Tag Archives: Sugar

Day four: Clean eating re-centers focus

On a beautiful fall day we sat across the table from our daughter and her significant other and talked about exciting plans. Conversation was lively, the company excellent, the views outside the restaurant were gorgeous, The Bride looked lovely, our daughter was happy and all I could think about was the bread in the basket just across the table.

Turns out, I found out later, The Bride was right there with me.

“I wanted to snatch it from them with a huge slab of butter,” she said.

But we didn’t. We let it sit there. Two pieces, untouched, sitting in the basket the entire meal. I even had to let them get thrown away, which usually turns me into Sheldon in The Bing Bang Theory’s clone.

Ta da!

We didn’t break. So it goes with our Clean Eating challenge as we hit the middle of our first week. The challenge is pretty simple: no processed foods of any kinds, very low in carbs, high in lean protein, tons of veggies, five meals a day, yet all small and no Mulligans. We’re sticking to it.

I can say that now with confidence because we passed the bread test. As is clear from this site, I love everything about bread. Especially making it. Eating it is pretty zipbang special too. About the only thing I crave more is chocolate and, oddly, that is allowed a couple of times in this challenge! So if we were going to blow it, the bread would have been it.

So that’s the good news. We’re going to make it, I’m pretty sure. It’s not really that hard at all. The menus are so well-organized that cooking is quick and not having to plan or think about it removes a lot of the temptation to make a fat burger with fries,


or whip up one of my favorite binge foods.

We’ve had some really good meals in these past few days. I can honestly say I’ve never had a more lively, delicious salad as this Asparagus and egg salad on Day One.


It also has taken things we eat often and given them a twist, which has helped me get out of the rut of things were eating, even when we were eating healthy. What’s not to love about this:

2014-10-07 15.29.24

And my usual morning omelet was streamlined to make it much healthier, but it still tasted just fine. So I had to ditch the salami and ricotta and have instead a little goat cheese and peppers, but it was fine.

2014-10-09 08.30.45

The whole point of this thing — to rediscover the physical, spiritual and emotional balance that is critical to sobriety, and to keep the creep of weight gain from getting out of control — is being met better than I expected. I feel far more centered and less obsessive about food. I’m not having addictive cravings about dessert at night that I can’t mentally shake (though The Bride had a dream about Chocolate Cake last night… wish I had that dream to tell you the truth). We walked nearly 20,000 steps yesterday, worked out, spent 20 minutes in quiet spiritual devotion and god some work done. In short, I feel more like I did a year ago, when I felt great… great enough to start this whole website focused on celebrating healthy recovery.

So for those keeping score at home, I’d have to say the plus side of this effort so far is kicking the sugar addiction I had in full swing before I started, kicking my metabolism into hyper drive and feeling more in balance overall again. The negative side, the hangover like headache that comes with the detox is a bummer (though on it has finally started to ease up) and the lack of any breads likely isn’t sustainable. I’ll put breads (and the occasional dessert) back into the meal plan going forward, but far less often as we were doing before started this plan.

And yes, like I said, we even had chocolate:

2014-10-08 18.21.48

So ask yourself: What’s keeping you from taking the Buzzfeed Clean Eating Challenge today?


Sugar substitute nonsense has to stop somewhere

This is the third of a three-part series for our Wheat and Chaff category, which focuses on the misinformation that makes basic life decisions so very difficult. We will take a slew of topics over time — most with a high degree of debate and misinformation — and try to provide the brass tacks of unbiased information. Don’t follow the fadish misinformation of the Internet. Find facts that can empower you to your healthiest, best life. Check out Part 1: EFFin A rules to sugar, and Part 2: Sugars by any other names.

There is no way I can be “unbiased” about artificial sweeteners. I don’t like artificial, I don’t use much added sugar, so it’s easy for me to turn my nose to the whole thing.

I like real sugar, plain and simple. I love to challenge people who argue otherwise, because at just 15 calories per teaspoon, what’s wrong with it?

“Nothing–in moderation,” says Lona Sandon, R.D., an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “The naturally occurring sugar in an apple is fine, but if we can reduce some of the added sugar in our diet, we can remove some of the empty calories.”

My point in parts one and two, exactly.

But if you are at this third part of this three-part series, you deserve the best I can give you to separate the wheat from the chaff for those who want a best- alternative from the sweetener category.

For starters, I understand the provocative debates about the health impact of most artificial sweeteners. I’ll deal with aspartame as its own subject some day. For now, let me just say, if you can choose a natural alternative over a chemical one, why wouldn’t you? To that end, I’ll focus on the best of the best in this and leave the rest behind.

So let’s focus on the best of the best. Stevia, Monk Fruit and Truvia.

Stevia in the Raw’s ingredient list  is fairly simple: dextrose and stevia leaf extract. What is dextrose? Sugar. See the pattern here? There’s more dextrose than the plant. But, the good news is dextrose is naturally created within our body and in small doses can be relatively helpful. Compared to other sugars it’s just wonderful.

Stevia plants have been used for 400 years to sweeten foods so that’s a nice track record. The Bride tells me it has the faintest oddity in taste, but she’s gotten used to it. All things considered, it’s not a bad choice.

Truvia is also in the mix, according to experts.

“Truvia’s one of the most promising alternatives out there,” says nutritionist Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., author of The Healthiest Meals on Earth. “Right now, it looks safe. It tastes just like sugar and has almost no glycemic index, which means it won’t spike your blood sugar.”

Not bad, all things considered, but read the fine print a second time: “Right now” she says. Right now, it looks safe. They all do at the start right? I’d probably opt for something with more information.

Consider Monk Fruit (source: medicaldaily.com):


“Now monk fruit, a melon cultivated by Buddhist monks at one time or another in certain types of China, is gaining popularity as a flavorsome and healthier alternative to aspartame.

Chinese law that prevents monk fruit from being grown outside of the country. This combined with the intricate process involved with monk fruit extraction makes it a pricey commodity.”

Pricey’s not great. And if you can’t get it naturally, you are left with a processed product like Stevia and Truvia.

Mother Nature Network reports: Monk fruit extract is now sold commercially under a few brand names in the United States, one of which is Nectresse (from the same people who brought you Splenda). A glance at Nectresse’s ingredient list reads: erythritol (a sugar alcohol), sugar, monk fruit extract, and molasses — meaning that you’re not exactly getting as natural a product as you might have hoped. The most “natural” version of monk fruit sweetener that I have found is Monk Fruit In The Raw, which contains only dextrose and monk fruit extract — still not perfect, but getting there.

See, even the “natural” and “raw” products add a bunch of crap including, of all things, sugar! But like Stevia in the Raw, Monk Fruit in the Raw has dextrose, which as far as sugars go is, as Nonie used to say, “eh.”

Still, the processed process continues. Consider the people who combined monk fruit and stevia, calling it Zevia (do these folks need some new names or what?)

“We feel like we’ve really cracked the code,” Zevia CEO Paddy Spence told Reuters. “Using the two side by side, we were able to get a higher level of sweetness without the bitterness.”

Cracked the code huh?

OK… Why not?

My advice? Well you knew that back in part 1. But if like The Bride you’re going to opt for a zero calorie alternative, these listed above aren’t bad and getting better.

The one constant through all of this, when you pull the wheat from the chaff is this: Moderation. And moderation is far less than you think.

Be healthy. Live long. Love.

Want to lose 100 pounds? Forget the diet

I can never get over the fact that we’ve created a multi-billion dollar diet industry and the net result is we have reached an epidemic of obesity.

Consider that? If you are like me whose DNA requires a constant attention to the battle of the bulge, then you know how emotional the issue can be and how emotionally bad the decisions related to our diets can be.

We are prey, folks. Pure prey. And the diet-based industry is feeding on our fatty flesh.

I can’t stress enough how upside down and bottom-line insane our collective conscience is here. We keep chasing the diets and they keep making us fatter and the proponents richer with no accountability for results.

We’ve collectively spent BILLLLLLIONS on diets that have made us as a nation sicker, fatter and more desperate than ever.

So why does it continue?

Seriously, I feel like I should put out a diet book that charges $5 with a simple promise that you’ll never spend money on diets again and you’ll lose weight. I know because I did it and I kept it off. Folks would pay for that right?

So page one would be this: You’ve just spent your last $5 on diets. Don’t ever pay for a diet again.

Page 2 would be: eat right and exercise.

Page 3 would say The End.

I think that would be a public service.

Think I’m crazy?

I know. I do too. But that’s the problem. The lunatics have taken over the asylum. And they keep saying we need to spend more money and have worse results and call that sane.

Insanity is sometimes described as doing the same thing over again and expecting a new result. Ta da! What better explains diets.

The only thing you need to change to lose weight is your brain. That’s it. Change your thoughts through sustained action and you will lose weight and keep it off. Put yourself through a death march of Cross fit and fruit cleanses and you’ll lose weight, have the same brain, and put back on twice the weight at some point.

A hoof-to-head strategy is required for success and it start with THE HEAD. Let me explain:

I started my “diet” by simply cutting all desserts in half. I wanted to lose weight, yes, but I wanted to change my brain and get healthy. I switched the priorities, putting health over weight loss. I started thinking differently.

My fat wasn’t about sugar, really. It was alcohol (which turns to sugar, but I once heard it called “empty calories” which meant it was OK… just shows you how a boozer thinks) and stress and working 100 hours a week (in the literal sense, not the “oh yeah, I work a 100 hours a week” when you mean 55 sense). I needed a huge thinking change or I was gonna die. But I started with the easiest thing: desserts. Cut em in half, give the rest away and move on.

I started my “diet” with a simple philosophy. I would do nothing that wasn’t sustainable. If I couldn’t envision doing it forever, I wasn’t going to do it. No back-breaking Navy Seal training, no fasting, no extreme cleansing, no super fat-burning pills. Just lifestyle changes. Eating smaller deserts was an easy lifestyle change.

Soon I simply banned all desserts. It wasn’t that hard. I wasn’t sure if it was sustainable, but my body was responding and didn’t crave the sugar, so I went with it.

It was a breeze compared to the break with alcohol, but that’s another story for a different category on this blog. But as I gave up booze my taste for decadent desserts returned. Now I am back to the half-portions again as a sustainable position toward my love-affair with desserts. The alcohol is all banned and has to be sustainable to keep my brain working properly. So that prohibition stands.

Over time the whole scope of how I ate and how I thought about food and how I worked out and how I thought about working out and the goals I had and my view of self and the way I saw my body in the mirror and the way I appreciated health and … and… and… CHANGED.

And I lost the weight. It took about 18 months. I hit many plateaus. I learned a ton about how my body reacts. I learned when I deprived myself calories, my body went to war to fatten me up. When I ate like cattle, grazing throughout the day I felt hungrier and lost weight. I learned that my body would reward my indulgences of sweets or fattening meals with a loss of a pound or two because I think it realized I wasn’t trying to starve it. I learned that I have to pay close attention to the innate part of my body that wants to get fatter even now just to be safe. I learned my body hated fast foods. I felt sick eating them and haven’t had any but my beloved In N Out Burger (and I’ve only had that twice) for three years.

I learned about me and how to stay fit, active and healthy as a lifestyle. I’m reasonably well proportioned. I have a touch of belly roll and stubborn love handles, but I look fine. My blood pressure, once dangerously high is well in the normal range and has even come in as low as 103/55 once when I was off caffeine as a failed experiment (definitely not sustainable for me).

So let me say it again and you can keep your five bucks.

Eat right: that is worth more than a page and I’ll revisit here often. But it’s pretty simple to get started and the more you do, the more you’ll learn. Your taste buds do change.

Exercise: Keep it simple. Do what you enjoy, not what you hate. Hike, bike, swim, yoga, active sports, jog, walks with dog or the spouse, walking and bicycling instead of car trips, etc. etc. It doesn’t have to be an hour at the gym, though that turns out to be pretty fun too when you learn to do it right and enjoy it.

Eat right and exercise. Lose 100 pounds. Save billions.

That’s a bestseller, right?

The ushers are passing the plate now. Thank you for your generous donations. Come back again soon!

‘Healthy’ sugar alternatives still largely sugar

This is the second of a three-part series for our Wheat and Chaff category, which focuses on the misinformation that makes basic life decisions so very difficult. We will take a slew of topics over time — most with a high degree of debate and misinformation — and try to provide the brass tacks of unbiased information. Don’t follow the fadish misinformation of the Internet. Find facts that can empower you to your healthiest, best life. Tune in later for Part 1: EFFin A rules to sugar, and Part 3: sugar substitutes.

The battle with sugar is not sugar itself. Sugar is addictive. Like salt, our taste buds adapt and want more. Like stimulants, it triggers within our brain a release of pleasure and energy. The more we eat, the more the brain wants it. Moderation is the root of the root when it comes to sugar.

What’s moderation? Way, way less than the typical American eats. So doing all we can to remove unnecessary sugar is a critical part of eating right.

This basic desire has spawned a vast industry of sugar substitutes. The list of sugars and their copy cats is longer than the alphabet. The organic movement and the desire for healthier options has muddied the issue rather than helped it. Natural honey, Agave in the raw, raw sugar, even Monk Fruit have been touted as “natural” and “healthy” alternatives to sugar.

But this topic is Exhibit A –provided by my new BFWF (Best web friend forever… in my imagination, that is) Andrew Wilder of Eatingrules.com—  of why I don’t like fads. Read on:

The health claims of these products can be quite infuriating (for skeptics like us.)  The brand Sugar In The Raw uses misleading (and completely meaningless) language, such as: “Nature’s own sweetener is gently converted into the natural crystals…” The Wholesome Sweeteners brand (the name alone is misleading) says “Organic Turbinado Sugar is made by crushing the freshly-cut sugar cane to squeeze out the juice, rich in, vitamins and minerals.”[sic] Of course, the next sentence tells us it’s evaporated and spun in a centrifuge — which means that they’ve just gone ahead and removed any of those “rich” vitamins and minerals.  (I also didn’t realize that sugar cane was so amazingly high in vitamins and minerals. Oh,wait — it’s not.) I’ve heard people sing agave’s praises, specifically thinking it’s significantly less-processed than other sweeteners. That may or may not be true, as the sugar is extracted and processed through a few different methods, depending on the type of plant. It always requires more processing than honey, too. The pros? You may not use as much. Agave tends to be sweeter than honey or regular sugar, so there’s a chance you’ll use less of it.

Or put a tad more succinctly, it’s all still sugar. It’s purpose is to make things taste better and like salt and really all spices, should be used in small amounts, only when necessary and always in moderation.

When setting what moderation is, consider a single can of soda pretty much blows your moderate sugar intake for a week.

So what about these alternatives? Honey is natural right? Agave is all the rage. Molasses is somehow back in vogue. Do any of these make the grade for replacing C&H?

Let’s take a look. Starting with the old stand by, the Winnie the Pooh favorite, Honey. Wilder offers a thorough explanation that ends pretty much where we started:

“The Bottom Line: Honey can be ‘closer to nature,’ and may have some benefits, but unfortunately it’s about as high in fructose as regular table sugar,” Wilder writes.

And in case your wondering, the exact same thing can be said for natural maple syrup. Cool concept, tastes way better than Aunt Jamima, but is still sugar.

So let’s go to Agave. The Bride really loves agave and uses it because it “feels” healthier to her. A health-nut, over-the-top eco friend I love very much basically told us we were bad people if we didn’t use agave instead of “refined” sugar. I  don’t use agave so I felt left out of the club, as if I lost my certified liberal card.

But alas, from authoritynutrition.com: “Agave is high in fructose. Fructose doesn’t raise blood sugar or insulin in the short term, but when consumed in high amounts it leads to insulin resistance… a long-term effect that will chronically elevate blood sugar and insulin levels.

And Wilder states, “The Bottom Line:  Depending on the type of agave syrup, the composition can vary. Some may contain 56% fructose and 20% glucose (and the rest is other sugars). Others may have as much as 92% fructose.”

It’s still sugar folks. You’re body doesn’t know the difference.

Wait, wait, wait, you say. BROWN SUGAR! It’s gotta be better right?

Uh, no. See the second word? Yeah, still sugar. Don’t take my word for it, ask Wilder who says it is brown because it has some molasses. It’s sucrose, which leads to insulin spikes, exactly like table sugar, because it is exactly sugar.

Molasses? Ah, now we are on to something.

“The nutrient-to-sugar ratio on molasses — especially blackstrap molasses — is far better than other sweeteners. However, molasses has such a strong, specific flavor that it may not be an acceptable substitute to many,” Wilder writes.

Also molasses has the least extracted sugar. It really leads the way in comparison as far as health standards. Use it when appropriate, say in baking certain items, to reduce overall sugar content. But…the taste is so strong it can’t be used as The Bride would, in say, coffee.

So let’s bottom line this shall we. My Wilder, please?

“Take Home Message

All the sugar you eat will go down to your intestine, get broken down into glucose and fructose and eventually reach the liver. Your liver does not know (or care) whether the sugar you eat is organic or not. The Bottom Line: Containing no fructose at all, and up to 65% maltose, Barley Malt Syrup is a promising alternative… if you like the taste.  Date sugar is similar with 45% maltose, so it too is a “promising” alternative.”

But they all share the same basic fact of life: they aren’t good for you and need to be used in moderation.

Our best bet, retrain your brain to like the taste of non-sweet foods the way they are intended. Let the natural sugars of whole fruits be your guide. Limit adding sugar to anything, and if you need a little treat, make it yourself and enjoy it thoroughly so you can go a little while until the next treat.

Your taste buds will adjust over time just as they’ve learned not to be shocked by the sweetness of added sugar. Just as people who don’t eat much salt complain something is too salty, if you scale back you’ll see what they mean. You’ll soon taste sugar in your coffee and it will not taste right. That is your brain telling you you simply don’t need it like you once did.

Sugar is sugar is sugar so eat it with purpose

This is the first of a three-part series for our Wheat and Chaff category, which focuses on the misinformation that makes basic life decisions so very difficult. We will take a slew of topics over time — most with a high degree of debate and misinformation — and try to provide the brass tacks of unbiased information. Don’t follow the fadish misinformation of the Internet. Find facts that can empower you to your healthiest, best life. Tune in later for Part 2: the many faces of real sugars, and Part 3: sugar substitutes.


I was about forty pounds into dropping a full C-note of fat when a little satan with a red pitch fork popped onto my shoulder and whispered, “Honey!”

One word. Healthy images of bees in the hive and Winnie The Pooh and Honey Combs Cereal popped into my head.

OK, I know, nothing healthy (or honey for that matter) about Honey Combs cereal, but it had worked for me before so the association was strong.

As a kid in Southern California in the 1970s I had to weather my mother’s health craze first hand. I was not at all happy when suddenly the only snack that didn’t grow somewhere was toffee peanuts. Breakfast tasted like tree bark and milk. I adored Crunch Berries and suddenly they were off limits. I channeled my misery into a crafty scheme and even enlisted the credibility of my older brother, the future preacher. We convinced my mom to allow Honey Combs Cereal because they were made with honey, not sugar.

Way back then something inside me said honey must be OK.

So forty years later, about 40 pounds into my lifestyle change and feeling pretty good, I wondered if I could use honey to make some healthy items taste better. I asked a former Australian Olympic runner who still had about 7% body fat nearing the age of 50.

“Well, it’s just a pretty sugar, mate,” he said, “but it’s still sugar.”

He shrugged. Message delivered, no honey.

The Bride likes sugar in the coffee and honey in the oatmeal and brown sugar over sugar becomes it seems healthier and agave over all of them because she likes fads.

But I go back to the basics time and again, as expressed by authoritynutrition.com

“Added sugar is the single worst ingredient in the modern diet.”

Sugar is sugar is sugar and the human body simply can’t consume it in the quantities we Americans have come to consider normal.

So before we tunnel deep into the morass of sugar options and marketing, let’s focus on the 30,000-foot view. If you follow just these rules, you don’t have to go any further. Pass Go and collect $200, not to mention welcome the healthy, sustainable weight loss that will result.

The Effin Artist Three-Rule
Sugar Testament

  1. Choose the sugar you eat every time: If I’m going to eat sugar, I want to choose it. Limiting sugar is one of the most difficult battles for healthy eating. Processed foods have the stuff stuffed in everywhere. Simple things like ketchup, barbecue sauce, salad dressings, fruit juices and many more are loaded with sugar. By making these things yourself, you control the sugar. Most every homemade recipe for these ingredients are still wonderful even when you cut the sugar in half. It’s a powerful way to control your sugar. The same goes for sweets. We all love sweets. We all should enjoy them – in moderation – even when losing weight. And you can if you vigilantly root out the sugar you don’t choose. Michael Pollan’s little, useful book, Food Rules, makes this clear in rule #39: “Eat all the junk food you want so long as you cook it yourself… If you made all the French fries you ate, you would eat them less often.” Same goes for cookies and ice cream and chips. So choose the sugar you eat and you’ve won much of the battle.
  2. Eat the real thing. If I’m going to eat sugar, I’m going to eat the food, not the chemistry experiment. Substitute “sugars” are… dangerous really when you get right down to it, so much so this will have a whole separate W&C post (part 3). For now, let’s keep it simple. Eat natural, minimally processed sugars when you choose to eat sugar. Don’t eat controversial, potentially disease-causing substitutes when you don’t can choose real food.
  3. Finally, except in rare circumstances don’t be extreme. I believe the most important part of dieting is to not diet. Make wholesale permanent changes to your life that change your thinking, and over time you will find the weight you want. Your brain is the most powerful dieting tool you’ll ever have. If you deprive yourself with extreme changes, your brain will hammer home that this is deprivation. Once turned loose the pendulum will swing radically the other way. Sugar is a drug and our brain reacts to it as such. Train your brain to embrace a small measure of sugar in your diet – chosen, purposeful sugar—and your brain will file it in the proper category somewhere down the list of what’s really important.

This works for me and it worked when I dropped 100 pounds. It works now that I’ve kept (most of it) off. It makes my decisions simple and if you are convinced then I would write no more on this subject.

But, as I said, The Bride has other needs and wants. Unlike me she wants to add sugar to coffee so wants to cut the calories if she can. She wants the healthiest sugar and the healthiest substitutes if necessary. More people are like her than me. For that reason, the beat goes on to parts 2 and 3. Stay tuned.

More importantly, as with all W&C posts, your insight is welcomed and encouraged. Post your reply below and join the conversation!

If food is a drug we may as well use the good stuff

Addicts often replace one addiction for another one. For those in recovery, it starts with replacing the drug of choice with something more benign and then gradually changing the addictive behaviors. You’ve never seen sugar consumed until you’ve seen a former meth addict in rehab. I once sat with a friend of mine and watched him dump at least half a cup of sugar in his milk.

This is also why AA meetings are shrouded in a smog of cigarette smoke in the entryway.

For those going the other way, deeper into their addictions, this process works in reverse, with addictions trading up in search of a better high. Either way, the process is in constant motion, evolving and adapting to our ever-changing mental state.

The key, as was pointed out in a seminal book on addictions, Addiction and Grace, by Gerald May, to recognize this process rather than fight it. By dragging our addictions up from the depth of our unconscious, we are less ensnared by them. By recognizing that we have these addictions we are far less likely to be consumed by them.

May does an excellent job in explaining that most people suffer from addictive behavior. A rarer special group of us addicts take those addictions to extreme levels and therefore need treatment. Most simply manage them.

Regardless, the process of making these addictions conscious (not conscience, which can be similar in this regard) is important for everyone, not just those of us in recovery.

When I went through rehab, I took on a spirit of monk-like deprivation. I cut everything out of my life. No booze to be sure, but also a long list of other things I said no to like sex, and sugar and even for a short while caffeine. Eventually I allowed myself to return to more normal experiences of all of the above with the exception of booze. I’ve been clean and sober now for 55 months, thank God.

Slowly but surely the other old addictions returned. I drink a lot of coffee these days. As you can read from my post, I have reunited with sugar too. Both crept back into my life until I really wanted both each day. I even called it happy hour, which it is… coffee and chocolate? That’s happy:

happy hour
happy hour

Ding, ding, ding, the bells went off in my head. Addiction alert?!

Food is a drug, I realize that now. I don’t spend hours in the kitchen crafting crazy recipes over and over without understanding the addictive needs I have are being met.

Like everything else, I simply have to recognize the process. I have to accept that making food and eating food (especially sugar, which is the Meth of food) my brain experiences sensations similar to what alcohol used to do for me.

I watched a great documentary on this recently called, Hungry for Change. It expertly explained the addictive properties of food, especially my beloved devil: sugar. Watching that show was like going to an AA meeting. I felt my out-of-balance need for food shift within me back into greater balance.

It finally dawned on me this nagging feeling I’ve had for weeks. If food is going to be my drug of choice (which it is along with coffee… I’ve accepted these in my life) then why not go for the best. I don’t want to waste my addiction on crappy food. I want to enjoy it with excellent food.

It made me think back to rehab when they’d talk about triggers. I was asked if the holidays were triggering me to drink.

“Well, nobody’s tossing a bottle of Grey Goose onto the grounds here, so it’s not too bad,” I told them.

I was just like that as an alcoholic. I didn’t want my addiction diluted with beers at 7 a.m. I’d hang on each day until Happy Hour and an expensive cocktail followed by a nice bottle of wine. That’s what The Bride and I would call it, “Nice.” It was always a nice bottle of wine even when it would cause an ugly hangover the next day.

Well, those tendencies serve me well now. If I focus on good food, healthy food, food I make and grow and nurture, I get far more bang for my addictive buck than a blast down to McDonald’s. I also keep that lusty sugar in check. (By the way, I think my sobriety date for McDonald’s or other fast food joints is going on 31 months. Not bad?!)

Food is my drug now. It beats the other ones I’ve had. So I may as well make it good food and everything will be just fine.

News from the Test Kitchen- Bran Madness

The Bride and I have been watching food documentaries of late. Any residual resistance I had for my sugary concoctions went largely out the window after viewing these. Sugar is the devil.

Of course, I’ve long danced with the devil, so no wonder it feels so familiar.

Bad food is also a drug. No wonder I’m so obsessed. I’m scanning about for new addictions apparently.

With that in mind the Bran Muffin test kitchen kicked into high gear in search of our three aforementioned goals: 1) Moistness 2) Health 3) Artistry.

After my first batch, where I stuck to the basics, I decided I had to branch out. Search “moist” bran muffins and the recipes are all very similar to bran muffins, in general, which by definition means dry as toast.

In the true spirit of testing, I’ve now made three batches of muffins each differently, slowly evolving the process to narrow in on what will earn the EFFin Artist label. I’m so far off the grid they don’t even have power here. I’m going where no recipe seems to have gone before.

For example. One batch I envisioned tasting like a healthy Snickers bar, full of chocolate, peanut butter and caramel and still having only a 1/4 cup of brown sugar total. Impossible? I think not.

Overall the muffin proved delicious, especially compared to bran muffins, but nothing like a Snickers bar. It was loaded energy bomb. For the chocolate I used protein powder. The peanut butter was Effin A brand, all natural. The caramel topping came from sweet potatoes, a smidge of butter and a teaspoon of brown sugar, greatly reduced. On a couple of muffins I mixed this caramel-like mixture with a touch of cream cheese to make it more frosting-like. It’s amazing how tasty this all was and with virtually no sugar.

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Sounds delicious right? Well it was. EXCEPT: I was listening to AC/DC and Ozzy at the time and got a little jacked up and forgot to turn the oven down (speaking of dance with the devil… our oven is Satan’s spawn. But that’s another story). So they cooked a bit hot and burned ever so slightly the muffin cup. They were still really moist thanks to the plain Greek yogurt I mixed into the batter. But they just didn’t have the perfect finished artistry to succeed on all three levels. Very close. For the next round I’ll mix some dark cocoa powder with the protein powder because the chocolate was all but lost. (Another little secret: I used half a banana mashed into the eggs to give added moisture. The flavor is lost, which I wanted because it didn’t go with a Snickers Bar, but the moisture remained… very cool, I think).

My next creation was a blueberry coconut bran muffin. Here I got absolutely a bit whacky. I decided to use coconut oil, but rather than heat it into a liquid I used it solid and crunched it up into the batter. My thinking was it would heat and pour moisture into the dough while they baked. I also used a 1/4 cup of raw coconut sugar, 1/2 cup of coconut water, dried coconut flakes and a sprinkling of coconut dust on top for that all-too-important artistry. I folded the blueberries in at the last so they didn’t smash up too much. Again I went for yogurt in the batter as moisture. It almost worked until… the oil ended up basically frying the muffins as they cooked. I opened the oven and it looked like I was frying dough again!

As it turned out, the edges are a delightful crispy texture like fried dough, but of course they aren’t really fried. But the oil kept them so moist and dense, they didn’t rise at all. So these are too tiny to call finished.

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I’m going to try it again with two corrections: The oil will be mixed in so it won’t “fry” but just have that moisture. I’ll also use baking powder next time to get the lift I need. I like BIG muffins that bowl over the edges, so that’s a must for the finished product.

So who wins the sweepstakes?

Just like my brother’s favorite TV show The Sopranos… nobody knows!


I can’t send the sweepstakes package yet… because I haven’t discovered the perfect muffin yet. Some good things have emerged, but other things haven’t quite come together. The freezer is full of these little dudes, but none are Effin Art. None are worthy to wear the “I’m an EFFin Artist, Man!” label. The quest continues. Stay tuned… the winner’s spot is still very much up for grabs. All I can say is when I’m done, these will be very, very worth the effort to win them.

By the way, the Snickers bar muffin had 1 gram of sugar! Only 1 per muffin. Amazing right?!

Stay tuned.

Effin A has left the building…. so don’t bother trying to unsubscribe. He can’t hear you…

Breakfast: all that it’s cracked up to be

I love breakfast.

The thought occurs having just finished it, which I do virtually every day and never grow tired of doing, nor do I grow tired of thinking how much I love it. Breakfast is the gift that keeps on giving.

My bride knows this, which is why she took me out recently for my birthday breakfast — not dinner.Her, coffee, the San Francisco Chronicle and a big breakfast equals WHALLA! Perfecto.

Think about it. Breakfast usually costs half of dinner. You can take your time, read the newspaper, drink copious amounts of coffee and nobody complains. You also don’t have to worry about the cocktail menu or the wine list seductively vying for your attention.You don’t have to worry about some jackass wanting your table. Even the wait staff are more laid back, like “take all the time you need…” instead of “eh hem.. will you need anything else this eeeveening…” Only at breakfast do servers call me “honey.” I like that.

And of course, unlike most any other nutrition and diet advice that has the shelf life of a slab of tuna, breakfast has staying power as the best meal of the day. Think about it… again: Calorie counting has risen and fallen from favor and risen and fallen again, as have low-fat diets, protien-diets, fasting diets, superstar diets, and on and on and on. But most every diet says eat breakfast. What’s not to love about these:

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I lost 100 pounds and have kept it off (eh… most of it) for more than two years. I learned a lot about weight control and read enough to test out of graduate degree program. I treated myself like a human lab rat, and still do to find what works for me. I’ve tried most everything. But there are only two things I’d cement into any other thing I do to stay healthy and they are this: 1) Eat right and exercise. 2) Eat breakfast.

Now listen to me, because have you ever noticed all the people talking about diets and stuff look like my buddy Ed here:


I love Ed, but he really isn’t the best guy to empathize with a fat guy, you know. I am. I’m a fat guy… its in my Italian DNA even if I’ve got the belly beat back. So listen when I tell you, we’ve been conned.

Think about it…really this time… We spend billions a year on weight loss and we are fatter than we’ve ever been. My entire life span has seen diet and fitness dominate the conversation since my Italian mother went “healthy” on us and rid our house of Hostess and General Foods (the memory lurks from a dark place… shudder…). The only cereal we could have that wasn’t like eating bark off a tree was Honey Combs because we convinced Mom it was made of honey, not sugar.

This was nearly forty years ago. And the diet and fitness craze just keeps on coming with no tangible results to show for it. We spend billions and its a fraud. Weather forecasters do a better job. So does Congress, and that’s saying something.

Still thinking? Think about this: Food permeates every culture… even a place where food is terrible, like this book talks about. In our culture, we get it all wrong almost all of the time. For all we know, we haven’t learned a thing.

You don’t need to spend billions of dollars. Everything you need to know I just said — see rules 1 and 2 — and I’m living proof because I’m the rare breed that lost the weight and kept it off.

I still work at it everyday I watch it everyday. I blow it everyday. But overall, it works, because I keep it simple. Eat right and exercise… and eat breakfast.

Now, one final thought on breakfast (think… think… think). Stop giving breakfast short thrift. It seems tough at first because there doesn’t seem to be as much variety as dinner, nor do we make time like we do for dinner. But change your thinking. If you plan breakfast like you plan dinner, it will come alive. Get up a bit earlier… enjoy it!

Also, you can reduce carbs and sugar and still keep a lot of flavor. I’ll write a lot more about this in days to come because after all, I love breakfast. (And please reply below with any questions you’d love to see address in future posts) But here’s a simple example:

Yogurt and granola are not great for you. They are loaded with sugar and high on the GCI. So too are bagels and donuts (of course… doesn’t mean I still don’t love em) and cereals in general and toast and pancakes and waffles and… you get my point. But you can eat more carbs in the morning than you can later in the day, so you have some flexibility built in. More importantly you don’t have to eat like Ed, who thinks breakfast is chicken and rice. Ed, that’s not breakfast. That’s Sunday dinner in the state pen.

Also, with a little creativity you can redress those issues and still enjoy it. For my granola and yogurt, I don’t eat it more than a couple of times a week. When I do, I eat plain instead of flavored yogurt, add a scoop of vanilla protein instead of sugar, use a small amount of fruit instead of a whole piece of fruit, and use whole grain and fiber granola. Add a piece of oat bran toast and non-hydrogenated peanut butter, and whalla! Breakfast of champions!

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Of course, my omelette’s rule too, but that’s another topic for another day… speaking of another topic for another day, I just figured out what next week’s test kitchen ingredient is! Oooh…. that will be a good one, but I digress.

Think about it: Love your breakfast. Or as the old adage says, “Eat like a Republican for breakfast, a Democrat for lunch and a green part member for dinner….” or something like that.

Take a this poll… why not?