5 things you learn in a month without sugar

I survived! My month without added sugar is complete – it seemed long at times and then was over in a flash, and I learned a lot in the process. Here are my top five lessons from an optional sugar break:

  1. Just say no. Going into March, I literally didn’t think I could resist having a taste the donuts in the office or the cake at a friend’s house. But midway through the month I found it was getting easier and easier to just say no, just like I would if the treats had walnuts in them (which I’m allergic to). Now I have a sense of how vegetarians can say no to barbecue!
  2. Your taste buds adjust quickly. As promised, I could taste natural sugars better once I cut out the added stuff. And when I did order a butternut squash ravioli at Eataly and it came coated in brown sugar, I felt like I was eating dessert for dinner – where before, that was my baseline. 
  3. Added sugar is everywhere. See above. Sugar is SO hard to avoid (more on this in my last post.) It’s no surprise that our sense of sweet is messed up when you can’t avoid added sugars in your everyday life. It has definitely made me look for ways to find more unprocessed snacks and raw meal options (more balsamic vinegar, less bottled dressing, etc).
  4. Sugar affects people differently. One of the many appealing things about this month was my coworkers’ anecdotes of better sleep, clearer skin, and weight loss. For me: nothing but the taste buds. Maybe that’s because the part of my brain that wanted sugar demanded that I eat more of other food to compensate – maybe it’s just body chemistry. I’m still glad I did it, but it would have been nice to get those other perks too!
  5. Quality over quantity. Now that my sugar free month is over, I am going into the rest of spring with a new focus on eating better sweets / things with added sugar in them. Less junky chocolate and movie theater candy and lame donuts. More treats my friends make or recipes I try myself or treats where the sugar makes it ūüíĮ – and then only a smallish amount. Let’s see how it works!

Have you ever cut added sugar out of your diet? What did you learn?

Unsweet spring

If you know one thing about me, I hope it’s that I’m passionate about life and the people I love. 

If you know two things about me: see above, plus I’m from New Hampshire (Granite State represent!).

But if you know three things about me… #3 may very well be that I have a serious sweet tooth.

I will skip dinner if it means saving room for pie, eat ice cream even in the dead of winter, try every brownie recipe you’re working to perfect. From Turkish delight in the food halls of London to chocolate croissants in Paris to caramel iced coffee on the banks of the Charles, I’ve loved it all. 

And for March, I’m trying my darndest to go without. 

I was inspired by my coworkers and this NYTimes article, and by the notion that cutting out added sugar for a month will reset my idea of sweetness. So far, that seems to be true – even butternut squash seems sweeter than it did before. 

And it’s also made it perfectly clear just how much sugar is in everything. 

I read Salt, Sugar, Fat a while ago and learned about the unfair advantage these ingredients have in modern food, and this month has shown me all the secret places sugar is hiding. Not just in dressing and jams, but in frozen bagels, chicken sausage, and crackers. Plus, it’s nearly impossible to buy yourself a snack in a coffee shop without drowning yourself in sugar, even if it’s through a “healthy” granola bar. And what do you bring to your friends who just had a baby or your overwhelmed coworkers but pastries and cookies and other sorts of overly sweet treats? And what do you eat at the movies?? (Confession: seeing about eight movies and theater productions in a month where I ate a bag of candy each time is part of what prompted this.)

I’m two weeks in with two weeks to go. My criteria is avoiding sugar (and related sweeteners, like honey and corn syrup) as an ingredient. So fruit is a go, and bread without added sugar and such is fine. But honey mustard and that delicious Skippy peanut butter are off the menu at least until April (and maybe longer). Learning to have coffee without copious amounts of sugar has been the hardest by far – and has taught me that I need to seek out better coffee, if I was trying that desperately to mask or improve the taste. (Goodbye office K cup coffee, hello Cafe Nero cappuccino!)

I’m joined in this quest by my mom, sharing moral/menu support from NH, and my roommate, Katie – so glad she agreed to this weird experiment because watching someone else have dessert when I am not would be my downfall for sure. 

Have you ever tried going without sugar or addressing other cravings? What would be the hardest for you to give up?

Call your girlfriends

I’m back in DC, making even more of my visit this time by coming a few days before my meeting so I can hang out with some Mount Holyoke girlfriends and see the city a bit amid work. 

  
It all started in Alexandria, where former crewton Abby and I went to lunch. Buckwheat crepes + feminist dating updates = best Saturday. Then onward to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, where we saw an awesome exhibit about women in the Arabic world – “She who tells a story”. Highly recommend if you’re in the area – it’s $10 but they let us in free because they were setting up for a wedding and had to let in all the staff anyway!

Then Becca, my crew big sister, and I met up for the first time in five years at Rice for Thai food. So perfect! …Except somehow in the last 24 hours leading up to this moment, I completely lost my voice. Our reunion dinner together basically consisted of charades from my side of the table and laughter from hers. That’s how you know who your true friends are – they’re willing to talk even if you can only answer yes / no questions. 

  
Today, ’08 politico Mica and I went to the National Portrait Gallery, where we saw cool exhibits about celebrities and this gem from a future I don’t want to live in.

  
(Yes, that’s Frank Underwood from House of Cards.)

Then we had delicious Mexican brunch at Mission surrounded by people who had been drinking bottomless mimosas and margaritas for 2+ hours already. Oof! Having almost no voice has made me hyper aware of how incredibly loud some restaurants are. I never noticed how bad it was before!

And then, the girl-power jewel on the cake*, heading out to Sixth and I with Meg to see a live taping of Call your girlfriend – “a podcast for long distance besties” hosted by Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow and produced by Gina Delvac. Meg got us tickets weeks ago and I’ve been listening to it ever since – highly recommend. Start with the one where Huma talks all about how awesome her boss aka Hillary Clinton is! The live version was even better. Democratic Rep Donna Edwards, a brief slide show of besties in history, and lots of thoughtful discussion on gender, politics, money, and more. Plus, wine in sippy cups.

 

Still ahead: a long presentation through which I hope my voice survives, a Nats game (first ever professional baseball game outside of Fenway!), and then five days with my sis and other buds in NYC. Stay tuned as the adventure continues!

*Yes, I briefly considered changing that to frosting or crown but I think the original has more spirit.

And the best pitcher is…

Our annual Oscar party was this weekend, and we pulled out all the shots… I mean, stops!

Champagne, chocolate, a mega-ballot on the wall, and fifteen friends from all parts of our lives made the evening a huge success that even Leo can look at with good memories.

And this year, we took the best picture puns to the next level, constructing our presentations out of cardboard and glue guns and so much nerdiness. We even predicted the shocking best picture!

   
    
    
    
 
What was your favorite part of the show (or the menu)?

Vegan-ish

I love food. Baking. Cooking. Eating. Seeking out the best doughnut and the tastiest quiche.

But starting in November, I’ve been trying something new in my approach to food. After years of dabbling in Weight Watchers or trying just to limit sugar / eat more veggies / cut back on cheese, I’m taking a new perspective and trying Mark Bittman’s Vegan Before 6¬†(aka VB6) diet / lifestyle.

My coworker Theresa turned me onto the idea, and now my mom and aunt and I have all adopted different versions of it. The basic idea is just as it sounds – eat vegan until dinner each night, and avoid processed food and white sugars / carbs when possible. Eat whatever you want for dinner (which doesn’t mean eating until you’re sick, but it does mean you can have steak and fries if that’s what’s calling your name). The basis is that vegan food is better for lots of¬†bodies and also better for our environment, but eating is also a highly social experience and any lifestyle that doesn’t recognize that and give you soon room to adapt to it is ultimately doomed to fail.

Unlike going totally vegan, this means that you can still just as easily digest milk and meat and whatnot when you do want them – that part of cutting something out of my diet never appealed to me (if I want ice cream, I don’t want it to come with an immediate stomachache). But it also means that for 3/4 of the day, you’re eating vegetables and grains and other whole foods.

The best part: it’s super easy to stick to. Yes, it means more oatmeal. But it also means that if I really love eggs (which I DO), I just eat them for breakfast and look forward to them starring in that meal. Dinner is just as easy – you can make a delicious meal with a side of meat / cheese and then just eat it without that piece for lunch the next day (like James’s delicious¬†black bean soup mom and I made over Thanksgiving!). And because it’s flexible by its very nature and meant to be a sustainable lifestyle rather than a plan, if you decide that brunch is your non-vegan meal of the day or find that you need to make some swaps based on business travel restrictions (see last post), you don’t have to feel guilty, as some other tracking programs would have you do.

Mark Bittman said that when he moved to this model, it changed his perspective on life – he stopped just writing recipes and started writing more about food policy and production. And I can see it. By changing how I look at cooking and eating and dining out, it makes me want to focus on other, more interesting parts of my life – my guitar! Exploring new neighborhoods! Calling my friends who don’t live in Boston when I would otherwise be slaving over the stove!

It’s also opened my eyes up to how hard true vegans and vegetarians have it in mainstream food options. I was at the airport, looking for a healthy snack to take on the plane, and my only options were nuts or bananas. Not even an apple to be seen, or anything that wasn’t yogurt-based or a baked pastry. Or the time that we ordered pho and all the broth was chicken-based, or when wanting no egg in my pad thai meant that I couldn’t have any of the dozen lunch specials. It makes me want to cheer on people who serve almond milk along with the soy, or who offer tofu scrambles as an alternative to¬†other breakfast items.

After doing this for a month, I feel better, lighter, and more free when it comes to what I eat, despite this new restriction. It makes me think – what do I really WANT now? That’s led to me leaving Bloody Marys sitting on the bar when it wasn’t the right thing for me, or spending more money to get two small vegetarian sides as a meal because nothing else¬†was clicking.

Stay tuned for more vegan recipes ahead and other culinary adventures. If you have any awesome suggestions for vegan meals, please send them my way! And if you thought you could never be vegan, just wait until you hear about the muffins I made yesterday!

Kitchen Adventure: Maple roasted pumpkin seeds

The best part of making this delicious recipe for Thanksgiving was seeing how incredibly easy it is to toast your own pumpkin seeds. ¬†Where has this idea been my whole life?? ¬†They’re great for:

  • putting on top of stir-frys
  • adding to salads
  • snacking (dangerous, but good)
  • putting on top of a pumpkin pie

With one bag of pumpkin seeds, you can make at least 3 servings of this – plenty of time to try all the combinations you can dream of!

pumpkin seeds

Maple Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

  • 3/4 cup raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl, coating the seeds with oil and syrup.  Pour into a foil-lined pan (rimmed cookie sheets work best, but I just used a baking dish).
  3. Cook until toasted Рabout 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool before enjoying on top of anything and everything you can imagine.

Kitchen Adventure: Easy cheesy frittata

For those nights when you can’t get enough cheese… when you want to use as few pans as possible… when you want leftovers you can eat for a week – this meal is for those nights!

cheesy goodness

 

Easy Cheesy Frittata 

  • 1 large head of broccoli, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 large onion, chopped into small pieces
  • 2 whole eggs, beat
  • 8 egg whites
  • 2 cups cheese (I used a 4 cheese “Mediterranean” blend of sharp Provolone, feta, Kasseri, and Romano)
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, halved, or two large tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • Olive oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Caramelize the onions in a small frying pan, cooking over medium heat with olive oil until golden.  Remove from pan and set aside in large bowl.
  3. Saut√© the broccoli in a pan with water until it’s lightly steamed. ¬†Add chopped garlic and cook until easily cut with a fork. ¬†Add to the bowl with onions.
  4. Beat the eggs and cheese together, add to the bowl with cooked veggies and chopped tomatoes.  Mix together and transfer to large baking dish.
  5. Cook for 25-30 mins or until cheese is melted and eggs are set.  Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Great for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and everything in between!