In order to grow throughout life, you have to have an interest in something greater than your norm and beyond your surroundings. Exploration teaches you more about who you are, what you want and where you will go next.
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.
May 4 marks two months of self-isolation. I had actually been really sick the last two weeks of February. In hindsight, I think I was infected with #covid19 most likely in late December. I has something of a pre-illness the first week of January while traveling overseas. The February illness was full force with an extremely high fever. So essentially, I’ve been laying low and moving very slowly since January. However, from January to March, I felt very anxious and forced my self to move through my illness and fatigue. By the time I got checked out at a clinic on March 3rd, I had no fever and was generally feeling better, but couldn’t get rid of a hacking, exhausting cough. At that point I was diagnosed with acute bronchitis. There’s no telling how bad things were when I was too ill to drive myself to a clinic.
All that said, you can probably understand why I’m fantasizing about a road trip. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I’m not brace enough to hit the road yet. So below, I share some images from my Arizona road trip taken in September 2018 at Sunset Crater Volcano near Flagstaff.
The Good Death: An Exploration of Dying in America by Ann Neumann
One of the first phrases to stand out to me was part of a story Ann Neumann shared of a terminal man in the Midwest. He thought it was important to “participate in our own death.” (p 69)
There was a very strong sense that Ann Neumann was directing her words and somewhat undercover activism to a very distinct audience. Her audience was very much so white middle class, middle aged women. There were several times in the text when my neck snapped back in affront as if she assumed anyone outside of her preferred audience would have no interest in or understanding of a good death.
This was a book I was looking forward to reading when it was shared as the next selection for my book club. I read the first couple of chapters with great interest and anticipation. Somewhere approaching the center of the book, she got off topic or changed strategies that took away a great deal from the reading experience. By the end, I felt it was a fruitless book with a misleading title and subtitle.
One of the main things that was off-putting was the author’s off-handed handling of medical ethics. Neumann lost credibility with me on page 93 when she wrote one line on the Tuskegee Airmen experiments, which involved more than 600 black men, as being “observed but not treated for syphilis” when doctors knowingly misdiagnosed, lied and refused to treat the disease… and most likely gave the disease to those who did not have it. All because they reportedly wanted to watch the debilitating effects the disease has on black bodies as well as document their deaths from it. Neumann later spent twenty full pages on one woman in a coma. She exhausted the medical and personal ethics involved in keeping one young white woman on life support who may not have even wanted to be on life support had she been able to choose. Then there were the thirty pages she wrote pro-life conferences and how the conservative Christian right is a danger to the “right to die with dignity” movement. These fifty pages were followed by another thirty pages itemizing the online disputes with disabled bloggers who saw the terminally ill’s right to die with dignity as a threat to their own personal safety under the care of medical professionals.
I confess I remain unable to connect these tangents. More so because one of the last personal profiles in the book is of a terminally ill imprisoned Latino man who was either a dreamer or a braggart. Neumann was disgusted by him and didn’t understand why he would share elaborate stories with her about his former life or his supposedly non-existent future. She actually wrote how she had no compassion for him and his situation. Yet she began the book writing about being a hospice volunteer to better understand the process of dying.
How is Neumann an authority on death? She concluded, “There is no good death, I now know…. But there is a good enough death…. knowing death makes facing it bearable…. And there is really one kind of bad death, characterized by the same bad facts: pain, denial, prolongation, loneliness.” (p210)
I stalled on the last chapter for a couple of weeks. I ended up finishing it while on vacation during a day trip to Tombstone, AZ. It proved to be a good fit with the Tombstone aesthetic. Ann Neumann’s writing is reminiscent of Tombstone, a town that celebrates death and killing from a bygone age. The town’s tourism thrives on ghost stories, hauntings and remembering the wild viciousness of lawless times. Neumann celebrates the privilege of white middle-class, middle-aged Americans. She goes on a grotesque exploration of what she thinks are horror stories in bioethics and medical morality while exhibiting no curiosity or compunction whatsoever for atrocities against humanity on mass scales.
A few weeks ago, I had the best cherry pie I’ve ever had. I’m not a big fan of fruit pies so I don’t often try them… so that may not be saying much. However, I’m still chasing that flavor. This weekend I attempted my second cherry pie-ish dessert and I’m quite pleased.
The perfect cherry pie…
The pie that changed my dessert life, was in my work cafeteria. From that you should gather it was nothing super fancy, but it was amazing. It was the perfect balance of sweet and tart and a beautiful bright red. It had a bottom crust that was somehow flaky and slightly chewy at the same time. It was topped by a thick crumb top that blended deliciously with the filling with each bite.
I’ve been stalking the cafeteria dessert table ever since. That cherry pie has not returned. Being me, I’ve tried to make my own.
Since this might be a thing, here’s background…
I enjoy baking, but I don’t cook or bake too often. Like cooks, bakers become better with practice. I’m out of practice. And I’m my only taster. Fortunately, over the years I’ve learned to take baked goods into the office for shared consumption or freeze them for later consumption. Not that that’s helped my waistline. Anyway, not everything is a hit. Mostly everything is a nice blend of hit and miss!
I won’t share exactly what I did, ’cause it’s not all great, but the experimenting is fun!
Attempt #1: Cherry Blackberry Pie
I love sweets. And I’ve been trying to ween myself off sugar and refined foods for last couple of years. Over the last year, I’ve been experimenting with baking with all natural products (for the most part). What I’ve learned in my experiments, is sometimes the best sweetener is the worst sugar for you. #StillAWorkInProgress
I do my own thing by “improving on other people’s stuff. I didn’t want canned cherries; I found frozen cherries. I was also ok using a frozen crust. I started my cherry filling with this recipe (Easy Homemade Cherry Pie Filling). Then I added my standard seasonings that I put in almost everything: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger. With a pinch of salt and black pepper. Knowing me, I probably added a dab of cayenne pepper too – I got hooked on that a while ago.
After that, I went completely off-script and tossed in a handful of frozen blackberries from my freezer. Completely forgot about the seeds. Seeds in my pie filling were a complete miss. Ruined the gentle chewy experience I wanted. Then I tossed in the starch without sifting it. It beaded up in the mixture; the beads did not dissolve, causing a hiccup in the texture.
I baked it as a two crust pie. The flavor was phenomenal. An absolute hit! Cherries and blackberries with honey, spices and a kick of pepper, oh my!
Attempt #2: Cherry Cream Cheese Pockets and Roll-ups
I hit Costco this week and they had fresh cherries. 🙂 I bought four pounds with the thought of trying another cherry pie.
A couple of weeks ago I tried my hand at beef empanadas. I still had a pack of pastry wraps in my freezer from that experiment. I also had cream cheese in the fridge from a prior baking plan. I decided to try pockets and roll-ups.
I basically followed the same pie filling recipe from above, starting with two cups of fresh pitted cherries. Nothing else was really measured. I boomed, powed, bammed to taste. Added my standard spices and seasonings, a bit of honey, Sugar in the Raw, and brown sugar (probably no more than 3 tablespoons of each, give or take). Forgot the vanilla this time. No additional fruit was added. This time I sifted the starch and dissolved it in hot water (about a quarter of a cup) before adding it to the cherry mix. Just adding the starch mixture (roux?) to the cherry mix didn’t do anything. I had turned off the heat. When I turned the heat back on and started stirring I got this beautiful shiny compote.
This time, everything about the cherry filling was a hit!
I wasn’t crazy about the pastry dough though. I rolled them too thin for the pockets. The bottom had a thin hard crunch to it. The top wasn’t as hard but was still thin.
I liked this as a roll up better. The dough in the middle had some of the chewy I was going for.
I only cooked one pocket without the cream cheese. So glad it was only one. The cherry and cream cheese together was an absolute hit!
If you have any cherry pie goodness to share, please do!