Anybody Looking for a Date?

At left you see my memory of animal crackers.  They came in a cardboard box shaped like a train car.  It had a little white string handle that you could use to carry the box.  And if I was VERY good at the store, there was a shot I could score a box of my very own.  Flash forward approximately eight thousand years….

At a recent school event, the kids were offered a choice of a bag of animal crackers, a bag of animal crackers with icing, and a bag of animal crackers with icing and sprinkles….  in case you’re wondering, both of mine looked at me to see if I would stop them, and then went for the whole freaking hog.  The terror I’d been watching on my son’s face at the prospect of joining the big kids next year had completely paralyzed me… and so they ate animal crackers with shapes and sprinkles.  We sat down with our future fellow kindergarteners and they downed as many as they could while I checked out the nutrition information.  They surrendered  their ill-gotten booty gracefully about halfway through the bag, without seeming to have enjoyed them overly much.  It was the thrill of the bag and the sprinkles, in my opinion.

While I’ve always enjoyed dessert, I have come to realize that compared to others, my sweet tooth is, in fact, reasonably tame (my salt and fat teeth are different stories).  Lately, however, I’ve been overwhelmed by sugar cravings.  I don’t understand it really.  I’ve not gone on a sugar binge (what usually gets these things going) or purchased a whole bunch of sweet treats to tempt myself into the sugar pit… and yet, I can’t seem to get sweet things out of my head.  Having completed their school year, my children are with me much more of the day, and they too, seem to be suffering from sugar deprivation…  In order to continue on our current chosen culinary path, it is critical to prevent a sense of continual deprivation  And so, I return to my quest to find sweet treats that we can munch on periodically without any appreciable  spike (and subsequent crash) in energy and without worsening our current cravings…. I also want to help my kids to appreciate the yum that can be found in simpler treats, without all of the high fructose corn syrup bells and whistles.  As usual when I’m seeking healthy culinary inspiration, I turned to my sister.

While we were at the beach, Big Sis shared her awesome brownie bites which my husband and I and we both LOVED them but my children, not so much.  Too dark chocolatey tasting.  Just didn’t work for them.  Knowing they would only serve as an adult decadence, I whipped up a batch of brownie bites for my husband and myself to enjoy (and wow they are SO good), and quickly cleaned out the food processor.  I stared at my counter where the ingredients were still strewn and decided to use the brownie bite as a template, and vowed to keep it as simple in taste as possible.  Thus was born the Oaty Bite.

Oaty Bites – makes about 15 bites, unless you’d rather have many small bites or a few big honkin’ bites

  • 16 dates
  • 1T plus 1t maple syrup
  • 1T plus 1t water
  • 1t vanilla
  • 1/4 c hemp seeds (or whatever nut or seed you prefer)
  • 1.5 c rolled oats, plus a handful for rolling

In a food processor, combine the dates and the liquids.  Process until as smooth as you can get it.  Add the hemp (I chose hemp because of the nutritional boost and the relative small size to prevent picky kid rejection) and the oats and process until a ball forms and the mixture is sticky but not too terribly wet to the touch.  You should be able to form shapes with it.  If it seems to sticky, add some more oats.  Form into balls and roll in oats. We prefer ours cool and so keep them in the fridge.  There.  Voila.  Done.  No stinkin’ icing.  No flipping’ sprinkles.  Just simple ingredients with a sweet touch. Perhaps next time I’ll add a little cinnamon and try to shape one like a gorilla.  Delish.

In Repose

It’s astonishing what can happen on vacation.  Two days ago I found myself asking what day it was – on Monday of a weeklong trip that started on Saturday.  This is unprecedented.  Typically, my uncertainty about the day is a sure sign that I have “vacated;” I have become untethered from my everyday life enough to truly rest in some way.  It’s interesting that this trip is the one that has made me fell so rested so quickly.  We are a large group.  We are a noisy group.  We are a diverse group in terms of our vacation wants and wishes.  We accommodate one another, to be sure, but I don’t think that’s what is doing it.

I think part of my relaxation stems from being with a group of people who will NOT ask me why I won’t let my kids have cupcakes for lunch every day, or how I could possibly give up fast food, or why I would bother to cook from scratch when there’s so much good food already made in the stores.  I am in my home food community.  I am not subjected to TV ads, radio ads, bulletin boards for stuff I shouldn’t, and don’t particularly want, to eat.  The beach that I’m visiting has no boardwalk, and therefore no french fries (for which I admit an overwhelming weakness), cotton candy (which I find repulsive), or any of hundreds of non-food items for sale just steps away from your towel.  For our merry band, beach snacking is not about a tasty treat you can only get at the beach, but about grabbing a bite between dipping your feet in the ocean, playing a quick game of football, and digging for sand puppies and shells.

For us, snacking on the beach looks merely like a more portable version of snacking at home.  It’s not a bag of chips (although I admit that I do love chips); it’s not a bunch of juice boxes and a package of cookies.  It’s a handful of items (some a little salty, some a little sweet) that might actually stand a chance of nourishing the weary sandcastle builder.   A box of Triscuits (Big Sis and I giggled to discover we had both brought MANY Triscuits with us for just this purpose), a mess of almonds, and a container of pecans and raisins.  To drink?  Cold water.  Yes, we are on vacation.  Yes, that means it should be special.  To me, this has come to mean that I should not have to end the day feeling sick from eating everything I’ve ever craved or move toward bedtime resenting my children for having their 10th meltdown of the day when their sugar induced highs come to an abrupt end.  Sitting with this group and watching our children snack on this pristine beach, I’ve been thinking a lot about snacking and how snacks, perhaps more than any other category of foods seem to have left the purpose of nourishment behind altogether.

Our snacks are supposed to be tasty, a treat, delicious, creamy, gooey, colorful, salty-fatty good; if they are for kids, they are also supposed to be fun, silly, packaged individually, strewn with characters from movies and television shows, and downright entertaining to eat.  Good grief.  What if a snack was just a snack?  What if a snack was simply a small amount of food that kept you reasonably satisfied until the next meal?  What if we began to think of our snacks as nourishment rather than seeing them as entertainment?

On our beach outing, my daughter expressed an objection to the snacks I had available (shocker); I pointed out to her that we were not at home and that my beach bag is not a restaurant.  This is what I have; these are your options (only a slight variation from my usual snack time response to picky eater grief).  “Choose one so you can finish up and we can look for shells.”  And she did.  A handful of almonds, two crackers and a couple of glugs of water later, we returned to our oceanside fun.  Nourished, refreshed, and ready for plenty more family beach business, which really is the point, isn’t it?

Reducing Sugar One Teaspoon at a Time

All of this health information and all of this negative focus on sugar may leave you feeling a little overwhelmed… or maybe throwing your hands up and saying, “What can I do?  Bad and nasty sugar is everywhere!!!” (And I like it!!)  Well, I like it too, but I used to be so inundated with it that nothing tasted sweet to me unless it was ridiculously sweet.  You may find that cutting the sugar out a bit at a time will not be missed as much as you think.

Here are some suggestions for cutting the pernicious sugar in your life.  (I will be employing the thesaurus function as I describe sugar in this post – just a warming.)  As Little Sis suggested in Lessons From the Cereal Aisle, you can work on a single item at a time (like cereal).  Set a goal for how much destructive sugar you are comfortable having in your bowl.  One teaspoon?  Two teaspoons?  One teaspoon is about 4.5 grams of nasty sugar and two teaspoons is about 9 grams, so if you are comfortable with 9 grams of insidious sugar in your cereal, make sure all of the cereal in the house is less than 9 grams for the amount you would have in your bowl.  (Often serving sizes are very small in the nutrition information)  I can’t say that I’ve ever been satisfied by 1/2 cup of cereal in the morning!

You can do this with other items as well.  Find flavored or fruited yogurt that has less harmful sugar than other brands.  This is very difficult, although Greek yogurt tends to have less.  We used to buy a brand called Cascade that had 16 grams of appalling sugar (still almost 4 teaspoons!) which was the lowest I could find at the time.  Try the mixing approach that Little Sis suggested for cereal.  Mix half plain and half flavored or fruited yogurt to cut the dreadful sugar in half.  Even better, buy plain and fresh fruit, dried fruit and/or nuts, cinnamon or vanilla.  Cinnamon is naturally sweet and can also be used on cereal to reduce the need for ghastly sugar as a sweetener.  And if you need to add some terrible sugar to make it palatable, I bet you can get away with less than the 5 – 8 teaspoons found in most 6oz. containers of yogurt.

Look at the beverages you are drinking.  This is a huge place to reduce your horrific sugar intake.  Please stop drinking soda, vitamin water and other sweetened beverages.  Really.  There is 10 and more teaspoons per can of soda.  I know, it’s easier said than done… here are some things to try:

  1. Cut back.  Just reduce by one a day for a set period of time.  Then reduce by another.  If you’re only drinking one sweetened beverage a day (and personally I think this includes juice as well), then cut it in half.  Something of a waste of money, but hey if you replace the other half with water at least you’re not spending more!
  2. Mix it.  Especially juice is easy to water down a little – or soda water down which gives some nice bubbly as well.  Can’t say I’ve tried watering down soda, but if you want to make a smaller serving seem bigger, serve it over LOTS of ice.
  3. Find something new.  Water is your best choice, but if you find some herbal tea that you like, you can make a big batch, refrigerate it and drink that instead.  It will have some flavor.  If you have to add a teaspoon per 8 or 12 ounce serving you are still cutting back.

Find substitutions for the cruel sugary things in your life.  Here is a recipe we are using to replace granola and energy bars which can also be loaded with spiteful sugar.

LEMON KISSED CASHEW HEMP BARS (Raw, vegan, gluten and soy free)
Makes 12 bars (6 for a more generous snack)

  • 1 cup cashews
  • 1 cup pitted dates
  • 1/3 cup hemp seeds (I used pumpkin seeds as I didn’t have any)
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp lemon zest

Place the cashews in a food processor and process till ground up.  Add the dates and hemp seeds and pulse repeatedly.  Then, add the lemon and lemon zest and leave the motor on until the whole thing has formed a big, uniform, sticky ball.  Take a large sheet of saran wrap and place it over the bottom of a small baking dish. Press the mixture down into it, till it’s even in thickness.  Cover with another sheet of saran, and freeze for at least 30 minutes.  Unwrap the “dough,” lay the rectangle flat on a cutting surface, and cut into 12 bars.  Wrap up individually and store in the fridge or freezer till ready to eat. I’m not sure how long they’ll keep, but I suspect up to two weeks is perfectly fine, and longer if you freeze them.
I got this recipe from a great site called choosing raw : http://www.choosingraw.com/sweet-snacking-lemon-kissed-cashew-hemp-bars/

A few other places to reduce the amount of icky sugar in your diet:

  1. Reduce the amount you put in coffee.
  2. Substitute cinnamon sugar that is mostly cinnamon and used sparingly for jelly or jam.
  3. Eat a piece of fruit instead of drinking a glass of juice.
  4. Check labels and buy brands with less wounding sugar or make your own.

If you try to change your whole diet in a week you will more than likely go back to your old ways, or miss them terribly.  I have found that I do not miss my old diet because I feel better – so give yourself some time to make and FEEL changes.  You might even see changes in the mirror and on the scale.  For more info on changing your diet one teaspoon or one change at a time see Baby Steps & Baby Steps Add up to Big Healthy Steps.