Life Without Sugar

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After slacking off and eating some cake and some lollies and ending up sick, I am back on the sugar-free wagon. It must be a month since I last had anything containing refined sugar, but I am not counting days. This is something I intend to make permanent.

There is a lot of support for sugar-free eating. And a lot of the information is misleading. Some websites promoting a sugar-free diet suggest replacing all cane sugar with some kind of highly processed alternative or chemical sweetener. Things like rice bran syrup or agave nectar, which really aren’t any better than regular cane sugar.

When it comes to sweetening, I stick to honey or maple syrup, and use them sparingly. A drizzle of syrup in my porridge or muffins made with honey and fruit. For the most part it is easy, and getting easier.

At a social outing yesterday I had only a brief moment of longing as I looked at the amazing array of home-made sweets that people had contributed. Apple crumble, baked cheesecake, jam drop cookies, chocolate slice… my knees wobbled for a moment before I picked up a sugar-free muffin and some cheese and crackers.

I have managed to avoid any ‘no thank you, I don’t eat sugar’ conversations so far, but these tend to be awkward. From ‘go on, a little bit won’t hurt you, it’s not like one biscuit will make you fat’, to ‘of course you do, there is sugar in everything, don’t be ridiculous’ these are seldom fun conversations. I don’t get much encouragement, that is for sure.

I nearly drove myself mad the other week looking for a sugar-free muffin recipe. Type ‘sugar free muffin recipe’ into a search engine and you get lots of gluten-free, egg-free, nut-free, dairy-free and alternatively sweetened recipes. I just wanted a regular muffin recipe that was edible without the use of refined or chemical sweeteners.

I found some good recipes in an older style book dedicated to muffin recipes that someone loaned to me. As a bonus, some of these recipes have minimal shortening and use yogurt to add fat and protein. Some of them also have sugar or maple syrup as a substitute for honey. They taste like actual muffins, are moist and have a good texture.

I felt very cheated when I checked the ingredients on the Steeves Maple Syrup, imported from Canada and available at considerable expense from the posh supermarkets, only to discover that it contains water and sugar in greater quantities than maple syrup. By contrast, the maple syrup I got from ALDI for about half the price is actually pure maple syrup. You honestly have to check the ingredients on everything these days.

I looked more closely at a drinking chocolate claiming to be sugar-free, only to find that it contains xylitol, which is a chemical sweetener. The fairly extensive alternative sweetener section at the big supermarket contains not one single product that I actually believe is less harmful than ordinary cane sugar, and certainly none that I would buy.

No ice-cream. No chocolate cake. No vanilla slice. Not ever. I hardly ever miss it. And if I do cave in and go for a taste, all I can taste is the sugar, and it is nauseating.

There is subtle sweetness in so many foods, and when you are bombarding your taste buds with sugar all the time you don’t notice the complexity of flavour.

Fruit is my main source of sweetness these days. It is easy to make a dessert from apples or bananas or berries. With a bit of creativity it is possible to avoid sugar without feeling deprived. Unsweetened full-fat foods are very satisfying and as it turns out also much better for you. Cheese is my favourite after-dinner treat these days.

I find that I have much more energy, much more stable mood and less of a tendency to pick up viruses when I stay off sugar. It is also a really effective way to limit high-calorie food intake.

My cheat is the odd Diet Coke when I am out, but usually I stick to drinking water or raw goat milk.

If you are a real sweet tooth then giving up sugar might be a hardship for you. I have had the notion that sugar disagrees with me since the days when I discovered that Coco Pops gave me a crook stomach. It is only in the last couple of years that I have deliberately avoided it, and only recently that I have sought to eliminate it from my diet altogether.

I believe that in the not too distant future sugar will be shown up as the villain it is, and its harmful effects on our bodies will be studied without prejudice. We will wonder why so many foods had the fat taken out and replaced with sugar, and find out to what extent many modern health problems are the result of a high-sugar diet.

The question is, will the sugar-loving population accept that information as truth?

From the Mouth of the Beast – How Marketing Makes Fools of us All

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In this amazing video you will see a marketing professional explain the techniques they use to get you to buy factory farmed meat and feel okay about it. This illustrates that thing I keep banging on about; the importance of being an informed consumer.

The video is seven minutes long, but feels much shorter. Watch the faces of the people in the audience when they realise what is really happening to them.

 

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Shall I Compare Thee to a Piece of Meat? Let Me Count The Ways..

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Another community service announcement about body image.

I consider myself fairly enlightened and self-aware. Yet, there are still a lot of things I do simply because society.

We live in a culture where women are decoration. If you don’t believe me just watch TV or look at any magazine. Look at music videos, adorned with interchangeable scantily clad gyrating dancers. So many publications consider balanced gender representation to be a mix of well-dressed men and undressed women.

Is it any wonder then that women find it incredibly difficult to break out of the mindset that in order to be valuable they must look good? And that if there is nobody to look at them, there is no point making an effort?

In my younger days I was often told that I should wax my arms. Yes, I have hairy arms. No, I did not wax them. I did, however, shave my legs, shave my underarms, pluck my eyebrows and tidy my pubic hair. I still do some of these things.

But why? Even though it makes no difference to my own health or functionality, why do I feel the need to do this to my body? Especially when I don’t have anyone to impress?

I can’t go out in a sleeveless top without hairless underarms because I wonder what people will think. When I had a massage recently I had a moment of panic when I remembered that I had not shaved my legs in weeks and wondered what the masseuse must have thought.

At the pool I tell myself nobody will notice before I leave the change room in my bathers and hairy legs. It’s the middle of winter. And besides, they should be looking at my boobs, not my legs.

We have become so used to being commodified that we commodify ourselves. When I was doing the rounds of online dating I made sure to put up a full-body shot of myself to show that I was not fat. I thought that would give me an edge in a competitive flesh market.

So I resolve to be true to myself and not let the confines of what we have been trained to do to ourselves influence the way I keep myself. No more razors. No more waxing. I will probably still pluck my eyebrows. But the rest of me can grow wild and natural.

As long as I am happy with how I look, that is all that matters. I know that the hair is meant to be there.

Do any of you have the courage to do the same? If not, why? Do you worry about what others will think? Have you convinced yourself that it is unclean… I mean, has our culture convinced you of that? Will your husband leave you if you stop shaving your legs? Will men find you unattractive if you don’t get around with a full Brazilian? And if they do, is that your problem? Your responsibility? Do you really want to make yourself look acceptable for someone like that?

You are not an object for display. You are worth more than someone’s opinion. How you look does not define you. You are beautiful and anyone who judges you otherwise has the problem, not you.

Live for yourself. You are the only person who can make you happy.

 

Camembert Necessities

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I have finally done it. Kind of.

I have produced what seems to be an edible cheese made in the style of Camembert, from goat milk.

As a gung-ho amateur cheesemaker, I set about making my favourite cheese, that being Brie. Brie and Camembert are pretty much the same thing these days, although they were once distinguished by the district of France that produced them and the particular climate in that area. Basically, they are a mould-ripened cheese, with a gooey centre.

Armed with an instruction book, a few successful attempts at basic cheddar, and my kick-ass new cheese fridge, I set to work. First time round my poor cheese was kept too cold for the mould to grow properly, and it took nearly three weeks, rather than the prescribed ten days, for the mould to cover the whole cheese. Further aging led to a nasty case of slip skin, where the outer casing of the cheese hides a nasty, slimy liquefaction. This is not edible. Camembert attempt #1 went in the bin.

Online advice suggested that the cheese was kept too cold and too wet. I tried again. Now, this is not a quick cheese like chevre or cheddar. Camembert requires a full afternoon of work, with hourly turning of the cheese baskets and later daily attention as it serves its time in the cheese fridge. Failures were not cheap.

The second time around I pressed the cheese a little to remove some excess whey. I set the fridge a little higher for the mould to grow happily. And, as if by magic, somewhere between days nine and ten a lovely coating of white fuzz appeared.

 The one that didn't work.


The one that didn’t work.

You can see already here the bulging sides, evidence of slip skin brewing again. When I cut this cheese open it had a layer of ooze, the consistency of unthickened cream. The solid cheese in the middle tasted pretty good, but on the whole the cheese was another disaster. It went in the bin as well.

I consulted the ladies from Cheeselinks while I was at the Ballarat Rural Lifestyle Expo. They had some ideas, but the main culprit seemed to be that I was letting the Camembert mature for too long in the cheese fridge. If I put it in the cold fridge a bit earlier, it would mature more slowly and more evenly.

Then the Ballarat Permaculture Guild announced a cheesemaking workshop featuring… Camembert! I signed up, and I was very excited to get some first-hand advice in making cheese. I learned a lot, and came home with my own little cow milk Camembert to tend until it was ready to eat.

My cow milk Camembert

My cow milk Camembert

That Camembert may be the best cheese I have ever eaten. It was perfect. Salty, buttery, nutty and mushroomy, but also mild and milky. My confidence bolstered, I put aside a day to have another crack at making it with my goat milk.

Thanks to the high butterfat in Sienna’s milk now that she is eleven months into her lactation, I got oodles of curd and two very chubby cheeses. But I stuck to the plan, and at day ten in the cheese cave they looked like they should have. I wrapped them and put them in the cold fridge.

I read in the interim that sometimes the mould used for Camembert does not agree with goat milk, and this can be the cause of slip skin. Because of this I decided I was better off checking my cheese early. So on day 14, I cut one open.

No evidence of slip skin. Clearly not quite as mature as it should be, but starting to develop that creamy texture around the edges.

Goat milk Camembert

Goat milk Camembert

You can see that the texture is not right, it is a bit crumbly, but this is changing from the outside in. Even a few days later this cheese has improved in texture and taste. To begin with it was very sharp and strong, almost like a blue. It tasted like a sophisticated cheese, but almost completely devoid of Camembert characteristics. Tonight it seems to be softening, again in taste as well as texture, and a smoothness is starting to show through. Hopefully it just needs a little more time. I still have the other round, unopened, in the fridge.

I am pretty pleased to finally have an edible product, and now it should just take a bit of fine tuning to get the timing right. What will be my next cheese challenge? I have managed to make a mozzarella that my pro-pizza but anti-goat cheese 10yo actually enjoyed. I really need to revisit feta now that I have the secret ingredient lipase to add to it.

I think next I will try Gouda, a washed-curd hard cheese that can be aged for several months. So stay tuned for my next cheese adventure.