sugar
- Golden Syrup
- Granulated Sugar
- High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
- Icing Sugar
- Invert Sugar
- King’s Syrup
- Maple Sugar
- Maple Syrup
- Powdered Sugar
- Raw Sugar
- Refiners’ Syrup
- Sorghum Syrup
- Superfine Sugar
- Table Sugar
- Turbinado Sugar
- White Sugar
- Yellow Sugar
Not sugar but if I were you I would also avoid:
Artificial Sugar Substitutes:
- Acesulfame Potassium
- Aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal)
- Neotame (Nutrasweet)
- Saccharin (Sweet n’ Low)
- Stevia (Truvia)
- Sucralose (Splenda)
The Good News List!
These sound suspicious, but are more or less fine. They aren’t all necessarily health foods mind you, but they are sweetening agents that contain no fructose.
- Barley Malt
- Barley Malt Syrup
- Corn Syrup
- Corn Syrup Solids
- Diastatic Malt
- Ethyl Maltol
- Glucose Solids
- Grape Sugar
- Malt Sugar
- Rice Syrup
Foods to Watch Out For:
You’ll find sugars in the strangest places, once you start to look. Here are some of the surprising, but very common offenders of hidden sugar (fructose):
- Baby Food
- Baby Formula
- Salad Dressing
- Cold Cuts
- Marinades and Sauces
- Smoked Salmon
- Chicken Broth
- Breakfast bars
- Granola bars
- Dried Fruit
Foods That Are Generally Safe from Fructose: (it’s a short list, isn’t it?)
- Non-flavored Pretzels
- Non-flavored Yogurt
- Non-flavored potato chips
May 3, 2014 § Leave a comment
Did Julie Kelley find a severed hand in my fridge? Clutching a donut? These questions and more answered in this lovely interview on WCAX TV! Click below to watch interview Part One, Part Two, and for Yet Still More Eve-talking-about-the-“S”-word, click on “Entire Interview” for the full half-hour Q & A.