Week 12: NO Sweeteners

Ok, so this last week was a tough week, especially at breakfast time. We were not to have any of the refined sweeteners we couldn’t have a couple of weeks ago as well as any honey or maple syrup. To be honest, this was a difficult week for me as a shopper, a cook and an eater. I’ve learned in the past how important it is to read labels, but this was the week that really put home that I don’t always think as hard about what is in the food others prepare.

I took my girls shopping at the grocery store Monday to be sure we had food for this challenge. Since most bread products with yeast will likely have sugar, or at least honey, I knew that was out. But tortillas don’t need to rise, so I looked through the selection of 4 or 5 brands offered only to find every single one of them had sugar. Then I looked at several other options only to discover sugar everywhere. I finally settled on a package of organic brown rice cakes — the only ingredient was organic brown rice. Fortunately, the kids loved them. They said they taste like popcorn and I agree. We finally left the store with little more than those rice cakes and fresh produce. Oh, and a couple containers of plain yogurt.

As I said, coming up with breakfast was a bit of a challenge. My youngest’s favorite Multigrain Cheerios were a no-no this week, along with pancakes with syrup, yogurt with honey, muffins made with honey or syrup… We ended up having eggs with veggies and fruit on the side on a couple of days, a simple smoothie of bananas, plain yogurt and milk with a side of fruit and homemade biscuits on a few days. Lunch was a little easier, we had leftover salad of corn, black beans, tomatoes, onion, garlic and cilantro on one day. Sardines, Sunbutter, fresh fruit & veggies and rice cakes were included in our mid day meals. One day, while shopping for clothes for the girls, we stopped in at the food court (I know, I know!) for lunch. Pizza? No, sauce and crust probably have sugar. Sandwiches? No, sugar in the bread. Japanese stir fry? OK! As we sat there eating, I was reminded that the teriyaki sauce probably had sugar. Darn! Well, we did try, but that is when it really hit me that I don’t always think to such great detail about what is in food someone else prepared. I need to think more beyond the main ingredients and think about sauces, dressings and dips. I can’t just think “whole grain bread”, I need to know what is in it besides whole grains. Dinners were the usual, except that I usually make my own salad dressings with a little honey to balance the flavor. We had one especially good meal of whole grain pasta topped with a cherry tomato sauce made from tomatoes we picked that afternoon at Carriage House. Sweet as candy! On the side, we had yellow and purple beans we also picked that day.

These last two weeks of challenges (has it been that long already?) will really help reinforce the habit of thinking about the foods prepared by others, of reading labels and asking questions with something other than my daughter’s peanut allergy in mind. This week our challenge is to eat no artificial ingredients. The final week will be to eat no packaged goods with more than 5 ingredients. Once these weeks are over, I will go back to some of these challenges, try to improve, come up with more related recipes and find some more fun food facts.

There is a tour of our beloved Carriage House Farm coming in October! If you would like, you can sign up to be a part of this fun OEFFA event.

As I said, this week was definitely a challenge, especially for me with my sweet tooth. How would you have to change your meals if you couldn’t eat any sweeteners?

Week 11 Challenge: Eat Local Foods

Way back in Week 3, I talked about choosing local when we did our local meat challenge. This week, we are trying to make all foods (or at least more of them) local. We have been working on finding more local foods. So far we have been enjoying the following:

Carriage House Farm, no grocery store is closer. Volunteering in their garden has gotten us quite a variety of super yummy food including pak choy, lettuce, mizuna, swiss chard, radishes, peas, beans, carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, basil, dill, cucumbers and some others I’m sure I’m forgetting. They also produce honey that I can buy at the local hardware store, but have to go to the Farmer’s market or Whole Foods for their corn meal and whole wheat flour (which I do). Planning to try the black beans soon. They use organic sustainable farming methods.

Gravel Knolls Farm, just 10 minutes from Hubby’s work. Belonging to this CSA, we have gotten a lot of yummy veggies including garlic, onions, lettuce, swiss chard, zucchini, yellow and other squashes, lima beans, carrots, corn, potatoes, peppers, cabbage, okra, a variety of herbs and more. They also have free range chicken and eggs, which we regularly purchase. I have a few chickens in the freezer now for use in future months. They use organic, sustainable farming methods.

Webers Farm, 10 minutes from home. Hands down, the very best sweet corn I have ever had. We have purchased from here in the past and are happy to see the red barn open again this year. At last week’s visit they had onions, cucumbers, potatoes, peppers and corn. They are a low spray farm.

Grassland Graze, 15-20 minutes from Hubby’s work. Awesome grass-fed beef. I just bought 50 lbs for 7% discount. Should last us several months.

Meadow Maid organic raw milk cheeses, about 175 miles from home — found at the Farmer’s Market at Hubby’s work. We have also tried Blue Jacket grilling cheese, about 100 miles from home. Both are very good.

Snowville Creamery, about 180 miles from home. HTST, non-homogenized milk. Our new everyday milk.

Mrs. Miller’s Noodles, about 200 miles away in Ohio Amish country. Recently found these at the local farmer’s market at Hubby’s work. We tried the whole grain spelt noodles topped with sauteed onion, garlic, zucchini, globe squash, tomatoes and herbs. Apparently, I didn’t make enough because everyone wanted more. 🙂

What do we eat that isn’t local?

Several fruits including citrus, bananas, berries, kiwi, pineapple, coconut, olives. We can get melons around here and some berries, no problem. But the Ohio River Valley doesn’t have the climate to grow tropical fruits.

Canned beans or tomatoes. Of course making beans from dried is cheaper and fresh is better, but sometimes there just isn’t time.

SunButter. For us, there is no other alternative for peanut butter besides just not having it.

We don’t eat pork often, but I would like to find a local source. Gravel Knoll has it some years, but they weren’t able to this year.

Some cheeses and yogurt. Some things you just can’t get local (like parmigiano-reggiano). I would like someday to try making my own cheese and yogurt. A project for less busy days.

Other grain products incl rice, bread, crackers, flours, oats, other pastas. Given enough time, I believe I could make my own bread and crackers. I’ve been using an organic whole grain pancake mix too. I could probably make my own though (with no sugar). But making everything from scratch and still live life? That would be quite a chore. I don’t think I could do that.

Other condiments such as ketchup and mayonnaise. Say that last one quietly please. I have been staying away when it isn’t allowed for a particular week’s challenge and have tried other options to create that creaminess, such as avocado and hard boiled egg yolk. I’ve heard ground cashews could work too. There really isn’t much that can replace mayo, though. It will likely stay in our diets as an occasional thing.

I’ve recently found a local maple syrup producer. Clough Valley is just on the other side of town, about 30 miles from home. Looking forward to trying their syrup.

Restaurants. Sadly, we don’t eat out for entertainment. It’s mostly for convenience. Chipotle tries to use local foods when they can and I understand City Barbeque near us uses local chicken. But we don’t have the time to go to a restaurant that takes reservations. If you do and would like to find a place that serves local foods, check out Eat Local Cincy.

Those above are just a few local sources that we have tried, but I’m sure there are others. If you know of any, please tell me about it.

Findley Market — a friend has said he will give me a tour of the best local organic producers at this HUGE farmers’ market. Looking forward to it!


Locally Harvested for You

Green Bean Delivery

Our Allergy Home

We have been managing my daughter’s food allergy for almost 8 years. You can read our story on The Willing Cook.

While reading there, please look around that great site. You will find help and encouragement if you have food allergies to manage in your house. Even if you don’t have food allergies, you can find some great recipes, information on what to do if you have dinner guests with allergies or some general encouragement when you are facing a challenge.

Thank you Willing Cook for your work to help others and for letting me share my story.

Weeks 9 & 10 Challenges: No Refined Sweeteners or Oils

What counts as refined sweeteners? Artificial sweeteners is first on the list and an easy one to guess. This includes, saccharine, aspartame and splenda. But sugar in it’s various forms is natural, right? Yep, but still not close to how it comes from nature, i.e. it is refined. That includes white sugar , brown sugar, turbinado, sucanat, cane juice, et al. This also includes sugars from other plants such as stevia, agave, corn syrup and brown rice syrup. So, what can I use as a sweetener? Honey and pure maple syrup. These are limited in their processing. Maple syrup is made by boiling most of the water from the sap of the sugar maple — taking it from 2-3% sugar to 66% sugar concentration. Honey, well, if you buy raw honey, most of the processing is done by the bees. Pasteurized honey is heated to kill off most of the botulism bacteria contained in honey. Honey is better for your blood sugar level and contains many antioxidants and enzymes that are good for our health. We managed this challenge with little difficulty, since it is our usual MO these days anyhow. Because we went to the Ohio State Fair that week, we did allow the kids one junk food item. They chose, of course, cotton candy. Why not? Sugar, artificial color and artificial flavors. They shared the bag and we came home with leftovers (that went into the trash). This week I made a batch of whole grain, double dark chocolate brownies with honey instead of sugar. My kids loved them. Hubby, not so much. I’m going to try to rework the recipe a bit before I post it.

Unrefined oils contain many times the health benefits of refined oils.  This is the main theme of our challenges and our switch to real foods — less processing/refining = much tastier & healthier food for our bodies. Heat processing, while it makes a more attractive and shelf stable product, destroys the health benefits of the fats we eat, taking them from healthy oils that reduce cholesterol and help our bodies absorb the fat soluble vitamins our bodies need into unhealthy fats that make our bodies fat and unhealthy. What counts as unrefined oils? Look for these key words: organic, unrefined, cold pressed, first pressed, extra virgin, non-hydrogenated

Butter: That is probably the easiest to find and use. Good for baking, frying, etc.

Coconut oil: Extra virgin, centrifuged coconut oil is good for medium high heat cooking applications.

Olive oil: In Europe, extra virgin means first pressed and unrefined. Not necessarily so in the US. It’s best to look for the words “first pressed” and “unrefined” on the packaging. This oil is great for salad dressings or drizzling over cooked foods.

Sesame oil: Good for medium high heat cooking such as sauteing or stir frying. Also good in sauces or dressings.

Red palm: Good for high heat cooking.

Flaxseed oil: add to cold foods, such as smoothies, to retain the health benefits.

Avocado oil: another good oil for higher heat.

Some of these oils can be a bit more difficult to find, though my personal shopper (Hubby) did a fine job finding some options at Jungle Jim’s. We also have the added inconvenience of a peanut allergy in our family, which limits our choices a bit as well. Many oils are packaged on equipment or in facilities where nut oils are packaged. Anyhow, we ended up with new sesame, olive and coconut oils in our pantry. We have tried them all. The coconut smells wonderfully sweet, like fresh coconut. Though the smell isn’t excessively strong, I still had difficulty mentally getting over the coconut smell while cooking fish I intended to top with pesto. The olive oil made much tastier dressings than the processed olive oils and worked well for slow roasting veggies. The sesame helped make a delicious veggie stir fry. I will continue to work these into my daily cooking.

Watch for refined sweeteners & oils: read labels and think about what you choose at restaurants. Sugar is added to most breads that need to rise. Honey will work as well, but sugar is what you will likely find when purchasing from a store or restaurant. Many products that are low-fat will add sugar for flavor and low calorie or “lite” products use artificial sweeteners. Think about condiments, beverages, breads, crackers, pre-made pasta sauces. If you can find a packaged food or a restaurant that uses unrefined oils, you have found a rare thing! Read labels and call or email companies when you want to know more.