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Archive for the ‘Deliciousness’ Category

In April, I gave up sugar. Well, added sugar. I wasn’t super strict about it. If we’re being specific, I really gave up sweets. Anyway, among the things that were on the Off Limits list was diet soda, for which I have deep affection.

After the no-sugar month ended, I returned to diet soda. But lightly. It’s no longer an every-day necessity.

And I’ve been won over to La Croix, which I previously found revolting. My favorite flavor is mango, which has a nice mango-ness essence to it. My least favorite flavor is tangerine, which tastes like licking someone’s hand after they’ve peeled an orange.

In May, I gave up carbs. But, as with sugar, I don’t mean CARBS. I mean, I was back on sugar after all. I was not turning down the occasional scoop of ice cream, that’s for sure. What I mean when I say “carbs” is the biggies. You know. Rice. Pasta. Bread. Potatoes. Oh, and I also gave up beans and legumes.

And I wasn’t even THAT strict. Sometimes I would have corn on my salads. One day I was sick with a stomach bug and so I ate a bagel. I still drank alcohol.

Even though I cringe a little bit at saying this, because it sounds like I am being glib about something that is very serious for some people, I wasn’t going low-carb because I had to; I was doing it for entertainment. So I could bend the rules here and there.

Really, though, I stuck to it. I found a previously unknown love for zucchini noodles (I REFUSE to call them zoodles), which were a perfectly delicious alternative to rice in my favorite Instant Pot Panang Curry dish. I made basically the same meals that we always make, which includes a lot of chicken/pork and a veggie side. And sometimes I would make a side of rice or couscous for my husband, and sometimes we would both just eat veggies. I begrudgingly ate taco salads instead of tacos-in-shells. And it was all fine.

There were a couple of meals I just didn’t make in May. Pizza, obviously. (I toyed with the idea of getting one of those cauliflower crusts from Trader Joe’s but I didn’t end up trying it.) I didn’t make anything that required potatoes or pasta, like chicken paprikash or spaghetti. I did make more stir fries than I thought I would (since I usually eat stir fries with rice); I either substituted zucchini noodles or I just added extra veggies.

I thought it was going to be SO HARD. I love pasta. I love pizza. I love rice. I love potatoes. I love beans. And I wouldn’t be able to have ANY of those things! For a month!

But… it wasn’t that hard.

Maybe it’s because I had just come off a month of no-sugar, and that was SO UNBEARABLE at the beginning, that going low-carb felt easier. Maybe it’s because I was allowing a little bit of sugar/sweets back into my life, so I felt like I was getting TREATS. Maybe it’s because I eat fewer carbs than I think I do. Maybe it’s because it was only for a month, and I was high on the feeling of power that I got from giving up sugar for so long. If I had to do it full time, it would probably be a lot more unpleasant. It was so not-difficult that I kind of feel like I got away with something. Or I didn’t do it correctly, which is probably more likely.

As with the no-sugar month, I didn’t experience any of the supposed benefits of a low-carb lifestyle. No weight loss, for instance. No feelings of increased energy. Possibly, this is because I didn’t cut out sugar. Or because I didn’t cut out ALL carbs. Or because I didn’t do it long enough. It was an entertaining experiment, that was all.

In any case, I am back on carbs. I have enjoyed MUCH pizza and MANY chips since May ended. There has been no longterm effect of my month off. If anything, I may be OVERcarbing. So perhaps it was harder than I realized.

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Internet, I am so sick of all food and have no idea what to cook and yet I STILL feel obligated to feed my family.

Yes, I have been here before. But this rut ravine crevasse feels especially deep and wide and insurmountable.

Let’s list all the things that are contributing to these dark feelings:

  1. My grill is broken, so none of my summery “throw some meat and veg on the grill” options are available to me
  2. My in-laws are here, which means I feel (self-applied, only) extra pressure to cook Things That Are Special
  3. I have still not gotten accustomed to our summer schedule, so I feel off-kilter in general
  4. It’s hot and I don’t have any extra energy for cooking
  5. I used up every last store of Cooking Enthusiasm in June, when I baked two cakes and countless cupcakes and hosted my in-laws for multiple Special Meals

First, I tried to make meal planning more interesting by adding two or three Brand New Recipes to the weekly list of dinners. But that requires research and energy, and I am fresh out of both. Okay, I am not “fresh out” of research. I am fresh out of PATIENCE for research. DESIRE to research. And patience and desire for this line of sentencing.

Next, we have been eating lot of meals outside the home, which takes all the planning and cooking weight off of me. But eating out all the time is expensive and time consuming. And I tend not to make the healthiest choices when I go out to eat (if I’m going to spend money on a meal, it better be tasty and fancier than a SALAD is my line of thinking).

Finally, I have turned to cooking super easy things, like Crockpot BBQ Pork or Tacos or Burritos. But my husband is growing weary of all of those things, and they aren’t really the lightest fare, either. I love to eat foods that are smothered in cheese and sour cream, but there’s only so much of that you can eat before you start to feel like YOU are smothered in cheese and sour cream.

How in the world do you climb out of such a deep and overwhelming food chasm?

Probably what I need most is some fresh ideas. Which is difficult to ask for because a) I have a HUGE list of recipes I haven’t tried and b) I am super picky and so 90% of recipes people suggest never sound that great. Really makes you want to help me, doesn’t it?

What are your go-to meals, when you want something easy and delicious? Bonus points if you would serve it to guests.

(Where does this come from, this need to do Something Special for guests? If a food is good enough to serve to my family, why doesn’t that make it good enough to serve to other people? And yet there are MANY things that my husband and I eat all the time – and LOVE! – that I have never thought twice about serving to others. Some of them are pretty spicy, so maybe that’s part of it… we like a spice level that wouldn’t be comfortable to many other people. Some of them seem… plain, I guess? Like the Crockpot BBQ Pork, which is just a pork tenderloin and an onion dumped into the crock pot with some BBQ sauce [and sriracha]. I usually eat it with a baked potato and some green beans. I LOVE it. But I wouldn’t consider serving it to friends because… I don’t know! It seems too homely somehow? It seems like a B-Team Meal, and when you have people over, it seems like you should be serving them only A-Team foods? It’s too easy to make, and you should put in Real Effort when you entertain? I have no idea. Is this Foods-Suitable-for-Guests thing unique to me and my husband?)

In exchange, I will give you my FAVORITE recipe of late. It is so good. So good that I refrain from making it too often, lest I get sick of it.

(And I cook the chicken in the oven – 425F for about 20 minutes or until the chicken is 165F – so it doesn’t matter that our grill is broken.)

It’s called Honey Chipotle Chicken Bowls from How Sweet Eats but I think of it as a big, delicious salad. I use lots of mixed greens for the base, and I cut some fresh corn and bell peppers and carrots and avocado and add those to the salad. And then I top everything with a mixture of the lime dressing the recipe recommends and a generous drizzle of the cooked marinade from the chicken.  I was really suspicious of putting quinoa on a salad, but it adds a very pleasant texture that I love. We served this to my in-laws recently, and they loved it.

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You may be wondering why you haven’t seen my annual Mooning Over the Passage of  Time or CakeRelated Therapy posts.

You know. The ones where I get all misty-eyed and sentimental about my child’s birthday and try to self-medicate with complicated baking projects.

Maybe you think I’ve gotten it over it! Outgrown it! Filled my life with better and more interesting things to think about!

Or, if you are a longtime reader of this blog, and/or A Realist, you may assume you just missed it.

Well, you haven’t missed it, per se. I’ve written it. Oh, I’ve written it. (I have, in fact, written – let me check here… —  2,349 words on the topic.) I just haven’t posted anything because… well, I am making my own eyes roll is really the best reason I can give you.

But I did have the annual mooning. And I did make some cakes.

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Unicorns in their carrying case at the party, waiting for eager five- and six-year-olds to gobble them down!

Carla wanted to have a unicorn birthday party, so I made unicorn cupcakes for the party. We invited fifteen of her friends. They played on an indoor playground. They ate pizza. They ate unicorn cupcakes. I turned one of her getting-sort-of-grubby dresses into a Unicorn Dress via the magic of iron-on unicorn and stars appliques.

Fifth birthday 7

Baking Secret: I made so many cupcakes that I had… many left over. And I didn’t take this picture until many… weeks had passed. One can only think that the cupcakes would have photographed better had they been FRESHER. These have survived a birthday party, being in a hot car while the birthday girl ate a post-party lunch (she did not eat pizza AT her party), then being in my fridge for weeks. Of course, one might also choose to blame poor photography skills. One has many choices, is what one should know.

For her family birthday party, we went to Carla’s favorite restaurant for tacos. After dinner, we had cake. Carla had requested a purple cake with chocolate frosting. Last year, she wanted a purple cake with black  frosting, a concept I was more amenable to this year. But I went with chocolate.

(Disclaimer: I went with chocolate. But then I tried, briefly, to dye it black. But I only had regular black dye, which turned the chocolate frosting a disturbing shade of grey. [Apparently you need to use some sort of extra-dark cocoa powder AND extra-black black dye to get a truly black frosting.] [Do you think I didn’t check at our local Joann fabric and local baking stores to see if they had these items in stock? If you think I did not, you don’t know me at all.] So then I had to use ALL of the brown dye I own, which was a lot, to get the chocolate to be a nice, dark chocolatey color.)

My husband was very skeptical that that cake would be aesthetically pleasing. I was more optimistic, and plus I had A Plan. A Plan that involved gold and sparkles, which Carla loves.

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Baking secret: The only way I could get these sprinkles to stick to the frosting was by throwing handfuls of them at the cake. There are STILL tiny white sprinkles on my floor.

I think it turned out rather cute, right?

Fifth birthday 2

Why yes, the cake IS a little crooked, thank you for noticing! I tried to compensate for the lean by taking an off-center photo which is, of course, my specialty.

I wish I had photos of it with the shiny gold candles in it, too. They were adorable. Oh well.

See? Chocolate on the outside, purple on the inside! (My mother-in-law noted that it seems more blue than purple. It is NOT BLUE. I applied the dye myself and it is most definitely PURPLE. Thank you for your comment.)

Fifth birthday 5

Baking Secret: While I never thought I would do it, I DID end up using cake mix to make the cupcakes AND the cake alike. I doctored the mix before baking — butter and milk instead of oil and water, plus I added real vanilla bean and pure vanilla extract — but it was SO MUCH easier than making the batter from scratch. To make sure I wasn’t being TOO easy on myself, the filling between the layers is homemade chocolate ganache.

The cupcakes are gone. The cake is gone. The leftover ganache, which I just ate right now by the spoonful, is gone.

And now I have a five-year-old. An independent, brilliant, confident, creative, twirly, curious, still-sucks-her-thumb, sometimes-cuddly-sometimes-not, animal loving, imaginative, LEGO building, super fast running, fearless, charismatic, hilarious, beautiful five-year-old. She gets better and more fascinating and more complicated and more herevery day. I am so very lucky to have her in my life, so fortunate to be able to watch her and help her and enjoy her as she grows. (But I still have all the attendant Feelings™ that accompany my baby’s inexorable transition from infant to adult.)

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Why yes I DID color coordinate her wrapping paper with her cake, thankyouverymuch.

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Thank you all for your kind words on my last post. It’s so easy for that feeling of discomfort and awkwardness to spread until it’s stained every bit of me with self-loathing. I seriously never thought to consider my attempts to be friendly as… progress. I will try to do so from now on.

In the month since I wrote it, well. Life has gone on. Some of it good, some of it bad, some of it heartbreaking, the regular amalgam of living. And, listen, I don’t really want to talk about any of the reasons I might have needed comfort during that time period. (It’s nothing serious, although it felt like it was. In any event, everything is fine.) Today, I just want to talk about the comfort part.

What I turn to, when I need comfort, are distractions (reading, writing, TV) and comforting food. And the food is what I’m most interested in today, because I find it fascinating (and soothing, in itself) to learn what kinds of food people turn to in times of stress or grief.

Sure, food is primarily for sustenance. But it can also carry so much emotional weight. (No moral weight, though; I feel strongly about that.) (Unless you are killing endangered species because their XYZ is a delicacy. Then I’d have a moral objection.)  For instance, my first helping instinct is often related to food. When a neighbor lost her husband earlier this year, I immediately wanted to give her a meal. That just seemed the most useful, reasonable thing I could do, to provide some modicum of comfort to a person I know but don’t know well, a person who was likely reeling with shock and heartache and visitors and logistics and grief.

I looked online, as one does, and was surprised – probably naively so – to see what a wide variety of options people recommended. I always thought a casserole was the appropriate thing to give. A nice, hearty macaroni casserole. Or a lasagna. Something like that: easy to heat, carb-heavy. But the recommendations spanned everything from veggies and dip to cookies to fried chicken to stew.

(I ended up making a stew. It was delicious, and hearty. The death happened in the winter, and I thought it would be good for freezing or ladling out to visitors.)

Lately, after needing some comfort myself, and then remembering that stew, I got to thinking about Food As Comfort in general, and how my idea of Comfort Food might be totally different from yours.

When I am in need of comfort, I turn to the carb-heavy stuff. Chicken paprikas is my go-to favorite. It’s creamy and noodle-y and spicy, and it just makes me feel warm and cared for. It’s kind of weird that it should be my top favorite comfort food, I think, because I didn’t grow up eating it. Instead, it’s something my husband and I started making together back when I was in grad school. Well, maybe that’s the reason: I associate it with him, with cozy dinners at home together with the one person who comforts me more than anyone else.

Sometimes, though, the comfort I need is more primal – a bear returning to its cave to weather the icy winds, a newborn nuzzling up to its mother to nurse, a caterpillar spinning itself a chrysalis. I want to retreat to childhood, which was safe and loving, during which I was free from the horrors of the world. And there are many foods from my childhood that surround me with that kind of basic, fundamental warmth.

One comforting favorite is spaghetti with meat sauce. That’s the first meal I learned to make for my family, back when I was a kid. It reminds me of my childhood and of my own self-sufficiency.

Most recently, I turned to bagels. Another longterm favorite, my mom used to toast Lender’s bagels for me when I was a kid. Dripping with butter, they taste both decadent and simple, life’s complications reduced to its elemental truth: Warm bread. Melted butter. Sometimes honey, making its way in sticky rivulets down my wrist. When I was pregnant with Carla – and horribly sick for twenty-five weeks (I first typed “months” and yes, that’s how it felt) – I subsisted on bagels and pizza. The bagels would stay in my stomach when nothing else would.

Grilled cheese holds a special place in my heart. It was my mother’s go-to Miserable Wintry Day food. A crust of butter on each slice of bread. A thick molten heart of Velveeta. A glass of classic Coke on the side. The unbeatable combination of gooeyness and crunch.

And I’ll always have fond memories of Lipton noodle soup. My mom swears by chicken noodle soup; Lipton did the job just fine, and (a plus for me), has no unappealing chunks of white Styrofoam masquerading as chicken. I tore open many a paper packet and watched the tiny freeze-dried noodles plump up in a swirl of boiling water.

The comfort may not be permanent. But it does help.

What are your go-to comfort foods?

 

Chicken Paprikas 3

This is a ridiculous photo, but it’s the only one I have. I never eat this little. I eat a FULL BOWL, primarily full of sauce, which is the best part of any meal. 

Chicken Paprikas (adapted from Joy of Cooking)

Ingredients:

Approximately 6 servings

1 to 1½ pounds of boneless skinless chicken breast, chopped into bite sized pieces (pre-cooked is ideal; I’ve included a modification below in case you want to use raw chicken breast)

1 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 white onion, chopped roughly

1 Idaho potato, chopped roughly

1 to 3 Tbsp paprika

1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

½ to 1 tsp salt

4 cups low-sodium chicken stock

1 8-oz container sour cream (I use the fat free sour cream from Trader Joe’s)

3 to 4 Tbsp flour or cornstarch

1 package egg noodles

Directions:

  1. Heat vegetable oil in a stock pan over medium-high heat.
  2. Add onion and paprika (and optional cayenne) to vegetable oil, stirring occasionally, until dark red and glossy.
  3. Add salt, chopped chicken breast, and chicken stock. When the mixture comes to a boil, add the chopped potato. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until you can stick a fork into the potato chunks and they slide off easily. I don’t know how to say this a better way; make sure the potato is cooked.

* If you have raw chicken breast pieces, you can do this step slightly differently. Add the raw chicken together with the salt and stock. Then, once it comes to a boil, simmer everything for 15 minutes until cooked through. Then add the potato and cook for another 15 minutes.

  1. Whisk flour/cornstarch and sour cream together in a small bowl.
  2. Add a ladle full of the stock mixture to the sour cream mixture and whisk until incorporated. Do this three times.
  3. Add the tempered sour cream mixture to the pot. Stir.
  4. Serve over egg noodles.

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When I gave up sugar last month, I struggled a lot with the liquid portion of the restriction. I’d been drinking black tea with sweetened creamer for the past billion years, and it turns out that black tea with milk or half-and-half is NOT the same.

My friend had mentioned that she’d started drinking matcha… and it seems to be really trendy right now… and I have liked it in the past, so I decided to start drinking it too.

Matcha latte

My mug has seen better days.

Matcha is a Japanese green tea powder that you mix with hot water and – for a latte – frothed milk. I think it has a very mild, pleasant grassy flavor. It doesn’t remind me much of the green tea you make with tea bags, but I suppose they must have related flavor profiles because matcha is just powdered green tea leaves.

Starbucks sells a matcha latte. And it is delicious. But I will let you know that the matcha is sweetened. (That’s why a grande at Starbucks is 240 calories, and my homemade version is 75 calories and that’s because I use whole milk.) You can buy sweetened matcha, but you can also buy regular matcha. My computer does not recognize matcha as a word, so there is a LOT of red underlining happening right now.

My husband is a big coffee drinker – an afficianado, shall we say. He has all sorts of fancy coffee makers, and he does pour over coffee and drip coffee and cold brew and some other kind of coffee with a totally different kind of coffee thingamabob. He grinds his own beans. You know. It’s a big process. And on weekends he enjoys getting out one of his fancy coffee makers and making The Perfect Cup. It’s almost ceremonial, I say as an onlooker to these strange-to-me coffee rituals. It seems to center him and give him immense satisfaction by making coffee exactly the way he likes it.

Well, I do not enjoy the ritual part of making tea. I enjoy the drinking part. I drink tea because I like drinking it. I like having a warm cup of milky tea next to me while I write. It’s a good way to start the day. But I want the making part to be QUICK. And EASY.

Years ago, my husband got me an electric tea kettle that makes the boiling water part of tea making very easy. It has all these options for water temperature, including for different types of tea. One of the temperature options is “Green” (175 degrees F) so you just press a button and you’re on your way. Holy cappuccino that is one expensive tea kettle! Well, I use it every single day. But there are a lot of less expensive options. And I suppose you could always resort to an ACTUAL tea kettle on the stove, or the microwave. There’s no one right answer here, folks!

Matcha tea kettle

I love you, electric tea kettle.

So the water is the easy part. Matcha, as I have learned, is a little fussy. First of all, it’s pretty expensive. I got a little jar of it (1.5 oz, or 30 cups of tea) from my supermarket for a whopping $19.95. That’s a little crazy to me, considering I can buy a box of 20 tea bags for $2.50. You can get it more cheaply at Trader Joe’s or from Amazon. This is the kind I’m going to try once my first batch is gone (4 oz of matcha powder), but you can get a 30 g “starter package” of a different brand of matcha for $9.95.

Matcha powder

I have not seen any of the benefits listed on this package, but I do like the taste! 

Even making the matcha is a little fussy. If you get the powder, it’s not like making regular tea, where you steep your tea bag in some hot water and then poof! you have a cup of tea. No. With matcha, you’re supposed to buy a little special wooden whisk and whisk the powder in until it’s frothy. I firmly resist the idea that I need Extra Accessories.

Well. There’s no way around it. You have to whisk the matcha in anyway, so I got a little whisk like this:

Matcha whisk

The instructions for mine say you have to let it sit in cold water for a few minutes before using it. And after you do that, you have to inspect it for splinters! I was already predisposed not to like this thing. It’s not doing much to recommend itself.

(It comes with the little scoop, which I have never used. I use a teaspoon.)

But I refused to get a matcha bowl, even though some of them are quite pretty, because that is too fussy for my particular needs. I just want to whisk my matcha powder in my mug, okay? TOO MANY STEPS.

Matcha bowl

Very pretty. And maybe I am supposed to use this as a drinking vessel and not just a mixing vessel? In which case, maybe it has some utility? But I have a mug that I am very partial to! 

And perhaps I am being too stubborn. Because I cannot use the little whisk to save my life. Every time I try, I slosh green water all over my counters. Instead, I use a plain old kitchen whisk and whisk the water and the powder vigorously for awhile until I think all the powder has dissolved. (Sometimes I miscalculate.)

My favorite part of the matcha is the latte part. I did some research (read: I googled and read one article) about the different ways to get your milk to froth, and tried what I had on hand, which is my hand mixer. It did a wonderful job of getting whole milk to froth into a nice thick foam. But it’s a little cumbersome, and I have to lug it out from under a counter, and then find the beaters, and then wash them. So I got a milk frother instead:

Matcha milk frother

It does a great job, but it’s a little hard to hold; I find that my hand cramps a little trying to press the button while holding it. (And you have to hold it at a 45 degree angle and lift and lower, lift and lower until your milk is properly frothed.)

If you haven’t ever frothed milk before, it’s very fun. A half a cup of whole milk (which I heat in the microwave for 30 seconds, first) fluffs up nicely to two cups of froth.

Even though frothing the milk takes a little extra time – maybe three minutes, total – and it takes an extra dish (I froth it in a two-cup Pyrex measuring cup), I enjoy it so much I am willing to deal with a little extra fuss. And now I can make Chai lattes, too!

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Every year for the past… many years, I’ve ditched alcohol for the month of January. So many people do this, the month even has a silly nickname (Dry-nuary). I do it because I tend to go overboard during the holidays. With family around, it’s very easy for me to get into the habit of having wine or a cocktail every day. And for me, I prefer to keep my alcohol intake to two or three days a week; I don’t have any specific reasons; I guess it’s fewer calories, it’s less expensive, and I just feel better (I am Morning Headache After Drinking One Glass of Wine years old, after all). But the problem – for me – with doing something every day is that it becomes a habit. I am a very routine-based person, so when I’m enjoying the holidays with a fancy cocktail every night, it doesn’t take long before a normal Tuesday feels like it requires a gin and tonic. Taking a month off helps me reset my mental and physiological expectations.

In April, I decided to apply the same principle to sugar.

Let’s be clear: I don’t have anything against sugar. I enjoy it. As with pretty much anything, I am totally fine with it in moderation. But I was no longer doing a good job of moderating. Sugar had become a habit. After every single meal, I kid you not, I found myself thinking, “Hmmm. I could go for something sweet right now.” I was eating a Reese’s peanut butter cup with my almonds and tea for breakfast. Which is a delicious breakfast, by the way. And I am not OPPOSED to having a Reese’s peanut butter cup for breakfast. What I am opposed to is my body’s willfulness and my mind’s lack of will power. I don’t like being bossed around by my cravings for sugar. I want to be in charge, and if I want to have a Reese’s peanut butter cup for breakfast, fine. But if I don’t want one, I don’t want my body to protest and whine and pout and wheedle until I give into the badgering.

So I decided to give it up. Just for a month, just to see if I could do a hard reset on my expectations. I got my husband on board (this was important) and I roped Carla in and on April 1, we gorged ourselves on sugar (because it was Easter) and the next day we gave it up. Cold turkey. (Well, except for Carla. She still ate PB&J for lunches, and pancakes with syrup at breakfast, and when friends brought donuts for brunch one day, we let her have one so she wasn’t the only kid who couldn’t eat a donut.)

In an admittedly half-assed way, I tried to do some research before we started. Based on some of the things I’d read, we crafted our own Sugar Free plan. We weren’t doing it for health reasons, so there was no need to be super strict. Which meant that we defined “No Sugar” as “no artificial sweeteners, no added sugar, no sweets.” We continued to consume milk products, fruit, and things like pasta and rice. (We also continued to consume things like ketchup and barbecue sauce and a few other things that probably had sugar as an ingredient. But those instances were pretty rare; I even avoided recipes where sugar was an ingredient in the marinade or the sauce.)

Most of the major differences for me were a) getting rid of the morning Reese’s cup (and maybe an afternoon spoonful of cookie dough here and there), b) eliminating my normal sweet creamer from my morning tea and c) cutting out all the diet soda I was drinking (usually one but sometimes two a day).  And of course, I stopped eating dessert.

To really jumpstart things, I did the first three days without any milk or fruit, too. On the fourth day, I added one piece of fruit (if I wanted it) and milk back into my day, and I also drank a glass of red wine in the evening if I felt like it.

The first week was BRUTAL. I thought about sweets all day every day. After every meal, my body would send up this internal notification: Ping! Feed me something sweet! Ping! I need candy! Ping! Ice cream needed urgently! Every time I was online, I was looking at recipes for cookies or cakes or pies. I was desperate for a Diet Coke. I transferred all my desire for sweets onto carbs, and found myself wanting bread and pasta more often than normal (which is already, at baseline, a lot). Instead of eating dessert after dinner, I’d prowl around trying to stem the craving with something else: almonds, Triscuits, tortilla chips. We bought cartloads of dried fruit (no sugar added) from Trader Joe’s. I once ate an entire bag of dried apples in one sitting.

The second week was less brutal but still pretty rough. I usually drink black tea with a hefty slug of sweetened creamer. Black tea with milk was NOTHING like black tea with sweetened creamer. I switched to green tea. Then to matcha lattes with whole milk. I drank a lot of water. I hated every sip of every drink. It was nice to drink the red wine at night; that helped stem some of the dessert cravings. But I longed for a glass of sweet Riesling or even prosecco. I thought a lot about fizzy, ice cold Coca Cola in a tall glass, ice cubes clinking together, the bubbles effervescing on my tongue.

Week three, something clicked. I no longer wanted anything sweet. I went to a birthday party and a beautiful piece of birthday cake was set in front of me and I did not take a bite or have any desire to do so. I didn’t even smell it. It was a completely neutral presence. My internal sweets notification alarm had either deactivated or been turned down so low I could barely hear it.  I still had the occasional craving for Diet Coke, but even that was less frequent.

Week four passed quickly and smoothly. My husband and I agreed that the worst part of the sugar restriction was the liquid portion of our diets, and we started to split a packet of sweetener to add to our respective coffee and tea each morning. That helped immensely. Water no longer became a chore to drink. At night, I’d sometimes still have a phantom dessert thought flicker through my brain – “Hmmm, wouldn’t it be nice to have something sweet?” – but I couldn’t ever transfer that general desire to something specific. If I rummaged around in the pantry or fridge, I could never even find something I wanted. I stopped gorging on almonds and chips and crackers to fill the sweets void.

April 30 was our last day of the No Sugar Month. I think I can safely say that I eliminated my sugar cravings. To tell you the truth, I’m glad that’s the reason we did the No Sugar Month, because we didn’t experience any of the other supposed benefits. One thing I heard from a lot of people about giving up sugar is that they lost a ton of weight. My husband and I did not experience that. I lost two pounds right away and then stayed pretty stagnant. It’s possible that if we decided to use it as a weight loss technique, we would have approached it differently (less fruit, for instance).  I’d also heard that it would improve my skin. Nope. That has not happened. And that I’d begin to taste the natural sweetness in foods (bell peppers, fruit) that I’d never experienced before. Nope. Everything tasted the same. (Well, except milk. That began to taste sweet to me.) If I had given up sugar for a month because I wanted some of these other benefits, I would have been pretty annoyed. Of course, we weren’t as stringent as we could have been, so that probably has a lot to do with it.

Now that I’m done… I’m not sure where to go from here. I would certainly enjoy my morning tea more if I could add some sugar or some honey. I don’t really want to go back to my sweetened creamer. I swapped out my normal raspberry yogurt with plain Fage topped with pomegranate seeds, and I suppose I don’t really want to spend my life’s savings on pomegranate seeds anymore, so maybe I’ll switch back. I am delighted that I no longer want my afternoon soda, or my post-breakfast Reese’s cup, or my post-dinner whatever.

But I also really want to go get ice cream with Carla when the weather gets nice. And I want to make cookies with her. And I want to bake her a big sugary birthday cake with lots of sugary frosting. So I think we are going to resume eating sugar, just at a much lower level than before. We want to try to keep sweets to once a week. That way, they’ll really be treats rather than a regular part of our diet.

Time will tell, I suppose! Hopefully a month of no sugar has at least enabled me to enjoy sugar in moderation.

(Of course, you know what I did the very first day of May right? Cupcake for breakfast. And a huge glass of Coke for dinner.)

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