Challenge: Can you do without sugar for one week?

no sugar

Just say no.

Before I embarked on the Whole30 nutrition journey, I hardly ever read labels. I thought label-readers were obsessive calorie-counting control freaks too concerned with numbers to enjoy food (no offense, calorie-counters that I know!).

Before I started reading labels, I had no clue how prevalent sugar is in food items that we would consider staples. It comes in so many forms! Dextrose, sucrose, glucose, the list goes on.

Sweetness isn’t inherently bad for us, but we love it so much that we compulsively over-indulge, and that’s when things start going pear-shaped. Literally.

There are many forms of naturally-occurring sugars. Primarily, they are found in fruit, but there is also honey *and maple syrup.

Should you choose to accept this no-sugar-for-a-week challenge, those naturally-occurring sugars are acceptable, but none others. That includes “naturally-occurring” brown sugar and white sugar: cut them out for a week. Especially avoid any artificial sweeteners: become a label-scanner for a week!

But…!

But you have a sweet tooth and you can’t help yourself? You can do it. All you need is some determination, some “healthy” sugars, and some creative ideas.

Idea #1: Make or buy a cocoa, vanilla**, nut (walnuts or almonds), and date blend that looks and tastes pretty close to brownies. The recipe I use is called Fudge Babies. No, they’re not as sweet as the brownies you’re used to, but they’re good! You’ll see.

Idea #2: Cut bananas into bite-sized chunks. Line a freezer-prooftray with waxed paper, and lay the banana pieces on it to flash-freeze until hard. Then store in an air-tight container in the freezer. You can use these just to munch on, or blend them into smoothies, or even a sort of “ice cream” with coconut milk, a bit of vanilla, cocoa if you want, perhaps some pineapple or orange… Yum, right?

I have also mixed some coconut milk and vanilla and drizzled it over banana chunks and then frozen them for some added deliciousness.

Other ideas: Try honey or maple syrup in your coffee or tea, spread honey on your (whole grain) toast, put maple syrup on your oatmeal, and try using fruit juice as a sweetener in a dressing or a sauce.

There really are so many ideas for recipes that avoid sugars–look for some!

This idea comes from the 100 Days of Real Food website. It is listed as Mini-Pledge Week #9. The challenge is also issued by the Miami Herald in this article, where you can read more about the evils of sugar.

So. Can you do it? Will you be brave enough to try?

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*Honey: If you can get raw honey, use it. Again: less processed=better.
**Vanilla: Use pure vanilla if you can, or make your own from a vanilla bean.

Also, to clarify: I am not eating honey or maple syrup on the Whole30, but I am not expecting my readers to be that hard core for this challenge. Unless you really do have what it takes…..! 🙂

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Breakfast Smoothie Extraordinaire

(Update July 4, 2013. I removed “a la Whole30” from the title of this post because I keep finding it on Pinterest, with comments from Whole30-ers cautioning against consuming smoothies during a Whole30. Is this still a good recipe? I think so, yes. Is it “Whole30”? Not quite. If you’re doing a Whole30, consider this as an occasional treat rather than as a key nutritional go-to.)

(Update March 27, 2012. In a recent conversation with Melissa Hartwig, co-founder of the Whole30, I learned that smoothies are less than ideal for the Whole30 program for a few reasons: 1) the spotlight tends to be on the fruit rather than the veggies or protein; 2) almond butter is classified as a fat that should be consumed occasionally, not a protein that should be consumed daily; 3) flax seeds are on the “limit” list for fats; and 4) liquid foods are easier to overeat than solid foods. That being said, make the adjustments you need to for your Whole30 and enjoy!)

In the 21 days since I started my (first) Whole30, I’ve become increasingly competent in the art of the breakfast smoothie.

The smoothie that I blogged about week before last has evolved past the alpha stage into a more complex, flavorful, and healthy version. Each morning, I look forward to my smoothie with greater anticipation.

I start with coconut milk

I start with coconut milk

Then I add some almond butter

Then I add some almond butter

A cut-up banana is next

A cut-up banana is next

...followed by a handful of spinach

…followed by a handful of spinach

...some flax seed

…some ground flax seed

And, to make it pretty and round out the flavour, frozen blueberries

And, to make it pretty and round out the flavour, frozen blueberries

I know I have not reached the level of Smoothie Expert yet, but I am sufficiently satisfied with this stage to submit it to you for beta testing.

Please give it a go and let me know what you think my next step should be.

Sarah’s Whole30 Paleo Smoothie, Beta Version

  • 1/3 cup high-fat coconut milk (read the labels and choose one that uses only guar gum as a “stabilizer”, and has about a 30% fat content. Good fat, remember!)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons almond butter
  • 1 banana, cut into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup (or as much as you think you would enjoy) organic spinach or kale (you might want to blend the kale first before adding the other ingredients: I chewed each mouthful of this morning’s smoothie!)
  • 1 Tablespoon flax seeds (I use a version that is already pre-ground) (flax is a great source of Omega fatty acids)
  • 1/4 cup frozen blueberries
  • A couple splashes of orange juice (sweetener and consistency regulator: my coconut milk tends to be thick, and adding OJ makes it pourable)

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: The one where my new diet accidentally coincides with Lent

Pancakes

"the last supper"

When I posted yesterday’s blog about starting a fairly strict diet today, it didn’t even dawn on me that today is Ash Wednesday.

For those that are completely ignorant of Christian traditions, Ash Wednesday is the day after Shrove Tuesday (or Fat Tuesday, or Pancake Tuesday). It’s the beginning of Lent, the 40-day season leading up to Easter. A season in which it is traditional for people to give up (refuse to indulge in) something they love for the purpose of prioritizing God or their faith over that thing (food or entertainment, etc.).

I didn’t intend to start my Whole30 diet on the first day of Lent, but here I am, on Ash Wednesday, beginning a 30- or 60-day journey that excludes several of my favourite things: bread, wine, pastry, beer, chocolate, yogurt, cheese. CHEESE!

Last night, true to Pancake Tuesday custom, I ate pancakes as a “last meal” before the “fasting” that starts today.

A Day in My Life, June 2008

I had a sudden desire today to chronicle and compare the different stages of my life, as I look back and notice that my life in June 2008 is remarkable different from that of June 2007, June 2006, June 2005, and so on.

I invite you to be a witness on this journey.

June 2008 finds me 27 years old, living in a two-bedroom second-floor apartment in the only apartment building in a tiny town in East Huron County called Brucefield. This town is known for it’s flashing light, yellow if you’re driving between Clinton and Exeter on Highway 4, or red if you’re coming from either Seaforth or Bayfield. There is one elementary school, one church, one drive-in restaurant, two mechanic shops, one Asian/Home Decor/B&B/Lunch Room location, and one fire station.

My apartment overlooks a cornfield, the view of which is mostly obstructed by a lovely birch tree. Said tree helps me feel more confident walking around in my apartment in less-than-decent clothing on summer nights. After all, who would be driving by slowly enough whose gaze could penetrate the birch branches in the split second I happen to be passing through my dining room, several feet from my beautiful picture window?

I enjoy living alone, though sometimes I do wish someone was there to care whether I came in or not, or to wonder where I was, or to motivate me to do dishes, finally! My neighbours are understanding and quiet, the area is safe, and I actually have a place to call home. MY home. I’ve immensely enjoyed painting and decorating my apartment, putting all of my good taste to good use in a place where I’m the boss, now and forever.

Another addition to my life is that of Trixie the Toyota, a pretty, dark-green 1997 4Runner who goes with me everywhere I go. She hauls the accoutrements of my life and hobbies without complaint. She has survived being rolled over in the ditch after skidding out on an icy country road, being hit-and-run by some unknown person, a not-so-successful attempt at backing up a trailer, and carrying some of my more treasured furniture.

Not so enjoyable are the bills that go with being established and mobile, namely cell phone, rent, insurance, hydro, phone/internet, groceries, gas, repairs, etc. I can’t say as I ever yearned for that part of nesting, but I take it in stride, usually. I’ll be much happier when I can finally get my tax returns done (for the past 2 years), pay off my credit card, and have money set aside for winter tires.

I have spent more than a year at the same job, as a server at The Brew’n Arms English pub and restaurant in Bayfield, Ontario. Earlier this year, I graduated to keyholder and Dining Room Manager, as well as Kitchen Painter and Orchid-Caretaker extraordinaire. My bosses are wonderful people who have become friends and family, as well as the most understanding and flexible supervisors anyone could ask for. They make me want to stay and do my best for them, for their business, for their town.

Last year at this time, I was also working as a drywaller, and, shocker! I don’t miss it a tiny bit. I do enjoy my refined house-painting skills, which I have recently put to good use in a “cottage” in Bayfield, and hope to expand as a second job. If you hear of someone looking to hire a house painter, give them my number!

I’m not attending church because I couldn’t handle the one I had called “home” for years. I’m generally fed up with the institution that is what church has become, with all its expectations and traditions and legalism. I would enjoy a faith-based community of believers that is honest and open, a group that can laugh and be reverent in an informal way. I really could expand this paragraph to a whole essay, but suffice it to say that I have not encountered such a community, but I still seek to hold onto my beliefs. I am discovering more of what life is like on “the other side” (outside the Christian bubble), and it’s very educational, despite occasionally dangerous.

If it were possible to live on coffee, I’d do it.

I’ve joined the wonderful realm of BlackBerry, as I once dreamed of doing. And I’m paying for it, too.

Writing is still my best communication method.

I rarely see earlier than 10 AM, or close my eyes earlier than 1 or 2 AM. I’d like to change that.

The music in my life has developed over the past year as well. I am the youngest voice of the all-female cover band, Cactus Jam, and I love it, despite playing mostly Legions. I was also privileged enough to be part of Noted!, a project sponsored by the United Way in my county, which is helping to boost the music careers of the 17 women chosen to participate. We got to record 14 tracks in a professional studio, and a great-sounding CD is the result. This past winter I also ventured out to sing a few times at Open Mic nights at a local pub, and have been the featured soloist at two church events.

This year finds me recently motherless, a drastic blight on anyone’s life, and definitely on mine. It has changed so many things and finally propelled me into nesting in the first place. It also made my brother and I guardians of our youngest brother and launched me further into the land of disabled children in Ontario. I now have a lawyer, communicate regularly with several case workers, get all kinds of official mail, and have to return junk mail still addressed to Mom.

June 2008 also finds me blonde, and with an even greater fashion sense. I love that about growing older! I predict I’ll still be stylish in my 80s. If I’m not, remind me of now.

I’ve discovered I love flowers and plants, doing the Toronto Saturday Star crossword, Pinot Grigio and Shiraz, premium beer, CBC Radio, brie on melba rounds with semi-dried tomatoes in duck confit, Dollarama’s plain candles, serving dessert, mom’s old couch and armchair (with my apartment’s decor built around them), C&E used furniture in Goderich, Americanos from The Bean, and living in Huron County!!! (Sorry, but that deserved more than three exclamation points)
Being Sarah Elizabeth takes different shapes all the time, and I’m enjoying the process. Here’s to another year!

Sunday Brunch

Will spring ever come to Huron County? I’m seeing pictures and hearing tales that spring has arrived to other places around North America but why the heck isn’t it showing its very welcome face around here? Unless, having been away for so many springs in a row, I forget what the coming of spring looks like. I’m expecting at least a little warmth… are you with me?

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Last night I decided I wouldn’t do something I had wanted to do and something that could turn into a dream for me and something that others were encouraging me to do, something that I kinda feel chicken for not being brave enough to do. However, it’s a good decision. Not a decision I love, perhaps, but a wise one, my current circumstances considered. I’m hoping and praying for another chance, someday.

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I’m a mean cynic sometimes. Sorry.

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I’ve had creator’s block lately (other than the envelopes and the desk thing from last post), if there is such a thing. If there isn’t, I’m establishing such a thing right now. Making 20 cards has taken me more than two weeks… I swear it’s not that I’ve been slacking, although, of course, I’m also known as Queen Procrastinator.

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I like complaining about Pepsi. I used to not care, but after living in Mexico, Coke-drinking capital of the world, where Coke is made with cane sugar instead of refined sugar, you learn to recognize it for its reigning greatness (that’s the product, not the company as a whole). Pepsi costs half as much in Mexico, and with good reason… its inferiority is blatantly obvious there! The difference between the world’s two top-selling colas is forever imprinted on my tastebuds, and a Pepsi fan I will never be.

If you serve me pizza or anything else that’s hot and greasy and you have neither Coke nor any suitable replacement, but you do have Pepsi, I’ll drink it–after complaining. Because I like people to know, you especially, that Coke is superior in taste. And I’m a cynic like that.

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I need money. For the first time in my life, I’m feeling the crunch of needing to make my own money in order to pay necessary bills. And that’s without having any major ones! Seriously, jobs have pretty much just fallen into my lap in the past. Having to hand out resumes is intimidating!! I am learning to suck it up, however, much to Jimi’s relief

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My salvation might be in question. That’s right. I was in a bar on Friday night. Listening to my amazingly talented friend Nathan play secular songs! And I even sat down and stayed. For a few hours!

It gets worse: I had a beer. Yes, you saw correctly, I bought and drank one of those beverages fondly known as “cold ones”, the ones associated with bush parties, dancing, and devil worship.

God have mercy on my soul.

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Have I mentioned that I’m a cynic? I’m told the Internet likes cynics. I think I’ll stick around for a while.

Ghetto Fabulous in G-Dot

Today I picked up my desperately-needed paycheque (I’m still working on that whole getting-another-job thing), and after depositing in the bank, my second purchase, after buying a new ink pad for my card-making endeavours (my collection of supplies, compared to most crafters, is pretty ghetto fabulous itself), was Culbert’s Creme Puffs. Culbert’s is our local bakery and their creme puffs are pretty stinkin’ amazing – four bites of creamy, doughy, powdered-sugary bliss. Being that I’m next to broke, you’d think I’d stick with buying things that are only necessities, such as gas for the vehicle I was driving around (that was my third purchase), but no. I had to buy creme puffs! And not one, not two, but a whole half dozen creme puffs, worth $3.00!

My friend just posted a blog on her myspace about the ghetto fabulous mentality. According to her, there’s an urban dictionary, and this is what it has to say about the term: ghetto fabulous – Spending money on items that are not of a necessity, when there are things that you actually do need; Not making wise economic choices with one’s money for the sake of appearing “cool” or wealthy; Vanity. (Thank you, Heather) I definitely did not NEED creme puffs, but it sure is dang lovely to eat them for breakfast/lunch right around now at 12:20 pm! Yes, I have a credit card to pay off, etc., but today, I am ghetto fabulous, so BACK OFF, CREDITORS! GIVE THIS WOMAN TEN MINUTES AND $3.00 WORTH OF PASTRY HEAVEN!

Someday I’ll be able to afford the gym time it’ll take to burn all of these accumulating fat cells off (I’ve also been overdosing on Cadbury’s Creme Eggs lately, but I have a perfectly good reason: they’re not available all year round, so one has to take advantage when one is able), but for now, that French creme is calling my name…

The Promise of Posting Proliferation

It’s 2:09 am, I’ve turned the lamp back up to Brightest from Dimmest, I’ve given in to my hunger pangs and opened a package of Salt & Vinegar Crispers, and the whole neck/shoulder/back region of my body is protesting the positions I’ve forced it into over the past several months as I’ve stayed up late to watch movies and such addictive TV shows as Grey’s Anatomy, Gilmore Girls, and House on my laptop, not to mention a fairly all-consuming addiction to Facebook, however I am so freakin’ inspired by Dooce.com that I must, yes, MUST post something right now!

How completely unacceptable that I have not posted something since (gasp!) Friday (today will be Wednesday). One would think my life was entirely without inspiration, but the reality is that I’ve a) been focusing my creative thoughts elsewhere (I’d post a picture but I haven’t taken any of my new spring cards yet); and b) I’ve been under the perfectionist-tainted and misguided impression that everything I write has to be deep, thought-provoking, and life-changing. I discovered tonight that such is not the case. Thank you, Heather B. Armstrong, for this lesson in professional bloggage: Happiness is… (yes, you have to follow the link).

If someone who supports her family through her blog site can do a 5-word post about poop and call it a day, so the heck can I, I who have no one to support nor any ads paying me anything… yet.

So here I sit, cross-legged on my bed, leaning over my beautiful iBook G4, which rests on a nice fake wood TV tray, at 2:21 am, typing with my left hand and only the ring ringer of my right (can’t count the number of times I’ve hit delete in these last few lines) because of the residual enriched wheat flour and monoglycerides from the Crispers on my index and middle fingers, saying that I hope to become at least a small bit more posting proliferate, being that I no longer expect only to share the thoughts that my family, children (someday), friends, or church would be proud of. Be ye warned.

Treasure Chest: Skor Wannabes

This is a very simple recipe that always (well, almost always) delights the palates of those that try them… and now you can evoke culinary bliss on your friends, family, and guests!

Skor Wannabes (aka “Cracker Candy”, “Bark”, etc.)

Salted Saltine (Soda) Crackers
1 cup butter (don’t use margarine, people – stick with the real stuff!)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 F.
Cover 2 small/medium or 1 large jelly roll pan(s) (cookie sheets with sides) in aluminum foil.
Lay as many crackers as possible on the pan(s).
Melt together over low/medium heat the butter and sugar, stirring regularly. Once they are both melted, you will find that the butter sorts of sits on top of the thicker sugar. Stir agressively until they are blended smoothly.
Pour butter/sugar mixture onto cookie sheets, dividing evenly between the pans. Spread evenly over crackers. NOTE: For a crunchier result, just barely cover crackers with the butter/sugar mixture. For a more chewy result, be generous with it!
Bake for about 7 minutes or until it’s all bubbling lively!
Remove from oven and sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over cracker/candy layer, use butter knife to spread ’til melted.
When slightly cooler, place in freezer until completely hardened. Break into pieces, store in airtight container.
Serve and enjoy!

Holiday Realities

1. Sleep!!! Seems like I can’t get enough on my memory-foam-topped mattress, with my memory foam orthopedic pillow… too bad I have these friends that have made me addicted to iChat and we end up having this amazing conversations ’til the wee hours… (Okay, so my body is CRAVING it right now, but it’s only 7:14 pm!)

2. Blogger. Just so cool. Not in the same way as myspace, but in its own way. It’s beta-ness, perhaps, contributes a lot.

3. My Homemade Ginger Snaps with the Snowflake Imprints. ‘Nuff said. (Thanks, Mo!)

Sarah’s Gym/Catwalk/Bakery

1. The Ability to Walk. I had to walk to work this morning, and Saturday. I enjoy “being forced to” walk (read: no vehicles available) because then I’m forced to actually do something active. I enjoy having a reason to get out there and see the town, smell the air, watch the people moving around, listening to the “Beautiful Tunes” playlist on my iPod the whole way.

2. Funky Fashion. I’ve been talking to a friend about how I get frustrated with clothes that are expected or normal, and I feel most refreshed when I’m putting together outfits that are edgy or unexpected. Or if I’m wearing a GREAT pair of shoes!!! And I really do believe I have to bring skinny jeans to Goderich. So, G-Dot, BE PREPARED! I do often feel like I’m sort of missing out on the good wardrobe components that will make my collection feel complete… I’m definitely open to ideas!

3. Baking. Sure, it’s annoying to do in mom’s tiny kitchen with virtually no counter space, and I don’t love cleanup, but I do love creating things period, and the privilege of delighting people with baked goodies is a delight to ME! So give me notice that you’re coming over so that I can whip up something de-lish.