Sugar is a synonym for love and affection. As in, my grandma saying, "come here and give me some sugar" as soon as I enter her house. Sugar is used as a reward for good behavior... we give sugar to our children when they've earned it and we give it to ourselves when we deserve a treat. Sometimes we even withhold sugar from ourselves when we've been bad. Sugar is also a pet name for our beloveds. If you're a Southern femme, you might call just about anybody "sugar" - Northerners just don't get it. They get offended because you've called them what they see as a term of endearment when there has been no rapport established. What they don't know is that they're nobody special. As far as you're concerned, everybody's "sugar" until proven guilty. Sugar is the default. If you don't want sugar in your coffee, usually you have to specify that. Sugar is novel: have you seen the new retro soft drinks made with *gasp!* real sugar? Sugar (along with fat) strikes fear into the hearts of those who may care a little too much about their weight. Sugar comforts us when we are sad, celebrates with us when we are happy. Addiction to sugar can cause lifelong wellness issues such as type 2 Diabetes. I speak from experience! For me, too much sugar in a short period of time can cause mood swings. I cannot count the number of times I have crashed - HARD - after a delicious ice cream cone or a delightful breakfast of strawberry crepes. Or a sugared coffee drink. Or a soft drink. Or a couple of cookies and milk.
Whew. Whether or not you've struggled with weight / wellness / body image issues, I'd bet real money that you have or have had an ambivalent relationship to sugar. As I have been starting to take better care of myself, I have had to change the way I think about food - especially about sugar. Food is food, nutrition, fuel for our bodies and nothing else. Sugar is a component of some foods. It is neither a reward, nor a punishment. It is neither good nor bad. Sugar itself is only harmful if we misuse it or use it excessively. The hard part is that there is no singular standard for how much sugar one should consume on a daily basis. It is different for everyone, and we would do well to practice listening to our bodies so that we can determine how much is too much, too little and just enough. Because I am diabetic, I can usually have very little sugar. Most of the time, sugar is reserved for when I have made poor dietary choices for the day. I forgot to eat. I didn't bring a healthy snack. I don't want to go out to eat, but I can't get home in time to prevent a low blood glucose episode. When I eat sugary foods, usually it means I have done something wrong. Somehow I have failed to properly care for myself. Either I ate too much or I failed to eat enough. Things should not be this way.
Personally, I don't like assignments from blogs that I read in my leisure time. Work and school give me enough of that. With that said, won't you humor me and spend a little bit of time thinking about your own relationship to sugar and sweets? How has sugar affected your self image? What can you do to equalize the power imbalance between you and sugar? What patterns of thinking do you need to alter so that food is not a reward or a punishment, but rather sustenance for your body to be able to function at it's peak? Is there anyone you need to talk to about this subject? Do you need to confront parents, friends, coworkers about their influence on your relationship to food? Instead of direct confrontation, perhaps you can arm yourself with some simple, memorable responses to controversial beliefs about sweets and sugar. Take action, even if you only spend a minute or two in thought. I believe this is important.
With all that said, I'm going to tell you some ways that you can dress up your sugar bowl. I have found that adding flavor to my sugar helps me to be satisfied with less of it in my food. Some visitors to my kitchen have made fun of how many jars of sugar I keep: granulated sugar, light brown sugar, dark brown sugar, confectioner's sugar, agave nectar, honey, molasses.... hey, a baker's got to have a wide range of ingredients! Under the category of white granulated sugar, I have several flavor variations (with more in mind!) that I think you'll enjoy.
This isn't a recipe, there is nothing to measure, but if you'd like to flavor your sugars naturally, try sticking one or two items from the following list into your sugar jar. Or in five different containers of sugar. Who's counting?
Whole cinnamon stick
Whole vanilla bean
Whole nutmeg, allspice, cloves or any pumpkin pie spices
Fresh mint leaves
Slices of ginger
Orange, lemon or lime zest
Dried fruit such as raisins, cranberries, plums or apricots
Other fresh fruits sliced very thinly (strawberries? peaches?)
Chocolate, just a couple of chunks!
For wet stuff, the sugar will actually preserve the fruit, but it's important to check it frequently and refrigerate if it's making you nervous. Right now I have one jar with cinnamon and vanilla that smells absolutely divine, as well as one with lemon and orange rind. Whenever I cook with citrus, I always zest it first before cutting it up. Why throw away perfectly good zest? You can also fish out the candied zest to use in recipes. I topped a zucchini bread with candied orange zest once. Mhhmmmh!!
So you're wondering why on earth I just went on a rant about my problematic relationship to sugar and then told you how to flavor your sugar bowl. My point is this: for folks who agree that sugar is great when used in moderation (whatever amount is moderate for the individual), you might as well have damn good tasting sugar. Savor it. Snuggle it. Declare your love for it for as long as it lasts. Just do it in a way that is loving to your body, mind, and spirit.
P.S. I know you've heard me talk about NuStevia, and it's because it's the most amazing natural zero calorie sweetener ever. Most stevia is dis-gust-ing. I'm not getting paid to tell you this, I just want more people to be able to take advantage of this non-bitter, non-yucky, non-sugar sweetener. Start with just a little bit and gradually work up to the level of sweetness you prefer. Heck, combine it with one of these yummy flavored sugars. You'll hardly notice a difference and you'll be saving yourself GOBS of calories that can be "spent" on foods of exponentially greater nutritional value. I honestly believe that switching to stevia (rather than a chemical low calorie sweetener) has been one of my biggest assets as I have pursued health and wellness this year. If it's not for you, please try your favorite drinks and other foods with no sweetener at all - there are many things that I prefer with no sugar, no stevia, no nothing because I have come to appreciate the pure, unaltered flavor. I drink to your health, my darlings!