Let’s talk sugar!

As we get closer to the holiday baking season, it might be a good time to talk about sugar. Most of us know that we should limit our sugar intake, but exactly what does that mean and more importantly, how does it impact our baking?

In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) released guidance recommending that for both adults and children, consumption of free sugars should not exceed 10% of total daily intake, and if possible should be kept to below 5% of total daily food intake.  The WHO points out that sugar doesn’t provide any nutrients, just calories.  Reduction of total free sugar intake will help with our society’s increasing incidence of obesity, and therefore decrease risk of other diseases and conditions such as heart disease and dental cavities.  The entire WHO document can be found here.

So….what is a free sugar?  The WHO defines a free sugar as “monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates” (www.who.int).  The WHO takes the stand that limiting intake of sugary beverages such as soda is a good place to start our attempts to reduce free sugar intake, but for those of us who do not consume soda, there are certainly other sources that we can address.  Sugars added as part of the food preparation or manufacturing process or by us as bakers count as free sugars.  Therefore, the sugars in the recipes on this baking blog also count as free sugars.  The joy of baking for ourselves is that we can control the sugar we add.  In many of the recipes that I prepare for my family I reduce the sugar, and I invite you to further reduce the amount of sugar in them to continue your efforts to meet the WHO guidelines.  If you set it as a personal goal to keep simple sugar intake to 10% of total caloric intake, then there is still room for the occasional cookie.  As always, moderation is the key.

Is there such a thing as a more healthy sugar?  Is honey or brown sugar better than white?  Sugar is sugar – none of the sugars (brown, white, icing, honey, rice sugar, maple sugar, fructose, sucrose) provide anything to your diet in significant amounts other than calories and all fall into the category of free sugars that the WHO is urging us to reduce.

What about the sugars in whole fruits and vegetables?  Sugars do naturally occur in whole fruits and vegetables, but these sugars are beautifully wrapped in a package that also includes fibre, vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients.  The sugars found in whole fruit and vegetables (not juices) do not count as free sugars, and recent studies show that Canadians do not eat sufficient amounts of especially vegetables, and in many cases fruit.  Consuming a wide variety of whole fruit and vegetables forms part of a healthy diet.  Try to chose different whole fruits and vegetables in your family’s diet so that you have a varied intake of minerals and vitamins.  A word of caution – use whole fruits not fruit juices to ensure that you also get the added fibre.  Fruit juices and juice concentrates are in the list of items under the “free sugar” category on the WHO website.  For suggested serving amounts of whole fruits and vegetables, see Canada’s Food Guide on the Health Canada website.

I am a huge fan of cooking and baking at home because it puts us in control of what we eat.  We can adjust recipes in order to limit some ingredients and increase other ingredients to suit the need of our families and meet our personal nutrition goals.  An example of this is substituting whole grain flours for white in baked goods in order to increase the fibre.  When we produce food in our own kitchens we are in control of the end product.  When we buy a product in a store, all we can do is read the label.  And even if we can’t reduce sugar in a recipe as much as we might like, we know everything that we put into that product and that knowledge is power.

Until next time!



Hug your fridge and stove

For the last six weeks my family has been flying without a full sized refrigerator and stove.  You might ask, “How is it even possible that you could think of starting a food blog without something to cook on?”  It’s a valid question. I’m not sure if I’ve told you this yet but my family is in transition, well more accurately, my dh and I are in transition.  We are both retiring very soon from the Canadian Armed Forces, but I had the opportunity to do one more exciting job in a different city, so we sold our house and took a posting.   We’ve bought our retirement house (1500 km away from where we currently live) and we are looking so forward to living in that beautiful house.  Unfortunately, because our employer has restrictions on retirement move benefits, we are only able to move our furniture once.  We couldn’t move some furniture to the new house and leave some other furniture in our current rental accommodation to take with us when we finally retire.  Since we wanted to really enjoy our retirement home on the times we visit, we made the plunge and moved all the furniture from our current rental accommodation to our retirement home.  When I say all of our furniture, I mean ALL of our furniture.  The moving truck came six weeks ago, and took all of our stuff to the new house.  After the truck left, we could hear echos in the rooms and we immediately questioned the sanity of our decision.

Since that fateful day six weeks ago, we have been living in a 1000 square foot house furnished with 2 beds, 2 living room chairs, a bar fridge and a second hand table and chair set we bought from kijiji.  “Treat it as an adventure!” dh and I said to each other.  We figured that we’ve lived with less stuff when we deployed, and we survived those experiences.  We had also bought beautiful shiny new appliances for our newly purchased home to replace the still very serviceable but less shiny older appliances that came with the home purchase.  So the retirement house that is 1500 km away had 2 fridges, 2 stoves, 2 dishwashers (you get the picture) and the house we live in had none.

So, tonight, the less shiny still very serviceable appliances are coming up on the back of a friend’s truck and they are being delivered here, to the very vacant house we are living in, and I couldn’t be any more excited.  It’s better than Christmas, it’s better than a butter tart party.  I’ll be able to bake again.  And the best thing about this rental house?  It isn’t hooked up to a fire alarm monitoring service so there will be no phone calls to disturb my baking.  Stay tuned for the blog.


The skinny on fat (I know..it’s an obvious play on words)

Blogs on butter tarts and cookies are sure a lot of fun to write, but I really need to start blogging about my true passion  – nutrition.

I thought we would begin with the subject of fat.  Knowing how to make good choices about dietary fat becomes difficult because there are just so many opinions on what is healthy and what is not healthy.  Is butter better because it’s natural?  Is oil better than a solid fat?  It’s enough to confuse anyone.

Please remember that this blog is intended for the healthy adult.  If you have diabetes or heart disease and you are not sure what you should be eating, you need to see a dietitian who specializes in these conditions.

First of all, dietary fat is important for your body.  You need a certain amount of fat in your diet in order to help your body absorb certain vitamins (A,D, E and K).  Fat also gives your body needed energy, and in the case of those still growing, helps our bodies grow and develop.  So it is healthy to have some amount of fat in our diets.

However, not all fats are considered equal, and some forms are definitely better choices than others from the perspective of health.  To begin our discussion, let’s see what types of fats are out there.   Dietary fat comes in three different types  – trans fat, saturated and unsaturated.  Each type has a different effect on your body.

Trans fats historically have been found in commercially prepared baked goods, hard margarines and shortenings.  Trans fats have been shown to contribute to heart disease by raising the bad blood cholesterol (LDL) and lowering good blood cholesterol (HDL).

Although there are small amount of trans fats that occur naturally in animal and dairy products, the main source of trans fat has been as a result of an industrial food production process called hydrogenation.  Hydrogenation takes liquid oils and makes them more solid by adding additional hydrogen atoms.  (Remember high school chemistry and seeing the diagrams or the films demonstrating the double bonds between the carbon atoms being broken and then filled up by hydrogen atoms?  No?  Sometimes I find it hard to contain my inner geek…)  If you remember the very cheap margarines of the old days, they were often brick hard when refrigerated, and just a little less brick hard if you left them on the counter (I remember the margarine splintering as I cheerily put it in my mixing bowl, making cookies for my dad who unfortunately was a heart patient.)  This brick hard configuration was because of the process of extreme hydrogenation (no double bonds left to for a stray hydrogen atom to attach to in that cookie batter…okay, that is the last chemistry reference).

Historically food manufacturers used the process of hydrogenation to increase product shelf life and improve product texture.  Not all hydrogenation occurrs to the degree of my margarine example.  There are also partially hydrogenated oils that were used in prepared foods such as commercially prepared baked goods, shortenings and margarines.  This process allows manufacturers to take an oil and make it more suitable for use, such as a spreadable product that customers want and that may be cheaper than butter.  However, in the process of hydrogenation, trans fats are produced and these trans fats have been found to have an extremely detrimental effect on our heart and circulatory health.

Very recently (September 2018) Health Canada banned the use partially hydrogenated oils in our foods, making it illegal for manufacturers to add partially hydrogenated oils to foods sold in Canada.  This is very good news for Canadians as we all should be aiming to have no trans fats in our diets.

Key takeaway for trans fat – work to eliminate trans fat from your diet – Health Canada has made it easy for you.

Saturated fats typically come from animal and dairy products, but are also found in palm oil, coconut oil, lard and shortening. Saturated fats contribute to heart disease by increasing the blood’s bad cholesterol (LDL).

To eat more healthy, we should decrease our intake of saturated fat.  This means choosing dairy products that are lower in fat (skim vs whole milk for example), or choosing lean meats vice well marbled meats.  Many Canadians eat far too much meat (we will cover that in another blog) so for the sake of limiting saturated fat intake and keeping our bodies healthy, we should also choose smaller portions of animal products.

Key takeaway for saturated fatdecrease your intake of saturated fat.

Unsaturated fats are classed as either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated.  You can find polyunsaturated fats in nuts and seeds, fatty fishes (trout, herring, mackerel, salmon), corn/canola/soybean flax/safflower oils.  Monounsaturated fats are in nuts and seeds/avocados, and olive/canola/peanut/sesame/safflower/sunflower oils.

Unsaturated fats help keep our bodies and our hearts healthy. Studies have shown when we increase our intake of unsaturated fats and decrease saturated/trans fats, LDL cholesterol can be lowered and the ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol in the blood becomes better.

Key takeaway for unsaturated fatschoose unsaturated fat more often; use these items in place of saturated fats in your diet.

A good rule of thumb to help you remember when choosing among fats – its health benefits are on a sliding scale based on how liquid the fat is at room temperature.  In general, as fats range from liquid to solid fat at room temperature they decrease in health benefits.  In addition, you want to consume more vegetable based fats than animal based fats.
It’s really quite simple – animal fats are normally solid or at least semi-solid at room temperature (think butter, animal fat left in the bottom of the frying pan after cooking is also semi-solid when it cools to room temperature).  Limit these in your diet as much as possible.  Fats that are liquid at room temperature include many of the vegetable oils in the unsaturated fat category.  This is where your dietary fat should come from.
So, in general,
oils = liquid at room temperature = plant based = unsaturated = choose more often
solid fat at room temperature = animal based (generally) = saturated = choose less often or not at all
Where does that leave our baking blog?  Most bakers will tell you that oils cannot be substituted in their recipes, and that even a plant based margarine cannot be used in recipes because of its water content.  Ask a pastry chef to use canola oil in place of a solid fat in a pie crust and you may be subject to considerable professional resistance because it is the small marbles of solid fat that give pastry its flaky texture.  The key, like anything in life, becomes balance and moderation.  The lion’s share of your energy intake needs to come from food items that support your body’s nutrition needs.  For those times when you have room to include a baked treat, then in my humble opinion, it becomes a matter of taste.  Spring water will always be better for you than wine, but no one expects you to drink spring water all of the time, just most of the time.
As a close, I will test some baked good recipes that feature healthy fats and post them on this blog in coming weeks.  I invite you to do the same and give me your feedback.
Until next time
Yours in avocado and canola,

Spiders are yummy too

The best thing about food is its powerful ability to inspire traditions and build strong family ties.  Memories built during family gatherings that involve special treats and food oriented rituals are very strong and they stay with us throughout our lifetimes. I have told my two sons on occasion that when they think of their mother, I want them to think of good things coming from our family’s kitchen, not all the times I have set off the fire alarm!  They assure me that they will, and thankfully neither are afraid to put in a special request for a particular item when it is a birthday or holiday.

Today’s blog is not from my kitchen but from the kitchen of my dear sister Linda.  She has been blessed with three small grandchildren (under 5!) and today they are having a family get together.  She happened to mention that she is making spider cookies so I immediately asked her to send me pictures.  Lucky for all of us not only is she a great cook and baker, she rocks the iPhone camera.


These peanut butter cookies come from one of my favourite baking sites – AllRecipes.com – the link to the recipe can be found here

She replaced the shortening with butter because she prefers the taste, in her words “who uses shortening in cookies?” The baker in me agrees!  The dietitian?  We will talk about all things fat and baking related in another post.  She also mentioned that she would look for smaller chocolate balls for the heads and make her own eyes out of frosting.  If you’re going that route, you’ll have to use a white shortening for the frosting to get the same shade, or use a royal icing.  I’ve included a link to my favourite royal icing recipe that is easy to do and simple to reduce in batch size.  In the coming weeks, we will be talking about piping tips, piping bags and basic decorating so we can take a look at how to do that, maybe in time for Santa cookies.

Here is another look at these great cookies – Linda’s grandkids are so lucky to have such a talented gramma!


Yours in the spirit of a delicious Hallowe’en!



In search of the perfect butter tart

Happy weekend!

Today my dh and I will be hitting the streets of Kingston Ontario in search of the perfect butter tart.  Stay tuned to this space to see what we’ve found!  Yummmm!

Update – well, we had the intention of searching out the perfect butter tart, but unfortunately we are now lightweights with respect to the butter tart.  We cannot eat like we could in our youth and this makes me just a bit sad!

We found the first place closed (Gramma’s House Bakery and Cafe on Division Street Kingston closes at 3 pm on Saturdays, and we arrived at 3:05 sadly). We did manage to get to the second spot on our tour (Bread and Butter Bakery, http://www.breadandbutter.ca) and promptly bought ourselves two butter tarts – one plain and one pecan.  They were spectacular!  The only issue that I had with them was that the crust was a little thick for my liking but dh disagreed with me, vehemently.  So, they were an A pass in terms of butter tart achievement.  They were so good that we were “butter tart satisfied” for the day, we just couldn’t face another sugar rush.  In the next week or so, we will visit a few more well known Kingston spots and report on our findings as soon as our blood sugar levels settle out (kidding, but I thought it was funny).

On the home front, when I make butter tarts, I shamelessly go online and use the following recipe – Canadian Living

My absolute favourite version of this recipe is the one with maple syrup.  I roll my pastry very thin (hence my complaint about today’s butter tart venture), and I place roasted pecans on the pastry before I add the butter tart filling and bake the tart. Do not over bake!  The best butter tarts are gooey in the middle and that is impossible if you leave them in the oven too long.

This blog will change as we try out more of Kingston’s butter tart destinations so stay tuned!  And don’t forget to brush your teeth!

Yours in all things sweet, and all things nutritious!