Thursday, December 22, 2011


I've had a few revelations over the last weeks, sometimes while taking walks outside in the mild Carolina weather, or while watching my baby make bubbles and faces at me, but nothing really worth writing an entire blog entry about.  So, I'll write about what's been on my mind:  sugar.

I was overweight for a lot of my life.  I was a chunky kid and teen, before the obesity epidemic hit and most kids weren't chunky. My mom cooked all our meals and we ate nutritiously, but subscribed to the, "finish your plate" concept.  Or maybe I just liked to overeat? I lost weight for a short time in high school, but I don't really remember what drove me to, or how I did it.  I didn't enjoy sports or come from an athletic background so I didn't exercise.  Once I got to college, I gained a freshman 15, then a sophomore 15.  By the time my sister graduated high school in the spring of 2002, I didn't even recognize myself in a photograph, I had gotten so fat.  How did I get that way?  I walked everywhere, and had jobs in kitchens where I was on my feet the whole time.  One of those jobs was as a cake decorator.

While working, there was always something to snack on in the bakery.  Fresh chocolate chip cookies, leftover cake crumbs, you name it, it was there.  My significant other and I would treat ourselves once a week or so to a dinner at a restaurant, and probably cleaned our plates, not realizing each plate was really meant for a family.  I developed a  love for cooking, and used a lot of butter, olive oil, and I'm sure I didn't eat enough vegetables.  Anyway, by the time I realized I was fat, I was pretty fat.  It really grossed me out to see that photo.

One day sometime around the time I started graduate school, or maybe before that, I decided once and for all that I would start getting active.  I realized my current diet and exercise routine was not cutting the mustard, and so I got a bicycle and told myself I would ride it to work one day a week.  Slowly, I enjoyed it, so I increased the amount of times I rode to work.  Then, I kinda just started riding it everywhere.  Sometime after that, I decided I wanted to do yoga.  So, I checked out this DVD from the library, liked it, and moved to the next level once that got easy.  Slow changes. 

My love of cooking started in college.  I remember my friend Melissa and I would relish our Saturday nights when we could watch Iron Chef together on the free college cable in her dorm room.  We would marvel over how the chef could butcher an eel and create five first-class dishes in one hour!  Nothing was off limits, and boy, was I curious.  Growing up, I thought I hated steak because steak was black and chewy.  It wasn't until a "steak dinner night" in the dorm cafeteria that I realized steak could be pink and soft and tasty!  Granted, I did go to an ag school (woot woot Oklahoma State!), so they knew about their beef, but you get the point.  An entire culinary world awaited me that I never knew existed, and I intended to grab it by the horns and make it mine.  That included the cake decorating and baking world, the magical world of sugar.

Fast forward like 5 years to today.  So, I took up running when my nephew was born, September 2008 but didn't really get any distance behind me.  I ran 2 miles like 5 days a week with my dog, and I had really gotten my diet to a healthy place:  lots of fresh, local veggies, fresh fruits and not very much meat, but legumes and yogurt.  Whole grains, all that good stuff.  Cooking nearly every day, for myself and for friends.  Then I joined the Peace Corps, and lo and behold, lots of runners in my intake group!  Several people, especially, were so encouraging that I keep running and try for a marathon.  Me, who has never been athletic, or even that physically fit, run a marathon?  You've got to be kidding!  I thought.  But, I thought if I could get to South Africa, live in a village and do crazy education work that I know little or nothing about, I guess I could train for a marathon.  And so I did!  Living in the village with no oven and a very tight budget, I did not make very many sweets.  A couple times, i made cinnamon rolls in my leftover food tins and took them to school, and they were a very big hit.  But, I bought and soaked my beans, ate rice often, veggies, fruit, and battled for the clean water.  Talk about healthy living!  But I really did miss making those cakes.  Before I left the USA in July 2009, I was doing wedding cakes and other celebration cakes on "the side" out of my kitchen, here and there in my spare time.  While I was away though, I realized that is something I'd like to pursue full-time.  But there arose a quandry:  how to rectify my new healthy changes to my baking?

In order to remain true to myself, my purpose, my calling, I had to find a way to bake more healthfully.  Sure, a big, fat, rich, piece of chocolate cake is amazing to eat every once in awhile, but do I feel good about proffering this to a public saying, "this is good for you, buy it?"  not really.  So, I've been on the hunt for recipes that are more healthful than the traditional butter, sugar and refined wheat flour-filled treats we are accustomed to, and recipes for those with special dietary needs like gluten-free and vegan diets.  It has been kind of a bumpy road, let me tell ya.  Nothing is worse than pulling your pan out of the oven and having the item look like a science experiment, or waiting patiently for a cupcake to cool only to have it feel like gummy sand in your mouth.  When the highlight of my day is waiting for enough time to put together a recipe, and it is a bust, it can be depressing.  But, there have been some bright spots, which is encouraging.

I tried Jessica Seinfeld's recipes from her book Deceptively Delicious, thinking that is a great idea, to use veggie purees instead of milk or oil in recipes, but they aren't right, IMHO.  You can tell there is something "amiss" and sometimes even taste the veggies in the finished products.  I've tried lots of different suggestions for vegan stuff that doesn't involve "fake butter" or "fake eggs," and those don't really work out either, for the most part.  I've had the biggest successes with the gluten-free items, blending different flours together to get good taste and textures for some things.  So, I think this will work.  It's just too bad that seven minute icing doesn't last longer than a day, because that is the perfect icing!  Very low fat, marshmallowey texture, and oh-so-dreamy...I digress.

A good friend of mine thinks that sugar is evil.  In order to stop my unhealthy habits of eating, in the beginning, I had to think that way, too.  I had to take it out of my diet almost completely in order to be able to incorporate it moderately.  I realize though that each person has his or her own way of dealing with difficulty.  I also realize that, in my never-ending quest for knowledge that our bodies process sugar in the same way they do alcohol- as a toxin.  On a chemical level, our body cannot tell the difference between fructose, glucose or alcohol.  Sugar is found rarely in nature and is not a part of a whole-foods diet.  It has been linked to obesity, particularly in children.  Etc, etc. etc. etc.  So, what is the answer to a health-conscious bakery question; to replace all sugar with Splenda?  To make products that are just much less sweet?  Yes, no, other.  To promote an active, balanced lifestyle and "practice what I preach" seems to be a good solution, sort of.  One of my friends was recently training for a marathon, and I told her how awesome that she keeps us aware of her fitness updates.  I think my exact words were, "You're a machine!"  She said, "No, I just have a wicked sweet tooth."

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. I have to say though (and obviously I'm not the thinnest person ever) - I think splenda is probably the worst thing in your entire blog post. Sugar may be found rarely in nature, but Splenda never is. I just wonder if everyone who consumes so much of it is going to wind up with stomach or liver cancer or something someday before long. Anyway, I certainly agree with you about moderation - but I think sugar (or better yet, raw sugar or honey) is just fine, as long as it's not a principle part of your diet.