Toothbrush alert! Right now the sugar season is in full swing. Years ago in his naive yet not-so-subtle way, our family dentist had a holiday sugar awareness program. In the waiting room, he displayed a rack of sugar-filled test tubes labeled with the sugar content of our favorite sweets. The kids were properly horrified until they yielded to the song of sugar sirens eager to march in the parade of seasonal sweets.
Each holiday sports its special sweet treats. Now as Christmas approaches, families have munched and crunched their way through Halloween candy corn to the perennial holiday favorite, peppermint candy canes. At times there is such an information overload about sugar in the diet and the hidden sugar content in packaged items that even conscientious consumers grow weary of sorting information - and quit listening.
Certainly you have heard or perhaps even boldly stated, "My child never eats candy." Yeah, right! I said that to some of the students in one of my high school English classes when my oldest child was 4. I agreed to let them take Chris trick-or-treating. I had the perfect plan. I stashed mini-boxes of raisins at the neighbors. My students took him out of the raisin zone. His eyes were huge when he looked in his little plastic trick-or-treat pumpkin.
Parents believe they can manage their children's sugar intake. This works for a few years. Children love sweet things and will find ways to satisfy the desire for sugar. One positive thing parents can do is to help children learn to make good choices when they are out and about. Another strategy is to investigate sweeteners - not artificial but alternative sweeteners. It is a real learning experience exploring the many "sweet" options and their best uses.
I chose honey because of the gentle way it is absorbed into the system. It is energy but not a sugar high. Through the years after much tasting and experimenting, I still prefer honey as my favorite alternative sweetener. It is reasonably priced and available. If honey was good enough to feed to the infant Greek god, Zeus, then it was good enough for my family. The shelf life of honey is forever when it is kept tightly sealed. When King Tut's tomb was opened the archaeologists found tightly sealed vats of honey. Even after 2,000 years, the honey was deemed edible. Sometimes honey crystalizes in the jar. That situation is easily remedied by immersing the jar in warm water for a few minutes.
Honey is versatile. Think beyond marinades and salad dressings. Cook with honey. Although molasses was available, many colonial women chose honey for bread baking. It produced lighter bread and the bread remained moist for a longer time. Honey is the primary sweetener in my favorite holiday cut-out cookie recipe.
Here is the simple recipe: Mix 1/3 cup softened butter, 2/3 cup honey, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, 1 egg and 1 teaspoon lemon extract. Mix in 2 1/4 cups unbleached flour, 1 teaspoon soda and 1 teaspoon salt. Chill dough about an hour. Roll out dough, cut shapes and decorate with sprinkles, cinnamon dots, colored sugar or leave plain to ice after baking. Bake on a lightly greased cookie sheet at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Let cool and decorate with icing.
It is our family tradition to have the big holiday dinner on Christmas Eve then to have simple fare on Christmas night. Simple fare translates into a winter soup I can make ahead of time and reheat. Curried Honey Sweet Potato Soup lends itself to reheating. This is the recipe: Saute 1 chopped onion in 1 tablespoon of olive oil for two to three minutes. Add 4 cloves of garlic crushed and saute one minute. Add 6 cups of veggie or chicken broth, 1 pound of peeled chopped sweet potatoes, 1 medium chopped white potato, 1 red bell pepper seeded and chopped, 2 teaspoons salt, 1/4 cup honey, 2 teaspoons curry, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger. Cover the kettle and cook over medium heat until the potatoes are tender. Stir off and on. When soup is finished, puree in blender or food processor. Store in refrigerator if not using immediately. To serve, heat 1 tablespoon honey for 10 seconds on medium in microwave and drizzle over each serving. Top with chopped cilantro.
The website, www.honey.com, maintained by the National Honey Board, is a honey of a site for honey information. I came across a discussion concerning adulterated honey on another website, www.benefits-of-honey.com. Silly me, I thought if a label said "pure honey," then it was pure honey. We need to be savvy consumers even when it comes to selecting honey because occasionally glucose, dextrose, corn syrup or even molasses may be added.
The website information indicated that there were no surefire methods to detect "adulterated" honey. One test is to watch the way liquid honey drops from the spoon into a glass of water. Unadulterated honey does not dissolve quickly in the water. The site suggested that an ideal way to get pure honey is to buy it directly from the beekeeper or at a farmers' market with the seller who knows the honey source.
Another way to get pure honey is to purchase a jar of honey with the comb. During my early days living at Frog Hollow Farm with my grandparents, my grandfather bought honey in the comb from a local beekeeper. I loved gazing at the jars of golden goodness lined up in the cellar. For a special treat he'd hand me a little wedge of honeycomb to chew until there was nothing left but wax. In those days I loved honey but was so very afraid of buzzing bees that were all around his garden. Sometimes as we stood like statues in the garden waiting for a bee to move along, he'd cheer me with a little Winnie the Pooh philosophy. "The only reason for being a bee is to make honey. And the only reason for making honey is so I can eat it."
- Heidi Maness Hartwiger, a Wheeling native, is a writer, teacher and storyteller. She is the author of two books, "All Join Hands: The Forgotten Art of Playing With Children" and "A Gift of Herbs." She is a mother of four and a grandmother of five.