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The Difference a Year Makes

Reflecting on illness, recovery, and renewed purpose.

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Not’cho Grandma’s Sweet Potato Pie

My mother was the best cook and baker. Unfortunately, she didn’t write down her recipes.

She made everything from memory and taste. I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to identify and replicate some of food-memories that made my taste buds sing. Now that I’m focused on removing sugar from my diet, replicating my Mom’s dishes flavor for flavor is even further out of reach.

About fifteen years ago, I asked my paternal Grandma to share her Sweet Potato Pie recipe. She also cooked by taste and feel. So what she rambled off to me on the phone was basically a round about suggestion on how she begins to get down with her pies. Over the years I’ve made some pie batches that really stood out. The recipe card I wrote my Grandma’s suggested pie recipe on has been duly updated. The latest update happened this month after I baked my first sugar-freeish sweet potato pie batch. Though there’s no added sugar, sweet potatoes can have a glycemic index high enough to put them on the level of cake, doughnuts and candy depending on how they are prepared. For this reason, I can’t claim the pie is sugar-free, however, it may be guilt-free – for me at least!

For the last ten years, I’ve baked my pies with a combination of brown and white sugar as well as evaporated milk. This time, I used a sugar replacement and coconut milk. I’ve long mixed in an uncooked diced Red Delicious apple for an extra lil ummph. This time, I baked a Gala apple and Bosch pear and blended them into the mix. The blended apple and pear didn’t stand out in the final product. However, the diced apple usually raised brows and brought smiles.

If you try this recipe, please come back and let me know how you like it!

For those celebrating, have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

 

Sugar-freeish Sweet Potato Pie Recipe

Ingredients

4-5 large sweet potatoes/yams
4-5 eggs (one per potato)
1 can coconut milk
1 cup Swerve brown sugar replacement (or choice of replacement)
1 stick butter
1 skinned and cored pear
1 skinned and cored apple
1-2 tablespoon of cinnamon (or to taste)
1 teaspoon ginger (or to taste)
1 teaspoon nutmeg (or to taste)
1 teaspoon allspice (or to taste)
Sprinkle salt (or to taste)
Light twinkling of pepper

Makes 2 deep dish and 2 regular pies or two loaves.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Crust

Egg wash on crust to limit sogginess. Pre-bake for 10-15 minutes.
Can cook without a crust to cut down carb count. Line loaf or pie pan with parchment or wax paper.

Pre bake or boil sweet potato until they slide off a fork. Allow to cool. I usually do this the night before pie prep. Baking allows for a fuller, sweeter flavor and has a higher glycemic index. Boiling will reduce glycemic index and may water-log potatoes. I cook them both ways depending on preference at the time.

Prebake halved apple and pear or dice raw to add to sweet potatoes

Beat or blend potatoes/yams to smoothness or preferred consistency.

Mix/blend in apple and pear.

Mix/blend in coconut milk, softened butter, eggs, seasonings

 

More info about sweet potatoes

Glycemic index of sweet potatoes: https://www.healthline.com/health/sweet-potato-glycemic-index

Benefits of sweet potatoes: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/sweet-potato-benefits

 

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Not’cho Mama’s Banana Pudding

Lockdown and a sweet tooth

At the beginning of Covid-19 shutdown, I stocked my cupboards like most folks. Baking and desert items were high priority. Two boxes of Nilla wafers somehow made it in the grocery cart of emergency foods. At the time, making homemade banana pudding sounded like amazing self-love.  One of those boxes disappeared as snacks and the other just got used for what it was intended. 

But it took some inspiration. I had been sick off and on for many months before I was diagnosed with diabetes in July. I immediately thought I would throw away everything in my house that contained sugar but that would’ve basically emptied my cupboards! After getting my glucose under control, I rationed my way through some of the foods I don’t plan on repurchasing, like those Nilla wafers. One day, I noticed the pudding recipe on the side of the box. I’m sure I noticed it when I bought it, but as I get older, every time I see something it’s like the first time. **deep sigh** As I read the recipe, I thought, “I could try this with healthier, less sugar options.” So far, I’ve attempted three reduced sugar or sugar-free banana pudding recipes. Each of them had strong points an major bloopers on my part.

Changing my building blocks

Major adaptations to my illness had to happen in the pantry and fridge first. Part of living off the beaten track in a semi-rural town means a lot of home cooking and baking. In order to eat healthier and better overall (my goal is for each meal) I have to set myself up with helpful and beneficial building blocks. I’ve always been big on fresh fruits and vegetables, but now I buy less fruit because of the natural sugar content, and far more vegetables. In addition, the sweet fruit I like is now added to my salads (apples, pears, plums) or sauté in butter (bananas, berries) when I have to have pancakes – when the sugar-free syrup just won’t do. Another big change was investing in different flours with lower carb counts and no sugar. So far, I’ve stocked almond, coconut, oat, and carbulose flours. Tapioca and gluten-free all-purpose flour were already staples in my pantry. Finding a great non-sugar sweetener – with no aftertaste – has been the bigger challenge. 

Over the last few years, I thought of sugar alternatives as Sugar in the Raw, honey, agave and maple syrups. Coming to the realization that these are all still pure sugars was painful. What are pancakes without 100% maple syrup? Why bother? Well my sugar alternatives were alternatives at all. Since July I’ve been trying SteviaLeaf sweetener, SteviaLeaf sweet drops, apple sugar (a low glycemic sweetener), Swerve (granular, brown and confectioners replacements made of erythritol and prebiotic oligosaccharides blend) and Natural Birch Xylitol Sweetener (haven’t opened yet).  

Swerve can be used as regular sugar, cup for cup in recipes, but I find it’s far too sweet for that. Every recipe after my first use, I’ve cut the cup of sugar to half, a quarter or a third depending on taste.

Banana Pudding #1: Nabisco Nilla Wafer Recipe

I adapted this recipe with coconut flour, coconut milk and swerve granular sugar replacement.

Adapted Original Nilla Banana Pudding Recipe

3/4 cup sugar, divided [swerve sugar substitute]
1/3 cup all-purpose flour [coconut flour]
Dash salt
3 eggs, separated
2 cups milk [coconut milk]
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
45 NILLA Wafers, divided (layered with a portion of this)
5 ripe bananas, sliced (about 3 1/2 cups), divided
Additional NILLA Wafers and banana slices, for garnish

1. Mix 1/2 cup sugar [1/4 cup swerve], flour [coconut flour] and salt in top of double boiler.
Blend in 3 egg yolks and milk [coconut milk]. Cook, uncovered, over boiling water,
stirring constantly for 10 to 12 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla.

2. Reserve 10 wafers for garnish. Spread small amount of custard
on bottom of 1 1/2-quart casserole; cover with a layer of wafers
and a layer of sliced bananas. Pour about 1/3 of custard over
bananas. Continue to layer wafers, bananas and custard to make
a total of 3 layers of each, ending with custard.

3. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form; gradually add remaining
1/4 cup sugar and beat until stiff but not dry. Spoon on top of
pudding, spreading evenly to cover entire surface and sealing well
to edges.

4. Bake at 350°F in top half of oven for 15 to 20 minutes or
until browned. Cool slightly or refrigerate. Garnish with
additional wafers and banana slices just before serving.

Makes 8 servings

NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION per serving
287 calories, 6 g protein, 50 g carbohydrate, 7 g total fat,
2 g saturated fat, 117 mg cholesterol, 134 mg sodium,
1 g dietary fiber.

Preparation Time: 30 mins.
Cook Time: 15 mins.
Cooling Time: 15 mins.
Total Time: 60 mins.

This recipe probably would have been the best of my attempts if I hadn’t used a makeshift double boiler – pot within a pot. The pudding didn’t thicken as much as it should have. Also, I wasn’t able to hand-whip the egg whites into peaks so adding the swerve didn’t a merengue make.

Ready for the oven!

Banana Pudding #2: Yummly Natural Recipe

Yummly is a database of recipes. This recipe posted by Begin Within Nutrition is the one I attempted but I’m unable to download the instructions. I basically did I what I know to do with the ingredients. Still had plenty of Nilla Wafer left over to pretty up the containers. 

3 cups soy milk (or milk of your choice, coconut milk, almond milk, etc.)

1/3 cup organic cane sugar [looks like I used Swerve confectioners replacement]

4 tablespoons corn starch [tapioca flour]

1 pinch sea salt

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

3 bananas (ripe, sliced thin)

Banana Pudding #3: Hybrid Simply Organic and Sugar Free Diva Vanilla Wafers

I messed this one up. There’s no photo evidence of this batch. This one could have also been the best had I not blanked and combined measurements from two different recipes. Ultimately, I used too much cinnamon and too little tapioca flour and too little coconut milk. The pudding had a great flavor – best flavor of all three recipes, but it didn’t thicken once the puréed bananas were mixed in.

I wanted to try a banana pudding with homemade sugar-free vanilla wafers so I went back to the Sugar-free Diva Blog. I decided to try the Carbquick flour for the wafers. Can’t say I like the taste of the wafers on their own. They tasted very salty to me, even though I added no salt tot he recipe. So I assume the taste flowed through from the Carbquick flour. That being said, the combination of the thin pudding with the sugar free wafer was a burst of flavor-filled joy!

Simply Organic Banana Pudding

  • 2 teaspoons Cinnamon [I mistakenly used tablespoons]
  • 2 teaspoons Non-Alcoholic Vanilla flavor
  • 2 fresh, whole eggs
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour [tapioca flour]
  • 1 cup brown sugar [1/2 cup Swerve brown sugar replacement]
  • 3 cups milk (skim or whole, your preference) [coconut milk]
  • 1 pound (approximately 3-4 medium) ripe bananas
  • 3/4 pound gingersnap cookies (optional garnish) [sugar-free vanilla wafers]

  •  Total Time: 10 mins
  •  Hands-on Time: 10 mins
  •  Makes: 4 servings

Directions:

1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, flour and cinnamon. Set aside.
2. In a blender, puree the bananas. Set aside.
3. In a heavy pot over medium heat, add 3 cups of the milk and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently to avoid scorching. Just as the milk begins to boil remove from the heat and whisk into the egg mixture in a slow, steady stream (this helps avoid lumps).
4. Return the milk and egg mixture to the medium heat in the heavy pot and bring to a gentle simmer, stirring constantly to avoid scorching. Stir in the vanilla flavoring, then the banana puree and pour the mixture into a clean bowl.
5. Chill for 2 hours and serve.

For a decorative twist, layer into parfait glasses, alternating pudding and ginger snap cookies, then refrigerate 2 hours, and serve garnished with whipped cream and a mint sprig.

Sugar-free Diva Vanilla Wafers

Flour (AP)- 1 1/2 cups. As mentioned, make this recipe gluten free by using gluten free flour instead of regular flour. Or, you can make this recipe low carb by using low carb Carbalose flour.

Baking Powder- 1 teaspoon.

Butter- 1 stick (1/2 cup) + 1 tablespoon. Softened to room temperature.

Sugar Alternative-1 cup. 1:1 equivalent in volume to sugar. I use granular for best results.

Egg- 1. Vanilla Extract- 1 tablespoon.

HOW TO MAKE SUGAR FREE VANILLA WAFERS  

Preheat your oven to 325 and prep a cookie pan for nonstick. I use parchment paper. Sift or mix together the flour and the baking powder in a mixing bowl. Set this bowl aside. In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and he sugar alternative. Next, add the dry ingredients from the first bowl to the mixing bowl. I add a half at a time, gently stirring between additions. Stir in the egg and vanilla extract to the mixing bowl. Use a teaspoon or tablespoon to drop the cookies on to your prepped pan. Bake for 14-16 minutes or until the edges begin to brown.

Read more at: https://thesugarfreediva.com/sugar-free-vanilla-wafers/ Copyright © https://thesugarfreediva.com

 

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Egg Bake: Riced Cauliflower + Spinach

The Mess Up

Deep sigh. I went overboard yesterday. Without realizing I was overdoing it.

My diabetes diagnoses came with insulin and metformin prescriptions. I’m not a fan of drugs of any kind and was immediately determined to stop taking the prescriptions as soon as possible. It took over a month for my sugar to get and stay within normal range (70-150 per my doctors). I didn’t necessarily change everything I eat, but I certainly changed how, what and when I eat. Meaning, I thought I was going to have to throw out all my food, but it turned out managing what I eat, when I eat it and what it’s eaten with has been very helpful.

I’ve been off of the metformin and insulin for almost two months. In that time my sugar has only gotten above 150 maybe three times. Two of those times this week. In general, I take my glucose in the morning and evening. Last night, I was horrified to be over 230. In fact, I thought maybe my glocometer misread my blood. This morning, I was at 150. The highest morning, I’ve had in two months. Again, I’m thinking, I didn’t even have much yesterday.

But reminders are all over the kitchen.

The food I tracked yesterday was cereal – a blend of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Golden Grahams (finished what was left from a guest stay), breaded cod sandwich for lunch and sauteed chicken breast with veggies and lentils. Where’s the sugar inll this?

Then I remembered the small bags of flavored rice cakes before bed. Oh and that San Pellgrino juice drink with my lunch followed by homemade sugar-free banana pudding. Oh my, maybe it was the second helping of sugar-free banana pudding that put me over. Hmmmm…. This morning the mystery was solved. The glocometer isn’t broken. I simply ate sugar I didn’t account for. After dinner, I treated myself to some chocolate gananche ice cream over a sweet lil Madeline. The ice creamwas enought to spike me, add to that the sugar cake I ate withit and the spots of carbsand sugar throughout the day and we have enough of a situation to scare the crapoit of me.

The fix

All protein and veggies today.

This morning I made a skillet size egg bake for breakfast and lunch. The lack of milk or cream keeps it from being quiche or frittata. Ingredients all to taste:

Sauté in oil rIced cauliflower, onions, orange bell peppers, tomato, spinach. Season to preference.

A lot of water will be in the skillet. You can cook it down or strain.

Add cubed Colby Jack (or preferred) cheese.

Scramble 6 eggs, season to preference. Pour over veggie blend in skillet. You can mix it up a bit or let the eggs sit on top. Put in preheated oven (350 degrees), bake for 15 minutes.

Bon appetit!

Egg bake w/spinach, riced cauliflower, tomato, bell pepper & onion

Egg bake w/spinach, riced cauliflower, tomato, bell pepper & onion
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Sugar Free Diva – Peanut Butter Cookies

As a life long sugar addict, the thought of cutting cutting sugar completely out of my life always seemed like an impossible feat. But apparently I only needed the right incentive. For the last couple of months, I have been sampling various sweeteners that have no impact on my glucose level. Non-sugar sweeteners is a whole new world.

I enjoy baking a great deal. After buying multiple sugar-free sweeteners, I decided to try baking some of my favs with low-to-no-carbs/no sugar recipes. So far, I’ve tried banana bread, banana bread bread pudding. The banana bread was made with a blend of all-purpose flour, coconut flour and almond flour. I didn’t get the blend right. It was super grainy and dry so I tried to save it by turning it into a bread pudding. Somehow, even with soaking it in milk before baking, it was still dry and grainy. I’m gonna have to keep working on that one.

Last week, I attempted a banana pudding. It was a pleasant surprise and has its own post. Next up are sugar-free sweet potato pie and caramel cake. #Crossingmyfingers but I want to be ready for the holidays 😊

I came across this Peanut Butter Cookie recipe on the Sugar Free Diva blog. It’s extremely simple with only three ingredients: 1 cup peanut butter, 1 cup sweetener and an egg. So far, I’ve made it about five different ways. I’ve cut the sweetener to a 1/3 or 1/4 after the first time. These trials will have their own post as well. For now, if you’re looking for some good recipes for sugar-free and low carb baking, check out The Sugar Free Diva.

Bon appétit!

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Everything I Thought I Knew About Diabetes Was Wrong

Did you know diabetes mellitus is a term for a group of disorders that cause elevated blood sugar (aka glucose) levels in the body? Known by it’s first name, diabetes is a chronic (aka long-lasting) condition that affects how your body turns food into energy. Glucose is a critical source of energy for your brain, muscles, and tissues.

When you eat, your body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose (sugar) which is released into your bloodstream. This triggers the pancreas to release a hormone called insulin. Insulin acts as a “key” that allows glucose to enter the cells from the blood. If your body doesn’t produce enough insulin to effectively manage glucose, it can’t function or perform properly. This produces the symptoms of diabetes.

Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to serious complications by damaging blood vessels and organs. It can increase the risk of: heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, nerve damage, eye disease

Nutrition and exercise can help manage diabetes, but it’s also important to track blood glucose levels. Treatment may include taking insulin or other medications.

Diabetes and Food Memories of Mom

My mom was a diabetic. I don’t remember when she was diagnosed, but she would have been in her early or mid-thirties. I do remember watching her shoot insulin into her belly. That’s pretty much all I remember. Oh, and she was a drinker. Not too heavy, but she loved beer and now that I look back, her mood swings could have indicated some habitual drunkenness. She also enjoyed drugs and sweets. Memories of Mom’s baked goods still bring joy. When she threw together caramel cake with icing, banana pudding, and sweet potato pie from scratch, I would literally stand transfixed at her elbow peering under her arm or looking over her shoulder as time went by. Normally, I don’t claim regrets, but my greatest regret in life is that I didn’t get my mom to write down her recipes. Watching her cook and bake was not the same as having written instructions.

In the fourth grade I had my first Home Economics class – remember those? I still have Dotty, the stuffed animal I sewed that year. We learned to make French toast and vanilla pudding from scratch. There were many other dishes, but these were my favorites. Mom allowed me to make French toast and other simple dishes for the family on weekends. When I was fifteen, I took it upon myself to gift my mom and siblings with caramel cake. I threw flour, sugar, milk and eggs into a bowl and baked a brick. Mom was by nature laid back and easy-going person. A super pleasant and beautiful soul, truly. One of the few times I was the target of her rage was when she woke from a nap and saw that I had “wasted” so much of her precious baking ingredients. Desperately, but to no avail, I explained that I did not “waste” her flour, sugar, eggs, milk, precious vanilla extract and whatever else I tossed into the mixing bowl, I was baking her a cake. She stomped and screamed as she pulled my brick from the oven and tossed it on the counter. Truly bewildered, I didn’t understand why she didn’t appreciate my initiative and desire to bake one of our favorite deserts.

Today I understand. Today I can hang my head at my obtuseness. But I still wish she would have fussed and then shown me how to make her fabulous caramel cake. As far back as I can remember, Mom had worked several jobs at a time. The pride of her life was being able to say she provided for her family without government assistance. However, we were extremely poor financially. Everything, especially food, was precious. I knew that. Understood it. But that day, I didn’t consider it a waste to attempt to emulate my mother. She died a few years later and I have no other memories of trying to cook or bake her dishes. Since she’s been gone, I’ve asked relatives if they know how she cooked her banana pudding, sweet potato pie, caramel cake, turkey dressing, potato salad, pinto beans, chicken noodle soup or any of the foods that brought me comfort and joy during my childhood. No one knows. My mom cooked by taste, sight and feel. She was self-taught and as the eldest of eight children, everyone enjoyed her cooking, but no one could duplicate the magic.

This is all I knew about diabetes growing up: My mom had it. She had to take insulin. She also smoke, drank and did drugs. Subliminally, diabetes wasn’t a big deal.

Food as Comfort and Love

I’ve long known that food is my comfort. Certain foods remind me of home and love. Until the writing of this post, I hadn’t connected my “sweet tooth” to what my mom’s deserts and home cooked meals represented to me. For most of my adult life, I’ve attempted to recreate the taste, texture and feel of my favorite foods. This has led to baking becoming one of my favorite pastimes. I still haven’t mastered caramel cake but I’m closing in on an excellent caramel icing. My sweet potato pie is gift worthy and has been has been requested during the holidays, as have my staple sweet potato dishes. I haven’t attempted banana pudding from scratch again, but it’s on the to do list.

So… just as I’m coming into my stride as a baker, I get diagnosed as a diabetic during an intense DKA episode. I was sick, but didn’t know I was a diabetic so I was cooking and baking peach cobbler, caramel cake, banana bread and similar yummies to make myself feel better. In my ignorance, I was killing myself. Despite having a diabetic mother, brother and grandmother and since my diagnosis learning, five of my maternal uncles have diabetes, I knew nothing of the signs or symptoms common to the disease.

I Knew Nothing

Honestly, despite having a mother who had to use insulin daily and a brother whose death was inconclusive because he was a diabetic who had drugs and alcohol in his system when he was beaten to death, I knew nothing about the mechanics or practical requirements of diabetes. Both of my grandmothers fought chronic illness for most of my life. Yet I can’t tell you the sum of their illnesses or how their lives are impacted by each disease or how likely it is that I’ve already developed the same diseases or will soon do so. Disease isn’t talked about on either side of my family as something that is avoidable or even treatable to good health. There’s a resignation to disease with my people. So much so that it’s a side note or conversational add-on.

Quick Facts from CDC.gov

  • More than 34 million people in the United States have diabetes, and 1 in 5 of them don’t know they have it.
  • More than 88 million US adults—over a third—have prediabetes, and more than 84% of them don’t know they have it.
  • Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the United States (and may be underreported).
  • Type 2 diabetes accounts for approximately 90% to 95% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes; type 1 diabetes accounts for approximately 5-10%.
  • In the last 20 years, the number of adults diagnosed with diabetes has more than doubled as the American population has aged and become more overweight or obese. [https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/quick-facts.html]

What is Diabetes?

Closeup of dictionary page showing definition of diabetes

With diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use it as well as it should.

Diabetes is a chronic (long-lasting) health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy.

Most of the food you eat is broken down into sugar (also called glucose) and released into your bloodstream. When your blood sugar goes up, it signals your pancreas to release insulin. Insulin acts like a key to let the blood sugar into your body’s cells for use as energy.

If you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use the insulin it makes as well as it should. When there isn’t enough insulin or cells stop responding to insulin, too much blood sugar stays in your bloodstream. Over time, that can cause serious health problems, such as heart diseasevision loss, and kidney disease.

There isn’t a cure yet for diabetes, but losing weight, eating healthy food, and being active can really help. Taking medicine as needed, getting diabetes self-management education and support, and keeping health care appointments can also reduce the impact of diabetes on your life.

There are three main types of diabetes: prediabetes, type 1type 2, and gestational diabetes (diabetes while pregnant).

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Sources: CDC.gov and Healthline.com, American Diabetes Association