Welcome to My Year Without

On January 1, 2008, I made a New Year's resolution to cut out refined sugar for one year. I cut out white refined sugar and corn syrups. My quest to be sugar-free evolved into political interest, public health, and letter writing to food manufacturers. Join me in sugar sleuthing, and learn more about the psychological aspects of sugar addiction, and those who push sugar on us.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My Nothing Cookies

My sweet tooth went out of control tonight. Maybe my cravings started earlier in the day but I was too busy to think about it. Well, at some point I jumped up from what I was doing to go make cookies. My first thought was snickerdoodles. I recently had one eaten right under my nose and it honestly seemed wrong for me to just sit by and let that good cookie go. I had to though, because it had sugar. It was loaded with sugar. That was when I decided that next time I'm in the mood for baking, I will make snickerdoodles and substitute date sugar for white refined sugar.

It seemed like a good idea, but here is what happened:

I pulled out the few ingredients needed to make cookies and started by creaming the egg, date sugar and organic, non-hydrogenated shortening. Things were not looking so good. Instead of a "whipped" consistency, these three ingredients became tough. I decided to switch to a chocolate chip cookie recipe so that I could add vanilla. I added vanilla, some baking soda and then white flour (I know, I know...).The cookie dough still seemed rather stiff and tough, so I opted to add some water to smooth things out, and then more vanilla for taste. I realized this was not going to be a chocolate chip cookie recipe for several reasons, one of which is that I do not have any grain-sweetened chocolate chips at home right now. At this point I added a little sea salt here, a splash more of vanilla there, and then sent it through the mixer for a few more rounds. I tasted the dough and it was so-so. It left a pretty nice aftertaste though, so I went ahead and put some doughy spoonfulls on a cookie sheet.

When they were done baking, I had to smack each one of them with a spatula so that they were flat cookies instead of the biscuits that they looked like otherwise. After they cooled I bit into one and was pretty surprised how nice and chewy they turned out. The flavor is hard to describe, but I could taste the vanilla and sense the presence of salt. They were dark brown because of the date sugar. That is another reason I could not go through with making them snickerdoodles. Snickerdoodles are typically white colored with a light sprinkling of cinnamon sugar on top. My cookies were a dark brown and would not pass for a snickerdoodle. I will have to wait for 2009 to eat a snickerdoodle.

In the meantime, as I bite into another cookie, I have to say it's pretty darn good for a no-name, date sugar and shortening blend. It provides the sweet chewiness that is ultimately what I am craving when my sweet tooth acts up. Here's to a no-name, made-up cookie!

Nothing Cookies

1 C. organic shortening
2 eggs
1 and 1/3 C. date sugar
1 tsp baking soda
3 tsp vanilla
3 tsp water
1/2 or 1 tsp sea salt
flour (I did not even come close to measuring this. Just add enough so that the consistency is similar to chocolate chip cookie dough)

Cream together shortening, eggs and date sugar. Add other wet ingredients and then stir in the dry. Scoop into spoon-sized drops on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees for about 7 minutes or so. Enjoy!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sugar Free in Victoria, BC!

Victoria, BC will forever hold sweet, sweet memories for me and my sweet, sweet tooth. Before we left for a weekend vacation there, I told my husband that I only had to give up sugar in my home country. Every place we traveled to internationally would be a free for all. I was going to sneak in all the international goodies my tummy could take. I imagined eating all sorts of fudge sundae's, donuts and other fresh baked pastries in Victoria's popular downtown. Of course I was kidding myself. I don't think it's possible for me to eat any sugar this year. I like to pretend that I am about to indulge in something bad. But I'll never do it. My husband knows it, but everybody else gets really quiet and nervous when I tell them I'm about to break my New Year's resolution, as if it will somehow be their fault. It's a little sick and twisted, but then again, so is going without sugar. How un-American!

We found an incredible restaurant in Victoria, called the Green Cuisine. I had done some research before we left for our trip, and this restaurant came up several times and had great reviews. It is basically a vegan buffet; a very casual cafe type atmosphere at the edge of Market Square. I was hoping for a selection of baked goodies.....and baked goodies is what I got! The Green Cuisine had two glass cases full of baked goods, complete with ingredient listings by each one. I had to read the ingredients carefully because some of the goodies contained "organic sugar" and "cane juice", but most of the goodies were sweetened with all natural sweeteners. We were in Victoria for two nights and three days. I visited the Green Cuisine twice, which wasn't enough! Each time, however, I filled a bag with different baked goodies: rice sweetened rice crispy bar, oatmeal raisin cookie, raw hemp/nut ball, apricot square and a raw, sesame seed "Earth Ball". The restaurant sells cookbooks which contains all of the recipes they use, but I opted to wait on buying it. I have so many wonderful cookbooks that I already ignore. I did write down a couple of recipes, though, while eating my lunch. My favorite foods there were: tofu lasagna, sweet navy beans, Jamaican rice, and the olive potato pie! I probably ate too much, but it was a treat to have this many healthy foods available, all with their ingredient listings at the buffet bar. Both times I went in to the restaurant, there was a steady flow of people. It seemed to be a favorite place for tourists and residents to eat.

As a funny side note, I committed a Canadian etiquette faux pax. I was determined to study their etiquette before we left on our trip, basically in an effort to be polite. What I read is that Quebec is a province in which etiquette is very important, but that the BC area has loosened up on their etiquette, though they still maintain more proper etiquette than Americans.

It was mid-afternoon when my husband and I found ourselves lingering around the harbour in front of a giant, elegant stone hotel. From the small rocky beach in front of the hotel we were able to take great photographs of the float planes taking off and landing. We were sharing our camera and when he had it, I found myself digging around my large jacket pocket for the bag of Green Cuisine pastries I had stashed inside. I distinctly remember walking around nibbling on my oatmeal raisin cookie, when all of a sudden, I had a flashback of what I had read about Canadian etiquette: "Eating while walking or standing on the street in Quebec is considered bad form." Okay, we were not in Quebec, but still... "Oh my gosh!" I thought to myself, as I looked around to see if anyone was watching. No one seemed to be too put out by my cookie, but I nevertheless shoved it back into my pocket for later. I was so embarrassed, even though I'm pretty sure they are pretty laid back about things of this nature. I even asked two different employees at the Butchart Gardens if it would be rude of me to walk around holding my hot cup of coffee. The answer both times was "absolutely not!"

While I'm on the subject of international foibles, another funny thing happened at Sushi Plus, a hole-in-the-wall, well-priced, deliciously fresh, sushi restaurant. As we took care of the bill up front, the lady behind the counter asked me if we were here on holiday. I said, "No, we are just here on a little vacation." For those of you who don't know, Canadian's say holiday in place of vacation. Jeff told me this once we were outside and we laughed so hard!

In closing, thank you to: Green Cuisine, Sushi Plus, Demitasse, Mirage Coffee, Serious Coffee, Irish Times, Siam Thai, the Mint, La Vita Bella (Seattle) and Zeitgeist (Seattle), for feeding us!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Coconut Oil, Milk & Macaroons

I'm on a weird coconut kick. I've been stir-frying and baking with raw, virgin coconut oil. I've also been using it in my no-bake recipes. I've been using a lot of coconut milk with brown rice, heated with a fresh, locally made mixture of red curry paste. Delicious for breakfast, lunch and dinner! I've also been adding unsweetened (they are already sweet!) coconut flakes to things for flavor and texture, and last but not least, on a whim, I bought a can of coconut macaroons! The kind I happened to get were sitting with some other health foods I was looking for. When I noticed the macaroons I read the label and to my great surprise, they had no sugar! The only ingredients were: unsweetened coconut flakes, honey and egg whites. I tore into them on the way home and have been addicted ever since. They are incredibly moist and chewy. They are a little bigger than bite-sized and two or three will quench your thirst for something sweet. They are absolutely delicious! The brand is Jennies.

Oh, and have I already mentioned that I keep coconut ice cream (Luna & Larry's) in my freezer at all times? It now quenches my thirst for something sweet AND fulfills my strange coconut urges. It makes me wonder if I am deficient in some nutrient and it is coming out as a coconut craving.... I have always liked the flavor of coconut, but lately, I want it all the time. Hmmm!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Brown Rice Milk Recipe

Sorry for the inconvenience, everybody! It was brought to my attention that making my original raw rice milk involves some potential health risks, so I had to take the recipe off for now. I need to try the recipe using cooked rice, but before I post that recipe, I want to make it first and perhaps tinker with ingredients; sugar-free sweeteners like honey, salt, etc.

To assure everyone's absolute safety, for those of you who have already made the raw rice milk, before using any more of it, bring the milk to a boil (while stirring!) and then refrigerate it. Don't freak out if you have had any, I have been drinking it and it's been fine for me. The concern is in bacteria that may form in the rice soaking. Because the recipe did not call for any cooking/boiling, there is no way to "kill" any bacteria that may have had a chance to form in the soaking rice. The fact that our rice is imported also calls to attention different kinds of microscopic bacteria that may have piggy-backed its way into our kitchens. All of these concerns are addressed in cooking the rice, so that is why I will be posting a cooked rice version of this recipe.

Thanks for your understanding and patience with me! I'm learning as I go.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

How to Cut Out Sugar and Why

You've got to read this incredible article. Mike O'Donnell talks about the 3 steps to cutting out sugar from your diet, reminds us why sugar is so incredibly detrimental to our health, and what we gain health-wise when we do cut it out of our diet.

You may be thinking, "Oh, I know sugar causes cavities and makes me sleepy sometimes, but I can live with that..." Surprise! There are some more very serious health concerns related to eating sugar and here they are:
  • "Sugar increases fat storing"
  • "Sugar disrupts normal brain function"
  • "Sugar decreases your overall health and makes you age quicker"(1)

O'Donnell expands on each of these health concerns with compelling reasons to give up sugar. It is very well-written and he offers some easy steps to cutting out that white stuff.

The sugar revolution rages on!

(1) http://zenhabits.net/2008/10/beat-the-sugar-habit-3-steps-to-cut-sweets-mostly-out-of-your-life/

Monday, October 13, 2008

Hot Fudge Banana Split

I have almost made it through the entire year denying myself all sorts of gooey, chewy treats. Off and on I get cravings, but I've been able to tame them with natural sweeteners or drinking a ton of water or hot tea. A few days ago, I was hit hard by a craving that came to me out of the blue. It was around the time I usually wander the kitchen and look at what I have to make dinner with. As I picked up my squash, zucchini, tomatoes, and other vegetables, and began envisioning a perfect soup, all of a sudden I started craving a hot fudge sundae...REAL BAD. I immediately quit thinking about dinner and started thinking about how I could satisfy my craving. I HAD to have a sundae. No, make that a banana split. With lots of vanilla ice cream and salty peanuts. I had to have hot fudge--I was obsessed with the thought of cold ice cream drenched in thick, hot chocolate sauce. I ran to the pantry and threw around all kinds of ingredients. Found the peanuts, large and salted. Ice cream....awesome! I had just brought home a container of vanilla Rice Dream the day before. I had ripe bananas on the counter so all I needed was to come up with the best part: hot fudge. I was determined to make it happen no matter what.

The only chocolate in the house that is sugar-free is my pure, organic cocoa. This would have to work. I did not give myself enough time to think this through, because I was lusting after my banana split so badly, so I skimped on making hot fudge. What I should have done was run online and looked up some recipes, but what I ended up doing was making up a hot chocolate sauce. I combined the cocoa with lots of honey and some heavy whipping cream and heated them together. I then added some boiling water to speed up the process, but it made my sauce too runny and thin. As if that was going to stop me. As soon as my chocolate sauce was hot and smelled delicious, I poured it over my Rice Dream and chopped up half a banana and then sprinkled a handful of peanuts on top. No whipped cream. Bummer. I don't like those rubbery cherries used on sundaes, and I think they're mostly for show, anyway.

I ate my banana split so fast I almost made another one. It was delicious. The runny chocolate sauce was not worthy of sharing with anyone, so I still need to look up a tried and true recipe for sugar-free hot fudge. But the next night I made another banana split instead of dinner, again. It was blissful. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Fresh Fruit Leather from Hood River Valley

I was starving the other day. Just starving. I had been trying to hold out for dinner while getting some tea at a coffee shop. While ordering hot peppermint tea, I noticed a box of "fruit bars". My mouth instantly began to water and I pictured how good a chewy hunk of dried fruit leather would taste and feel in my mouth. I had to have it. I chose the pear flavor after reading the two ingredients, "pear puree and pear concentrate," which assured me this was sugar-free. After burning my hand on my cup of hot tea, I set it down and cozied up at a table with my delicious looking fruit bar. This was really going to have to tie me over until dinner. I ripped into the package and sunk my teeth into the sweetest fruit flesh. It was perfect tasting and made my stomach stop growling. I was pleasantly surprised how moist it was compared to other sugar-free fruit leathers that I have tried. It was delicious and stuck to all of my teeth. As I popped the last piece into my mouth, I took a closer look at the package: "Manufactured in the Columbia River Gorge using Northwest grown fruit". How cool! They are local compared to the fruit leathers that I had been buying from New Zealand!

I highly recommend trying these "Gorge Delights" fruit bars. Ask your local grocery stores and cafes to start carrying them. Write a customer comment card asking for them and include their information: http://gorgedelights.com/. It made a great snack at the coffee shop in place of all the other sugary pastries they had out.

Also, when you order hot tea at a coffee shop, I advise you to ask the barista to throw in a couple of ice cubes.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

"Mounds" Chocolate Candy

Dark chocolate.....chewy coconut....crunchy almonds.....does this make your mouth water for a Mounds candy bar? I recently discovered a sugar-free recipe for homemade Mounds. They not only taste better and fresher than the store-bought candy, but they actually offer nutrients! They are made with virgin, unrefined coconut oil which makes them especially tasty! (An added benefit to spending $10 on a jar of coconut oil is that you can also use it on your skin. It is extremely moisturizing and smells heavenly, too.)

I tested the recipe last night and gave the little Mounds to several different people and they were a big hit! They are a perfect little disc size that will quench your sweet tooth. I think it would be hard to overeat them because they are so fatty and rich. Unlike cookies where you end up eating a handful straight from the oven, these little chocolate dreams are stored in the freezer to keep the coconut oil from melting, and somehow one is enough! I'm a pretty good judge about things like this because I rarely eat only one of something I love.

Preparing them takes only about 10 minutes, but there is some waiting/freezing time involved. From the time you begin, you will have a finished product in one hour. They are so good. Thanks to The Nourishing Gourmet for the recipe!

"Mounds" Frozen Candy Bars

1 1/3 C. unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 C. coconut oil (unrefined, virgin is best)
1/4 C. honey
1 tsp. almond extract
1/2 C. sliced almonds

  • Melt coconut oil and honey over low heat until just melted. Whisk to combine. Add almond extract and coconut flakes.
  • Take a 12-compartment muffin tin and evenly distribute the almonds in each. Then evenly distribute the coconut mixture over each of those. Place in freezer on flat surface for 30 minutes.
  • Next, you will prepare the chocolate:
3/4 C. cocoa powder (not dutch cocoa)
1/4 C. honey
1 C. coconut oil
1 Tblsp vanilla extract

  • Combine these ingredients in a 2-cup measuring glass and place in a pot of simmering water. Heat and whisk until everything is just melted. Remove from heat and continue to whisk until smooth.
  • Take out the tin of frozen coconut and evenly distribute the chocolate mixture over it.
  • Put back into your freezer and freeze until hard, about 30 minutes.
  • To get them out after freezing, simply pop them out with a knife. Keep them frozen as they melt otherwise.
  • Enjoy!