Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Peanut Butter Shortbread Cookies

          All I wanted was to make a batch of cookies. Nice and simple, right? Well, maybe under normal circumstances, but I learned an important lesson this evening: Do not attempt to bake after a two-hour, incredibly disheartening chemistry exam.
          I came home exhausted from said exam, feeling riddled with the shame and frustration that comes from not having studied nearly as hard as I should and could have. But I had my heart set on baking tonight.
          As I've already said, this blog is, in part, my inspiration for getting my butt back in the kitchen. And this whole blog carnival thing, Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays, seemed like a great way to get into the swing of it. Even if, on this particular Tuesday, it meant breaking down when the first tray came out of the ovenscorched on the bottom and crumbling to dust on topbursting into tears, and crying out, "I can't do anything right!" (I wish it wasn't true, but alas...)
The platter of charred, crumbly, burnt-tasting cookies that made me cry.

          You see, before going gluten-free, baking was like therapy for me. And since changing my diet to suit my sensitivities, I've struggled to embrace this former favorite pastime of mine. It just seemed so much simpler when I only had to use one inexpensive, glutinous flour (wheat) to make just about anything I wanted. Now, with the wheat a known culprit in my dietary difficulties, I've had to expand my grain-based horizons, and my baking budget. While I am slowly growing to appreciate the plethora of grains and flours to which my new gluten- and wheat-free ways are introducing me, I'm still not too keen on the expense of purchasing five different flours just to make one cookie.
          So how delighted do you think I was when I was perusing the gluten-free baking aisle the other day and saw a mere six-ingredient, single-flour recipe on the back of a bag of Bob's Red Mill Whole Grain Teff Flour? Yep, that's rightjust teff flour, maple syrup, vanilla extract, vegetable oil, peanut butter, and a pinch of salt. Oh yeah, I was super excited. So, with the relatively small package of Teff in hand, I happily made my way to the checkout, along with a jar of creamy organic peanut butter. I smiled as I pictured myself stirring this one, single flour into a bowl with a mere five other, very simple items. Call me lazy, but that's my kind of baking.
          Of course, I can't take full credit, or even half credit; this recipe is directly adapted from the Bob's one. I just decided to use agave nectar in place of maple syrup, and I added a sprinkling of organic cane sugar over the top of each cookie. Plus, I changed the name to more accurately reflect the taste of the product, in my opinion.
          So, here you go: super simple, slightly indulgent...

Peanut Butter Shortbread Cookies

You will need:
1 1/2 cups Teff flour
1/2 cup agave nectar
1 cup creamy peanut butter (preferably organic, no sugar added)
1/2 cup canola (or other vegetable) oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt
*Preheat oven to 350º 
*Blend the peanut butter, agave nectar, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl until smooth and creamy. 
*Stir in the Teff flour and pinch of salt. 
*Place teaspoon-sized balls of dough on an ungreased baking sheet. Use a fork to make the traditional peanut butter cookie markers.
*Sprinkle with organic cane sugar on top.
*Bake 8-10 minutes.
     Please be warned: In honor of the Slightly Indulgent theme, these treats are not very sweet. They are, however, delicious. I suggest enjoying with a hot cup of tea. 
     This post is linked to Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Fantabulously Gluten- and Dairy-Free Mac n' Cheese

          Oh, Farty Girl. We’ve only just met. But you are truly a girl after my own heart—or stomach, rather. In her recent post, Making the Impossible F’ing Fantastic,” fellow blogger Farty Girl chronicled her quest for and immense joy upon creating a gluten- and dairy-free mac n’ cheese, one that truly sated her craving for this comforting and classic Americanized pasta dish.
          Upon reading her witty and delightful post, I shared with her that I know this longing all too well. There was a period in my life where I lived off of Annie’s microwaveable single serve mac n’ cheese packs. Sometimes I’d really let loose and cook an entire box of it. And my Grandma Lee—her slow-baked, super cheesy mac n’ cheese is a staple dish at our family gatherings, and has been for years. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.
          As I’m sure you can imagine, saying good-bye to these cheesy delights was not easy for the new, dairy-free me.
          That’s why I decided to pay homage to said blogger buddy and, drawing from the info she provided, see what I could whip up, and if it would even come close to Grandma Lee's baked version. You can read Farty Girl's highly entertaining post for the full scoop, and I strongly urge you to do so, but the secret to this scrumdiddlyumptious gluten- and dairy-free dish can be expressed in one word: Daiya.
          I had never heard of these cheese imitators nor seen their products before Farty came along and cut it for me. My experiences with imitation cheese have been unpleasant and extremely disappointing, to say the least. Fake cheeses typically just don’t melt or stretch or crumble or taste anything like the dairy stuff. So after quite a few lousy attempts, I’d pretty much resigned myself to living without.
          That is, until Miss Farty revealed her discovery. And oddly enough, Daiya’s cheddar and mozzarella shreds have only just appeared on the shelves at Weggermans here in good ol’ Rochester, NY—as in, within the past week or so!
          I couldn’t believe my eyes when I beheld this tasty spectacle on my way home from work the other night. I thought for sure I’d have to petition Farty to send me some cheese shreds via snail mail (which she did offer to do, by the way). But there the lovely (albeit expensive) packs of cheesy goodness were—sitting right in front of me as I went to grab my container of Earth Balance buttery spread. So, of course, I bought some!
          Not only is this stuff delicious, but it’s also gluten-, soy-, casein-, lactose-, dairy-, and cholesterol-free, and it contains 15% of your daily recommended intake of calcium per serving. That’s only 5% less calcium per serving than its average dairy-containing counterpart. (I can make this claim because I compared it to the shredded cheddar—real cheese—sitting in my shared refrigerator.)
          So now, without further ado, I present to you, thanks to the illustrious and inspirational Farty Girl (with a little bit of Grandma Lee's baking style thrown in):

Fantabulously Gluten- and Dairy-Free Mac n’ Cheese

You will need: 
1 package Tinkyada Gluten-Free Brown Rice Elbow Pasta (or its equivalent)
1/4 cup Earth Balance buttery spread (vegan)
4 oz. Daiya Cheddar Style Shreds
4 oz. Daiya Mozzarella Style Shreds 
 1 1/2 Tbsp. potato flour/starch (or some other GF flour)
1/2 cup soy milk (or rice milk, almond milk, etc.)*
Optional: something crumbly** 
*You can always add more if you prefer a creamier "sauce," but I was going for a melty texture as opposed to a super creamy one.
**multigrain chip bits; crushed nuts; etc.; I chose to use Food Should Taste Good tortilla chips, made with flax, sunflower, and sesame seeds, oat fiber, brown rice, quinoa, and soy flour—because they do taste good and because they were the only crumbly thing I had on hand.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Cook the pasta, in a pot on the stovetop, according to instructions (16 to 17 minutes).
Drain and pour cooked pasta into a casserole dish.
In the now-empty pasta pot, stir the non-dairy milk product, Earth Balance buttery spread, potato flour/starch, and Daiya shreds until the mixture gets all ooey gooey.* 
Pour the mixture into the casserole dish and spread over each and every elbow macaroni.
Bake for 20-30 minutes.**
If it suits your fancy, sprinkle some crumblies on top. 
*You can also just mix these things straight into the casserole dish, but it seems to spread more evenly if you blend the cheesy stuff first. 
**depending on how browned you like it

Bon appétit!

Note: If you want to get all super healthy with this one, you can always toss some veggies into the mix. I’m more of a simple gal myself, and I was really just craving the classic mac n’ cheese experience here.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Smells Like Soccer

     Don’t you just love how a simple scent can transport you to another place and time? No mental energy involved—you’re just there, in an instant.
     When I stepped outside today, after a long serving shift at the restaurant, to take my dog, Conan, for a walk, the first gulp of fresh air I breathed in filled my mind with one resounding thought: soccer.
     As a little girl, I played soccer every summer. I continued playing through my freshman year of high school, but it’s those childhood summer games that stick with me. I don’t know if it was the freshly mowed grass or the hint of June in the air or the birds chirping, but every bit of what I was inhaling late this afternoon had me back on that field, with bruised knees and grass-stained shorts, running like a maniac and feeling young and free and alive and all that good, sweet, innocent stuff.
     Oh yeah, and after every game, we’d go out for ice cream. I don’t have any dairy-free frozen desserts on hand at the moment, but the memory is sweet all the same ;-)
Conan (the barbarian)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hypocrisy in a Pretty Pink Bucket

     I had to share this. If the issues weren't so serious and the consequences so far-reaching, I might be inclined to laughreally, really hardover this story. But instead, it's making my stomach turn and my face contort. Ick.
     (Okay, maybe I laughed a little.)
     The basic gist of it is this—KFC partnered with the cancer research group Susan G. Komen for the Cure to produce its latest marketing ploy: the KFC Pink Bucket of good ol' fashioned, factory-farm fried chicken. Hmm...
     Here's the original bit by John Robbins over at The Huffington Post: "Greed, Cancer and Pink KFC Buckets"
     So, it's now cool for the companies who create fried, fatty, chemical-laden, overly processed foods, which are known to contribute to cancer-causing conditions in the body, to donate a portion of their profits to further cancer-curing research? Couldn't they just, I don't know, use that money to make better-tasting, more health-conscious food and save a whole lot of people a whole lot of trouble?
     Now that would be money well spent.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Oops, I did it again.

            So, I have this tendency. To eat the same things. Over and over again. And it turns out, it’s making me sick. Ugh.
            I just got some lab results back from a naturopathic doctor, who I scrimped and saved to see, considering I have no health insurance at the moment and had to pay for the whole thing out of pocket. And basically, the verdict is that the lack of variety in my diet is actually creating some of my food sensitivities. I don’t fully understand how this works, yet, from a medical perspective. But my most basic grasp of it is this: Your body freaks the f*** out when you keep feeding it the same stuff (over and over again).
            And apparently, which I suppose I already suspected, food sensitivities are subject to change depending on eating habits, stress levels, seasonal changes, and hormones. Hmm, maybe that’s why when I’m PMSing, it seems like everything I put in my body triggers a reaction.
            The main way I’ve seen this manifesting in my body over the years is that, like I said, I have a tendency to eat the same things day after variety-lacking day. I know it's not ideal; I’m just a creature of habit, I guess. And sooner or later, the food items I consume on a daily basis begin to—very noticeably and until now, inexplicably—bother me: searing headaches, upset stomach, bloating, and even swelling will occur, seemingly out of nowhere, when I eat the item in question. Oh yeah, and I break out, too.
            For example, when I was working full-time as a production editor, I got in the habit of eating oatmeal every day for breakfast. It tasted good; it satisfied me; it made me feel healthy. Then, all of a sudden, I started reacting to it. I tried a handful more times to continue eating it in the mornings, and every time, the reaction got worse. So, I had to stop. This has happened to me countless times with various foods over the years—bananas, eggs, applesauce, peanut butter, almond butter, maple syrup, waffles (gluten-free), corn, risotto, and even, I must admit, Pamela’s dark chocolate cookies on a few select (and ultimately insignificant) occasions.
            So what’s the answer here? I need to change it up! I guess there’s a reason why they say variety is the spice of life.
I haven’t had my official follow-up appointment with this doctor to discuss the best plan of action here. But he did send me some literature along with my results, and from what I’ve been reading, the healing process begins by eliminating each and every food that your body is in any way sensitive to (based on the test results, which I'll detail in a later post because it turns out my body is freaking out over a lot of foods these days!) for a period of three weeks to six months, depending on the degree of sensitivity. And then, as long as you don’t have an allergy to the food (sorry, dairy), you can reintroduce certain items to your diet, slowly and carefully. If you still react, you stay away. If you don’t, then you’re free to enjoy—just not every single day (duh!).
This makes sense to me, because in each of the aforementioned cases, I'd refrain from eating the reaction-triggering food for a period of time, and then, one day—like magic—I could eat it again, no problem.
I am highly intrigued by this notion of welcoming banned foods back into my dietary rotation, especially considering that I do not have a known allergy to wheat. I have yet to be tested for celiac disease, due once again to my lack of health insurance. Gluten absolutely bothers my body, though, and this recent set of blood tests has officially confirmed that I am wheat intolerant. And yet, could this whole lack-of-variety-triggering-food-sensitivities theory possibly mean that there is a chance I could one day eat wheat again? I don’t know. Better get that whole celiac thing checked out before I let myself dare to dream.
Then again, going gluten-free has dramatically improved my day-to-day life in a number of ways. I eat more healthfully, and I choose foods more consciously, which in turn, has helped me maintain my 40-pound weight loss. And my digestive difficulties have all but disappeared (eliminating dairy had a huge hand in that one, though). But man, life was just plain simpler when I didn’t have to worry about whether or not what was being put in front of me at a restaurant or in a friend’s kitchen contained wheat or gluten. Sorry to be going there, but it’s true.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Really, National Milk Producers Federation? Really?

            Okay, sorry. But I am finding this just a tad ridiculous: “‘Not Milk?’: Dairy Petitions the FDA to Block Labels Like ‘Soy Milk’ on Non-Dairy Products.”
Apparently, as Sherry F. Colb reports in the above-linked article, the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) has a problem with non-dairy milk products like soy milk, almond milk, and rice milk using words like “milk” and “cream” in their names—as in, a serious problem. It’s to the point where they’ve got the FDA bullying select non-dairy beverage companies, as well as the makers of vegan cheese and ice cream substitutes (the horror!), into dropping the words from their product vocabulary altogether.
            The whole thing is silly and unnecessary, if you ask me. I like the author’s take on why the use of words such as milk with these products is actually extremely useful and beneficial to those of us who either cannot or choose not to consume real dairy:
Someone who is accustomed to pouring milk into her coffee or cereal will, once she becomes a vegan, probably want to continue pouring something that has a flavor and texture similar to that of milk into her coffee and cereal. Knowing about "soy milk," "almond milk," "hazelnut milk," and "rice milk" makes her transition simple: she tries the various options and selects the ones she likes best. The label "soy beverage" (as the NMPF recommends as a substitute for "soy milk"), by contrast, would do nothing to let her and other vegan consumers know that the soy product she is buying serves a similar function to that of the dairy milk they consumed in the past.
So, if the NMPF has their way in this playground-type battle, Silk couldn’t refer to their stuff as soy milk anymore; it would have to be soy beverage. And Tofutti cream cheese would have to be called… kind-of-like cream cheese but not really because it has no cream?
            Ugh. I don't know. Time to grow up and find something real to fight over, dairy industry. Or at least, stop picking on the people who are just trying to do some genuine good for all the food-allergy suffering and animal-friendly souls out there.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The College Life: Destroying Diets for Decades

            Being back in school after my post-undergrad stints as a magazine writer and full-time production editor in NYC is, in many ways, a breath of fresh air. But what had escaped the memory of my eager-to-learn-new-stuff self prior to embarking upon this career-change journey is what the college lifestyle can do to a person’s diet.
I’m not necessarily talking restrictive eating plans here; being a former binge eater, I no longer believe in diets. I spent years following this or that dietary plan, and no matter how hopeful I may have felt at the start of each new venture, I would always end up right back on my couch, or on my dorm-room bed, compulsively overeating.
            In this case, I’m referring to a well-rounded way of eating. The driving force behind my decision to do whatever it would take to get my master’s degree in nutrition was, in part, my steadily growing desire to share with others how to follow a healthy, well-balanced diet, which I was most certainly doing when the back-to-school inspiration struck. My food and chemical sensitivities have taught me an enormous amount about how to properly nourish and take care of myself. As a result, my relationship with food is a special one—it is essential to my overall well-being, and it is the most visible measure of how I’m doing in the mind, body, spirit department.
            So what does it mean that I’m now eating at Mo’s Southwest Grill twice a week and powering through my double waitressing shifts on the same bowl of breakfast cereal, mid-morning snack bar, and afternoon pine-nut salad (because it’s the only thing on the menu that’s safe for me to eat) day after variety-lacking day? And the rest of the time, I’m so far from being in anything that even somewhat resembles a routine that I just eat whatever happens to be safe for my body and within reach, whenever
            How quickly we forget; I may have avoided the freshman 15 when I was away at school those many years ago, but during the course of my sophomore and junior year, I made up for it with a whopping 40-pound weight gain. Binge-eating and a whole slew of psychological problems are mostly to blame for this, but it’s been so long since I lost the excess blub (umm, six years?) that I have a tendency to lose touch with the habits that got me there in the first place.
            Now, to clarify, I haven’t gained any weight since I reentered the college scene last September; thankfully, my predominately consistent gym routine and calories in versus calories out mindfulness have proven effective in staving off any unwanted pounds.
But there is a severe lack of variety in my current dietary life, and I have been struggling to stay away from the sweets and excess carbs. These days, I try not to go near foods unless I know they’re free of all allergens and sensitivity-triggers. So aside from posing a general threat to my reformed overeating self, this habit of random carb-snacking sometimes proves dangerous for my digestive tract.
            Last night, for example, I bought myself an unnecessary and entirely unsatisfying vanilla café au lait (with soymilk) during my chem class break at the college coffee shop, and I am now wondering: Can gluten hide in coffee grinds? Or maybe in the vanilla syrup? (I haven't been officially tested for or diagnosed with celiac disease; my medical verdict was wheat intolerance, so I'm not always as careful or knowledgeable as I probably should be about these things.) 
            All I know is, my belly swelled up like a balloon, my head was killing me by the time I got back to class, and I don’t recall a word of what the professor was saying for the last hour and a half of her lecture. I was too distracted by my steadily swelling and bloated body parts to digest the ins and outs of electrochemical equations and voltaic cells. 
            Good thing I went to the gym on the way home. There’s nothing like sweating on a treadmill while watching The Biggest Loser to get you back on track.
On a final note, thank goodness for the low-calorie, flavor-licious, and healthy on-the-go options that I’ve managed to find. If it weren’t for wheat- and dairy-free, protein-packed, and vitamin-rich snacks such as these, I’d really be in a bind.
  • Packaged snack bars like KIND Healthy Snacks PLUS and Fruit + Nut bars are perfect pocket pick-me-ups for when I'm caught in a work shift or in the middle of a class with plummeting blood sugar and no safe food options in sight
  • Boxed or bulk raisins, Kettle Valley Organic Fruit Snacks, and really any form of dried fruit are good for a quick blood sugar fix, too. 
  • And then there's the classic combo: banana with nut butter. I typically go with almond or peanut, and I love Justin's Natural Classic Almond Butter Squeeze Packs. You could, of course, just put some nut butter in a tiny tupperware if that makes you feel more economical, but I'm a big fan of the grab and go style of these packs. Call me lazy, but seriously; you should see me trying to get out the door on time. Those squeeze packs have saved my chronically just-barely-on-time behind on a number of occasions. 
  • Not pictured: nuts. Cashews are my favorite, but take your pick. Only downside: a decent-sized bag of unsalted, roasted cashews costs around seven dollars. Ugh!
These are just a few of my fallbacks to give you an idea of how I've been managing to maintain my weight in spite of my late-twenties shift back to the frenetic and frazzled life of a college student.
              I promise one of these days I'll start taking really pretty food photos—for instance, I could have chopped the banana into bite size pieces and spread some almond butter over each one for dramatic effect. But for now, my half-hearted yet colorful group photo will have to do. 

Schizo Soul Sweetness

            Oh, ADD. I’ve never been officially diagnosed, but I and my many personalities know all too well that it’s true. Take this blog, for instance. I started out thinking I’d share about all the wonderful things being ultra-sensitive has done for me in my life. And then it became a wheat- and dairy-free product blog. But I can’t even seem to stay focused on that.

            I’m trying to “trust in the process of self-expression,” as my horoscope instructed me to do a week or so ago, but I feel myself being pulled in so many different directions that I’m surprised my head isn’t physically spinning. I’ve been clinging to my chemistry textbooks and soaking in non-fiction foodie diatribes and documentaries of late, telling myself I’m meant to be a student, and a scholar—not an artist. Perhaps, I suggest to my stifled inner child, I’ll find a way to combine the interests of the artistic self with those of the studious, cause-seeking self, but—seeing as how I’ve never been too adept at multi-taskingdon’t get your hopes up.

Truth be told, it’s been a while since I’ve tapped into my creativity. But this blog, however simple and silly it may be, is absolutely awakening something in me. Suddenly, I’m not only taking pictures of cereal boxes and popsicle sticks and simultaneously venting about and celebrating life as a food-sensitive sweet tooth; I’m writing songs again, and actually wanting to share them (yes, I sing, too).
I think I just need to embrace the fact that my artistic soul has been suffering a bit of post-traumatic stress disorder for these past many months. I won’t go into the details of said trauma, but it’s been enough to silence that most sacred part of myself for far too long: my voice. We've all got one, but sadly, only some of us ever really learn how to use it.

I am emerging, slowly but surely. I guess it took a silly blog to spark my creative spirit back into action, but I feel a change a coming. And it feels good—or perhaps more appropriately, it feels sweet.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Perfectly Delicious Pumpkin Spice Cake

As I enter into my nearly third week of self-expression via this silly blog, I find myself feeling a bit overwhelmed. You see, I am entirely new to the blogosphere. Not only have I never kept one before, but I’ve never really read anyone else’s, either. So of course, now that I’m getting my feet wet in this fantastical world of food bloggers, I’m realizing how “not like the others” I am.  I don’t mean that in some sort of “I’m super original” way, because in fact, I am feeling quite the opposite. It’s more of an outsider sentiment—like “Wow, look at what all these other people are doing; I am way out of my league here!”
            But I know this sharp pang all too well; it’s the one that always dissuades me from pursuing paths that inspire or intrigue me. It’s the hell-bent perfectionist in me; I don’t want to do anything unless I know I can be absolutely perfect at it. I can’t tell you how many dreams have withered into the recesses of my mind because of this relentless inner dilemma. And I think I’ve reached my breaking point; enough, I say!
            So I don’t wake up in the morning and mix fresh juice smoothies for breakfast or bake crumbly cobblers and casseroles from scratch in the evening, but I do dream of doing these things. And thanks to this lovely virtual land of fellow food enthusiasts, I can learn from the best of the best out there—on my own time, in my own way.
            In my brief brush with blog browsing this afternoon, I landed on a few that whet my appetite for gluten-free baking (which I will be sharing in future posts, I’m sure). I’m in a bind at the moment when it comes to both free-time and finances and therefore, the means to stock up on all the fancy rice and tapioca flour blends and commit to the hours of experimenting that it takes to produce these delightful creations. But in the meantime, I can marvel at what other people are doing. And I can imagine myself joining them one day, in my lovely little studio-size kitchen somewhere. 
            And there’s something else I can do whilst I await that magical day when I manage to muster the means and motivation to whip up tasty home-baked treats of my own concocting; I can buy baking mixes.
            Just like my mother, and her mother before her, I love the simplicity of baking from a box. Perhaps from-scratch baking just hasn’t fully made its way into my bloodstream—yet.
Anyway, here’s the mix I used to bake a pumpkin spice cake for my mother on her official day of honor (yesterday): Simply Organic Carrot Cake Mix.
It’s basically a spice cake mix, and along with the 2 eggs and 1/2 cup of water, you can add pumpkin, carrots, or apples—or whatever you like—to produce just the right combination of tastes for your sweet-loving purposes.
I chose to add 1/2 a can of Farmer’s Market Organic Pumpkin, and to top the finished product with vegan cream cheese frosting and crushed walnuts.
What can I say? It took all of five minutes to blend the batter, and I forgot to change the oven setting from broil to bake, so the top got a little burnt; but in spite of these minor imperfections, the cake was a hit. Moist, flavorful, and perfectly delicious.
            (I wish I had some photos for you to see its loveliness for yourself, but the cake was apparently so good that it was gone before it occurred to me to capture it on camera.)

 Tasty Tidbit: If you want to try making this cake on your own, it just so happens that Simply Organic is on a promotional kick and is currently offering this splendid little coupon on their website. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sugar Free = Not For Me

            Oh, chocolate. I’m afraid it will forever be my downfall. Its taste is too sweet, too sensuous to simply let go and say good-bye.
            I had no intention of starting that sugar fast just yet, but today’s trip to Fowler’s Chocolates  instantly derailed any healthy-girl fantasies of an entirely sugar-free future from my semi-delusional mind.
            If you’ve never tasted sponge candy before, then simply put, you are missing out. I’m pretty sure it’s primarily a western NY thing—specifically, Buffalo, NY, where I was born and where most of my relatives still reside. And Fowler’s Chocolates, which began as a family-owned, Buffalo-based candy shop in 1910, is without a doubt the best place to purchase your first bite-sized piece of this rich, chocolatey, melt-in-your-mouth confection.
My mother adores these treats as much as I do, and with tomorrow being Mother’s Day, my chocolate shop stop was in her honor. I bought two boxes of dark chocolate sponge candy—one for her, and one to keep me (and the rest of the fam) from eating half of hers over the next couple of weeks.
            As soon as I got home, I had to break one out.
            And even though these treats are not organic, per say, the folks at Fowler’s are big into quality. Their chocolates are high on the percentage charts in pure cacao, and their dark chocolate sponge candy contains no wheat or dairy, which is good news for me. They do use corn syrup, but while this may be a shockingly sweet substance for the digestive tract to process, it is nowhere near as unsettling as the high fructose version. Considering how rarely I eat these confectionary delights, I'd say the moderation rule safely applies in this case.
            In conclusion, it is moments like these—when I am savoring a sweet treat that dates back to my childhood and is still safe for me to enjoy in spite of my various sensitivities—that I know I will never fully eliminate sweet things from my diet.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Sugar Addicts Anonymous?

So, I don’t quite know what to do with this revelatory bit. But it seems the more I write about sugary things, the more I realize how huge and not particularly healthy of a role sweets have played in my life thus far
Ice cream cones helped me fall asleep at night as a child; Oreo sundaes eased my body image frustrations on early adolescent shopping trips with my mother; cake batter and cookie dough have calmed my nerves on numerous anxiety-plagued occasions; chocolate has seen me through countless breakups and break downs; and those Pamela’s cookies, oh those cookies. 
Not surprisingly, this on-again-off-again, comfort-food connection with fatty, sugary indulgences is one of the main reasons I’ve struggled with my weight for so many years. My sensitivities to wheat, dairy, and chemical additives have absolutely moved me in a good direction with the whole eliminating processed junk food from my diet thing. But the sugar remains—in fairly large quantities, I’m afraid, regardless of what I may tell myself about moderation.
Think of it like a bad relationship; you derive some degree of pleasure from your involvement with the other person, but deep down, you know something just isn’t right. You’re reminded of this every time you read an article on dating or love or see a movie with an even mildly romantic theme. And yet, you stay in that relationship—because it makes you feel good and safe and not alone.
In other words, sometimes you just can’t see how miserable someone or something is making you until you step outside of your immediate surroundings and become an objective observer—whether it’s through endless conversations with your closest friends, or a daily journal you’ve been keeping, or perhaps, a blog. In my case, publishing my sweet-treat musings online is forcing me to see my sugar situation through the eyes of the other, whoever he or she may be. And I simply can’t hide from the truth any longer.
In my steadily growing collection of posts, you can see the tiny sparks of resistance to my own inner dialogue and analysis as they reveal to me how dreadfully dependent I am on those tiny granules of goodness for comfort and stability (e.g., “Degree Dilemma”). I’d like to say I’m exaggerating with the “at least one a day. . . (on average)” proclamation about the Pamela’s cookies; but I’m not. And those things aren’t cheap!
Have I mentioned that with regard to money, I only have what I am currently making at my two part-time jobs? I am a student, a waitress, and a freelance writer/copyeditor. The money I spend on all these organic, allergen-free goodies is pure, hard-earned cash. In fact, I spend more money on food than on anything else at this point. I can’t even remember the last time I went shopping for clothes.
            Maybe there’s something to this whole sugar addiction thing, after all.
            I sincerely hope not, but just to test it out, I’m contemplating a sugar fast. Well—a processed, packaged, refined sugar fast, that is. I’d still be eating fruits. In fact, I imagine that in doing said fast, I would end up drastically increasing my fruit intake. Who knows? I might even try my hand at juicing. I’ve always been semi-curious about it, and I happen to have immediate access to a juicer in my current living quarters. Perhaps all that fresh-squeezed lemonade I’ve been making as a waitress will serve me well in the very near future. Or at least, that’s what I told myself this morning as I juiced a giant bucket of cut lemons at work, periodically squirting the ultra-acidic juice in my poor, unsuspecting eyes.
My experimental product tasting, on the other hand, would have to go on hold for however long I determine this short-term fast should last. And I'd have to bench my baking endeavors (which I have yet to write about on here)hmmm. I don’t know; we’ll see. I think that no matter what I decide, it’ll have to wait until I’m through with finals. Maybe June 1st could be the official start date?
As I contemplate this further, I may just go and bake some organic, wheat- and dairy-free pumpkin spice muffins, complete with vegan cream cheese frosting. Mmmm.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Juicy Goodness

     I guess I'm on a fruit kick. I just bought these for the first time, and let me tell you: That 60-calorie blackberry sorbet pop really hit the spot on this warm, summery May night (before it started raining, that is).
     The only problem is, this all-natural treat made me long for the homemade juice pops of my childhood. When I was a little girl, my mother had these plastic popsicle trays. All we had to do was fill them with fruit juice, stick them in the freezer, and wait for them to freeze. The result? Sheer, bite-size, summer-loving deliciousness. I'll bet I can find those trays somewhere; someone must still be selling them.
     Of course, ideally, I'd be growing my own fruits in my own backyard, harvesting those fruits with my own two hands, juicing them in my kitchen, and then pouring the fresh-squeezed fruit juice into the popsicle trays to make my very own frozen treats from scratch. But alas, I am not that personyet. I hope to one day be her, but she is still a figment of my nature-loving imagination.
     Maybe my time spent volunteering at  Mud Creek Farm  this summer will move me closer to making my suburban farm-girl dream a reality.
     Until then, thank you Julie's Organic Sorbet Bars. And to whoever makes those plastic popsicle trays, because I am now determined to find them!

p.s. I made it to the gym again today. My motivation is still seriously off, but I went, and that's all that matters ;-)

Life is Motion (or something like that)

With all this sugar talk, you may be wondering if I have a weight problem. Or at the very least, a compulsive eating disorder. Well, I’ve actually wrestled my way through both of those things at different times in my life, but I’m happy to say that for the most part, I’ve got my head on straight now—and I can fit into my favorite jeans.
            But I’ve been having some serious trouble over the past month or so making myself go to the gym. I thrive on exercise—physically, mentally, and emotionally. And if I want to keep tasting sweet treats and writing about it, I need to get on that treadmill or those jeans won’t fit for much longer. Believe me, I’ve been there before—too many times to count, in fact. And it’s not pretty.
So, I did it. I went to the gym. It took a great deal of mental motivation—arguing back and forth with my inner couch potato and trying to reason my body into sweat-inducing movement on the way home from chem class tonight. But I did it, and it felt good.
It always amazes me how easy it is to slip out of a routine, no matter how well established it may be. Last summer, when I left my full-time job in New York City, I made the gym my life, and subsequently lost 12 pounds in just a handful of months. I was going between five and six times a week, sometimes seven. It may sound overkill, but I know from experience that I wouldn’t have lost the weight so quickly without that level of intensity.
And once the bulk of the extra weight was gone, my gym time tapered off to a more reasonable three to four times a week. This, to me, is ideal. Just enough exercise to keep me sane, stable, and healthy, but not so much that it takes over my life.
Then, in the first few weeks of January, when the rest of the country was getting all revved up for their weight-loss resolutions, I began to lose steam. I started making excuses, like how I didn’t want to wait in line for the treadmill behind all those New Year’s newbies. And how my spin class was so full I had to get there 20 minutes early just to get a bike. But the truth is, I was tired of working out; I was losing my game.
And since I started this waitressing job, I’ve been going an average of one, maybe two times a week. That might not sound all that bad, but trust me—it is. From the time I was 12 years old, I have struggled with my weight. I gain very quickly, and I lose very slowly. I’m a petite person at 5’2”, and small frames don’t carry excess weight well—unless, of course, you happen to be one of those rare and beautiful creatures whose fat settles so sensuously into all the right places. But if you’re built like me, there’s just nowhere pleasant for the blubber to hide.
            Anyway, my point with all this?  I don’t know. I feel like I’ve been finding myself in a lot of conversations lately with people who are trying to lose weight and find a dietary plan that works for them. And I guess I just want to say that I know firsthand how challenging it can be. Getting into a routine with exercise and eating (or anything, for that matter) is hard. Sticking to it is even harder. But once you get in a rhythm, you tend to forget what made it so hard in the first place. And then you grow to love it.
            In the words of my Grandpa Fred, as he lay in bed with a muscle injury a few weeks ago, expressing his frustrated acceptance of his aging body: "Life is motion; stagnation is death."  
A few additional things I’ve learned?
  • Consistency is key.
  • Calories in versus calories out actually does matter.
  • And above all, be compassionate with yourself. Don’t freak out if you relapse into a night or two of binge-eating. Or if you fall out of your workout routine for a week or two.  It’s better to fall off and get back on again than to fall off and never get up
Sidenote: No sweet treats tonight, but when I got home this evening, I swear the air smelled like raspberries, and my mouth watered in anticipation. Yum.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Quick Corn Syrup Finale

Okay, just one more, I promise. A very brief, well articulated follow-up video to the Corn Refiners Association Ads:

And now, I'm done. I think I'll just bake something sweet and write about it next time ;-)

If I May, a Rant: The High Fructose Corn Syrup Conspiracy

     Oh, I love that word: conspiracy. It sounds so exhilarating as it rolls off the tongue, or onto the page, rather. Something about it just gets my blood pumping. Maybe it's because I hate being lied to, and I love exposing the truthespecially when it's nice and juicy.
     Of course, my idea of juicy these days primarily involves food industry shenanigans. I find the extent to which these food processing fat cats will go to maintain their profit-driven monopolization of the agricultural industry endlessly vexing and perplexing, but also fascinating and, at times, amusing. How far will they go? Well, these videos give some indication (in a light-hearted, You-Tube-friendly sort of way).
     If you're unfamiliar with the true story behind high fructose corn syrup, why it exists, how it came to be in almost every processed food product on the grocery store shelves, and why there is now so much controversy over its usage and consumption, then you may want to watch the following video clip.  I don't know much about this woman, but I like her down homey approach to educating the public regarding the "conspiracy for fat America," as she calls it. (Notice the little High Fructose Corn Syrup ad link popping up at the bottom of the video as soon as it plays? Sneaky bastards!)

And now, get a load of this nonsense, brought to you by the Corn Refiners Association, intended to make all those documentary-film-making hippies out there look like the gosh darn idjits they really are:

For your added viewing pleasure, here is a satisfactory (although not quite straightforward enough for my taste) spoof of the above ridiculousness, brought to you by the makers of King Corn (the comprehensive and eye-opening documentary that sparked much of the current debate over high fructose corn syrup):

The following is yet another Sarah Palin-esque Corn Refiners Association advertisement, meant to keep ignorant Americans everywhere running to the supermarket for their soda pop and Little Debbie snack cakes, thinking they're somehow supporting a perfectly wholesome product of nature:

And a real American couple's factoid-rich response to it:

And finally, the second spoof filmed by the King Corn fellows:

     Ergh. I am so tired of these corporations pulling the wool over people's eyes. Diabetes is serious. Heart disease is serious. Obesity is serious. The only thing the Corn Refiners Association is ultimately concerned with is keeping the pockets of the predominately overweight folks at the top of the high fructose corporate food industry chain nice and plump.
     So there.
     (I promise I'll stop ranting and get back to some more innocent sweet talk in future posts.)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Organic vs. Regular Stuff: Is there a Difference?

In my efforts to seek out sweets that fall under the sensitivity-safe category, I have been met with more than a little skepticism. Those who have not been similarly forced into this way of eating by undeniable changes in their body’s ability to digest certain food substances might wonder, understandably, at the difference between, say, an Oreo cookie and a Pamela’s Dark Chocolate, Chocolate Chunk Cookie. After all, a cookie is a cookie is a cookie, right? Well, with regard to calories and saturated fat content, most often the answer is yes.
But there are some crucial differences between the two aforementioned examples: one of them being high fructose corn syrup (HFCS); and another involving all those crazy food additives and preservatives.
           Now, I spent years as an avid fan of the Oreo cookie; I'm not trying to say they're inherently evil because they contain these things. In fact, they're irresistibly delicious; how could I not enjoy them from time to time throughout my childhood, adolescence, and early adult years? But the whole milk allergy and wheat sensitivity thing kind of ruined that for me.
          As a result, I've had to find alternative, more ingredient-mindful indulgences like Pamela's scrumdiddlyumptious assortment of cookies. Lucky for me, when companies take the time to remove the wheat and dairy from their products, they typically leave out the HFCS, too.
          But Oreos are not alone. High fructose (a.k.a. "really f***ing sweet") corn syrup  is found in just about every processed sweet treat on the market that doesn’t say otherwise, including less obvious things like peanut butter, ketchup, canned fruits and veggies, beans, soups, breads, and yogurt. It has already been linked to a whole slew of health problems—diabetes, heart disease, and obesity being at the top of the list, and I recently read an article chronicling yet another disease-related connection between high fructose corn syrup consumption and the human body. It details the effects of this gooey, corn-based gunk on the liver, as reported by Duke University Medical Center researchers. In a nutshell, they found evidence to support the idea that excess consumption causes liver scarring, or fibrosis.
          So aside from causing alarming spikes in blood sugar upon ingestion, its ooze-tastic and chemical-like consistency overwhelms the digestive system, ultimately freaking out your organs and leaving them baffled as to how to process said syrupy sweet stuff. Another way to look at it: It makes you a lot fatter a lot faster, wreaking havoc on your innards along the way.
One of the first times I baked at home, after having gone all organic and allergy-free, my mother asked me what the difference was between using organic cane sugar and the regular stuff. Or, for that matter, buying organic cookies versus regular cookies (e.g., Pamela’s Products vs. Oreos).
Well, aside from the lack of chemical additives and preservatives, organic goodies do not contain a single drop of high fructose corn syrup. They use natural sweeteners like raw cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, agave syrup, stevia, and molasses, to name a few. Again, I’m not operating under any delusions here; products containing these substances will still raise your blood sugar and pack on the pounds if you sit around stuffing your face with them.
            As a self-proclaimed sweet-tooth, however, it’s nice to know that I can savor these safely prepared sweets without surrendering my overall health and well-being. And of course, I do take some measure of comfort in knowing that organic was, is, and will most likely always be better and safer for the environment.  Unfortunately, for the time being, that means it costs more, too.
            But I'm hoping that bit will change.

Degree Dilemma

     It's no secret that too much sugar—in any form, organic or not—can be detrimental to your health. But watching this video makes me afraid for reasons entirely unrelated to my physical well-being.
     It's not a particularly interesting video; however, the doctor being interviewed is from Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington, which is where I plan to be studying nutrition as of fall 2010. I'm super excited about that fact, but I'm also feeling a bit doubtful at the moment. This isn't the first time I've heard or read about Bastyr profs and grads discussing the dangers of sugar consumption and the benefits of nixing it from the diet completely. Bastyr is, after all, a natural health arts and sciences school, which is why I applied there in the first place (and got in!).
      But I've said it before and I will say it again: I love sweets. Some people can tolerate them; others cannot. I am not pre-diabetic, nor am I genetically predisposed to it. In fact, raw sugar (and its naturally occurring variants) is one of the few substances to which my body simply is not sensitive. (I even have the blood tests to prove it!)
     And yet, in the name of all that is healthy, are they going to try and convince me to let go of my favorite food group?

     Don't get me wrong; I'm all about widening and deepening my understanding of foods and the way they interact in our bodies. That's why I'm spending all this time in prerequisite chemistry courses and preparing to go into massive amounts of student loan debt. But how much is that slip of master's degree paper really going to cost me?
     Think about it: Sans credentials, I can say anything I want when it comes to food. But once I have that official academic stamp of approval next to my name, my words will be judged more harshly, and I'll be held to a much higher standard. My taste buds, however, will not change! Will increasing my knowledge of this stuff steal the sugar-loving joy from my life?
     Maybe I don't want a degree, after all.
     Or maybe, I'll just have to make it my life's work to show the world that sweets can be a deliciously satisfying part of a healthy, well-balanced diet. You just have to know where to find the good stuff. And how not to overdo it. And how to burn off the excess carbs before they coagulate into a blubbery and disconcerting mass in your belly, or hips, or thighs. And so forth.


Related Posts with Thumbnails