The Sweet Taste of … Stevia?

I recently had the chance to sample some new yogurt from iögo, a Canadian brand that launched in 2012. The reason I was interested in trying it was because this particularly yogurt is sweetened with Stevia.

iogo yogurt steviaIf you’re not familiar with it, Stevia is a plant native to South America. Its leaves taste sweet, and people in the region where it grows have been using them for more than 1500 years for that reason. It’s also been widely used in Japan for over 30 years. However, unlike sugar it doesn’t have an impact on your blood glucose. In fact, some research suggests it may actually increase glucose tolerance. This means it’s often viewed as a good alternative for diabetics. Since it’s derived from a leaf, it’s less processed than many other alternative sweeteners.

While the yogurt I tried does still contain sugar (and I understand why – I’ll be writing more about this), it contains a lot less. A 100 gram cup has six grams of sugar. My regular organic brand, which is less heavily-sweetened than most yogurts, contains 14 grams of sugar in a 100 gram serving. Yogurt often contains a lot of sugar, which seems somewhat ironic for a product that many people eat in an effort to combat yeast. With pre-stirred fruit flavours, my kids especially enjoyed our iögo samples.

I’m not 100% converted. The yogurt isn’t sugar-free. It also contains pectin and starches, which suggests that it needs thickening and maybe isn’t all that well-cultured. Finally, I generally avoid foods individually-packaged in plastic. However, I tried some as well and I have to say it was tasty, and if I weren’t looking for the Stevia flavour I probably wouldn’t have known anything was different. Since I’m working to cut back on my own sugar consumption, I do appreciate that the yogurt isn’t loaded with sugar or corn syrup.

steviaSpurred on by the yogurt, I decided to buy some Stevia to use around the house. My first test was in some tea. The way that Stevia is usually packaged suggests to me that they’re marketing it as a way to sweeten tea or coffee. I added a couple of drops of Stevia to my creme caramel rooibos and gave it a go. The flavour is definitely different from sugar – you don’t taste the sweetness immediately, but it lingers longer and has a distinctive aftertaste. It was fine, but since I generally drink my tea unsweetened, I doubt I’ll be a frequent user of Stevia for hot beverages. I might, however, try it in iced tea. If you can’t shake the sugar in your coffee or tea it may be worth giving Stevia a go.

I also tried to make some chocolate ice cream using Stevia. I added some sugar as well, because as I said Stevia’s sweetness has a somewhat delayed onset. In fact, I understand that many Stevia products to contain some sugar. Without the sugar the bitterness of the unsweetened cocoa is overpowering on the first bite. In the end, however, instead of 1 1/4 cups of sugar I added a single 1/4 cup of sugar and about 60 drops of Stevia. This cut the sugar in a single 1/2 cup scoop of ice cream to just four grams, or about one teaspoon. Normally, there would be 20 grams of sugar in a serving of ice cream, which is about 2/3 of what my food app says I should be eating every day.

My kids enjoyed the ice cream, and didn’t comment on any difference. To me, however, the Stevia flavour was obvious. I still enjoyed the ice cream, but it wasn’t quite the same. I’m going to eat more, however, because I suspect that if I became more accustomed to it I would probably quite enjoy it, and I love ice cream.

Stevia is very concentrated, so you can’t use it as a substitute for sugar in all cases. For example, I’ve heard that most people’s attempts to bake cookies sweetened with Stevia don’t turn out that well, since Stevia doesn’t offer the same bulk and texture. However, for some things it may be a pretty good substitute, with a long history of use in many parts of the world. It isn’t sugar, it’s true. But I think if you can accept that you can probably enjoy it for what it is.

Have you tried Stevia? What were your experiences?

Freaking Fruit Flies

I love fruit. I love summer. Unfortunately for me, however, combining these two things leads to something I really do not like: fruit flies. I freaking hate fruit flies. They multiply like, well, flies, until they’re everywhere, scattering and skeezing me out every time I dare to do something in my kitchen.

At this point, some of you may be thinking, “She really needs to make a fruit fly trap! I should tell her about fruit fly traps!” You would not be the first. Every time I complain about fruit flies on Twitter, I get at least four responses telling me how to make fruit fly traps. I appreciate the sentiment, but I already know about fruit fly traps. I’ve been using them for years. In fact, I’ve had one on my counter for weeks now (although not the same one – I do refresh it every few days). It works … sort of. But as soon as I get the fruit flies under control, more of them crop up.

(If you yourself are now asking, “What’s a fruit fly trap?” go here.)

fruit flies summer

The problem, of course, is that I still have fruit. More than that, I also have compost. If I completely remove both of those things I can get rid of the fruit flies, because they only live a few days. However, I don’t particularly want to live without fruit for months, and I can’t keep all my fruit in hermetically sealed containers, so the fruit flies return. They outnumber me 100 to 1, the numbers are in their favour. While my efforts can bring them to heel temporarily, they will always return. Because I will let down my guard and buy some bananas, and two days later my kitchen will be filled with them.

I remember the first time I did battle with fruit flies. The year was 1997, and my roommate and I found our little apartment kitchen overrun. Not knowing about fruit fly traps at the time, we resorted to other methods. My roommate would try to kill them by clapping them between her hands. I opted for hitting them with a rolled-up newspaper that I kept on top of the microwave. We got rid of our fruit. Eventually they went away. However, today I find it harder to bring them under control, thanks to two kids who also love fruit and who leave it lying around, slowly rotting and attracting flies.

I don’t think fruit flies are particularly dangerous. They don’t spread malaria or hanta virus or the bubonic plague. They don’t bite people. This doesn’t mean I have to like them. Because I don’t like them. So I will continue to do battle, and they will continue to return, year after year, with the fruit I bring into my home.

Freaking fruit flies.

Creating Routines: Cutting Back on Sugar

Crafting my Life Creating RoutinesI am all about the monthly blog series, and one of my favourites is creating positive routines. Each month I set one goal with the aim creating a more purpose-filled life. If you’d like to join in and take some steps to create better rhythms and routines in your own life, I’d love to hear how you’re doing it.

Last Month’s Recap

In July, I committed to eating more veggies. I did it. It felt good. Improving my diet last month has inspired me to more positive change this month.

creating routines positive change sugar

Creating a Routine for August

I have a serious sweet tooth. Given the choice between the three pillars of junk food – sugar, fat and salt – I go for sugar every time. More and more, though, I’ve become concerned about that. There’s a lot of research showing that sugar just isn’t that good for you. I actually tried giving up sugar for two weeks a couple of years ago. It went okay, but in retrospect I’m not sure how well I actually did. I was still eating a lot of fruit and breakfast cereal and foods like that. After the experiment was over I jumped right back into eating sugar.

When I downloaded a fitness app for my phone a while ago and started logging the food I ate, I found out that I was eating more than twice the daily recommended amount of sugar. A lot of that was consumed at breakfast – cereal plus milk plus banana equals my whole daily intake of sugar in one sitting. I went in search of a less sugary breakfast solution, finally settling on a bagel with peanut butter. When I have that for breakfast, limit myself to one serving of fruit per day, and eat only small amounts of dark chocolate, I can stay within my daily sugar limit. I feel good about that, especially when I read articles like this.

For August, that’s what I’ve been focusing on – keeping the sugar under control. It’s a different kind of change in routine than taking up meditating or sweeping my kitchen floor, but it still involves changing habits. I have to think about what I’m eating and not eating. At this point, it’s going well. I’ve stopped mindlessly eating sugar, and I think I actually feel a little less hungry, which would make sense because I’m not having massive blood sugar fluctuations. This time I’m not looking at cutting down on sugar as a two-week experiment. I’m looking at it as a life change, and I’m not eliminating it completely. I’m just making sweet treats a much more occasional thing for me, rather than an every day thing.

Start With Small Changes

One thing I’ve learned on my journey towards a more purpose-driven life is that change happens best in small, bite-sized pieces. That’s why I’m once again choosing something that isn’t going to take much time. I may be busy, but I can find a few minutes a day to build a better life. I invite you to take on some small changes as well. What could you do to improve your daily rhythm or overall mood? And, what’s holding you back from doing it? Create a new routine, and leave a comment so that we can cheer each other on!

Ode to my Cherry Pitter

I have a serious thing for kitchen gadgets. There’s just something so compelling to me about these tools that were specifically created to help with food preparation. Egg beaters, pastry blenders, melon ballers, rolling pins, spice grinders, milk frothers, spoons and spatulas of all shapes and sizes – they combine form with function in a unique way, and call to mind timeless pictures of people preparing food of all different kinds.

It’s true that there are some kitchen gadgets that really aren’t all that useful. Some of them are cheaply made. Others have functionality that could be easily duplicated with more common tools. Other kitchen gadgets are so perfectly suited to their single purpose that you wonder how you ever cooked without them. I feel that way about my cherry pitter.

cherry pitter

Cherries are one of my favourite fruits, but preparing them can be a serious pain in the neck, thanks to all those pits. After toying with the idea of buying a cherry pitter for years, I finally took the plunge and got one of my own two years ago, specifically to make cherry ice cream. The cherry pitter made the task of removing cherry pits so much easier. I now make cherry ice cream as an annual treat, eagerly awaiting cherry season.

Recently, the folks at Whole Foods Market got in touch with me and offered to send me some cherries to celebrate the arrival of cherry season. How could I say no to free cherries? When the box arrived at my doorstep, my kids and I immediately dove right in, eating them fresh. Now that we’ve had our fill, though, I’ve been left to decide what to do with the rest. I know that I will make some cherry ice cream at some point, but right now I’d like to branch out a little. I’ve decided to try this recipe that Whole Foods passed along, for goat cheese bruschetta with cherries and mint. If you don’t eat gluten, you can substitute a gluten-free bread or cracker for the whole wheat if you whip up some of your own.

Goat Cheese Bruschetta with Cherries and Mint Whole Foods

Image courtesy of Whole Foods Market

Goat Cheese Bruschetta with Cherries and Mint

1/2 pound (about 2 cups) cherries, pitted and halved
1/4 cup lightly packed mint leaves, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp orange juice
4 slices rustic whole wheat bread, toasted
4 ounces fresh goat cheese

In a medium bowl, toss together cherries, mint and orange juice. Spread bread with goat cheese, spoon cherry mixture over the top and serve.

What about you – what’s your favourite way to use cherries? And what’s your favourite kitchen gadget? I’d love to hear!

Creating Routines: Eating my Veggies

Crafting my Life Creating RoutinesI am all about the monthly blog series, and one of my favourites is all about creating positive routines. Each month I set one goal with the aim creating a more purpose-filled life. If you’d like to join in and take some steps to create better rhythms and routines in your own life, I’d love to hear how you’re doing it.

Last Month’s Recap

In June, I committed to spending time every day in my garden. I feel good when I’m out there. Digging in the dirt grounds me. Plus, my plants benefit. I kept it up, for the most part, and it felt good. In June I harvested strawberries, lettuce, parsley, kale and carrots, as well as the first of my raspberries, potatoes and broccoli. My corn, tomatoes, peppers, cauliflower, pumpkins, beans and blueberries are looking promising. Not everything is going gangbusters, but it still feels pretty great to eat food I grew myself.

creating routines eating veggies broccoli

Creating a Routine for July

In addition to making a change of routine each month, I commit to doing one green thing. This month, I’ve committed to eating more local food. It seems like the perfect time to make a change to my diet for the better. While I eat a lot of fruit (and as much cheese and chocolate as I can lay my hands on), the truth is that when it comes to veggies I could do better. We all know we should eat more vegetables. They’re high in all sorts of good things we need, and low in calories, sugar, fat and all that stuff they’re telling us to cut down on. This month, I’m committing to eating at least four servings of veggies every day.

I’m not sure that eating more veggies will be a miracle cure, or noticeable improve the way I feel, but it certainly can’t hurt. Plus, at this time of year lots of veggies are in season and at peak freshness and tastiness. If I’m going to improve my diet, this is the time to do it. If I get in the habit of eating more veggies now, it will be easier to keep it going during the winter months. At least, that’s my theory.

Start With Small Changes

One thing I’ve learned on my journey towards a more purpose-driven life is that change happens best in small, bite-sized pieces. That’s why I’m once again choosing something that isn’t going to take much time. I may be busy, but I can find a few minutes a day to build a better life. I invite you to take on some small changes as well. What could you do to improve your daily rhythm or overall mood? And, what’s holding you back from doing it? Create a new routine, and leave a comment so that we can cheer each other on!

One Green Thing: Eating Local

One Green Thing Strocel.comToday I’m tackling my One Green Thing for July. This month it’s all about eating local. But first, I’ll talk about my adventures in hang-drying laundry last month.

At the beginning of June I committed to hang-drying six loads over the course of the month. I made it – just barely. We had a really hot snap at the end of the month, which helped considerably. I will admit I found parts of it challenging. My husband and I have gotten into the routine of doing all of our laundry on Sunday. With limited space on my drying racks, I found I was only to hang a couple of loads to dry at a time. If I started first thing in the morning on a hot day, I can dry maybe three loads of laundry before sunset. In cooler, wetter weather, it might take a couple of days for clothes to dry. If I really want to line dry my clothes, I’d need to change my laundry patterns, and wash clothes throughout the week.

local eating local food one green thing enviro-mama cauliflower

This cauliflower is growing in my garden right now!

This month, I’m going local in the kitchen. I’m harvesting the first new potatoes from my garden, and my raspberries are currently at peak ripeness. My local farmers’ market is resplendent with all kinds of local produce. To celebrate all this bounty, I’d like to make a point of eating more local food during the month of July. To that end, I’m committing to 10 local meals this month. I already had one last night, with potatoes from my garden and steak and salad greens from the farmers’ market.

I did the same thing last July, and once again I’m giving myself some local eating latitude. I’m not counting condiments, spices and the like as part of the meal. Last night, for instance, I had non-local salad dressing, and I cooked my potatoes in imported olive oil. I’m not sweating those parts. I’m also not defining ‘local’ with a strict 100 mile (or similar) limit. I’m saying any food that I grow myself or buy at a farmstand or the farmers’ market counts, with the exception of prepared foods made primarily of non-local ingredients. Baked goods made from flour of unspecified origins wouldn’t count as local, but the beef that a rancher drove five hours to the market would.

While I do try to eat local, the truth is there are many imported foods my family loves. Bananas and mangoes just don’t grow in the Pacific Northwest, and some foods like broccoli don’t grow here year-round. At this time of year, however, eating local is at its easiest, and fresh produce is at its tastiest. I’m taking advantage of that and doing my best to prepare meals that come from my own back yard. I’ll let you know how I make out.

Do you eat local? What are your favourite sources of local food? Also, if you’d like to get in on the act and take on One Green Thing of your own, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to grab the button from this post if you’re blogging about it, and spread the enviro-love.

Podcast: Label Lessons with Andrea Donsky podcast andrea donsky label lessonsWe all know the drill: Eat whole foods, mostly vegetables. Don’t eat too much sugar. Don’t eat too much fat. Don’t eat too much salt. Don’t eat things that come in packages. Don’t eat things with ingredients you can’t pronounce. There are lots of rules about what we should and shouldn’t eat, and most of us are at least somewhat familiar with them. Following them, however, is a different story. It turns out that junk food is so popular for a reason, and the reason is that it’s easy and it tastes good. So, when I had the chance to record a podcast with Andrea Donsky, founder of and author of Label Lessons and Unjunk your Junk Food, I was in.

Andrea is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, but she’s also a mom of three. Through her books and website she endeavours to help us navigate the aisles of the grocery store, making healthier choices. She’s pragmatic and non-judgmental as she does so, focusing on what ingredients we should seek to avoid, and how we can decipher ingredient lists and nutrition labels. Rather than lecturing us to eat more kale, she helps us to choose a better granola bar for when we need a fast snack on the go. podcast andrea donsky label lessons unjunk your junk foodDuring our podcast I asked Andrea just what a Registered Holistic Nutritionist is, anyway. We talked about what ingredients are red flags, and why. We discussed how to appropriately set limits on junk food with kids. We discussed organic food and genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. We talked about where to shop, how to shop, and why you have to vigilant when you’re choosing what to buy.

If you could use some practical, judgment-free help choosing food for your family, or you’d like to hear what seven ingredients you should be on the lookout for, you’ll want to listen to my podcast with Andrea Donsky:

If you enjoyed my conversation with Andrea, subscribe to the podcast in iTunes, and you won’t miss a minute of my future broadcasts. Also, if you have a podcast idea, please share it with me. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

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