Helping Your Fat Friends (and Staying Friends)

Yesterday I posted three experiences I’ve had during my continuing weight-loss journey. Today, I’d like to help you stay friends with your fat friends while caring about them. Here are some tips:

img-thing1. Love them for what they are–kind, funny, smart, creative–rather than for what they are not–thin. You would not want to hear that you aren’t as pretty as you could be, have odd hair, or a birthmark. (Before you say, “but those are characteristics I was born with. . .” read #2.

2. Fat is not always a choice. Do you think Oprah Winfrey wanted to yo-yo up and down the scale? She had enough money to do whatever she wanted about her weight, and even with a cook and trainer, she still struggled. So it’s not just about self control. Don’t assume your fat friend has no self-control, is lazy, or doesn’t care.

Diabetes is an endocrine disease, not a punishment from a divine source for loving sweets. Grave’s Disease, and hypothyrodism are not diseases people want to have. Or worse, choose through “bad decisions you have to own.”

3. Don’t start. If your fat friend wants to talk about weight, you’ll know. Otherwise, don’t bring it up.

my-diet-doesnt-need-a-label-e13659982178694. Don’t offer opinions or advice. What works for you may not work for your friend. Do not offer diets, emails with links to dieting advice, or fashion suggestions.

5. Say, “You look great!” and mean it. Don’t say, “You’d be really pretty if you lost weight.” Don’t say, “That dress makes you look two sizes smaller.” Instead say, “That color looks great.” Or, “That’s a very flattering cut,” (don’t add, “on you.”)

6. Honor the mind/body connection. Making a decision depends on two separate steps. The first is the logical, rational understanding part. “To lose weight, you must expend more calories than you take in” is one of those statements. The next part of decision-making involves a strong emotional link. Emotion and decision making are both made on the right side of the brain, and without an emotional component, there is no lasting change. That’s why diets don’t work. They make sense, seem like a good idea, but there is no emotional commitment. And without emotional buy-in, change won’t last.

Nagging makes emotional agreement impossible. So leave your fat friend in peace. No pleading, nagging, or guilt-inducing drama. It won’t work. Save your energy for walking your own journey.

7. Don’t give “change back” messages. Losing weight is hard, lonely work. There is no easy, fun diet. Losing weight is a long-haul trek. When a fat person changes–eating habits, food choices, clothing sizes–friends and families have to change, too, in the way they relate to their friend. Often, family and friends don’t want to change, so they send “change-back” messages. “You shouldn’t lose any more weight,” or “you have to treat yourself sometime,” or “You’ve always loved this and I cooked it just for you.” Drop it. It’s hard enough for your friend to stay on a diet without you tenderly sabotaging the effort.

-Quinn McDonald is still losing weight. She has no answer for people who ask, “tell me your secret.” There is none. It’s tough decisions, every day. And walking five miles a day helps.

It’s Not Easy Being Fat

Now that I’ve lost 60 pounds and four dress sizes, I have something to say.

755I’m shocked at how much better I get treated now that I am thinner. No more sharp comments about my size when I’m on an airplane. Help offered in stores–and politely. Offers of help carrying items that are exactly as heavy as when I struggled with them six months ago. I am the same person, but the world I find myself in is not. It’s a big surprise. And not a pleasant one. We are a lot more judgmental than I had imagined.

* * *

Now, for the tougher love: Diets don’t work. I’ve been overweight for about 12 years. I’ve lost 400 pounds on diets. And gained back 405. So this time I did not go on a diet. I changed my relationship with food. It’s called behavior modification. What didn’t work on my diet was dealing with lost weight. Once I’d met my “goal,” I told myself I could handle an occasional “treat.”

Trouble is, I couldn’t. A once-a-month treat of french fries became a once-a-week scale1treat. Then I’d order fries anytime it was an option. Ice cream was a daily good-night send-off. It started with one-quarter cup. It ended with a cup a night, more if it was a flavor I liked. The list goes on.

I finally realized that I had to change my behavior with food. It was the hardest decision I have ever made. Food is my friend. My mom was an excellent French cook. My husband is a chef. I am a foodie. And in the long run it doesn’t matter. I was helpless in the grasp of  sugar and carbs. So, nothing for me to do but restructure my eating habits. For the rest of my life. There can’t be a “treat just this once” because it starts the battle with my will power over again. And eventually I will rationalize my way out of it. So, awful as it is, this is better. I know how to change my behavior one day at a time. I don’t try to outguess the future.

* * *

model_with_stuff_on_her_head_7-1_m-400x300When I mention how much weight I’ve lost (which I occasionally do in my goal-setting and time management class), I always get two replies. Two people will raise their hands. The first one will say that their weight loss was mine plus 10 pounds. The second one will claim to have lost as much as I did plus 20 pounds. No matter how much weight I say I’ve lost, the two hands will always go up and claim a weight loss 10- and 20- pounds more than mine.  Statistically, this is unlikely. Socially, it’s not surprising. We are a competitive culture, and being the best and first with the most is something we want to claim. No one has ever claimed a weight loss less than the one I claim. Interesting.

–Quinn McDonald fits into a medium size T-shirt. This makes packing a carry-on much easier. It now fits at least one more outfit.

Cold Drink: No Calories

glass_bottle1Frying-pan-hot late summer days make the words “gin-and-tonic” seem perfect. But the carbohydrates in liquor makes it a drink of the past. I needed something new, refreshing and tasty.

Gone are the days I’d start off with a Diet Coke at breakfast–although the caffeine jolt and brain freeze did wake me up fast. Iced coffee and tea are great, but I can drink only so much tannin without wondering if my gut is going to be used to make a Birkin.  So I began to explore drinks that I can sip, gulp, quaff, and chug cold and in quantity without packing on calories and without the cardboardy, acidy taste I get from tubed drink mixes.

So I tried something so simple, so easy, I can’t believe how good it is. Take a glass, put in as much ice as you love, and then add 3-5 drops Angostura Bitters. Fill with club soda or selzer. It’s a perfect drink. Clean, crisp, refreshing, bubbly, and a great herbal taste that’s interesting but not overwhelming. Goes with sushi as well at with PBJs. (I’m not a fan of milk with PBJs. Suit yourself).

 

    Gentian, known for its blue color and delicate flavor.

Gentian, known for its blue color and delicate flavor.

Angostura Bitters are a bar staple.  They aren’t really bitter, the word is derived from aromatic concoctions that contain gentian–a flowering herb that is used in perfumes. It’s also been used as a malaria cure and insect repellent. Versatile plant. Bright blue flowers. Gentian is bitter, but there is a lot more than gentian in bitters–a mix of aromatic herbs that is lovely in smell and dark brown in color.

I originally used the bitters for tea-staining  papers, because it worked faster and was darker than tea,  and I loved the smell. I swear, if they made this substance as a fragrance, I’d wear it every day.

But until then, I’ll use a few drops over fresh strawberries and in my soda-and-bitters. It’s an inexpensive joy that pays off in big taste and no calories.

Quinn McDonald is counting the days until she no longer drinks a gallon of liquid a day just to keep up with sweating. She no longer remembers a time when the nape of her neck wasn’t wet 24 hours a day.

Having Your Cake and Being Slammed for Eating It

We are a crazy, schizophrenic, confused culture. We talk out of both sides of our mouths, and need a simultaneous translator into nonsense while we do it.

We criticize fat people we see in the mall, but the food court is packed with choices of fried, sugar-loaded, and crispy-salty calories.

A cronut is croissant dough, fried like a donut, filled with sweet, flavored cream, and iced.

A cronut is croissant dough, fried like a donut, filled with sweet, flavored cream, and iced.

Gluten-free diets are touted, restaurants highlight menu items; the same restaurant will have nothing safe for a diabetic to eat. Point it out, and the waiter may well say, “Gluten free is much healthier, you should try that.”

The news stories decry the horrors of our sugary, fat-laden diet, and the infotainment section segues into an article about the popularity of the cronut.

I’m really surprised at how many restaurants have one or two menu items that are safe for diabetics, in a menu that runs six pages. Salad dressings contain honey, maple syrup or simple syrups, or, “just a touch of sugar.” When I asked how much a “touch” was, it turned out to be two tablespoons in a cup of vinaigrette. Yep, vinaigrette. That’s about 26 grams of carbs in the salad dressing–roughly your whole carb intake for a meal. yes, I know, I’m not drinking a cup of it all at once. It’s still way too much sugar for a salad dressing.

Tomato sauces are loaded with sugar, and almost every meal comes with a carb-heavy side–rice, polenta, pasta, potatoes, bread. It’s possible to make a diabetic-safe dessert, but you’ll never find it in a restaurant. And yet, 25.8 million adults in America are diabetic and 79 million more are pre-diabetic.

We love our frozen margaritas, nachos, pasta and pies. But realistically speaking, with almost 2 million new diabetics being diagnosed each year, we need to start offering sensible food choices to at least provide an alternative to pancakes for breakfast, french fries with lunch and pizza for dinner.

–Quinn McDonald no longer eats food with added sugar or more than 25 grams of carbs per meal. She’s surprised how hard it is to eat a healthy, low-carb meal while traveling. KentCooks stocks a diabetic friendly fridge in their house.

Saturday Creative Round-Up

Cooking Man and I have started to make our own yogurt. It’s way easy, a yogurt yogurtmakermaker is cheap, and the resulting yogurt is exactly what you want. We add vanilla, lemon or orange zest (from our own trees!) or nutmeg. There are eight cups, so we can get a variety of flavors. It’s about half the cost of store-bought yogurt, and carb-friendly and tasty. Proving once more that mixed-media can include the art of cooking and the joy of eating.

Urban Sketchers are on Spring Break, but still posting, and I love to see their page layouts and sketches.

Diane Becka takes a photo a day, and this one, about creating natural art with what you find while you are out on a walk, is both inspiring and satisfying. The post on creation and destruction both puzzled me and didn’t surprise me. But the boy’s action does make you think about what you would have done in the same circumstances–as an onlooker, as a parent.

sithappenssite_01I’m a fan of Buddhist Boot Camp, because of the incongruous name as well as the inspiration that works for me. Here’s one I liked this week: “Find something worth dying for, then live for it!” And no, I’m still not religious. So I love this quote from the site: “As the Dalai Lama says, ‘Don’t try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist; use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are.’”  When people ask me about religion, sometimes I say, “I’m Buddish”

It took me a long time to start sketching. Because, you know, I was chicken. (Image: ink on watercolor paper, inked papers. © Quinn McDonald, all rights reserved, 2012.

It took me a long time to start sketching. Because, you know, I was chicken. (Image: ink on watercolor paper, inked papers. © Quinn McDonald, all rights reserved, 2012.

I’ve narrowed down my art choices so I can get better at fewer things. I’ve chosen pen and ink sketching (OK, and hand lettering, using the same pen nibs) and collage (which includes found poetry.) See how it gets out of hand quickly? But if you are a pen and ink sketcher, here’s a good site for choosing nibs for your art.

Today is the deadline  to get the download on stenciling tips from Glenda Waterworth’s site, Chocolate Baroque. The offer ends on March 17, 2013. Get the code and link to her site here.

Yesterday, I spent the day re-vamping the way I make Monsoon Papers. I’d wanted to get richer colors faster, and decided that I liked to have the front and back look different. The same color family, but different looks. I spent an entire day doing it, and of course, the Inner Critic showed up to comment and tell me how I was wasting time. But it turns out, he was wrong. I got some great results, was smart enough to take notes. Which means I can teach it. And I will be MonsoonPapersDeepteaching it in Mid-May in Minneapolis. The link isn’t up yet, but as soon as it is, I’ll give you more details. But meanwhile, save the date for May 18-19, 2013. (There’s more to the class than Monsoon Papers, but all that information will be up in about 10 days or so.)

Having updated the technique, I’ll also be teaching the new technique at the five-day  art and writinf retreat at Madeline Island this July 22 to 26, 2013. (Wonder why I keep adding the year? Because I’ve had people try to register for classes I taught four years ago. Once you’ve got more than 1,600 blog posts, it can be hard to demand people check the dates of the post.)

That’s it for the weekend! See you on Monday!

-Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach, writer, and artist who is creating new classes combining all three and having an excellent time doing it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Flavor for Mixed Media (+Giveaway)

BookCoverNote: Ms. Lillypads is the winner of Mary Beth Shaw’s book.Congratulations! Send me your address and the book will be on its way!

Mary Beth Shaw‘s book, Flavor for Mixed Media, caught my attention because it used food as a metaphor for art. Two favorites in one book! The book expands the meaning of mixed media by including favorite recipes from contributors. That made it interesting to Kent, who is a personal chef, and loves a good recipe. We both decided to try projects from Mary Beth’s book–I’d try an art project, Kent would cook one of the recipes.

Paper Mosaic is one of my favorite collage approaches, and Mary Beth’s book has a section on using a color theory exercise to help expand your use of color. I built on that technique to create one of my free-standing journal pages. Here’s the video–about 6 minutes long, and a project from start to finish.

Artists mix colors, but we often mix our favorite colors over and over and don’t expand to different hues, tints, and values. The chapter’s guest artist is Sarah Ahearn Bellemare, and her color triad theory helps you mix and keep information on colors you love and that work together.

Page 26 and 27 of Mary Beth Shaw's book shows color triad theory.

Page 26 and 27 of Mary Beth Shaw’s book shows color triad theory.

The book is full of projects and ideas, but be sure to check out Mary Beth Shaw‘s website, too.

Color
Painting Without Paint, guest artist Misty Mawn
Triad Color Theory, guest artist Sarah Ahearn Bellemare
Organic Abstract Painting, guest artist Elizabeth MacCrellish
Texture
Clayboard Book, guest artist Shari Beaubien
Texture Sampler, guest artist Susan Tuttle
Candle Shade, guest artist Laura Lein-Svencner
Layers
Collagraph Plate, guest artist Julie Snidle
Plexi Squared, guest artist Tonia Jenny
Three-Dimensional Painting, guest artist Dolan Geiman

Project from page 112.

Project from page 112.

Flavors
Icing Panels, guest artist Heather Haymart
Taste of Klimt, guest artist Deb Trotter
Collage Painting, guest artist Claudine Hellmuth
Combinations
Cardboard Collage, guest artist Katie Kendrick
Abstract Letter Forms, guest artist John Hammons
Abstract With Discarded Material, guest artist Judy Wise

Don’t take that “discarded material” too seriously. These are ideas for recycling materials and keep your art supply costs down.  I’m all for seeing materials in a new way, particularly if I don’t have to create a shopping list for them.

Project from page 77

Project from page 77

The eye candy in the links alone is richly satisfying–but what I really like is the variety of the projects. You get enough help to make the project through the step-by-steps, and the luscious photos of finished projects encourage you to keep going.

One of the joys of mixed media is choosing what you are interested in and exploring it. No problem veering into the kitchen for some of the guest authors’ recipes, either. I asked Kent to make Katie Kendrick’s  coconut lentil soup because I like lentil soup, it freezes well, and it’s satisfying without damaging my diet. But you can also make your own tortillas,  sugar cookies from a recipe that’s as versatile as the artwork, and Mary Beth’s own secret Brownies. (Yum!)

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a how-to book that you can take to the grocery store with the same great results as if you take it to the studio!

Front of art journal page I made from instructions on pgs. 24-27.

Front of art journal page I made from instructions on pgs. 24-27.

Giveaway: Mary Beth generously donated a signed copy of the book to my blog readers. Leave a comment that you’d like the book, and your name goes in the drawing that will be held on Wednesday evening, Phoenix time.  The winner (international entries are fine) will be announced on Thursday’s blog and at the top of this blog post.

—Quinn McDonald is learning how to shoot and edit videos to teach online classes. She wishes she had another four hands and a side porch on her brain to provide more room for learning new skills.

Five Ways to Sabotage Your Friend’s Diet

I’m grouchy. I’ve been re-evaluating my relationship with food since October 3, 2012. So far, I can give you a list of things that taste a LOT better than slimming down feels. That list can be alphabetical (comes in six volumes). Or ,it can be by date I decided not to eat it anymore, and be on four, tear-stained pages. Some of the pages may have a tiny bite out of them.  I was hungry.

Giving up what you love is always hard.

Giving up what you love is always hard.

What I learned quickly is that I am addicted to sugar. I love sugar. It’s yummy. My blood glucose levels do not like sugar. It also makes me cranky, sweaty, shaky, confused, unable to speak clearly and sleepy. But that does not mean I love it less. Certainly not.

So the only decision for me was to quit eating it and everything that came with added sugar. Which, if you start to read labels is everything. Canned fruits, sure, I get it. But canned vegetables? Ketchup? Bread? Peanut Butter? Yes, and not as the last ingredient, either. There are some foods that convert to sugar quickly too–wine, beer and vodka, do, too. So no more of those. Ever.

21024962_funny-diet-dieting-sucks-i-want-ice-cream-print-by-The short list of never again food: ice cream, donuts, cookies, chocolate less than 80 percent dark, pancakes, french fries, rice, pasta, breads, crackers, chips.  Mashed, baked, and new potatoes. Muffins, cupcakes, cake, pie, cobblers, jams, preserves, jellies–the list is long and contains every single thing I love to eat, from apple pie  to zabaglione. And while I’m giving up sweet stuff, no artificial sweeteners, not even “natural” ones, because they all have either sugar alcohols (which fight with my GI tract) or they make me crave sugar worse than before.

Lucky for me, Cooking Man got behind my need to change the relationship with food and helped me by cooking meals that were delicious and low in carbs. Alas, when he asks me what I’d like for dinner, I am still likely to say, “A chicken. Stuffed with eclairs. And a side of fries.” Sigh. Sometimes I say, “I’d take back the 40 pounds I’ve lost for three perfect tamales. I know that’s not true. But it sometimes feels like it.

Diet is DIE with a T at the end.

Diet is DIE with a T at the end.

My biggest shock was what people said when they noticed I was losing weight. They mean well, I know that. But they say things that are not helpful. So if you have a friend who is dieting for any reason at all, here are some things you might want to reconsider and alternatives that you can safely say.

1. Don’t say: “You’ve lost X pounds? Great.  I lost X + 10 pounds in the last year and kept it off. ” Losing weight is not a competitive sport. It is not helpful to turn your friend’s weight loss into your winning number. There seems to be some magic number in our recent popular culture, a number between 50 and 90 pounds that makes the effort heroic, and if you’ve done less, it needs to be pointed out. Trust me, I know exactly how much I’ve lost.

Instead, say: “How are you feeling?” Some weight loss comes from difficult diseases and people don’t want to talk about it. Please let them not talk about it. Telling them they look wonderful when they are very sick does not make them feel happy to be sick.

Danger comes on every plate a well-meaning friend brings you. (Bet I could grab that plate and run.)

Danger comes on every plate a well-meaning friend brings you. (Bet I could grab that plate and run.)

2. Don’t say: “You have to treat yourself some time. That will help you keep going.” It’s not true. If I “treat” myself to a bowl of ice cream I’ll end up in the emergency room. Sugar addiction is a tough as tobacco addiction. You have to stay away from it all, or the next day I’ll be found slumped at the table with an empty bag of Oreos and crumbs scattered around my body.

Instead, say: “That must be hard. I’m proud of you.” Re-tooling your meals is hard. Being acknowledged for doing the work feels wonderful and makes me want to keep doing it. Particularly is there is no added advice given.

3. Don’t say: “You’ve lost X pounds? You must have a lot more to go.” I own a mirror and a scale. I know I have a lot to go. One of the very hardest thing about having lost 40 pounds is that it is not enough and I have to lose more. Please don’t make that “more” seem unlikely.

Instead, say: “That’s great. How are you feeling?” Then comment on the improvements.

images4. Don’t say, EVER: “So you are off sugar? That’s not as bad as being gluten-free. That’s what I’m doing, and it’s really hard. You shouldn’t be eating gluten, either. Gluten is in more things than sugar.” Every diet is hard for the person doing it. Don’t compare. Don’t offer advice. Not one tiny bit, unless the dieter specifically asks you for advice. If they ask for advice, double check. Your hearing may be faulty. Do not suggest they try green smoothies, or the Paleo diet or vegan food. Do not recommend tests for thyroid problems or tell them horror stories about your diet or someone you know, or made up because you like drama.  We don’t want to hear it. Really.

Instead, say: “How are you managing it?” And listen. Listening is excellent, as it will tell you how much your friends wants to reveal.  Go with that.

Borrowed from http://gawker.com/

Borrowed from http://gawker.com/

5. Don’t say, “Have you tried X. . .?” or “You should go to my doctor, he has this great diet. . . ” or “What you are doing won’t last, so. . . “ In other words, unless you are a doctor and I’m in your office, do not give me medical advice. Because someone, somewhere is going to believe you, take your advice, and it will be harmful because she quit doing what her doctor advised and followed your well-meaning and very harmful fix-it tip.

Instead say, “How can I support you in this?” Maybe your friend wants to talk, maybe not. Listen. Don’t fix. If you listen, you’ll hear what you need to hear.

Bonus. Don’t ask “What’s your secret?” There is no secret to weight loss. It takes an enormous amount of self control, and for most people it means taking in fewer calories than we expend. Maybe with medical intervention. And not everyone wants to talk about their medical intervention. Worse, if we had aunts and uncles, grandmas and grandpas who endlessly bored us with the organ recitals and every ache and pain, we have taken a vow not to do that. Don’t lead us into temptation. Please. And if you ask, and we answer, listen. To it all. Then say, “You are brave. This must be so hard for you.” Say it like you mean it. Then turn the conversation to a nicer topic. Which is never about your illness, weight loss or tragedy.

—Quinn McDonald is still changing the way she eats. Don’t offer to bake her a cake. She’s weak.

 

Latkes: Potato Pancakes for Hanukkah

Thanksgiving is barely over, and already I’m talking about latkes–potato pancakes normally eaten at Hanukkah. (Starts at sundown on December 8 this year).

Crispy and light, delicious! Not the heart-attack-on-a-plate of yesteryear, either.

Latkes can be eaten by anyone, and not just at Hanukkah. They are not a diet food, however. Not that you asked. You can eat them as hash browns for breakfast, too.

Traditionally latkes are eaten with homemade apple sauce or topped with sour cream. I’ve eaten a lot of bad latkes in my life–left in the oven to “warm” —where they will just get mushy, toaster latkes (No. Just No.), and low calorie latkes. (What?)

I’ve worked with latkes over the years and like to mix the potato with apples, sweet potatoes, onions and carrots, all grated with the same grater. Lowers the carbs, adds a lot of juicy flavor. Here’s the recipe:

Hanukka Latkes (Potato pancakes) Serves 4. Time: 1 hour. Active time: 20 minutes.
Put away your measuring spoons. I cook without measuring, and for this recipe, so can you.

  • One large baking potato (russets are fine)
  • One large sweet potato–the orange kind
  • One medium yellow onion
  • One organic carrot
  • One organic apple–Gala, Fuji but not Granny Smith or Red Delicious.
  • Two fresh eggs
  • Good quality olive oil
  • One bunch curly parsley
  • Salt, pepper, freshly grated nutmeg.

Scrub all vegetables. Peel the onion and apple, core the apple. In a big mixing bowl, grate the potato, skin and all , using a box grater. The biggest holes are the ones that work best. Follow by grating half the onion, all of the apple, and the yam. That order will keep you from weeping as much as if the onion were on top.

Wash the parsley, discard the stems, or save for soup. Cut up half a bunch of parsley into tiny flecks of green. Add to bowl. Add a generous pinch each of salt and pepper. Grate about a teaspoon of fresh nutmeg into the mix.

Crack two large eggs into the bowl and stir with a wooden spoon or spatula to mix.

Using a large skillet, cover the bottom with good olive oil and heat till a drop of water spatters. Using a serving spoon, drop a generous spoonful of mix into the pan and immediately pat it thin. You are cooking the potato, so a thick latke won’t cook all the way through. You should be able to fit four into the pan.

Modulate the heat between medium high and medium, but never allow the pancakes to stop sizzling. In about 2 minutes, try to flip a latke. A cooked latke will release easily. It should be crisp and brown. Turn only once, or you get an oil sponge. When all four are done, serve, put in another four and eat yours at the table. The idea that you can make all of them and put them in an oven between layers of paper towel is a myth. They will go from light and crisp to soft and greasy. It’s worth the work of going back and forth to the stove top.

Serve with unflavored Greek yogurt or sour cream and applesauce, below.

Apple Sauce (Serves 4 as a side dish)

  • Choose 6 organic apples of almost any sort except Granny Smith and Red Delicious.
  • Optional: Orange juice, vanilla, sugar, honey, cinnamon or nutmeg.

Wash, peel and core the apples. If you hate peeling apples, you can strain the applesauce through a colander at the end. I like cooking them with peels as it makes the sauce pink and gives more flavor.

Cut up the 6 apples into chunks (cut each quarter into 2), put a half cup of water in a saucepan, and add the apples. You can add orange juice instead of water and add a bit of vanilla. I’m a purist, so it’s apples in water. Cover the pan and boil. When the apples reach a boil, stir occasionally. Do not let the pan dry out. When the apples start to disintegrate, help them along with a potato masher. If the result is watery, take off the lid and boil off some of the liquid. Once you have applesauce consistency, strain to remove peels. Return to pan and sweeten to taste with honey, brown or white sugar. If you are diabetic, skip the sugar alcohol substitute sugars (they have drastic gastrointestinal consequences for me) and stevia (not for me, either) and try the least amount of sugar you can handle. Three teaspoons will give you good flavor in the total amount, particularly if you don’t eat a lot of sugar.

Light candles and enjoy!

–Quinn McDonald loves latkes a bit more than she should. She makes them only once a year.

Product Review: Sugar, Chocolate, Coffee

Trader Joe’s has interesting spices. I’ve found a quart of Mexican vanilla (fragrant and great for general cooking), smoked salt and paprika (a little smoke goes a long way), and now, a blend of sugar, chocolate and coffee beans. In a grinder jar. I could not resist.

Might as well admit it, I have a love/hate relationship with sugar. I actually think in moderation it’s fine (I respect your view that it is the devil’s organic compound) but I keep moving the boundary of “moderation.”  Unfortunately, I like sugar a bit too much. (Please do not leave long, ranting comments on its addictive and carcinogenic properties. Please.)

I will not voluntarily ingest any artificial sweeteners (I have my own idea of Satanic compounds), so I no longer drink diet soda, eat sugar-free chocolates or any food that contains sugar alcohol. My lower intestinal tract does not like sugar alcohols. My yogurt is unsweetened and unflavored and I like it that way.

Stevia doesn’t warm my sweet little heart, either. Stevia, as the American Dietetic Association says, “should be used in moderation, and a general guideline is to consume no more than 2 milligrams per pound of body weight daily.” For 150-pound person, that means 300 milligrams of Stevia, or 0.010 ounces per day. (One teaspoon of sugar is about four grams or 4,000 milligrams. Six teaspoons of sugar is about one ounce, so 0.06 teaspoons is your limit of Stevia per day). Of course Stevia is “all natural” but so are poison ivy, black widow spiders, arsenic, and lead, and I’m not eating any of them either.

Back to sugar. I like the idea of grinding a light dusting of a mix of sugar, chocolate, and coffee onto my toast or steel-cut oats. I don’t like the idea that the bottle is not refillable. Finish your grinding and the bottle goes into the landfill. That’s enough to make me grind my teeth, but not in a jar.

I’ve waited a long time to get to the taste. And I’ve waited that long because it is the least interesting part of the bottle. It tastes sweet, sure enough, but it does not taste like chocolate or coffee. On toast (I like mine well-done) the toast taste overwhelms both the sugar and the coffee. To get a coffee and chocolate taste, you have to grind up way more than even I, in my most immoderate mood, would not use.

So I won’t buy it again. Much like Gertrude Stein, I believe there is no there there. It’s not chocolatey enough, it’s not coffee-y enough, and it just isn’t worth the price, which was around $2.00.

–Quinn McDonald loves sugar, but not enough to grind it on toast with not enough coffee or chocolate.

Cold, Crisp and Not Soda

Frying-pan-hot late summer days make the words “gin-and-tonic” seem perfect. But I’m not a liquor lover. The calories add up too fast, and I’d rather splurge my calories on chocolate.

 Gone are the days I’d start off with a Diet Coke at breakfast–althought the caffeine jolt and brain freeze did wake me up fast. Iced coffee and tea are great, but I can drink only so much tannin without wondering if my gut is going to be used to make a Birkin.  So I began to explore drinks that I can sip, gulp, quaff, and chug cold and in quantity without packing on calories and without the cardboardy, acidy taste I get from tubed drink mixes.

So I tried something so simple, so easy, I can’t believe how good it is. Take a glass, put in as much ice as you love, and then add 3-5 drops Angostura Bitters. Fill with club soda or selzer. It’s a perfect drink. Clean, crisp, refreshing, bubbly, and a great herbal taste that’s interesting but not overwhelming. Goes with sushi as well at with PBJs. (I’m not a fan of milk with PBJs. Suit yourself).

Gentian, known for its blue color and delicate flavor.

Angostura Bitters are a bar staple.  They aren’t really bitter, the word is derived from aromatic concoctions that contain gentian–a flowering herb that is used in perfumes. It’s also been used as a malaria cure and insect repellent. Versatile plant. Bright blue flowers. Gentian is bitter, but there is a lot more than gentian in bitters–a mix of aromatic herbs that is lovely in smell and dark brown in color.

I originally used the bitters for tea-staining  papers, because it worked faster and was darker than tea,  and I loved the smell. I swear, if they made this substance as a fragrance, I’d wear it every day.

But until then, I’ll use a few drops over fresh strawberries and in my soda-and-bitters. It’s an inexpensive joy that pays off in big ways.

Quinn McDonald is counting the days until she no longer drinks a gallon of liquid a day just to keep up with sweating. She no longer remembers a time when the nape of her neck wasn’t wet 24 hours a day.