Hooked On Sweets? I Have the For Sure Cure

20 02 2011

The hypnotic allure of chocolate?

I’m a food writer. I develop recipes for publication, and I test and taste and teach and in every way immerse myself in food all the time. I know for you civilians, it sounds like a trip to heaven. And really, I can’t complain, I am doing what I love and getting paid for it.

You knew there was a but coming, right?

The risk of doing what you love as a job is that you might fall out of love, or at least need a trial separation.

For most of my life, I loved and craved chocolate like everybody else. I loved it so much that I took up truffle making, and did an annual truffle ritual. Starting in Fall, I would test new flavors and work up new recipes. I would have tubs of my luscious new ganaches tucked into my fridge, where they met and exceeded my every chocolate craving. Then I would teach a few truffle classes and make my holiday gifting truffles. After a long day at work, I would come home and take my truffles through their various stages, either making the ganache, scooping, or dipping. I even had my own tempering machine. Sometimes my shoulders ached, but I had to stay on schedule. This would go on for a couple of weeks, then I would package up all the truffles and organize them, packing some to mail to family and friends, keeping some to give to local friends.

As the years went by, I found that I didn’t really want to eat them anymore. In fact, I only tasted little bits of the fillings and then gave every single one away, not eating a truffle for years at a time. If we had an extra box in the fridge, it sat there until it dried up and I threw it away. Eventually, just smelling melting chocolate made me feel tired. The smell of deep dark chocolate smelled bitter to me, and made my tongue ache as if it were scorched.

I stopped making truffles several years ago, and some day I hope to want one again. I enjoy a little chocolate now and then, but even that has ceased to have that siren song. Chocolate cakes, cookies, all those are fine, but no big whoop. Unlike most women I know, I have no chocolate obsession. I have a whole drawerful of premium chocolate bars, chips and nibs, and sometimes they actually go stale. I need them for recipe work, so I keep it stocked.

Now I am working on a dessert book. It’s packed with recipes that appeal to me, with crunchy, oaty streusels, creamy puddings, tender cakes and big fat cookies, all made with healthy, whole ingredients. I promise you will love it, it’s all really tasty.

Why, last Sunday I had Pumpkin Bread Pudding for breakfast, Plum Tart for Lunch, Coconut Shortcakes with Bananas and Coconut Cream for snacks, and Buckwheat Pancakes with Strawberry Sauce for dinner. I added some yogurt to the dinner for some protein, and I took a few supplements, since this is not a balanced diet.

Folks come by and pick up these extra treats, and my husband takes them to work. But I wonder, could we make a sweets aversion program out of recipe testing?

I promise you, sugarplums no longer dance in my head, and strange cravings for things like salad have replaced them.

Maybe it could work.
Ganache Filling


Artificial Colors, Why Are These Still Here?

13 02 2011

What Price for Visual Appeal?

Bright blue snow cones and psychedelic sprinkles have a big appeal with kids. And yellow lemonade, brown granola bars and beige salad dressings seem natural, but are often artificially colored, too. Unfortunately, there is good reason to believe that amping up the look of foods with artificial colors is a bad thing. Especially for kids.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s 2010 report “Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks,” the use of food dyes has increased fivefold since 1955. Most of them are derived from petroleum, although one red, cochineal, is made from ground up beetles, a big no for vegans.

The report makes clear that there is really no benefit to adding these carcinogenic, mutagenic, neurotoxic chemicals to our food supply, especially when there are natural alternatives, like red derived from beets. It also states definitively that artificial colors do promote hyperactivity and ADHD in both children and adults.

In fact, European countries have been requiring warning labels on artificially colored foods since last year, stating:  “consumption may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” Many American companies make versions of artificially colored food they sell here with natural alternatives to sell in Europe, so it’s not like they can’t make the switch.

Now I don’t know about you, but it seems like plenty of adults I know are suffering from various levels of ADHD, and can’t pay attention to anything for very long. You can blame twitter and television, but when we know that these additives are promoting this, maybe we are looking at mass brain intoxication.

All those energy drinks aren’t naturally yellow, you know.

On CSPI’s Definitely Avoid list, the top offenders are Blue #2, Green #3, Orange B, Red #3, and Yellows #5 and #6. They all go by aliases, as well, so if you see erythrosine on an ingredient list, that is a red dye.

As a consumer, avoiding artificial colors can be tricky. Citrus Red, a known carcinogen, is used to color the skins of oranges. As a zest user, I find that reprehensible, but since I buy organic, I am avoiding it. Red 40 is implicated in immune system tumors and hyperactivity, and is the most commonly used color in the food supply. Most of the colors are implicated in asthma, rhinitis and hives.

Just skipping the snow cones is no guarantee, believe it or not, Smart Start Cereal and Nature Granola Bars can contain colors, as do almost all Kraft salad dressings. You would think that getting granola to be brown would be a no brainer, but who knows what goes on in the packaging process or while it sits on the shelf.

Read labels, buy all-natural foods and go organic to avoid food dyes. That neon sports drink or baby blue frosted cupcake may seem innocuous, but why add to your toxic load? Just avoiding unnaturally neon foods is not enough, either, as they slip these things into natural looking foods, like canned fruit, that might get a little too pale in the preservation process. Look for foods that use natural food coloring, such as annatto extract, beta-carotene, beet powder, caramel color, fruit or vegetable juice, paprika, saffron and turmeric.

There are enough things that we ingest and breathe that we can’t control, and if we know that these are harmful why put them in our bodies? Maybe if we stop buying this junk they will take a hint.

And if you need to color a frosting, try this natural coloring, I’ve used it and it works just fine.India Tree Natural Decorating Colors 3-Count

Oprah Goes Vegan-ish, Spurs Debate

6 02 2011

Beans, The Final Frontier

Well, if you follow the vegetarian news, you may already have heard that Oprah and her entire staff went vegan for a week, then did a whole show about the experience. While most workplaces going on a diet is not news, when you are Oprah, it’s not just news, it’s time for the Beef Industry to call their lawyers. Her power and influence is such that millions will go where she goes, and if she is going vegan, it will be mainstreamed in no time.

( a link to watch video of the show:)


To be extra careful that she didn’t get into more trouble with Big Beef, the most powerful lady in television invited a representative of Cargill to give a tour of an exemplary slaughterhouse. She also had Michael Pollan on to give his reasoned but non-vegan perspective. Star of the show was Kathy Freston, who guided the staffers in their vegan shopping and dining.

Freston is a 7 year vegan, author of a new book, the Veganist, and the wife of Oprah’s business partner. She is gorgeous, tall, and exactly the kind of person that motivates others to go vegan, in the hope that they can look just a little bit more like her. Her message is inclusive and enthusiastic, and she probably converted a million people through the power of television.

I had forgotten how meat eaters freak out when they get some fiber in their diets. There was a lot of discussion of bowel habits, and jokes about flatulence. There were also some amazing success stories, people who had weight loss and health improvements in just that week. Freston had a bit of an intervention with a staffer who was “addicted ” to fast food, with great success. Junk food does have addictive qualities, and it was a big deal to actually confront this on international TV. ( For a past post on this: https://robincooksveg.wordpress.com/2010/03/)

The internets have been on fire with discussion of the show. Overall, there has been a big debate over the decision to use a lot of convenient meat and cheese substitutes to get people started. As we know, food is nothing if not a subject of debate, and this is a hot issue.

For some, it’s seen as a great step for first timers to get off fast food and industrial meat and switch to tofurkey and faux cheese. For others, it was disappointing that the message was not more about using unprocessed food, and learning to cook with whole foods like beans and grains.

To me, every step made in the direction of eating more mindfully and having a better impact on the body and the planet is good. As long as it leads toward real food in the end. Getting off the Golden Arches and onto some cleaner processed food is certainly a better place to be, as the producer who dropped 11 pounds and stopped having terrible acid reflux discovered.

I don’t think that Freston or anyone on the show intended for people to build a diet on convenience vegan foods for the rest of their lives, it was more of a way to get people through the week. Then, once they survived and felt better, they would have to broaden their horizons. It was just such a radical change for these people that they had to have a stepping stone, in this case, Gardein chicken scallopine and Daiya mozzarella shreds. Some folks like subs like that, others just can’t stop wishing they were real meat and cheese, and will do better to eat other vegan foods. It’s very personal.

In the end, Oprah and many of her peeps felt that it would do them some good to go “vegan-ish,” a term that they used to refer to eating vegan alot but not giving up occasional animal foods. The power of the juggernaut that is Oprah may just have converted more people to healthy eating than I could hope to in my entire career, so more power to her.

How To Cook Dry Beans

Grease, Sugar and Heroin, Together at Last

27 03 2010

Junk Food, Or Culinary Crack?

If you have ever wondered why people just can’t stop eating chips, sweets and fatty meats, even when they know they should give it a rest, a recent study has the answer.

Junk food is more addictive than heroin.

Researchers from the Scripps Research Institute set up three groups of rats, one eating a healthy diet, one with the healthy diet and a limited access to junk, and one group with unlimited cheesecake, sponge cake, and greasy meat. This little rodent party went 24/7, with the lively speedball of sugar and fat fueling all kinds of binges.

Unsurprisingly, the third group quickly became obese, while the other two stayed stable.

To see just how this played into addictive behavior, the researchers also put implants in the pleasure centers of all the rats brains, and only activated these ” fun” zones when the rats ran on their little wheel.
Now you might think, the junk eating subjects could double their pleasure by both bingeing and running. But that didn’t happen. The rats that were eating junk quickly became desensitized to pleasure, and even electrical stimulation of the pleasure centers of the brain did not work for them. The fat little rats laid about like so many cage-potatoes, soothing their junkie cravings with more culinary smack.

When the researchers started giving them painful shocks every time they ate the junk, they just kept eating it. Kind of like your acquaintance whose doctor insists he should get his triglycerides down, who heads straight to the drive thru for a fix.

Then when all junk food was taken away from group three, and healthy food put in its place, they didn’t eat for two weeks. Poor junk food junkies! Their brain chemistry had been altered in the exact same way that coke and heroin addicts’ brains change. Withdrawal from their drugs left them unable to feel pleasure, as well as lacking any appetite.

These rats suffered so that we can learn-if we can’t keep the sweets and fats to a minimum, like group number two, we have to go cold turkey. Most people can eat a decent diet and occasionally indulge, and that is fine. Don’t set your kids or yourself up for a lifetime of struggle with food, keep it in balance. We see it all too often in the childhood obesity epidemic- kids weaned on fast food turn out about like the rats in group 3, but nobody takes them to a 28 day program to get over it.

Food is strong medicine, and that works both ways.

Now If I could just get my gym to buy those treadmills that trigger the pleasure centers of the brain, I’d be buff for life.

Healthy Snack Bars