The Land of Opportunities

When I was about to land in Chicago, the TV screens on the airplane showed a video welcoming passengers to the U.S.  It showed green lawns, kids chasing golden retrievers, and people of every skin color.  Despite having lived the majority of my life in America and already knowing exactly what it looks like, the video made me pretty excited about arriving in the land of opportunity.

The photos in this post are of bread I've made.  This is yogurt bread and date-sesame bread.

The photos in this post are of bread I’ve made. This is yogurt bread and date-sesame bread.

America isn’t really as perfect as it looks on that video, although that’s not much of a surprise.  However, after being away for a year, there are several things that have surprised me.  First would be the no guns allowed sign all over Chicago (thanks to the conceal and carry law being passed), which is on a lot of public buildings; it’s odd to think that people need to be told that weapons do not belong in public buildings.  Not that I wanted to take a gun into the library, anyway.  Men wearing their pants so low that their butts hang out is not new, but it is still kind of surprising to see after not seeing it for so long (maybe some of them could use a djellaba).  Occasionally getting catcalls when I’m walking to my internship on the South Side is also not new, but is pretty disappointing – I thought I was going to have a break from that!  It is much easier to go for runs or walks here without worrying about what I’m wearing, but it’s not as different from Morocco as I was imagining it to be all of last year.

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Oatmeal bread

Another surprise came to me at Walmart.  I made my first ever trip to the all-American store last weekend, and only now do I really understand the purpose of giving up sugar.  Walmart is full of packaged foods, nearly all of which have sugar or High Fructose Corn Syrup.  It’s in cereals, peanut butter, bread, yogurt, and pre-prepared meals.  Someone shopping only at Walmart would truly be challenged to totally give up sugar.  And what’s more, the food doesn’t taste the same here, even if bought at fancier stores than Walmart.  The carrots aren’t as sweet, the eggs aren’t as rich, the olive oil doesn’t taste like olives, and the Philadelphia cream cheese has ten ingredients instead of the four in Morocco’s (or Spain’s) version of the exact same brand.  These were difficult discoveries for me when I arrived; I love cooking and baking so much, so I want the ingredients to taste good!

Challah (egg bread)

Challah (egg bread)

I know from working with refugees that new immigrants (and even those who have been abroad for quite a while) have trouble adjusting, unfavorably comparing everything to equivalents in their home country.  It takes a long time to get used to little differences and to both appreciate what is better in the new country and to stop comparing it to the old.  It’s oddly not that much easier when the new country is also where you are from.  I guess I’ve got six more weeks to work on it.  Well, at least my bread loaves are pretty!

This isn't bread!  It's South African Bobotie, a dish made with lentils (or meat), bread crumbs, and egg/milk/banana topping.

This isn’t bread! It’s South African Bobotie, a dish made with lentils (or meat), bread crumbs, and egg/milk/banana topping.

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The End!

It has now been six weeks of no sugar, meaning that our experiment is over.  I broke my sugar fast with a coffee macaroon, one of my very favorite sweets.  I only ate about half of it (I was surrounded by a hungry flock of three-year-olds), but what I did eat, although delicious, tasted a little too sweet.  That didn’t surprise me, as I’ve gotten so used to eating unsweetened foods.  What did surprise me though was that I got a headache afterward that lasted the whole afternoon.  It’s possible that I got the headache for another reason, although I didn’t do anything else unusual.  So perhaps I’ll be continuing to skip the sugar, whether I like it or not!

Three Weeks of No Sugar

It has now been three weeks of no sugar, but thanks to melon season, my life has not been lacking in sweets.  I got an 8 kilo watermelon a few days ago and am already more than halfway done with it (don’t worry, I shared!)  I’ve also felt like I enjoy natural foods more, like peanut butter and plain yogurt, and have less desire to eat sugary dessets.  The No Sugar Rule has twice given me an excuse to refuse pastries I didn’t want, which I often find difficult when someone baked something themselves.

A rainbow of sweetness

A rainbow of sweetness

I am realizing how difficult it is to avoid sugar when you are not making all your own food, particularly in sauces, breads, and drinks.  Even in Morocco, where high fructose corn syrup is unheard of, sugar is lurking where you might not expect it.  But with the dawn of cherry, peach, and melon season, my life is plenty sweet.

I have three weeks left of the No Sugar Experiment, and I am curious to see if sweetened foods will taste sweeter when I start eating them again.  I’ll let you know!

Bittersweet

Mint tea, almond pastilla, and flavored yogurts are staples in Morocco, but unfortunately have one thing in common: lots of sugar.  Based on recent books, studies, and experiments of sugar-free life, more evidence is coming out that sugar is one of the worst things we can eat.  Supposedly it works like any addictive substance, so that once you start putting three sugar cubes in your morning tea, you can’t easily cut back to two.  Sugar can be hard to avoid in packaged foods, and sweet treats are often offered as a sign of hospitality, making them hard to refuse.

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Just because those pastries are green doesn’t mean they’re good for you.

My mom and I have decided to see what the no-sugar revolution is all about by cutting sugar out of our lives for five weeks.  We read that a sugar-free diet can lead to withdrawal symptoms, rapid weight loss, and drastically improved health.  We don’t think we will see such a big difference seeing as neither of us eat much sugar as it is; just the occasional sweetened yogurt or some chocolate.  However, one of our motivations is that it will give us the ability to easily turn down treats that are forced on us.  We both dislike when people try to get us to eat unhealthy foods against our will, so it will give us a good excuse.

 

We're only eating sweet treats that grow on trees.

We’re only eating sweet treats that grow on trees.

Our five weeks started strong on Tuesday, with three healthy meals and a dessert of a melon eaten directly from the skin with a spoon…very sweet.  We’ll keep you updated!