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Posts Tagged ‘coffee’

Every few months, I convince myself that I need an old-fashioned country breakfast, complete with some form of eggs, bacon or sausage; pancakes, biscuits or toast; grits; and coffee. All dishes I could perfectly well make at home, but dishes that, like sandwiches and salads, are somehow better when made by someone else.

Deep down, I realize that I don’t really want these foods for their sake, but for the link they hold to the past. Weekend breakfasts with my grandparents were some of the most special moments I had, first as a child, then as a young woman.

They were long, lazy affairs, with bottomless cups of coffee and free-range conversation. I got to know my grandparents, and they got to know me.

It wasn’t about the food, but man, the food. Endless stacks of pancakes, biscuits for days, homemade possumberry or muscadine jelly, crunchy bacon, creamy grits.

I realize this is the path that takes many people on an emotional — and dangerous — journey with food. Ice cream reminds you of Saturdays at the skating rink, but pint after pint doesn’t take you back there. Potato chips remind you of afternoons in front of the television, shoes kicked off and homework tossed in the corner, but munching your way through an entire bag won’t ever reinstate that feeling of freedom.

Food as comfort is a trap, a tasty one, and one we build for ourselves. Acknowledging emotional eating is vital, but also a little hollowing, making us recognize the void we’re trying to fill with food. Recognizing that void means knowing that the past is done, that the people associated with certain foods are gone, and those memories are all we have.

It’s an acknowledgement that, hopefully, helps us all have a better relationship with food, one that lets us make new memories instead of living in the past.

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It’s been about two months since I pretty much gave up artificial sweeteners. I say “pretty much” because I’ll sometimes find a packet hiding behind another pantry inhabitant, and I promised to quit after all of the packets are gone. These packets are, obviously, not gone.

Do I miss my little yellow packets? A little. They gave me free license to make coffee, tea and oatmeal obscenely sweet, without caloric consequence.

I’m glad I tapered off instead of going cold turkey. By the time I really cut myself off, I was accustomed to oatmeal flavored only with cinnamon, walnuts and raisins and cups of coffee and tea sweetened with only a teaspoon or so of sugar.

I haven’t gained any weight from using sugar instead of sweetener. I figure as long as I don’t try to make foods taste as sweet as artificial sweeteners do, I’m good in the calorie department. I can afford the 15 to 30 calories that real sugar adds to a cup of coffee or tea, especially considering I’ve cut back on coffee and tea consumption in general.

An unexpected side effect: My usual cravings for holiday sweets are non-existent. Of course, this may have more to do with the fact that I’m too busy to even THINK about making cookies, much less figuring out how to make eggnog that doesn’t suck.

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This announcement is more serious than it should be: I’m giving up artificial sweetener.

For the better part of two decades, I’ve stirred the blue stuff or the yellow stuff into my coffee, tea and oatmeal with utter abandon. (As for the pink stuff, seriously, how does that bitter mess still even exist?)

I took up the habit in college during frequent visits to my grandparents. My grandfather, despite never gaining all that much weight, had recently been diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes, and my grandmother immediately traded out the sugar bowl for the blue stuff.

I quickly got used to sweetening my coffee and tea with chemicals. It seemed like the ultimate freebie: sweet beverages without bothersome calories.

I can’t tell you if the blue stuff had any ill effects on my grandfather or not. He died from advanced heart disease before the diabetes could get him outright, although I’m sure the two conditions didn’t co-exist peacefully.

Long story short, the increasing amounts of chatter about artificial sweeteners not being free of consequence have finally sunk in. It just makes sense that tricking your taste buds into thinking that they’re enjoying sugar might just be tricking your body that it’s about to have to process some sugar, too. Given my family history of adult-onset diabetes (my uncle developed it in his late 40s), I don’t need to play fast and loose with my pancreas.

Also, the husband, who has been trying to get me to give up artificial sweetener for years, finally emailed me a story on its possible ill effects with the subject line, “Please stop using artificial sweeteners.”

Nothing like a “please” instead of a “you should” to change a girl’s mind.

So, a couple of months ago I promised to taper off as I made my way through my final Costco-sized box of yellow packets. I began by cutting down on the number of packets I was using, adding only one instead of two to a cup of coffee or tea, and sprinkling only half a packet instead of a whole one over my oatmeal.

I soon came to a somewhat surprising conclusion: Artificial sweetener had enabled me to become accustomed to foods that were way sweeter than they should have been. The husband had suggested that I replace the sweetener in my coffee with (gasp) actual sugar, but the amount of sugar required to make it as sweet as I had gotten used to would be obscene. Same with oatmeal: I had been turning a healthy breakfast food into a bowl of candy (albeit candy with few extra sugar calories).

I haven’t used sweetener at work in weeks, which has caused me to cut down on my coffee consumption overall. I can drink unsweetened coffee, but I don’t exactly look forward to it. And I’ve cut sweetener out of my oatmeal completely, meaning I now enjoy the flavors of the cinnamon, walnuts and raisins that are stirred into it.

And now, answers to the top questions that I get regarding this effort:

  • Do I feel better? Meh. I don’t think artificial sweetener was making me feel that bad to begin with. I worried about the long-term effects above everything else.
  • Have I lost any weight? No. I wasn’t trying to lose any weight. I’m reasonably happy where I am. What I am trying to do, however, is avoid the seemingly inevitable post-40 weight gain that accompanies an unexamined diet and slack exercise habits.
  • Have I upped the sugar intake in my diet? Nope. I added maybe a teaspoon of sugar to a cup of tea one evening to accentuate its cinnamon and apple flavors, but overall I’m adapting to eating a diet that just doesn’t feature that many sweet items.
  • Am I turning into some kind of sugar-hating weirdo? Double nope. I love cookies, cake and candy, but I also recognize them as a sometimes food, not a daily treat.

This effort is almost over. There are only a few yellow packets left in the cabinet (I hesitate to take the container down and count). I have to admit, what I’m going to miss most is not the super-sweet coffee and tea (although, man, there’s nothing like a cup of syrupy sweet hot tea on a cold, rainy winter afternoon), but the ritual. You pour your coffee, add a packet or two of sweetener, stir in some milk or half-and-half, and sit down to enjoy the morning paper and/or a nice leisurely chat with your housemates or co-workers.

Only I can’t even get a daily newspaper anymore, at least in Huntsville, Alabama. The husband doesn’t even DRINK coffee, and I haven’t worked anywhere in years where folks truly spent the first 10 minutes of work catching up over a fresh cup of java.

I can’t hold on to the ritual, so I might as well let go of the yellow stuff, too. Adios, sweet chemicals. It hasn’t been real.

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During the last few years of her life, my grandmother would open the china cabinet each time I visited and make me choose something to bring home with me. She always seemed amused when I chose small, weathered items over intricate crystal and silver.

This glass measuring cup made it home with me a few years ago. It’s got clear engraved markings and three pouring spouts.

I certainly did not need another measuring cup, but it’s got character. And judging by my husband, friends and decor, I LOVE character.

It’s been holding my inexplicable collection of dried cherry pits for the past four years. (Hint: Don’t ask.)

I recently had overnight guests, and both adults were coffee drinkers who took real sugar AND cream, thus giving me the opportunity to set out the sugar dish that totally matches my plates. I did not, alas, have a creamer container. (For that matter, I did not have any creamer, but there’s no reason I can’t serve my 2-percent milk all fancy.)

I did, however, have a charming little glass measuring cup. Voila. It was finally pressed into service for something besides pit storage.

Best of all, I now know why I brought it home.

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The “Do One Thing” series chronicles my yearlong effort to tackle one project every day to organize my life and home.

Day 28: Clean angry. Choose a room. Get rid of anything that you don’t wear, don’t use or don’t love. Get rid of anything that doesn’t make you less angry. Get rid of anything that makes you angrier. If you start to feel less angry, go have another strong cup of coffee and remember why you were angry to begin with. Choose another room. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Previously this week:

Day 25: Chunked a couple of small, miscellaneous kitchen gadgets into the thrift-story bag. I can’t tell you what they were for. Seriously. Better to toss than to research, since I’ve lived without them for this long.

Day 26: Faced my true feelings for 3/4-length sleeves. I despise them, yet always seem to have a few in my closet. I was always a little tall and long-limbed as a child, and I sometimes had problems finding shirts with sleeves that were long enough. So, 3/4-length sleeves always make me feel like I should be tugging them toward my wrists. They’re gone now.

Day 27: I organized nothing, but I did go to a King Arthur Flour baking demonstration and might stand a chance of making a proper pie now. And pie makes any home nicer.

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I’m not that fond of single-use kitchen gadgets — they take up a lot of space in exchange for performing tasks that other tools can usually do quite adequately. But I’ve found the Bialetti Electric Mukka Express Cappuccino Maker to be quite indispensable for the occasional afternoon pick-me-up.

It takes up less space than most fancier models I’ve seen, which makes it ultra-efficient since I’m the only coffee drinker in the house. It makes a rich, creamy cappuccino for way less money than I would spend at Starbucks. The only trick: Warming the milk slightly in the microwave before pouring it into the upper chamber makes the end product hotter and foamier.

All in all, the best birthday present I’ve ever heavily hinted around for.

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It’s good to have friends who help you maintain a positive attitude and healthy habits. It’s also good to have friends who urge you to make questionable choices every once in a while.

When I emailed a photo of a surprising food find — Little Debbie Banana Pudding Rolls — to a former colleague earlier this week, he responded immediately:  “My professional advice to you is to buy two boxes of them right now. Why two? Because you’ll eat one box on the way home from the store.”

How could a girl resist?

I grew up eating Little Debbie products at my grandparent’s house in South Mississippi — my brother and I could always find a box of the treats on top of the refrigerator. I am the Forrest Gump of Little Debbie products, with a readily accessible running list of the different varieties taking up valuable space inside my brain. Ask me about nearly any of the company’s products, and I can run down a quick review for you. Here are just a few that popped into my head this very minute:

Devil Squares: Their substantial filling and sort of weirdly textured chocolate coating combine for a unique and delicious culinary experience that made me, as a child, feel slightly more sophisticated than my tomboyish habits generally merited. (more…)

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