The Sugar Fast Day 3: Temptation, Thy Name is Dessert or Frailty, Thy Name Is…

Hmmph. Fill in the blank with the name of your friendly neighborhood blogger here. This morning I was cheerful and optimistic. This evening I’m grumpy and pessimistic, especially after reading one of those potentially pseudoscientific articles about eating and wondering if everything is meaningless.

But I press on.

It’s only the third day of this fast, but I feel as if I’ve already learned so much about how problematic my relationship to sugar—and food—is. I catch myself thinking that a cup of tea, a chapter of a book, an evening spent playing games with friends, would all be made more pleasurable by something sweet.

When I’m feeling a little down, what have I done? Written a sonata? No. I’ve reached for some Ghirardelli. (Raspberry Dark Chocolate, to be specific, but please don’t send me any. I might cry.)

These last few days have been filled with nothing short of temptation. All at once, sugar is everywhere.

Do you know how many things in the grocery store contain sugar? Let me enlighten you. Almost everything. It’s both discouraging and frightening. It is, in fact, a conspiracy. (I don’t know if it actually is, but someone ought at least to look into it the possibility.)

It wasn’t just the grocery store. Besides the temptation of all of the sugar that is (mostly) hidden around our apartment, Pinterest is assailing me with emails like “Copycat recipes for your favorite candy bars.” Et tu, Brute, when I have pinned so many healthy recipes?

And so many unhealthy recipes, as anybody who peeks at my Pinterest page could tell you. It isn’t Pinterest’s fault. It’s mine. My own former sugar-loving, sugar-crazy self. I’m Brutus. Pinterest is only trying to be helpful. Its algorithm says something like, “Hmm. I see you’ve lately pinned ten different recipes for variations on Chocolate Cake and one recipe for How-To-Make-Salad-Taste-Like-Something-Else, and since you appear to prefer pins with the tag ‘dessert,’ I’ll send you emails accordingly.”

It’s a sad day when you realize that it’s you who’s getting in the way of you.

But, on a more positive note, and to go back to the grocery store—it really wasn’t too bad. I only wept for a few moments as we put broccoli and cauliflower and green beans and carrots and other delightfully healthy things into our cart.

After all, this challenge is as much about building good habits as it is about breaking bad ones; otherwise there wouldn’t be much point. And I have a lot of bad habits related to sugar. As I mentioned above, I crave it when alone, when with other people, when feeling sad or bored or distracted… Basically All. The. Time. I did, however, have a revelation at about four o’ clock this afternoon (hence the cheerful-turned-grumpy mood.) I realized I’m usually pretty good about eating healthy in the morning and at lunchtime—it’s night-time that’s the trouble. I save all the sugar-snacking for when I’m not working and can relax. (I say “usually” because the holidays were an exception.) This revelation meant that all of the pats on the back I’d been mentally giving myself for doing so well and going so long without thinking about sweets weren’t worth very much because it wasn’t my sweet-eating time yet.

I’ve even eaten sugar when I didn’t really want it. There were definitely times right before Christmas and the week after—when my diet was 80% sugar, 10% salty snacks, and 10% food that would actually keep me alive for longer than seven years—that I wondered why I was still eating more sugar when the thought of it made me squeamish. I ate it anyway. Because I could. Because it was there. Because somebody had paid for it, and wasn’t it a tragedy to let a pow wittle piece of marzipan go to waste? I didn’t even stop after I got a pretty bad cold, the remnants of which are not yet unstuck. Probably because of my insistence on eating chocolate for breakfast.

Enough about bad habits. It’s all very well to recite my failings—it is necessary in order to move forward, but wallowing in regret never did anybody any good. (Except for all of those wallowers who provided the world with beautiful music and poetry and prose out of that regret, but that’s another matter—and productivity isn’t wallowing, anyway, in some sense.) So today to continue beginning good habits, instead of chocolate for breakfast, I had whole wheat puff cereal. No, not the kind that has added sugar, the kind that doesn’t. Yes. It exists. It only tasted a little bit like sawdust. Homemade soup for lunch and a hearty(ish) salad for dinner rounded out the day nicely, and left me feeling… Accomplished. Not full, but happy that the eating part was over, and that a tiny sliver of a good habit was tacked onto the previous two tiny slivers of Days 1 and 2.

I do want to take this opportunity to build more good habits outside of the realm of eating (and realms are never islands unto themselves) that involve using more of my time productively. I won’t promise you any sonatas (ha!), but I do hope to re-focus on writing and reading. I’m sure you’ll be hearing from me soon as to how that’s going. 😉

Addendum #1: You know what the difference is between a fast and a feast? Just a little “e.” But he makes every bit of difference, that little “e.” Curse him.

Addendum #2: I’m only going slightly crazy, I assure you, and mainly because I’ve been repeating to myself over and over again idiotic aphorisms like “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and “Baby steps.” Ahem. 3 days down, 29 to go.

The Sugar Fast Day 1: Beginning

I woke up this morning with a raging headache and a burning desire for an orange. I don’t know why; as far as I can remember, nothing in my dreams had anything to do with oranges. And the other morning I woke up with a burning desire for ridged potato chips, so I don’t think my subconscious is trying to tell me anything significant, other than that I generally wake up hungry.

Normally, to want an orange is to have one, in our house. At this very moment there are about a dozen Clementines waiting patiently in one of our refrigerator drawers. But I can’t have one. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not until February 2nd.

What is this sugar fast you’ve only mentioned once before? Although the holidays are prime feasting times in our family, my husband and I feel like we’ve been feasting for the last three months or so. We want to get back on track with healthy eating and also cut down our sugar intake drastically. I would be embarrassed to tell you how much sugary things we’ve eaten even in just the past two weeks. (Hint: it involves three batches of Puppy Chow, which is more or less Chex cereal, melted chocolate chips, peanut butter, butter, and vanilla generously coated with powdered sugar.)

For the month of January, we’ve decided to take out all sugar from our diet, including fruit, in an attempt to break the terrible hold that sugar has on us. It sounds dramatic, but I’m feeling dramatic.

After all, I haven’t had sugar for almost a day. Happy New Year to me.

So far I’ve thought about having a piece of cake or some chocolate or some marzipan…oh, only 137 times.

This is going to be tougher than I thought. Stay tuned for more lines written out of desperation.

When Your Mom’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe Really is the Best

Right now, you probably have no idea how much you should feel indebted to Ruth Graves Wakefield.

Although there’s some debate about whether or not it was an accident, Wakefield was the inventor of that little drop of heaven known as the Chocolate Chip Cookie. It’s difficult to imagine my life without Chocolate Chip Cookies, so I won’t try to. I’ll just remind you that, prior to the 1930s, the Chocolate Chip Cookie did not exist, which is a tragedy. It’s also a tragedy for those who still don’t enjoy this (definitely American) treat. Even worse a fate is that which those allergic to chocolate must face. (And for all of you who just don’t like chocolate… I have no pity. There is obviously something seriously wrong with you, and I suggest you visit your doctor immediately.)

One of my fondest memories from my childhood is baking with my mom, specifically when she taught me her Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe. It was the first—come to think of it, still the only—recipe I memorized, and I made it again and again, changing a few small things to come up with what I think can’t be improved upon. I’ve tried other recipes, and they’ve been good. But this. This is the recipe.

And because it’s Christmastime, I also made them with red and green food coloring. Yummy—and festive!

Mom’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients:

2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup white sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. almond extract

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

Dash cinnamon

1 bag semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips

Pinch salt, if desired

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 F. Cream butter, white sugar, and brown sugar together in a large bowl. Add eggs, vanilla extract, and almond extract, and mix well. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon. Add flour mixture to butter-and-egg mixture and mix thoroughly. Fold in chocolate chips, and use a spoon to place about 2-3 tablespoonfuls worth of dough roughly shaped into a ball onto a greased baking sheet. Bake for 7-10 minutes or until lightly golden. (Check oven frequently, however, as these cookies burn fast.) Let cool for a few minutes after taking cookies out before transferring them to a cooling rack. If a slightly saltier taste is desired, sprinkle salt over cookies right after they come out of the oven.

Yield: This recipe makes about 40 medium sized/large cookies and 60-72 small cookies. But who wants to make small cookies?

The great thing about this recipe is that it can serve as a good base. Substitute some oats for flour, add raisins, and you’ve got Oatmeal Raisin Chocolate Chip Cookies. Add some butterscotch or peanut butter chips. Replace some of the flour with cocoa powder. There are so many places you could take these cookies.

Or you could not. I prefer mine simple. And I cherish these cookies now especially, because in January we’re going to try a month-long sugar fast. I know. I realize this is probably going to drive me slowly mad, but congratulations, you get to see it! I’ll be chronicling my journey here. It may be somewhat entertaining, if only because I don’t think I’ve ever gone that long without any sugar at all. My hope is that at least someone will be laughing about it.

So for now, as I bite into this gooey, chocolatey cookie, I’m just trying to enjoy this moment… while it lasts. And I certainly hope you enjoy these cookies. My mom deserves all the credit!

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Holiday Reading List 2015

If you’re anything even remotely like me, one of your favorite things to do is cozy up in a warm corner with some tea or hot cocoa and read a good book. And if you’re taking time off from work or have a break from school, the holidays are prime reading opportunities.

The biggest question, of course, is also the hardest. What do you read? An old favorite? A mystery? A timeless romance?

My family loves traditions. So, to make things easier for you (or just that much harder, depending on your perspective), I thought I would make a tradition of creating a reading list for the holidays of books I recommend. Here it is, not in any particular order.

  1. Emma by Jane Austen. Besides being my all-time favorite book, Emma has a hilariously awkward Christmas party. I defy you to produce anything half so awkward as Emma’s perverse ignorance of Mr. Elton’s overtures.
  2. Leave it to Psmith by P.G. Wodehouse. If you haven’t read Wodehouse, shame on you! Especially after I practically begged you to in this post. Although I have never yet encountered a Wodehouse book that disappointed me, Leave it to Psmith is pure gold. Mr. Psmith (the “p” is silent, as in “psalm” and “pshrimp”) ranks with Lord Peter Wimsey, Mr. Knightley, and Lord Orville as one of my most beloved literary heroes.
  3. The Inimitable Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse. There are a few reasons why Wodehouse appears on this list twice. One, an introduction to Wodehouse without (arguably) his most famous character, Jeeves, would be almost tantamount to sacrilege. And two, Wodehouse hits all the right notes for a cold and cozy afternoon—he’s light, he’s ridiculous to the point of hysterical laughter, and he’s just brilliant.
  4. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens. Many have already read The Christmas Carol, and Amy Dorrit, the quiet and dogged heroine of this novel, is a treasure. It’s long (it’s Dickens—I repeat myself), but worth it.
  5. Evelina by Fanny Burney. I recently re-read this book and enjoyed it every bit as much as I did the first time. Don’t read it, however, if late-18th century novels drive you to distraction. If you’re not a fan of Camilla or Belinda, you probably won’t have the patience to appreciate the subtleties of Evelina.
  6. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie. Mystery-solving and a British Christmas with Poirot at the helm? What’s better than that?
  7. The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie. One of a handful of Christie’s parody-mystery novels, I was completely taken in by the ending.
  8. Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy Sayers. I consider this one of Sayers’ best works of fiction. Although it isn’t the first of her Lord Peter Wimsey novels (that would be Whose Body), it serves as a good introduction to Lord Peter as a character and has some of my favorite prose passages.
  9. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Little Women has at least one memorable Christmas, although you’ll need (minimum) three boxes of tissues. Be prepared for some serious weeping.
  10. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley. Fancy a little fantasy? Robin McKinley’s worlds are lush and rich and wonderfully crafted.

Have I made it any easier to choose yet? 🙂

Don’t Follow Your Dreams

Now, now, before everybody gets upset and throws his or her chair/coffee/computer at my face, let me explain what I mean by this seemingly harsh exhortation. I’m really not trying to be a dream crusher, although I do think, as a culture, the fact that we tell people to do and follow whatever they want is both short-sighted and selfish. (Come on. “Follow your dreams” is basically Disney propaganda and deserves to be questioned.)

This post is instead intended to be an encouragement to those of you who have more than one creative dream or passion at which you would like to excel still more, but don’t think you have enough time. You know. Writing. Reading. Playing the piano. Painting. Knitting. Baking.

Here’s my first and most important thought: Just try to do one thing. Choose one (maybe two if you’re feeling ambitious, but I wouldn’t advise it), and go for it. Research. Get better. Make a lot of mistakes. Talk to people about it.

And a second thought: Start by doing this one thing for just fifteen minutes a day. Write a character’s stream-of-consciousness. Scrutinize the first few bars of Moonlight Sonata. Read through a complicated recipe several times and strategize. Fifteen minutes is the very minimum—there’s no maximum within reason. You may be surprised at the progress you make as well as the restored sense of excitement you feel for your One Thing of choice.

Otherwise, if you don’t target your time, you’ll spread yourself “thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread” and you won’t get anything done. What could have been one or two passions, slowly and steadily cultivated in patience and perseverance, becomes five or six unwieldy passions that quickly wear out. They may even die.

For me, that One Thing—my so-called dream—is writing. Would I love to make time to bake so much that I get really, really good? Absolutely. Prinsesstårta, I’m looking at you. prinsesstrta_17336_16x9

Would I love to practice piano for several hours a day? Of course! I am ashamed at a.) how far my piano skills have fallen off the deep end and b.) how woefully incompetent I was to begin with. But if I’m to be serious about taking the novel I’m working on and attempting to do my best by it, then I need to concentrate on just that.

This doesn’t mean that you have to give up on your other passions completely. You better believe that I’ll keep tinkering with the piano and baking chocolate chip cookies. (My famous ones. Look out for the recipe soon.) But focus on one. I’m only repeating it because it’s so important and I myself need it hammered into my head.

And yes, maybe someday I’ll happily melancholy my way through Chopin and Debussy without an anxious thought and/or bake the Prinsesstårta of queenly dreams. But for now… I need to be consistent. I need to make writing my One Thing. My One Dream.

What will you choose? Your fifteen minutes—and mine—can’t wait.

Pumpkin Pie, Updated

Not another Pumpkin Pie recipe!

Yep. That’s exactly what this is. Doubting Thomases, stay with me.

There are people who adore Pumpkin Pie, who could write sonnets about its virtues and happily consume it all year ’round. People for whom this post is just more great news about their favorite seasonal treat.

I’m not one of those people. Pumpkin Pie? Eh. I could take it or leave it. And, given the choice between Pumpkin and Pecan on Thanksgiving after I’ve already eaten way more food than a mid-sized whale does in a day…I’ll go with the Pecan every time.

So when I got the random craving a little while ago for Pumpkin Pie, I did what any sensible person would do—I decided to add chocolate and see what happened.

What happened was… Decadent. Rich. Creamy. Pumpkin Pie 2.0, if you will, where the chocolate adds another layer of flavor without overwhelming everything you already love about Pumpkin Pie.

For all those of you who have extra canned pumpkin lying around or like Pumpkin Pie for Christmas as well as Thanksgiving or just want Pumpkin Pie right NOW, here’s my take on it. (But beware. Even though you’ll want to, you can’t eat more than one piece at a time. It’s that intense.)

Chocolate Pumpkin Pie

(Adapted from this recipe and this one)

Pie Crust:

1 and 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for flouring

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 c. butter (1 stick), cold

3 and 1/2 tbsp. cold water

Filling:

1 15 oz can of pumpkin (or use a real sugar pumpkin if you’re brave; I wasn’t)

4 oz. cream cheese, softened

1 12 oz can evaporated milk

1/2 c. brown sugar

1/2 c. heavy whipping cream

1/2-3/4 c. melted chocolate chips, to taste (I prefer Ghirardelli’s 60% Dark Chocolate kind.)

2 tbsp. cornstarch

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. allspice

1/8 tsp. nutmeg

1/4 tsp. salt

2 large eggs, beaten

Whipped Cream (optional, but also kind of not, if you know what I mean):

2 c. heavy whipping cream

2 tbsp. powdered sugar or granulated sugar, to taste

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Cut the butter into the flour; add cold water 1 tablespoon at a time. Mix dough and repeat until dough is moist enough to hold together. Lightly flour hands and shape dough into a ball. On a floured surface or board roll dough out to about 1/8 inch thickness. With a sharp knife, cut dough 1 1/2 inch larger than your 8-9 inch pie pan. Gently transfer dough to pie pan and shape, making sure dough goes completely up sides all around. Press edges with fork.

In a separate bowl, whisk pumpkin and cream cheese together. Add evaporated milk, brown sugar, cream, almost all of the melted chocolate chips (reserving some to drizzle on top of the pie after it comes out of the oven), cornstarch, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, salt, and eggs. Pour the filling into the crust and bake until the filling is set in the center, about 45 minutes, depending on your oven. (Check every 5 minutes after 40 min. in oven.) Drizzle melted chocolate on top of pie and let cool for 30 minutes.

While the pie is cooling, make the whipped cream. In a large bowl, whip cream, sugar, and vanilla together until stiff peaks begin to form. IMPORTANT: Do not overbeat, as cream will become butter-like. (Thanks to allrecipes.com. I usually just throw everything together.) Serve pie at room temperature or chilled with a generous dollop of whipped cream.

I hope you enjoy it! This recipe is one of many to come.

And now, just three words to leave you with: Move over, Pecan.

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New Look, New Name, Same Blog

Greetings, friends! I know it’s been an embarrassingly long time since a post, but a lot of new things have been happening with me, and one of those new things, as you’ll notice, is (sort of) this blog.

Yes, it looks different. I know. Very different. If you’re at all like me, you’re probably traumatized at this or any change. I’m sorry. You will get used to it, and you will (I hope) like it. I do!

I wanted to go for a more professional, cleaner look that reflected the new direction I’m taking this blog. Over the next several weeks there will be more changes—new pages, posts as part of a series, just to name a few—that I hope will create a more cohesive, more frequently updated blog. I appreciate your patience as I continue to sort those things out and update them, and I’ll let you know about the changes. 🙂 WordPress has a lot of really cool features…I just need to figure out what they are and how to use them.

I’m hoping to post new things at least weekly, which is a scary thing to say out loud. And, to be honest, I’ve actually delayed saying it because I have been scared about making that commitment. And I’ve been busy, but when you commit to something, that doesn’t really matter, does it?

What about the name? This is kind of a sad one for me. As much as I love “Adventures to England,” I imagine aside from the half-hearted attempt I made to explain it in one post, it’s pretty confusing for those new around here. “The Wayword Writer” encapsulates more of what I’d like to do with this blog…and has a myriad of meanings, which I appreciate. (Also, if you’re still used to typing in http://www.adventurestoengland.wordpress.com, you’ll be redirected to the updated version, so no worries there.)

Anyway, I’m excited. Here’s to everything that’s ahead!