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Tiresome repetition of sugar and more sugar on the recipe pages

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Really, I am tired of it. There seems to be a push in online food pages to get more and more sugar into our cooking. The constant emphasis on gluttonous consumption of sugar, fat and chocolate is getting on my nerves. I actually found myself posting snarky comments on a couple of recipe pages in the Huffington Post lately.

We want our food to taste good, but tasting good is no excuse for the abdication of common sense in cooking. Sugar gives us two things: sweetness in taste and the well-known "sugar high" that follows when we consume it. That is one reason why coffee and sugar are even more stimulating than black coffee alone.

I agree with those who are writing that a good way to cut down on sugar is to go to black coffee, but if you don't like coffee that way, why not look for other options? I like coffee quite strong, as do many people, and strong black coffee doesn't taste nearly as good as strong coffee with cream or creamer. I also read about putting whole milk in your coffee to sweeten it a bit. That would also cut back on the bitter taste, and it probably works but I'll never know. I am still advocating for the dairy-free community on this.

Here's something the food writers and restaurants need to understand, and it's important: those of us who must avoid dairy products are not in the position to "make an exception" once in awhile. If I see that only milk and half-and-half are offered in a coffee bar like Starbucks in Tucson, I am NOT going to shrug it off and think, oh well, I'll have cream then. I can't do that! If the dairy-averse person consumes that cream they can be miserable for days afterward. This is not a myth or a matter of taste.

Of course I carry my own powdered creamer for situations like this. I try to find Coffee Mate in little tubes, but if I can't find it I just carry a small container. I am also in the habit of speaking up when I have to get it out at a restaurant or shop. I also carry packets of stevia.

It is also true that most of your baking recipes will come out just fine with sugar substitutes such as stevia or Splenda Bake. In fact, you can use plain Splenda for fruit pies with great success. You can enjoy the taste you like and over time, you can also learn to live without the sugar "kick" that usually accompanies the consumption of sweets. Go ahead and make an apple pie--very popular in Tucson--with Splenda.

To avoid a soggy bottom on any pie that goes in the oven, bake it on a baking sheet such as a jelly-roll pan, which will also catch drips. The popular woven top crust has a tendency to boil over, which can't be avoided sometimes because the fruit needs to bubble up and the filling needs to thicken at boiling temperature. DO NOT cut baking time and serve your apple pie with raw apples--it's awful. I have seen this in many supposedly-classy bakeries, as I wrote recently when I visited Los Angeles.

Second tip: cracking of a pie filling is the result of cooling too quickly. To avoid the cracks in custard-type pies or cheesecakes, cool them in the oven. Just turn off the oven and open the door. Leave the item there until it has cooled down for half an hour or so, and it will be fine. Do not believe any other lore about why pies and cheesecakes crack. It has nothing to do with beating, or with the filling itself. The filling adheres naturally to the crust around the edges; later when it cools and shrinks, the surface will crack if the shrinking process goes too fast.

The habit of eating sugar can be harmful, like when people add too much to their coffee. But that isn't the problem anymore; the food industry is pouring sugar and salt into prepared food. You can experience this for yourself if you take a break from some food you usually eat and then taste it again: the flavors of salt and sugar can be overwhelming. My brush with this happened with soda. I had stopped drinking it for months until I was at lunch with co-workers, and when I ordered it the sticky feel of high-fructose corn syrup and the sweetness were overwhelming. I remember it well: it was the last time I drank soda before I asked the server to replace it with plain water.

I would be inclined to add a recipe for pie crust here, but honestly what I usually do is buy rolled-up prepared pastry rounds and concentrate on the filling. Arizona's agriculture industry offers us some of the finest apples on earth, and when I go out looking for them I am much more concerned about that than I am with pie crust. So thank your lucky stars if you live in Southern Arizona, where even a supermarket pie can be "to die for" if it comes from Stout's Cider Mill or Apple Annie's Orchard out east in the Willcox area.

For more info: drive out east of Tucson on Interstate 10 for an hour or so and you will see the roadside billboard for Stout's along the side of the road. Pull in there and have a piece of pie, and then you can buy one and return to Tucson with this edible gold.

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