This past couple of weeks, I've been joining in a virtual event hosted by Kimi of The Nourishing Gourmet called the Sugar-Free Challenge. If you know me, now is probably the time that you should say, "What? Sugar free?" I know; it's shocking. I'm the one who would rather smuggle candy than popcorn into the movies, the one who bakes cookies to share with coworkers for no reason at all. My hope is that, from this challenge, I'll still be the same sweet-loving person, but in a more natural and nourishing sense. And anyway, there are three levels of the challenge, and I started with the most basic. You can get more details about what the challenge is and the different levels here. While Kimi's challenge ended last week, I'm still going on my own personal challenge.
I don't know what it was that made me think I could successfully complete this challenge. Perhaps it's just that, similar to Adriana, I'm drunk with love over fall and everything the markets have to offer right about now. But usually my favorite fall things include a particular sandwich cookie with neon orange cream filling. And the small dishes of bite-sized candies that start popping up in every office and shop in mid-October. This year, though, things have been different.
When Kimi posted the challenge, I realized that I wanted to, and could, join in. So here I am. It's almost two weeks later, and extracting processed sugars and white flour from my routine hasn't been the tug-of-war of will versus desire that I had expected. Instead, sugar-free has felt simply like freedom. Please note that I've been debating with myself about whether or not to blog about this, afraid that committing this experience to keyboard would somehow break this sugar-free spell and that I would suddenly find myself incapable of resisting all highly refined products and slipping into a mire of darkness and ill-health with which I associate them. However, I'm taking that chance, as I think there are several elements of this sugar-free week from which others (and I) can benefit. Here are some of them.
1. Eat lots of fermented foods. This may not be true for everybody, but for me, eating fermented foods has really helped to reduce cravings for sweets and other refined carbohydrates. If you know why this is, please chime in. My best guess is that fermented foods are more easily digestible and increase healthy intestinal flora, allowing us to extract more nutrients from our food and decreasing cravings for nutrients we aren't getting. These days, if I'm hungry between getting home from work and making dinner, I snack on a half cup or so of Bubbies sauerkraut or my homemade 'kraut. I'm a little bit in love with it.
2. Eat more vegetables. This challenge has been a great excuse for me to fall back in love with my favorite vegetables. Last week, instead of packing my usual afternoon snack of almonds and an apple, I sauteed a red bell pepper and an onion. It was delicious. Funny that I didn't think of sauteed vegetables as a snack before, and that I so blatantly overlooked their natural sweetness.
3. Get enough protein. I know this can be a hard one, especially for the vegetarians and vegans out there. Plus, who wants to go around calculating the amount of protein you need with each meal? My tactic is to make sure I have some form of animal protein at each meal, be it unsweetened whole milk yogurt, scrambled eggs, chicken or grass-fed beef.
4. Include high-quality fats. Some of my favorites of late have been my homemade cultured butter, coconut milk and coconut oil, almonds, olive oil and whole milk from grass-fed cows.
5. Experiment with natural sweeteners. Try out some sweet leaf Stevia in your coffee or tea, or add raw honey to your oatmeal instead of eating sugary packaged cereals. One of my favorite fruit-sweetened recipes is stewed prunes, which are simply luscious and decadent with yogurt. Oh, and this whole natural sweeteners thing is what brings me to my next point: poached pears. I know that even if you're going sugar free, you might still want to share a beautiful dessert with your friends when they come over for dinner. These poached pears are perfect for just such an occasion. Mine are sweetened only with apple cider, and I found them plenty sweet. However, if you want to add a teaspoon of raw honey to the cider as it reduces, I'm sure that would be lovely, as well. I love these pears because they fill the house with autumnal aromas without the sugar and white flour that are in so many fall treats.
Cider-Poached Pears for Fall
2 cups fresh apple cider
2 Tbs. mulling spices
4 pears, peeled, halved and cored
Optional: 1 tsp. raw honey
Add the cider and spices to a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a low boil. Stir in the honey if you are using it. Reduce the heat, and allow mixture to simmer, uncovered, for ten minutes.
Meanwhile, peel, halve and core your pears and place them gently in the liquid. Continue to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until the pears yield easily to the tines of a fork but are not falling apart. By now, your liquid should have reduced to half its original volume. If it has not, remove the pears when they are tender and continue to reduce poaching liquid.
Remove the pears from the pan and place in shallow bowls. Strain the liquid into a bowl to remove the spices, and generously spoon the liquid on top of the pears. Serve warm as a dessert, or cooled as an accompaniment to breakfast yogurt.
*Note: You'll notice that the pears I photographed were not halved and cored. I did this because they are pretty to serve that way. However, on second thought, it's much easier for people to eat these if you do the coring before you poach, which is why I included that step in the recipe.