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Wow! What an intense few weeks it's been - first a week on the East Coast on publicity, a few days home, then a week on the West Coast, mostly visiting family, plus a book signing at Carb Smart in Huntington Beach. Now I'm back home for the moment, already working hard on the next cookbook!
Until Christmas, of course, when I go out of town again, and then January, when I understand I'll be doing more personal appearances.
Maybe I should ask for luggage for Christmas?
Been to a few parties yet? Planning to go to a few more? Ever get the feeling that everybody should count off, one-two-one-two, and all the twos have to give parties in February instead, to get us through the late winter?
Parties are great, but as we all know, they're generally Festivals of Nutritionally Questionable Food. Worse, they're full of folks whose notion of "holiday spirit" extends to saying things like, "Oh, c'mon! You've got to have cookies! It's the holidays!"
Argh. While I'm fine with the idea of taking an Indulgence Day (singular) for your Winter Holiday of Choice - Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanza, Yule, whatever - extending the Indulgence concept to the entire several-week season is as bad an idea as you've ever had, unless you're really looking forward to shopping the post-holiday sales for larger sizes.
So how to get through a season of merry-making (or, since I'm admittedly a bit late with this, the rest of the season of merry-making) with your resolve and your waistline intact, without feeling deprived, or like a word-class wet blanket? Here, in no particular order, are some party survival strategies:
* If your social circle is like my social circle, it's standard for invitees to ask "Can I bring something?" Assuming it wouldn't be rude-rude-rude, do bring something to the party - and make it something low carb that will dazzle everyone! Great stuffed mushrooms, chicken wings, deviled eggs, cocktail meatballs, cold shrimp, a relish tray with a fabulous new dip - nobody is going to look at you cross-eyed and mutter, "Oh. Diet food." if you show up with something like this.
* No time to cook? Grab a few great cheeses, and a box of fiber crackers if you like. (Or you could just cut that cheese in chunks, and bring toothpicks!) For that matter, your local grocery store deli will no doubt have something that is low carb and party-worthy - a hot wing platter, a relish tray, a cheese-and-sausage platter, a cold shrimp platter.
* If you're pretty sure all the libations will be higher carb than you'd like, it's hard to see how anyone could object to your showing up with a couple of sixes of light beer, or a bottle or two of dry wine, except at the most formal sort of affair.
* Once you're at the party, grab one of those little cocktail plates, put your low carb hors d'oeuvres on it, and walk away from the food! Do not stand by the bowl of chips or the plate of little pastry-wrapped thingies. Distance is your friend. Anyway, you're supposed to be there to socialize, remember?
* Going to a party where bringing something would be out of the question? If you know your host or hostess well enough, you may have an inkling whether or not will be anything low carb on the menu (and considering how many people now eat this way, it would be a mistake not to have something!) If you're pretty sure that the menu will not be low carb-friendly, but you're determined to go anyway, eat before you go - at least a hard boiled egg or a chunk of cheese or two. Once you're there, eat whatever you can - the celery from the relish tray, the salad at dinner, the shrimp in the shrimp cocktail. Take small portions of what you shouldn't eat, if you want to be inconspicuous, and toy with it while making bright conversation. If anyone takes it upon him or herself to say, "You're not eating a thing!" they're the ones who are being rude, not you.
* If the soiree in question is at your house, heck, you could make the whole menu up of low carb foods and see if anyone even notices your low carb diet theme. At my sister's Christmas party this year, she served Chili Egg Puff and Ellen's Noodleless Lasagne, both make-ahead recipes from 500 Low Carb Recipes. She also had hot artichoke-Parmesan dip, again, from 500 Low-Carb Recipes, with both veggies and fiber crackers for dipping. It's hard to think of anyone being seriously put off by a menu like this!
* Feel you simply must have some sort of "normal" carb-y snacks at your party? Do yourself a favor and buy something other than your own personal kryptonite. For instance, I cannot resist potato chips, but don't care a thing about pretzels - so I'd buy pretzels. And if there are carb-y cookies at a party of mine, they're store-bought, not home-made, and are stuff that other people like, but that don't speak to me - sugar cookies with bright icing or sprinkles, pfefferneuse, gingerbread men, or something of that sort. Your likes and dislikes will be different from mine, of course, but the principle remains the same - buy the "normal" stuff that won't test your willpower.
* If your workplace is one big ongoing cookie exchange this time of year, bring something to work. Just a box of low carb, sugar free hot chocolate mix or a sugar free chocolate bar stashed in your desk drawer will help prevent that "everybody's eating chocolate but me" feeling. If you're moved to serious flights of holiday generosity, you could bring in a sugar-free, low-carb treat to share; trust me, everyone will thank you. And if you're the organizing type, you could even get all the office low carbers together for rotating low carb treat duty. One thought: If this is going to be going on for a couple of weeks, consider making some of those low carb treats of the hors d'oeuvre sort listed above. Even low carb, high protein sweets are not something we should be gorging on.
* It goes without saying that you're eating your low carb, high protein breakfast before going off to that cookie-filled office, right?
Have fun! And kiss somebody cute under the mistletoe for me!
Got another low carber on your gift list? Here are some ideas for presents based on your mutual interest:
* Shameless Self Promotion Alert: If they don't have 500 Low Carb Recipes or 15 Minute Low Carb Recipes yet, you know what to get them! At the risk of invoking my publisher's wrath, I will tell you not to buy them How I Gave Up My Low Fat Diet and Lost 40 Pounds unless they've expressed an interest. "Merry Christmas, lose weight" is not a kind and loving message. Instead, when you get around to discussing your New Year's Resolutions, you can suggest How I Gave... as a great way to learn over a half-a-dozen different approaches to limiting carbs, losing weight, and improving your health.
500 Low-Carb Recipes: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1931412065/lowcarbohysoluti/
15 Minute Low-Carb Recipes: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/159233041X/lowcarbohysoluti/
How I Gave Up My Low Fat Diet and Lost 40 Pounds!: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1592330401/lowcarbohysoluti/
* I'm also of the firm opinion that every low carber needs Diana Lee's books, Baking Low Carb, and Bread and Breakfast: Baking Low Carb II. These are the only books I know that are devoted entirely to low carb baked goods. Sadly, Baking Low Carb is currently unavailable; it's in the process of being reprinted - you'll just have to buy it after Christmas. But in the meanwhile, buy a low carber you love the second book. They'll thank you for it.
Bread and Breakfast: Baking Low Carb II: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0967998816/lowcarbohysoluti
* If your favorite low carber has lost even one dress or pants size, clothes to show off that new shape are a terrific gift. I've known many folks who, having 3, 4, or more sizes to lose, hesitated to buy something new after those first 15 pounds came off - but would have welcomed something cute in that interim size as a great motivator.
* Since low carbers depend heavily on meat, fish, and poultry, gifts that help cook these things well are a good idea. I have Ron Popiel's Showtime Rotisserie, and am happy to report that it works just exactly as well as Ron says, and is a snap to clean up - all the parts that get dirty go in the dishwasher. For that matter, if your giftee doesn't have an electric tabletop grill, ala George Foreman, it's a great gift.
* How about a gift basket of pricey low carb treats? You could put together a baking basket with low carb mixes, a candy basket, a basket of great cheeses and sausages, or nuts and low carb chips. For that matter, you could let Carb Smart do it for you; they have a very nice Christmas basket - and a Kosher Variety Basket, too! http://www.carbsmart.com
* For that matter, many of the fancy-food catalogues have stuff that will work. You could send smoked salmon, deluxe quality mixed nuts, a cheese and sausage package, or even frozen fillet mignon!
I asked for reader recipes for the holidays, and many of you responded! So here are a few to start you off. By the way, I haven't tested these recipes myself, so I'm afraid I can't answer questions!
Laur's Homemade Low Carb "Bailey's Mae" (in honor of our Chocolate labby!)
2 C any booze (Rum/vodka/bourbon/Southern Comfort or brandy)
14 oz.Heavy cream (Instead of that nasty Eagle sweetened condensed junk)
1 Cup half & half
2 TBS. Walden Farms No Carb Chocolate. Syrup (get this through the low carb etailers)
2 tsp. Folger's instant coffee crystals
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. almond extract
Combine all in blender. Put in a tall Ball jar. Store in fridge. Stir before serving.
Makes 5 cups. YUM!
Jenita from Missouri sends this recipe. She says: This doesn't have quite the same texture, but satisfies my cravings just fine! Hope you enjoy it.
1/2 c. almond flour
2 T. butter, melted
3 eggs, beaten
3/4 c. Splenda
1 1/2 tsp. burnt sugar extract
2 T. melted butter
6 T. sugar free pancake syrup (I use Vermont: 1/4 c.=4 carbs)
3 T. sugar free imitation honey (found at Wal-Mart)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. chopped pecans
Melt 2 T. butter in pie pan. Add flour and stir, cover bottom of pan (I do not cover the sides). Place in freezer while combining filling. Beat rest of ingredients until blended. Pour into crust and bake 35-40 min. at 350. 60 carbs total, depending on syrups. Would be good in a meringue crust.
And Maria Marshall sends a recipe for chocolate pecan pie! She writes:
I had to come up with a pecan pie recipe for Thanksgiving! I had several good, tried and true recipes, each with millions of carbs per slice.... Thank goodness I found Nature's Flavors Splenda syrups. Using the no-carb molasses flavored syrup, the filling for this recipe is only about 40 effective carbs (if I've calculated correctly, and not counting any sugar alcohols from the chocolate), and the pie is large enough to serve 10. While the nut-based pie crusts are better from the carb perspective, it didn't seem right to have nuts in both the crust and the filling. But use your own judgement! You can leave out the chocolate for a "plain old" pecan pie.
Chocolate Pecan Pie
This recipe is only for the filling, I'm afraid, but it sounded so good I didn't want to skip it.
Low Carb Chocolate Pecan Pie Filling
1/2 cup Splenda flavored molasses syrup (check your etailer)
24 packets Splenda (be aware that this is sweeter than Granular Splenda - read the box to convert.)
4 Tbsp melted butter
1 1/2 cups pecan halves, toasted and cooled
6 oz. sugar free chocolate chunks or chips
Toast pecans on cookie sheet until just starting to brown. Set aside.
Whisk eggs with Splenda syrup and Splenda. Blend in
melted butter. Sprinkle chocolate and pecans over your favorite low carb pie crust.
Pour filling over chocolate and pecans. Bake at 375 degrees for 45-50 minutes.
Cool after removing from oven. Chill before serving. Cut with serrated knife.
By the way, for those of you in Louisville, KY, this sounds passably close to Derby Pie!
I think I'll do some special "just holiday treats" issues between now and New Years - seems to me we could all use the recipes, and the reminder to stay low carb!
Business travel sounds glamorous, but mostly results in watching television in hotel rooms at odd hours. As a result, I end up watching shows on the road that I generally don't catch at home - and I happened to catch not one, but two, appearances by Dr. Neil Barnard, the president of the Physician's Committee For Responsible Medicine. Dr. Barnard was making the rounds of the chat shows to tell us all how terribly dangerous a low carb diet is, and how we'd all better become vegetarians - vegans, no less - post haste, or face dire consequences - heart disease, cancer, kidney damage, etc.
Doc Barnard must have been worrying a few people, because I got a couple of emails asking what I thought of what he had to say. Surely it will come as no surprise to you all that after eight years of the terrific health that has accompanied my low carb diet, I'm distinctly unworried about dire consequences, especially considering that I've recently had blood work showing that my cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, liver function, and kidney function are all just fine.
What may come as a surprise, however, is a little information about Dr. Neil Barnard and his committee:
* Dr. Barnard is, indeed, a physician - whose training is in psychiatry, not nutrition, cardiology, oncology, nephrology, or any of the specialties pertaining to the statements he's making. By contrast, the late Dr. Atkins, still Barnard's arch-nemesis from the grave, was an Ivy League educated cardiologist.
* The Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine is a front group for the animal rights group PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) and Dr. Barnard is PETA's staff medical advisor. PETA is opposed to any human interference with animals, up to and including keeping pets. In short, Dr. Barnard's position apparently has as much, if not more, to do with moral convictions as it does with health issues. To give you an idea of how extreme Dr. Barnard's position on the subject of animal food is, here is a quote:
"To give a child animal products is a form of child abuse."
-- from Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) president Neal Barnard's 1994 book, Food For Life
That's right. All of you who give your children milk to drink instead of soda or Kool-Aid, or a stick of string cheese instead of chips are abusing your kids, according to Dr. Barnard.
I am very much bothered by the fact that the television shows that had Dr. Barnard for a guest did not state up-front the fact that he has a moral and political axe to grind, and Dr. Barnard did not volunteer the information. This strikes me as dishonest. So does the fact that the PCRM does its level best to obscure the fact that it is an arm of PETA, and more concerned with the animal rights movement than with health.
Perhaps most interesting is the reaction of the American Medical Association. Admitting up front that the AMA was not a huge fan of Dr. Atkins, either, it is still illuminating to read their opinions of Dr. Barnard: and his committee:
"The AMA continues to marvel at how effectively a fringe organization of questionable repute continues to hoodwink the media with a series of questionable research that fails to enhance public health. Instead, it serves only to advance the agenda of activist groups interested in perverting medical science. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is an animal 'rights' organization, and, despite its title, represents less than .5 percent of the total U.S. physician population. Its founder, Dr. Neal Barnard, is also the scientific advisor to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), an organization that supports and speaks for the terrorist organization knows as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF)."
-- from a September, 1992 censure of PCRM issued by the American Medical Association
"The general approach used by PCRM takes selective data and quotations, often out of context … In response to a Resolution passed unanimously at the recent AMA House of Delegates meeting, the American Medical Association calls upon the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine to immediately terminate the inappropriate and unethical tactics your organization uses to manipulate public opinion."
-- Letter to PCRM's Neal Barnard, from James Todd, executive vice president of the American Medical Association, July 26, 1990
Keeping in mind that the AMA is troubled mainly by Dr. Barnard's stance on medical testing, not nutrition, it is still clear that Dr. Barnard does not represent mainstream medical thinking in any way. Doc Atkins wasn't exactly mainstream, either, of course, but then, he openly admitted and discussed the fact that he was a maverick - and of course, in the past couple of years a great deal of mainstream medical research has emerged to support his work.
In short, folks, Dr. Barnard is not someone you want to pay a whole lot of attention to. Next time he appears on your television screen, consider switching over to Comedy Central instead. You'll probably learn more.
How many times have I explained that the reason granular Splenda has 24 grams of carbohydrate per cup (0.5 grams per teaspoon) is because sucralose - sugar with a chlorine molecule patched in, so your body won't recognize it, and will simply pass it through - is so darned sweet that MacNeil, the folks who make the stuff, bulk it with malto-dextrin, a not-very-sweet carb, so it will measure like sugar? Further, I've explained and explained and explained, if we could just get liquid sucralose - liquid Splenda - it would be carb-free, and we could cut big whacks of carbohydrate out of various recipes. This difference between liquid sucralose and the malto-dextrin-bulked granular stuff is the reason why commercially sweetened products, like Diet Rite Splenda-sweetened soda, have no carbs, while we home cooks have had to put up with that 24-grams-per-cup figure.
Finally, I've found liquid sucralose! It's actually sold as a "Zero Carb Syrup Base Concentrate," the idea being that you can add the flavoring extract of your choice, dilute it, and have something similar to the Atkins or Da Vinci sugar free syrups - and you certainly can do this. But on its own, Zero Carb Syrup Base Concentrate is simply a very sweet, carb-free, liquid sucrolose sweetener. I've tried the Zero Carb Syrup Base Concentrate a few ways now - to sweeten yogurt, to bake a cheesecake - and it tastes just great.
Zero Carb Syrup Base Concentrate is, as the name implies, very concentrated - 1 ½ teaspoons roughly equal 1 cup of sugar - or of granular Splenda - in sweetness. This has a few implications for recipe adaptation: Figuring out just exactly how much Zero Carb Syrup Base Concentrate replaces how much sugar is less straightforward than the one-for-one substitution possible with granular Splenda. Also, the volume of your recipe will be changed pretty dramatically. This is not that great a change from granular Splenda, however, since Splenda's fluffy texture collapses instantly on contact with liquid, deflating its volume dramatically. Still, the liquid will contribute even less volume than the granular.
Finally, there is that tiny bit of water that the Zero Carb Syrup Base contributes to a recipe - in most cases it won't be enough to worry about, but you couldn't, for instance, add the liquid to melted bitter chocolate without some other ingredient to bind the two - water makes unsweetened chocolate "seize".
(I've had a few readers write me about a company called Nature's Flavors (http://www.naturesflavors.com) that sells a "Splenda syrup base" - a liquid sucralose product designed for making sugar free snow cones; the idea is that you take the mostly unflavored liquid, add the flavoring extract of your choice, and pour the resulting flavored syrup over shaved ice. However, Nature's Flavors is far more dilute than the Zero Carb Syrup Base; it actually takes 4.5 cups of the Nature's Flavors Splenda Syrup Base to equal 1 cup of sugar in sweetness! This makes the Nature's Flavors product unworkable for most recipes, simply because of the vast quantity of extra water.)
And of course, you can't sprinkle the liquid over things - on top of cookies, for instance.
Still, despite some need for adjustment, the availability of a concentrated, zero carb form of sucralose is a tremendous boon to those of us trying to cut carbs wherever we can.
Zero Carb Syrup Base Concentrate is available only from http://www.locarber.com . An 8 ounce bottle will set you back $17.99, which sounds expensive - until you remember that this is the equivalent of 32 cups of sugar (or granular Splenda) in sweetness. It really works out to being quite affordable to use.
I would be very interested to hear about readers' cooking experiences with Zero Carb Syrup Base Concentrate! I would also like to gauge the level of interest in recipes using the Zero Carb Syrup Base Concentrate instead of granular Splenda - I simply can't go testing every recipe with both!
I've been doing a lot of baking recently. Here's a decarbed version of one of my family's favorite Christmas cookies! These are rich, delicious, and delicate.
Nut Butter Balls
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup Splenda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup almond meal (if you can't get almond meal, grind almonds to a corn meal consistency in your food processor. I do this, and it works fine.)
1 cup vanilla whey protein powder
1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans
6 ounces sugar free dark chocolate, chopped pretty fine
1. In a big mixing bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter with the Splenda, salt, and vanilla until it's light and fluffy. Turn off the mixer.
2. Combine the almond meal and vanilla whey protein powder, stirring them together. Now turn your mixer back on, and beat this combination into the butter in 3 or 4 additions.
3. Next, beat in the pecans, then the chopped sugar free chocolate. Wnen you have a well-mixed dough, chill it for a few hours.
4. When dough is chilled, preheat your oven to 350. Now make balls of dough, a little smaller than a walnut. Place them on an ungreased cookie sheet, and bake for about 10 minutes.
5. Let the baked cookies cool on the cookie sheet for a minute or two before carefully transferring to wire racks to finish cooling -- the cookies are most delicate when warm.
6. When cookies are on racks, but still warm, sprinkle just a little pinch of Splenda over their tops, to pretty them up. (If you wait till they're cool, the Splenda won't stick as well.) Store in airtight cookie cans -- and, if you're not going to eat them up in a day or two, keep them in the fridge.
Makes roughly 5 dozen. Not including the polyols in the sugar free chocolate, each will have 1 gram of carbohydrate, with a trace of fiber. 2 grams protein. 57 calories.
Note: I've get questions regarding my use of ground nuts to replace flour, since nut allergies are common. I've recently had a lot of success using ground pumpkin seeds in place of ground almonds, so that's what I'd try first. Pumpkin seeds are cheaper than almonds, too! You can find raw, hulled pumpkin seeds in just about any health food store. I'm afraid I have no substitute for the chopped pecans.