Treat yourself in the New Year
Article and photo by Lisa Crockett
I’m on a roll. I’m in the zone. I’m eating to live, not living to eat. These are all the things I tell myself when the New Year rolls around. It’s time to get things back on track, to right the ship, to square things away. Only this year, I don’t want to do any of those things.
This holiday season was a little (actually a lot) unlike others. Fewer social affairs meant more time to experiment in the kitchen, and oh my goodness was it fun! I created several delightful small-scale feasts, YouTubed my way to a number of new skills, and ate. And ate, ate, ate. It was glorious. Most years, I tend to hit my maximum treat consumption level just before Christmas, and by New Year’s Day, the very sight of anything made with butter, sugar, or white flour sends me screaming into the next room. Not this year. This year, I seemed to have increased my tolerance for all things carb-laden and decadent. Maybe it’s because all those treats made a weird year seem normal. Maybe it’s because it was a pleasant distraction from the everyday. Maybe it’s just because everything I encountered tasted so good. I’m simply not ready to let go. Not yet.
Alas, all that indulgence will eventually exact a toll, probably in the form of a wardrobe that seems to have suddenly shrunk. There are other invisible problems with a diet of cookies and fudge. As much as I’ve loved a season of treats, I’ve probably pushed my luck as far as it will go in terms of my good health. This January, like every January, is when I need to get my house back in order.
Regular readers of this column will remember that in other years, January has featured recipes for things like soup made entirely of greens, cucumber salad, and vegetable entrees pulled from my Meatless Monday rotation. This year, my taste buds don’t want any of those nutritious, high-fiber, low-fat things. What I really want is a sugar cookie heaped with fluffy frosting and crunchy, festive sprinkles. In January I usually embrace the simple, wholesome flavors of clean, healthy food, but this year calls for me to engage in a deception of my own brainwaves, a trick to lead me out of the dietary wilderness I’ve been wandering in since Thanksgiving. I’m desperate enough that I decided to try my hand at creating what I thought previously impossible – a healthy, tasty cookie.
I am usually not one to dabble in diet substitutions. Cauliflower in place of rice, for instance, has never, ever fooled me. I do like cauliflower and I don’t mind it as a base for a stir-fry or similar dish, but it is not rice. I also like mushrooms, particularly giant Portobellos, but they have not ever been, nor will they ever be, the same as a juicy burger, no matter how delicious the marinade they’re soaked in. Obviously, substitutions and sweet treats pose a real problem – sugar is high in calories and devoid of nutrients, but also delicious, so you can see my dilemma.
Still, I put on my apron and tried a few different sweeteners in search of a winner. Stevia had a flavor I found strange no matter what I paired it with. Xylitol was overpoweringly sweet and produced products with funky textures. Plus, it’s exceedingly poisonous to pets, and I worried that a simple dropped crumb might prove fatal to our dog. Finally, I grabbed a bag of Swerve (erythritol) sweetener and made a batch of one of my favorites – peanut butter cookies. I used organic, sugar-free peanut butter which had a lovely flavor of fresh peanuts, along with a little almond flour to give the cookies a texture that comes pretty close to the real thing. Because alternative sweeteners tend to pack a powerful punch in terms of sweetness, I used less than I would if I were using sugar, and added a hint of vanilla to broaden the flavor profile of the cookies.
The resulting product looks pretty close to any peanut butter cookie I might make – cross-hatched and smelling pleasantly of peanuts. The taste and texture are fairly close too – not exactly like my regular recipe, but a reasonable facsimile. They’re lightly sweet and crumbly and taste good with a glass of milk. They’re not the real thing, but they’ll do. As I face another trip around the sun, it suddenly seems possible that I might get in the groove, find my rhythm, and ring in the new year right.