Nutty Bonbons for The Sweet Swap

I didn’t grow up believing in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy.  There was no leaving cookies and carrots out for Santa and his hungry reindeer on Christmas Eve. I didn’t awake at Easter anticipating the search for chocolate eggs that a big furry visitor had hidden.  As for the tooth fairy, she didn’t visit till I was at least eight when we migrated to Australia.  By then I was old enough to know better and while I happily accepted coins in return for the last of my baby teeth, I knew deep down that a fairy wasn’t the one providing the compensation.

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None of these things are anything to be sad about as these are western concepts that weren’t part of a typical Hindu Indian childhood.  We lived in Mumbai then, or Bombay as it was called at the time.  My parents made sure there was no shortage of wonder in my life and so there was no sense of deprivation.  I was an only child with a quirky imagination and they each had their unique ways of entertaining me.

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My mother was then a stay-at-home-mum, and as for many kids who have that luxury, she lost some of her authority come nightfall.  So it was my dad who would come home from the daily grind to his duty of coaxing me to eat the healthy dinner that my mum had prepared.

Luckily he too had quite the imagination and sitting at our Formica table in our little flat, he would find a way to transform the contents of my plate into something a fussy six-year-old would find fascinating.

Rice, yoghurt, curries and sambhar would be carefully piled into an exotic looking arrangement with an equally exotic name to pique my interest.  Dad’s skills as an engineer were never so challenged as they were when he constructed these elaborate creations that gave a new meaning to playing with one’s food. The whackily christened Auburi Biselari Kuselari was one such creation, made up of whatever was on my plate and with a name that was entirely conjured up in my dad’s mind.

I like to think it is more a testament to my dad’s creativity and not a reflection of my own gullibility that this was a tactic which worked very well indeed.

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Dad had another trick up his sleeve, and not just in a metaphorical sense.

Wanna see some magic? He would ask.

Now what child says no to that?

He would wave his hands around in the air, click his fingers, mumble some magicky sounding mumbo jumbo.  With spectacular pomp, dad would make a fist, wave his other hand over it and turn it over to reveal a treat as if materialised from the air.  And amazingly in his palm there would be a 5-star chocolate bar or a little pack of Gems (India’s answer to M & M’s) or a wedge of Amul cheese in its foil wrapping.

Dad knew just how to enthral and impress his little girl.

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The Sweet Swap wasn’t quite the same as my dad’s wizardry, but it still involved packages of sweets appearing, as if by magic, on my doorstep.  The inaugural event involved food bloggers from all of Australia and was put together by two lovely bloggers; Sara of Belly Rumbles and Amanda of Chewtown.  Not only did the event raise funds for the charity organisation Childfund Australia, but it served to connect food nerds from all over the country, a real bonus for a newbie blogger like yours truly.  The basic gist of it was that each blogger was matched with three other bloggers.  We were instructed to make three batches of the same sweet and post them off to our matches.  In turn, we received three surprise bundles of sweets from the bloggers that we were matched to.

Now what could be better than receiving homemade goodies in the mail?

Over the course of the week, I delightedly received firstly some scrumptious Irresistaballs by Tara from vegeTARAian, followed by the heavenly, goodbye-diet, Snickers Bars courtesy of Cassandra from Food Is My Friend.  The last package contained some cloud-like Green Tea and Lemon Sherbet Marshmallows from Ed at Yaya’s Yumyums.

Left to right: Marshmallows, Irresistaballs, Snickers Bar
Left to right: Marshmallows, Irresistaballs, Snickers Bar

As for me, I decided to try and dabble in some low-fructose treats.  A little while ago, one of my colleagues, Maria, gave me a recipe for some seriously addictive bonbons that she had brought in to share.  After a few tweaks, I came up with a version that had a fructose-free middle and a coating of dark chocolate.

These bonbons have an incredible texture, with ingredients that feel really substantial in the mouth.  The bitterness of the dark chocolate beautifully cuts through the sweet nuttiness of the filling.  Remember that almond butter we made a few weeks ago?  Well, you probably didn’t need a way of using it up, but if you did, this is one.  These beauties are super easy and no-bake, which means you could easily get the kiddies involved, as long as an adult is handling the molten chocolate.  They also make a great gift and evidently survive well in the postal system.

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These bonbons landed on the doorsteps of Emily of  Hold the Peas, Muppy of Muppys and as nervous as I was about sending chocolate treats that I made to a professional sweet-maker, John of Perfection Chocolates.

Nutty Bonbons

Makes 30-35 bonbons

Get:

1 1/2 cup walnuts
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
2-3 tbsp almond butter
1/4 cup rice malt syrup
150g good quality dark chocolate
Desiccated coconut for sprinkling

Make:

Blitz the walnuts in a food processor until a very chunky meal is achieved.  Place in a large mixing bowl and add all the other ingredients apart from the chocolate. Start with 2 tbsp almond butter and add more later if the mixture is too dry.  Mix with a wooden spoon until it is a sticky, even mixture.  Oil your hands with a little coconut oil or a neutral oil.  Roll the mixture into balls that are a little smaller than a cherry tomato.  Spread out on a tray and place in the fridge for at least an hour.

Melt the chocolate using your preferred method- I like to use a Bain Marie.  Drop the balls into the molten chocolate two or three at a time.  Use two teaspoons to roll each ball in the chocolate until completely covered.  At this point, I sprinkled about half of them with desiccated coconut.  Place the balls on a grease-proof paper lined tray and return to the fridge. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Notes:

You can substitute any other nut butter for the almond butter.

To make these completely fructose-free, you could use fructose-free chocolate which is sweetened with glucose or Stevia, and vanilla powder instead of extract.

Of course, if you are happy to embrace the fructose, you can substitute golden syrup for rice syrup and use any chocolate you like.

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Fructose-free Baking: Coconut Cake Bars

Ok, it’s been just over a month since I finished the 8-week I Quit Sugar program (read about that here and here) and I have to say that I have slipped, like once…..or twice….or thrice.  I have had a couple of binge days where no amount of self cajoling has kept me away from the dark chocolate and nothing but a brownie will do.  And I have had those days where that gorgeous fudge that that client has brought in simply can’t be ignored.

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But you know what? I don’t actually feel that guilty. I guess firstly because I never intended to be completely sugar-free for life.  I always knew I’d re-introduce the S-word back into my life in the form of the (occasional) treat and while recently I seem to have stretched the definition of ‘occasional’, I have certainly noticed some changes in my attitude to sugar.

For one thing, my tastes when it comes to sugary treats has refined and while it seems nothing will cure me of my chocolate obsession, I seem to be able to resist the cheap, sugar-laden ‘confectionary’ type chocolate.  I previously would have crammed any cocoa-related substance indiscriminately into my mouth at break-neck speed, just in case all the chocolate factories in the world happened to burn down in the next five minutes.  But now, I seem to very partial to high quality dark chocolate……the good stuff, as any addict would say.

I can also quite happily walk past a bag of lollies or a pack of biscuits without turning into a human vacuum cleaner and have also been able to resist many cakes and such without too much drama.

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Then there was that weak moment, or succession of moments,  when I came home from a Saturday at work madly craving a chocolaty treat.

That evening, after discovering an Adriano Zumbo brownie packet mix in the cupboard, the mixture may or may not have met with a couple of eggs and some butter and made its way into the oven.

Thirty- five minutes later, about a quarter of the pan may or may not have disappeared.

It’s my word against the brownies’ so I guess we’ll never know how it all happened.

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Aside from struggling a little with the transition from ‘sugar-detox’ to ‘just treating myself to the good stuff every now and then’, the other thing I struggled with is not being able to bake while I was trying to detox.  So I’ve been playing around with some fructose-free recipes and hit up my stash of cookbooks to see if I could modify an existing recipe.

I dug out a squat, fat little book called ‘500 Cookies’ by Phillipa Vanstone and found a recipe called ‘Coconut Wedges’.  I tweaked some things, added some saffron (it’s the Indian in me) and came up with something that I will call Fructose-free Coconut Cake bars.  If you don’t mind the fructose, you can of course use any other syrup such as honey, maple-syrup or golden syrup.

These little dudes are like the anti-brownie.  While brownies are the good stuff, these bars have the stuff that’s good for you.

These are dense, crumbly little numbers, somewhere between a cake and a bread, that you could totally get away with eating for breakfast.  They of course, also make a great healthy snack which I suspect is their original intention.

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Fructose-Free Coconut Cake Bars
Makes 12-15
Adapted from ‘500 Cookies’ by Phillipa Vanstone

Get:

1/4 tsp or generous pinch saffron strands
1 tbsp milk, warmed
3/4 cup plain (all-purpose) flour
1/2 cup wholemeal flour
1/2  tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bi-carb soda
1/2 cup rolled or quick oats
1 1/2 cup shredded or desiccated coconut + 1/4 cup extra
1/2 tsp all-spice
1 cup walnuts or pecans, roughly chopped
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
3/4 to 1 cup rice malt syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs

Make:

Preheat the oven to 175 C.

In a small bowl, add the saffron strands to the warm milk and stir until the milk is coloured. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the flours, baking powder and baking soda.  Add 1 1/2 cups coconut, the oats and all-spice and mix well.

In a separate bowl, whisk the oil with the syrup.  Whisk in the eggs, vanilla and milk with saffron.  Pour the wet mixture into the bowl with the dry mixture and stir through gently until just combined.

Pour the mixture into a 30cm x 20cm baking tin and smooth out evenly.  My mixture didn’t fill the entire tin and there was about 2 inches empty at one end.  Sprinkle extra coconut over the top.  If using desiccated coconut to sprinkle, do this about 5-7 mins into the baking process so it doesn’t burn.

Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 12-15 mins.  Test by inserting a clean knife or skewer into the centre of the cake- if it comes out clean, it’s done!
Allow to cool and slice into bars, about 7 cm x 4cm.

Notes:

Ok, so the saffron is a luxury and very nice but probably optional.

Vanilla extract has a little sugar in it.  If you need this to be completely fructose free, use vanilla powder or the seeds from 1/2 a vanilla bean.

If you don’t have coconut oil, a neutral oil such as vegetable oil should work.

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Quitting Sugar: Seven weeks on

So………….seven weeks, huh?

And they said I wouldn’t last……..

Today makes it SEVEN WEEKS since I told sugar to hit the road Jack.

Incredibly, I have made it through with my sanity (and that of those around me) intact.

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Did I cheat?  Yes, three times and all in the last two weeks.  Once, I had a bite of dessert at a restaurant……amazingly just one bite and I was happy to stop.

Another time I had a small square of dark chocolate.  But we’ll blame that on events beyond my control- the time of month, the changing of the tides, the upcoming lunar eclipse.

The remarkable thing was, none of those times was I the out of control sugar monster that I once was.  I simply had a small bite and then like the self-controlled, poised being that I have always wanted to be, I stopped!

Am I good, or what??

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So if this week is seven weeks, next week, somewhat unsurprisingly will be EIGHT weeks.  Eight weeks is what some of the experts say is the time needed to break an addiction, so that signifies the end of the hard core detox.

This last week I started to introduce small amounts of sugar- a few berries here and there, a few snacks sweetened with rice malt syrup (a fructose free sweetener).  Berries taste like little bundles of heaven now, which is a real surprise as I never was a berry person.

Where to after eight weeks?  Well, what I hope to gain is control over my own sweet tooth.  The ability to be able to occasionally have one chocolate from some exquisite chocolatier without feeling the need to plunge into the entire vat of melted chocolate and backstroke around it in circles.  The gift of being able to enjoy dessert at a fancy restaurant without feeling guilty about all the other sugar I ate that day.

And you know what?  I think I might be getting there.

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Bye Bye Sugar High

I’ve been promising details of a change for a while now and I am nothing if not a keeper of promises.  So here goes…..

Exactly four weeks ago I made the decision to quit a certain white substance.

Ummmm…..I’m talking about sugar, fructose to be exact.

Wait, what white substance were you thinking of?

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And pray, what is the reason for this self-inflicted torture you ask?  Well, the decision was driven by a few things.  Firstly, I have always struggled with my weight and have had various levels of success in the past with different methods of weight loss.  In my early twenties, I found that if I buckled down and ate well as well as engaged in a decent amount of exercise, the kilos would obediently melt away.

But sadly like many things such as skin collagen regeneration and the ability to do stupid things and not care, age puts a damper on the metabolism and a moderate level of discipline was simply not good enough in my late twenties and now, in my early thirties.  The kilos that sneaked up on me over the last few years have obstinately clung on, refusing to listen to reason or be moved by weekly cycle classes.

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I have long known that my main vice is sugar, my favourite food being a thing that starts with ‘ch-‘ and ends with ‘ocolate’.  A previous flatmate had a fridge magnet that said ‘A balanced diet is a chocolate in each hand‘ and I thought that was perfectly reasonable.

Lollies, Indian sweets, desserts and supposedly healthy sweet snacks such as museli bars have also co-starred in my diet.  Couple this with my work environment, a place where bags of lollies are always sunning themselves on benches and boxes of chocolates, cakes or pastries gifted by grateful clients make frequent appearances.  Place a pile of sweets in front of me, especially on a stressful day, and I turn into a weapon of mass consumption.  A weakness which I’m sure some of you can relate to (if not, please at least pretend to).

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So I have been toying with the idea of cutting down on sugar for a while now.  After about a year of trying to cut down, I came to the conclusion that ‘sugar’ and ‘moderation’ for me, do not seem to belong in the same sentence or even the same postcode.

As if by fate, just when I finally understood that weakness in myself (it only took about 30 years), I bumped into a friend who invited me along to a book signing by a lady called Sarah Wilson.  Sarah is one of the pioneers in the sugar (fructose) free diet, and her research and work on the subject has allowed her to create a wealth of knowledge to help others who want to go down the same path.  Sarah is an inspirational talker, yet I walked away after the talk clutching her book but still fairly sure that this way of eating would never be for me.

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To cut a long (and probably boring) story short, it took a couple more months before I finally decided to give it a shot.  It was a daunting decision, and anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that sugar was previously a huge part of my life.  Currently, I am exactly at the halfway point of Sarah’s 8-step program to being fructose-free.  Much of the research supporting a low fructose diet is on Sarah’s blog and she explains it much more comprehensively than I could.

It has been a tough road but nowhere near as painful as I expected.  I have had some intense cravings which I have fought off with a cup of tea, a sugar-free snack or a distraction (online shopping, anyone?).  I have been lucky not to experience the physical withdrawal symptoms that some people describe.  I had visions of being curled up in a corner in the foetal position rocking back and forth in my first 2 weeks but instead I have experienced better energy levels and mental clarity than I remember having for many years.  I have lost a little weight, which supposedly should not be the main motivation…..but who are we kidding, right?

In a couple of weeks time, I will start to re-introduce small amounts of fructose into my diet.  My ultimate goal is to be able to enjoy a little piece of chocolate or a divine dessert on occasion minus the guilt trip and the self-bargaining that goes on internally.

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So how will this affect this here little blogarooni of mine?  Well, it probably won’t, much.  There will be less sweets and the ones I do post will likely be low fructose.  Otherwise, when it comes to savoury dishes, I don’t anticipate much change at all.

And the inane, mostly irrelevant babble?  I vow to you that that’ll continue as pointlessly as always.

I would love to hear from any of you, but especially others who have been or are on the same journey in the comments box below.  What led you to ultimately make the decision?  What did you find most difficult?  What are your tips and tricks for doing this successfully?

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