Nicola Twilley recently had a fascinating article in the New Yorker on the race to redesign sugar. "In 1800, an average American would have lived and died never having encountered a single manufactured candy"...or sweetened yogurt/cereal/drink etc. etc. with added sugar. Well, that certainly changed in a big way and very quickly! The article talks about corporations taking on the challenge of designing a better sugar, "to continue selling countless sweet things in a world that is increasingly wary of sugar".
Artificial sweeteners have not solved the problem. They don't taste the same as sugar and don't behave the same way as sugar in baking and cooking. The other issue with artificial sweeteners, even for people who don't mind the taste, is that they are not the get-out-of-jail-free-card that they seem to be. Our metabolism is complex and not easily fooled. One of the food scientists quoted in this article says "Anytime we think we've got one over on our biology, there will be collateral damage somewhere".
"The problem is that sugar isn't easy to replace" so the new race is to redesign sugar, and Twilley describes attempts to do so, by restructuring sugar crystals, embedding silica in sugar crystals, and manufacturing rare sugars (rare in nature) commercially that taste sweet but are unable to be digested by the human body.
And this is what Twilley writes at the end of her article after taste-testing foods made with high-tech forms of sugar-
"As I cleared away the uneaten treats, I thought about all the money and the scientific ingenuity that had gone into creating them, and I started to wonder: "Couldn't we just eat less sugar?" BINGO!!
"Just as the only good substitute for sugar is sugar, the only way to eat less of it, sadly, is to eat less of it."
As it happens, I've been trying to eat "less of it" for a while now, partly because everyone would be better off eating less sugar but also because of a strong family history of type 2 diabetes and a personal history of gestational diabetes.
Why not go the whole way and just quit eating added sugar altogether? Many people do just that and are very much happier for it. And depending on my future medical needs, it is absolutely a step I am willing to take. But...but...at the moment, I am choosing the route of moderation rather than abstinence. Because...well, a bit of sugar does sweeten life. In most cultures, it is a symbol of celebration and festivity. It is fun to make and give and receive and share sweet treats.
And when I say moderation, I mean true moderation, which takes a bit of sustained and intentional effort in today's sugar-saturated world. Sugar is a good servant but a terrible master. Over the years, I've made my own rules around sugar to "enjoy responsibly" as the booze-makers like to say.
For one thing, I trained my tastebuds to go without sugar in everyday drinks. I now prefer drinking tea and coffee without sugar. Try this one weird trick to save yourself countless lbs of sugar consumed over the years! I never drank much soda and juice anyway.
The other biggie is not buying cookies and other sweet treats on a regular basis. Amazing how little willpower is required to avoid something that is not in the house. I used to buy cookies "for guests" and then sneak into them. Now I avoid temptation altogether.
When I do make treats, I make them with whole ingredients, using good recipes that I like, and make no effort to look for low-fat, low-sugar, or diet recipes of any sort. But I do cut down the sugar in recipes because I prefer them that way, and I make treats in controlled portions (mini, bite-sized) and share them generously so lots of people can get a taste but no one has a pile of sweets that they feel compelled to over-eat. I avoid cooking or baking with artificial sweeteners- they don't taste good to me and I don't care to have them around.
But what about self-care and treating yo'self? I have three treats on hand always- (a) fresh fruit, (b) flavored herbal tea, (c) dark chocolate. For this last one, I buy a Pound Plus (half a kilogram to be exact!) bar of Belgian dark chocolate from Trader Joe's and chop it into small bits and stick it in the fridge for use in baking and rare evening treats.
The nice thing about getting older is that you know your own preferences. I get my joy from quick and simple bakes (see two recent examples below) and it frees me from having to do anything different or more complicated. I can admire confections and baked goods (on blogs, Instagram, bakery windows, baking shows) for their art and creativity without feeling any desire to make them or eat them.
Perhaps the best thing about eating very little sugar on a regular basis is that when you do eat it, it feels special. And you don't crave it all the time so you are in control. Being trapped in a cycle of cravings and guilt is no way to live.
* * *
Years ago, while visiting my sister, I bought a sweetheart rose muffin pan from the Nordicware factory tent sale in Minneapolis. As adorable as this pan is, the nooks and crevices can make it a nightmare to turn out cakes. I used it once, had a frustrating experience and put the pan away.
Then I stumbled upon a DIY cake release paste- you mix equal parts (say, 1 tbsp) shortening, oil and flour, whisk it into a thick paste and brush the paste thoroughly on the inside of the cake molds. I decided to try this trick on the sweetheart rose pan, and the outcome would decide if the pan stayed or went into the donation pile for some other baker to wrestle with.
A close family friend turned 78 in October; she was recovering from a double fracture and I wanted to drop off a birthday treat. Here was my chance to try the rose pan. My daughter used a silicone pastry brush to paint the cake release paste thoroughly on the mini rose pan. Meanwhile, I made the batter- my favorite Lemon Bliss Bundt cake recipe from King Arthur Baking. I replaced 1/2 cup flour with 1/2 cup almond flour.
The batter perfectly filled this mini rose cake pan plus 12 regular cupcakes. And the cake release formula worked like a charm! A bit of glazing and the baby cakes were ready to be shared with the birthday gal. She was delighted and so was I.
|Greased rose molds, and fresh from the oven|
|A bouquet of rose muffins|
* * *
For Diwali, I managed to make one single mithai. I have very little mithai-making experience but also did not have the bandwidth to research this recipe with a busy work week. So I just put a few ingredients together that I had on hand, went for a simple coconut burfi with my daughter's help and hoped for the best. This loosey-goosey approach is not recommended for mithais but I guess I had some beginner's luck.
|Coconut burfi in mini muffin cups|
1. Heat 2 tsp. ghee in a pan.
|Diwali on the porch|
* * * Book Report * * *
Since I wrote my last post, I've more or less stopped watching TV in the evenings in favor of retiring early with a book. The time change throws off my kids' sleeping schedule every single time. Our toddler, already an early riser, started breaking his own records and waking up at about 4:30 AM since the switch to standard time. So I have given up on evenings spent with TV and crafts and instead I just go to bed at some bizarrely early hour and read for a bit before passing out.
(But I did watch a documentary last month which I absolutely must recommend- My Octopus Teacher, streaming on Netflix, or watch it online here. A burned-out filmmaker dives into kelp forests off the coast of South Africa and forges a beautiful friendship with an octopus. I am not one for animal documentaries but this one was stunning, touching and I hope you get a chance to watch it because it is the perfect antidote to 2020.)
Starting with three novels- At a good friend's recommendation, I read Em and The Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto. Pinto is a humorist and journalist based in Mumbai; I grew up reading his articles regularly in the papers and was happy to read this short novel written by him. Em and The Big Hoom is set in the Western suburb of Mahim, Bombay, and narrated by a young adult son who tells the story of growing up in a nuclear Goan-Christian family with his parents and sister in a typical 1-BHK (one bedroom-hall-kitchen) apartment. The big thing looming in their lives is the mother's mental illness, the latter being an almost taboo topic in Indian society. The family sips endless cups of tea and the children grow up as they chart their way through the mother's bipolar disorder and repeated suicide attempts. This is a wryly touching and unexpectedly funny novel.
For Task #14 in the Reader Harder challenge (Read a romance starring a single parent), I read One Plus One by Jojo Moyes. This book was a pretty good weekend read, considering that romance is my least favorite genre ever. A single mom in England is juggling two jobs and barely scraping by, trying to do her best to care for her quirky stepson and math wiz daughter. Then the whole family (including an oversized dog) somehow end up on a week-long road trip with her wealthy housekeeping employer. Adventure and romance ensues. If you're willing to overlook the implausible situations, this book is a light and fluffy read.
Another heartwarming novel that I read last month- Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Eleanor is a survivor of horrific childhood neglect and abuse. Somehow she finds it within herself to live independently, hold down an office job and go about daily life, even while dealing with extreme loneliness and coping with it in less than ideal ways. Over the course of the book she encounters kindness and friendship and starts repairing some of the trauma.
Over on the non-fiction side of things, I read Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund. Hans Rosling, who passed away a couple of year ago, was the mind behind the interactive website Gapminder, which is also home to his daughter-in-law Anna Ronnlund's brainchild, Dollar Street. Both these websites are well worth a visit. The idea of this book is to debunk common misconceptions that people have about the state of the world, and the take home message is that things are better than we think, and getting better all the time. The problem with this book is that Rosling can be condescending and some of his conclusions are rosier than what I believe the reality is. But the book has many great examples of global health issues and is insightful, inspiring and fun to read.
Right now, I'm reading another great non-fiction book, The Particle at the End of the Universe by Sean Carroll, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs Boson. There is something soothing and escapist in reading about particle physics and universal truths which puts our everyday lives and woes into perspective. Plus nothing can beat quantum physics for sheer wackiness.
My daughter picked up a book called Diwali Festival of Lights by Rina Singh from the seasonal library display shelf. On first glance, it looked like a generic non-fiction book written for children, with informative text descriptions and stock pictures. But I leafed through it before putting the book into the return pile and loved it. Rina Singh's book is off-beat and written from the heart, and from the perspective of an Indian immigrant celebrating Diwali. There is a chapter on the history of Indian immigration to North America, and how Diwali was celebrated invisibly until very recently. There is a chapter on how Diwali has evolved- from traditional to noisier and more commercial, but also from religious to cultural and secular. Singh writes about a village of widows in North India who upturned tradition and started lighting diyas and celebrating Diwali. About Diwali celebrations in the slums of Mumbai. And yes, the book is sprinkled with colorful pics of diyas and rangolis and burfis and laughing children. If you're looking for a meaningful Diwali book for school-age kids, I would recommend this one.
|We put up this sharing library in our |
front yard to swap books with neighbors
Happy Thanksgiving weekend to everyone in the States! Wherever in the world you are, tell me what you are cooking, watching and reading.