Going back to my roots with Sweet Tea Vodka

Ya’ll may have noticed that I say “ya’ll” sometimes. There are several reasons for this, but the primary one is that I grew up in the south (duh?).

But, it’s more nuanced than that. I’m a special combination of north east coast asshole (I come by this honestly, since the rest of my family is from there and basically just funneled it down through the generations) AND southern passive aggression – but aside from that, all I really have to show for my first 20 years in the south (other than the passive aggression), is an obsession with sweet tea and liberal use of “ya’ll.”

Unfortunately, my obsession with sweet tea tragically went down the shitter with my pancreas. I still mourn sometimes when I pass a Cracker Barrel or Chik-Fil-A (cause those are the only places in Colorado that sell it, FYI), and have to find another way to satisfy my desire to drink a bucket of sugar (usually Coke Zero does the trick in a pinch, not that I’m encouraging drinking diet Coke products or a bucket of sugar).

So when a coworker recently challenged me to tackle Sweet Tea Vodka, I thought, YA’LL, BRING IT ON.

Sweet Tea Vodka is best known for being purchased (and often can be drunk) as-is; a lot of folks know the brand Firefly, and there’s a couple of moonshine versions out there, too. It kinda doesn’t matter what form they come in… they’re REALLY FUCKING GOOD. But, dear diabetic friends, you know why? Cause they have a bucket of sugar in them, just like their namesake. And this is where our story turns a corner.

Some online research reveals that there are actually a few different ways to make this beverage, providing some flexibility in how one can infuse the tea flavor and sweeten the drink. The two core options are to: (1) infuse the tea flavor into the vodka itself, and then use it in different bases to mix up your flavors, or (2) make “sweet” tea, and then add vodka. So, I tried both.  I also tried a few different varieties of tea, as well as some low-sugar lemon-flavored bases, to see what created the best flavor combination. I have an opinion about what tasted the best for me, but you’ll have to try for yourself.


Tea-infused vodka

Vodka receiving its tea infusion

Option 1: Make Tea-infused Vodka

I plan to cover vodka infusions in a near-term post, so I’m not going to belabor the concept now. But, infusing vodka turns out to be so fucking simple I’m amazed more people don’t do this.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups vodka (suggest you go for the good stuff, like along the Tito’s brand line of quality).
  • 3-4 tea bags (I used Luzianne decaf iced tea, but the brand/flavor is really up to you. Based on everything I read, going for a cold-brew style works best, and I also went for a decaf tea because I tend to drink in the latter part of the day and prefer not to be up all night as a result). If you’re using family size tea bags, 3 is probably plenty.
  • Mason jar, or sealable glass container that keeps out air.

Directions

  • Put vodka and tea bags into glass jar and seal for 1.5 hours (it’s probably best if you time it, as it will just get intense to the point of bitter if left too long).
  • Stir once or twice if desired to ensure thorough mixing.
  • Remove bags (ok to gently squeeze out liquid from bags to make sure you got it all).
  • That’s literally it. Now you have tea-infused vodka.

 

Option 2: Make “Sweet” Tea (then add vodka)

There’s a right way to make sweet tea, according to every recipe I read. The tricks are to add your sweetener while steeping your tea (because using a simple syrup after the fact might water it down, so the tea IS the simple syrup), and adding a pinch of baking soda to the tea mixture to make it smoother (insert head exploding emoji here).

Ingredients

  • 4 cups distilled water
  • ~4 teabags (your call on how dark you want it to be, but 4 was the magic number for me)(and, like the note above… I used Luzianne decaf iced tea, but the brand/flavor is really up to you. Based on everything I read, going for a cold-brew style works best, and I also went for a decaf tea because I tend to drink in the latter part of the day and prefer not to be up all night as a result)
  • 1/2 cup Stevia crystals (use more or less depending on your preference for sweetness, but this seemed like a good medium ground for me). A note about this… if you decide to use a flavored tea, you may want to use less Stevia because it is likely already sweeter to begin with. This may require some experimentation.

Directions

  • Bring water to a boil in a pot
  • Stir in Stevia crystals and keep stirring until they have thoroughly dissolved
  • Take pot off the heat
  • Drop in your 4 tea bags (I debated whether it was necessary to point out that if they have wrappers on them, you should remove the wrappers first… and then remembered that my biggest issue as a diabetic is forgetting whether I’ve taken insulin 30 seconds after I take it, so here’s your reminder) and steep for approximately 5 minutes
  • Remove tea bags, squeezing them lightly to get liquid contents out if you’d like
  • Add a pinch of baking soda and stir in well
  • Pour into a pitcher or container to cool, then refrigerate


The "Sweet" Tea Vodka-ito

The “Sweet” Tea Vodka-ito

In Which to Use Your Tea-infused Vodka: The “Sweet” Tea Vodka-ito (~3 carbs)

This is the best recipe I could find that takes advantage of the tea-infused vodka concept. It’s a little Arnold Palmer meets boozy but classy lady… never mind.

I’ll note that I did not create this concept from scratch myself; it’s based off an existing recipe I tweaked a little to make lower sugar.

Ingredients

  • 2 oz tea-infused vodka (use a nice vodka for this; none of that Smirnoff shit)
  • 4 oz Minutemaid Light Lemonade
  • Quarter of a fresh lemon
  • 4-5 pieces of fresh mint
  • Seltzer water
  • Liquid Stevia
  • Ice
  • A mason jar to put this in, because it would be sacrilegious if you drank this out of anything else

Directions

  • Squeeze lemon into your mason jar, and add the mint leaves. Add a dash of liquid Stevia. Mash all three together, ideally with a masher or the bottom of a spoon or something if you don’t have a masher.
  • Add vodka and lemonade and mix well.
  • Add ice to fill glass.
  • Top any remaining space with seltzer water.

 

In Which You Use Your “Sweet” Tea, Three Alcoholic Ways (carb count will vary depending on mixer)

There’s frankly like 100+ ways you can use your sweet tea as a base for a mixed beverage, but this specific post is about vodka so I’ll stay focused and get you started with some ideas.

Ingredients:

  • “Sweet” tea
  • 1.5 oz vodka (again, use the good stuff here)
  • Quarter of a fresh lemon
  • Ice
  • A mason jar to put this in, because it would be sacrilegious if you drank this out of anything else
  • Options for a flavored ingredient that pair nicely with tea:
    • Peach bitters
    • Another 0.5 oz of blueberry-infused vodka (I used my own infused vodka, but there are lots of options out there)
    • Pomegranate liqueur (I like the Pama brand)

Directions:

  • Fill a mason jar with ice. No, a MASON JAR. Seriously, nothing else will do.
  • Pour “sweet” tea mixture into glass until it is about 2/3 full
  • Add vodka
  • Squeeze in the quarter lemon
  • Add your flavor choice.
  • Mix well. If glass is not completely full, add more tea until full.
  • Drink on a porch somewhere with the sound of grasshoppers and peeper frogs.
Archetype's "New Fangled," served with smoked vodka, tea syrup, bitters and a jerky topping.

Review: Diabetics Doing Distilleries Around Denver

That title is pretty fucking witty, isn’t it? I’ve been just waiting for the opportune moment to let it fly.

And really, I could have held on to it for a lot longer because it seems like every week there’s a new distillery opening around here, but that just means I get to do a second (actually at this point, maybe even third) installment. Life is rough.

But, let’s talk about breweries for a second (I promise, it’s relevant). Have you noticed they’re sorta all the same — they’re filled with lots of bros with handlebar moustaches and/or well-groomed beards, who just left their job working for fill-in-the-blank tech company (or maybe they’ve been “working remotely” there all day). Some are clean, some are not, but in general they all offer a seat at a picnic table, a game of cornhole, and some loud company from whoever had one too many. There’s no food (or there’s some fried shit, maybe), and of course you can also order pizza or tacos from whatever food truck is perma-parked out front.

My apologies if you are super into breweries and are not a bro. I am 100% generalizing as well as stereotyping, and I will totally own that.  But, I hope we can at least agree that what breweries all truly have in common (and this is not generalizing) is the massive carb count. Despite the fact that I live in a professed brewery capitol state, it’s not my scene, and IMO is in no way #bolusworthy (I wish I could say I coined this hashtag, but it was donated for use by another T1D).

This makes the recent proliferation of distilleries excellent news for me. Cocktail snobs, unite!

There are several reasons I’ve really enjoyed my recent distillery visits:

  1. It seems that many places have really carefully put time and energy into curating a particular look and feel for their space, which has created a more holistic experience than just having a drink (like a local coffee shop with an edge – hah);
  2. I’ve found both the distillers (when I met them) and the bartenders to in general be super knowledgeable about their spirits and the flavors in their drinks and I’ve learned a considerable amount from chatting with them;
  3. On several occasions when I mentioned I was a member of the dead pancreas club, they proactively engaged in conversation with me, asking questions, making suggestions for good drink options, and in a couple of cases coming back with ideas for how to develop a particular flavor profile to replace a sugary ingredient. Like a good barista, many bartenders consider themselves artists – in weaving flavors together to create a new color of drink. This is all great news for us, because it pretty much opens up a world of possibility for what can be created. I’ve already gathered several new ideas from my visits and can’t wait to share them.

So without further ado and in no particular order, here is my review of four distilleries in or around the Denver area, with a couple of special shout-outs for some that showed up in extraordinary ways.

Mythology Distillery (LoHi, Denver)

Cocktail purchased: Your Grandfather’s Old Fashioned (whiskey)
Thoughts: Mythology was super busy when we arrived there, late afternoon, so I did not have an opportunity to engage with anyone working. I will say that when I tried to ask the bartender to come up with something lower sugar than the menu options they had available (because there wasn’t much available that was lower sugar), she was not enthused by my request and that’s how I ended up with an old fashioned. Le sigh. We did get a surprise visit by the owner toward the end (I think he was just making the rounds; they had opened very recently) but it was kind of too late by that point.
Overall: The space was beautiful, but I was disappointed by the service and my drink. Meh out of 5.

Archetype Distillery (South Broadway, Denver)

Archetype's "New Fangled," served with smoked vodka, tea syrup, bitters and a jerky topping.

Archetype’s “New Fangled,” served with smoked vodka, tea syrup, bitters and a jerky topping.

Cocktail purchased: New Fangled (smoked vodka)
Thoughts: Archetype is beautiful. It’s got a marbled counter that is lit from underneath, and everything was very swanky/clean/modern. We happened to be the only people there for almost our entire visit, and the bartender was super friendly and knowledgeable. I of course had to know how the hell you “smoke” vodka, so she described some of the process for infusing the flavor. My friend’s drink was served literally smoking via a little bit of dry ice (I tried to get a picture but missed my opportunity). Most of their drinks are served with special touches (my drink came with a piece of artistic-looking turkey jerky, for example).
Overall: Great location (perfect addition to the hipster south Broadway neighborhood), great service, good knowledge. Would have stayed longer but both of us were starving. 5 out of 5.

The Block Distillery (RiNo, Denver)

Cocktail purchased: Some kind of strawberry old fashioned (because we couldn’t drink anything off their menu and the bartender wasn’t feeling especially creative) (whiskey)
Thoughts: I suspect The Block didn’t show up the way they could have the day we were there. We happened to get a meh bartender who wasn’t really feeling up to the challenge of making something lower sugar, and shortly after we arrived it got SUPER crowded (and a tad frat-tastic, I might add). The acoustics were bad, so we shouted at each other a majority of the time and decided our best option was to leave.
Overall: It wasn’t bad, but nothing really remarkable. 3 out of 5.

Ironton Distillery (RiNo, Denver)

Some of the wall art at Ironton. I mean, who couldn't relate to a distillery with THIS on their wall??

Some of the wall art at Ironton. I mean, who couldn’t relate to a distillery with THIS on their wall??

Cocktail purchased: Minty Julep (bourbon)
Thoughts: I frankly could have stayed at Ironton all night. It was comfortable, well laid out, and the bartenders were friendly and knowledgeable, and had some great suggestions for low-sugar alternative ingredients. The designer had taken all my favorite things about Colorado (mountain theme, different woods and metals, industrial rustic, etc.) and woven furnishings and decorations throughout the space. There is an art gallery with rotating themes that is attached; you can purchase your drink and walk through at your leisure. They have a beautiful patio with a mountain view, which we were not able to enjoy due to the rain (wtf?) the night we visited. Our drinks were excellent. And they have several really interesting liqueurs to try; I tried the Cacao flavor, which was very chocolatey in a legit, not overwhelming or too-sweet way. I’ll likely go back and purchase some at some point and am already pondering what kind of fun drinks I can make with cacao (because hello, chocolate).
Overall: Easily one of my favorite places in Denver. I’ll become a regular. 6 out of 5.

Stay tuned for installment 2!

A smattering of what's currently in my fridge...

A short story of tragic proportions and some diabetic drink base hacks for the non-creatives

Last night, I met a friend for dinner and drinks at a new restaurant in Arvada (a small town/suburb just west of Denver, for you non-Coloradans). The restaurant was famed for its extraordinarily long list of whiskies available for tasting and mixing (like, over a hundred), knowledgeable bartenders and hipster vibe. I was excited to put this possible new favorite spot to the D-test.

Upon arrival, I discovered the mixed drink options were all high sugar, and the only possible swaps that could happen (that wouldn’t nix the entire drink) were in the “old-fashioned” type of drinks…basically the ones that were straight up alcohol with just a hint of flavor from a second liqueur. Sigh. This meant I was going to have to rely on the restaurant to make me something that wasn’t on the menu. But, I remained hopeful because again, this place HAD to have some experienced bartenders who could toss a tasty, low-sugar something together.  Anyone who works somewhere with over 100 whiskies had to know SOMETHING about mixing, right? When I discussed this with our waitress, she pointed out that this was possible AND that one of the bartenders was a Type 1! Score! Off she went to ask him to put something together for me. I KNEW this was going to be my new favorite place.

10 minutes later, she returned with a dirty martini with a lemon rind in it. My heart sank. I don’t like dirty martinis (because I frankly am just not into drinking straight vodka – soooo gross and depressing), and in my opinion, they’re the cop-out of drinking diabetics everywhere (this blog was more or less founded on my frequent run-ins with diabetics drinking vodka soda water). I took a sip, just to make sure I wasn’t missing something, and nope, I was not. There was no way I was drinking that. I called the waitress over and mentioned that straight up olive-tasting vodka just wasn’t my jam, and was it possible to push said Type 1 bartender to be just a tad more creative? “No,” she said, “he told me he doesn’t really take care of himself and just drinks a lot of beer; he doesn’t know how to make low-sugar drinks.”

Wow. D minus for the new restaurant (it’s not an F because our waitress was awesome and the food was good). I gave up and ordered an old-fashioned.

The point here is…

I get it, we’re all fucking busy and some people like beer. We do live in Colorado, the micro-brewery capitol of the universe, and I don’t expect everyone to maintain the exhausting level of alcoholic snobbery I do. My point is that you don’t have to, nor do you even really have to be a fancy bartender or spend any amount of time throwing something together. It wouldn’t have taken much for this beer-carb-laden Type 1 bartender to make me happy last night.

So, in no particular order, some ideas he might want to consider (for himself and his restaurant) in the future:

Use flavored seltzer water.

A smattering of what's currently in my fridge...

A smattering of what’s currently in my fridge…

Not feeling creative/don’t have time to make a fancy drink? No problem… you only have to choose from five hundred BILLION kinds of flavored zero-sugar seltzer water, sweeten it up a tad with some liquid stevia to enhance whatever the flavor is, and drop in your liquor of choice. I swear, every time I go to the grocery store there are more options. You can’t go wrong.

My current favorite is the Seven brand, which recently produced a series of unsweetened “beverage” flavors. I’m most partial to the “Lime Mint Mojito,” which really does, in my opinion, effectively capture that mojito flavor. I add 1/2 oz of St. Germain, 1.5 oz of light rum, and squeeze in a lime – and voila – an almost completely sugar-free (St. Germain aside) pear mojito for you right there.

Flavored sodas can be magic.

I had to try it. Still tastes like Diet Coke so you can't really escape that.

I had to try it. Still tastes like Diet Coke so you can’t really escape that…

I know, I know… soda is bad for you. And I personally think Diet Coke tastes like crap, but I know there are people out there who like it. And, if you really MUST have a legit diet soda, both Coke and Pepsi recently started to make flavored diet options, some of which lend themselves quite nicely to alcoholic beverages.

If you’re jonesing for a Coke but have sworn off of actual soda because you’re, like, healthy and shit,  Zevia makes some great soda flavors that are pretty legit (and some even have caffeine in them).

And if you’re into mules or gin & tonics, for example, don’t tell yourself you’re stuck with a high-sugar beverage because EVERYTHING has a diet equivalent, and most can be found right next door to the original in any major grocery store. I use diet ginger beer all the time for my mules, and keep diet tonic water around in case I suddenly have a hankering for a scholarly beverage.

Low carb hard selzer, like White Claw and Truly, is a gift from the universe.

I could kiss whoever came up with this concept (and so could every sorority girl in the world, no doubt). This isn’t zero sugar or zero carb because it has alcohol in it (in case that wasn’t immediately obvious), but it’s damn close.

What the fuck else can I say about this? Buy yourself a six pack and hit the beach. End of story.

You can literally buy a whole fucking low-carb cocktail pre-mixed in a bottle.

One example is the Skinny Girl series; I can’t totally speak to these because I haven’t really tried them, but I have friends who like them. All you have to do is pour that shit into a glass. I promise, you can do it.

Try using a protein drink.

IMG_0023

Like to multitask? Then this one’s for you.

Okay, it’s little bit of a stretch but roll with it. I was in Costco the other day perusing the protein aisle for deals (I mean, who doesn’t need 500 pounds of whey protein, right?), and stumbled across an Isopure bottled protein drink I hadn’t seen before. It was on sale; a case of 12 bottles for $16, so I thought eh, what the hell, I’ll give it a try – and bought the case. I like to use Isopure protein powder (the whey isolate) for my protein shakes because it’s very low carb and doesn’t have a bunch of other crap in it. Having it in a premade drink form was a nice bonus.

I was driving home eyeballing these almost glowing green bottles of what looked essentially like coolant, wondering how horrible they were going to be, when I had a brilliant thought: what if they made a good drink? I could boost my protein intake while also having a delightful apple melon and rum mixed beverage. My immediate second thought after that: what special kind of crazy does someone have to be to even be having this thought process?

The answer: low-carb fitness nuts who like to drink, obviously. I can’t possibly be the only crazy person out there… Anyone? Anyone?

In case you’re wondering – I did pair it with alcohol, and it was actually quite good. I used 1.5 oz of vodka, and mixed in a cucumber melon sugar-free seltzer (see? those seltzers are good with anything) to cut some of the sweetness, and I really can’t complain. I’ll probably do it again.

You saw it here first!

 

 

The Art of Drinking Internationally

Happy new year! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season filled with tasty food and beverages.

My Xmas was delightful; I spent six days enjoying sugar-free mojitoes on a lounge chair next to the ocean/pool in Mexico. It really doesn’t get better than that, you know?

But, preparing for the trip reminded me that enjoying (in a relaxing way, not in a oh-shit-my-BG-is-suddenly-400-whoopsies kind of way) the international food and drink situation as a diabetic requires a little bit of forethought and planning. While it’s easy to find good alternatives to food and drink things here in the States, one can’t take them for granted or assume they’re available outside of the country. So I thought I’d devote a post on this (focused on both food and drink) to share some tips I aggregated via my own successes and lessons learned on this last outing.

The extras I brought with me: some of my go-to snacks, protein bars in case I needed to replace a meal, sweetener alternatives and my favorite low supplies.

The extras I brought with me: some of my go-to snacks, protein bars in case I needed to replace a meal, sweetener alternatives and my favorite low supplies.


Bring basic snacks and supplies with you

I didn’t go to a third world country, but I happen to know that Mexicans aren’t the healthiest eaters. I was also planning on leaving the resort I stayed at for a couple of activities, and wanted to be prepared with my own snacks in case what they brought for our snack was cookies (turns out it was). And, I didn’t know what kind of sugar alternatives the resort would have available for my drinks, and obviously, my drinks were the most important part of the trip! So, I recommend bringing:

  1. Sugar alternatives. I’ve already talked quite a bit about my love for Stevia. I packed up a bottle of liquid Stevia and several Stevia packets and just brought them with me. When I went to the beach/pool during the day, I put them in my beach bag, and when I went for meals at night or found a nice place in the evening for a drink, I carried them in a small shoulder bag. Turns out Mexico has discovered Stevia too (and theirs was actually better!) and I needn’t have worried, but I’d have been up shit’s creek if my only option was Splenda or something (because ew).
  2. Protein bars. I brought a couple of these along in case I missed a meal for some reason or needed something quickly; I prefer the ONE brand because they’re very low sugar and don’t taste like cardboard, and I have a perfect ratio of insulin-to-protein bar that I know works to cover them. I did end up eating both of them, one on the plane and the second on my snorkel outing off the resort.
  3. Go-to snacks of choice. When I need a snack or get hand-to-mouth syndrome, my go-tos are usually jerky and nuts; they’re not heavy carb and give me a good dose of healthy protein and fat. Turns out the snack options at the pool weren’t great so I ended up going through what I’d brought and was glad I had it. In addition, the snacks on my off-resort snorkel tour were cookies and bananas; about as high on the Glycemic index as you could get. Luckily, I had brought my own stuff and was perfectly happy (and with a normal BG) most of the day.
  4. Low supplies of choice. I mean, duh – but in case for some reason this is news to someone, it’s always good to have these along wherever you go (I carried them with me day and eve). Also good to make sure you choose options that won’t melt if they get warm sitting out all day. I had a pretty good low one night and ended up drinking a Mexican coke out of the mini bar instead of getting into my low supplies (and Mexican cokes are HARD CORE sugar bombs), but felt better knowing I had stuff with me.
A fresh sugar-free mojito ready to go in front of the firepit one evening.

A fresh sugar-free mojito ready to go in front of the firepit one evening.


Drink responsibly

History has recently proven that Mexico is probably not the place to bring out your inner 21-year-old, drink too much and do stupid shit. You’ve likely heard all of the horror stories about bad things happening to Americans in Cancun, for example, most relating to some type of alcoholic beverage (roofies, poisoned tequila, etc.). So while I feel confident I can travel safely in Mexico as long as I’m careful and aware, I stayed very wary of what I was consuming. Further, Mexicans like their drinks with a LOT of sugar, pretty much no matter what it is, so I knew I’d have to figure out a foolproof method for getting drinks that were okay for me to consume.

Here’s what worked for me:

  1. Learn how to clearly ask for what you want in the local dialect. Don’t assume that everyone speaks clear English anywhere just because you’re there (we as Americans tend to do this). Obviously at resorts that are filled with something like 80% American tourists, a majority of the staff there will speak decent English, but that is not always a given. Plus, I like practicing my Spanish when in Mexico, because when in Rome, you know? So, before I went on my trip I taught myself how to ask for a sugar-free mojito (Quiero un mojito sin azucar/I’d like a mojito without sugar), and identified a backup drink in case I ran into problems (diet coke with rum). Not gonna lie – I got huffed at a LOT by making this special request because apparently it is sacreligious to drink a sugar-free mojito and the staff were appalled at my poor taste – but I got what I asked for.
  2. Ask for a better liquor than what they automatically give you. I stayed at an all-inclusive resort and obviously they go through a LOT of alcohol so it’s in their best interest to save money by giving people the cheaper/well brands of liquor. The cheaper stuff is higher in sugar content and can consequently give you a spectacular hangover when consumed in large quantities. Pretty much anywhere will have better quality liquor available for no more cost and will be happy to give it to you if you ask. By doing a little research when you arrive to identify the better quality brands available and specifically asking for them when you order a drink, you can better manage your BG and avoid a massive headache. And then you can wake up the next day and start your adventure all over again!
  3. Bring sugar alternatives with you in case they aren’t otherwise available. As discussed above.
  4. Taste your drink first before adding sugar alternatives and consuming. Duh, right? Yeah. I was having consistent success asking for my mojitoes without sugar, so I didn’t think to much when one drink was a little too sweet – I just assumed I’d added too much Stevia. On my fifth day at the resort, after four hours in the afternoon with a BG of 260 stubbornly refusing to come down no matter how much insulin I took, I realized I’d consumed a sugared beverage. My request had not made it to the bartenders appropriately, I guess. And then, because I can’t learn my lesson the first time, I did the same thing again that evening. While I normally would taste my drink first anyway, I had gotten complacent. Always taste your drink first – even if it’s the 20th one!
  5. Avoid the beachy, sugary stuff. Being a diabetic can really be a bitch sometimes. One day I REALLY wanted the strawberry daiquiri my neighbor was consuming and spent some minutes pondering how I might be able to make that happen without going into DKA. Unfortunately, there’s just not really an option; while I can sit at home with my diabetic bar and make myself martinis with all of the lovely alternatives I’ve identified, finding those (and getting someone to make a drink with them) in a foreign country is unlikely at best. On the plus side, you will likely be the only one feeling wide awake and peachy the following morning because you didn’t consume alcohol with a pound of sugar. Silver lining.

 

Two Low-Sugar Martinis to Get Tipsy (…I Mean, Busy) Over

Happy Labor Day, everyone! Long weekends are so great for like a million reasons, but one of my favorite things about the Labor Day long weekend is that we can all agree that its primary purpose is to celebrate the hard work of our ancestors by drinking. Cheers to that.

I used some of my long weekend to experiment with some, quote, “low carb” martini recipes I discovered. Martinis really have nothing to do with the month of September, but I was feeling the need to mix things up before I get overwhelmed by everything pumpkin spice and we have to head down that road (again – how is it fall AGAIN?).

I’ve encountered a lot of the usual suspects on the menu in my culinary travels lately; well-known drinks that remain strangers to me because they’re filled with a shitload of juice or only good because they’re a mix of some kind. I actually left a restaurant recently (bringing a large group with me) because I was informed, condescendingly and haughtily (and like five times, five different ways, because apparently being a diabetic means I’m also slow to process information/was born yesterday), that “they were a WINE BAR and the only liquor-based cocktails they offer contain a sugary mix and I should have come there for wine but because I want a cocktail and I’m a diabetic, I can basically SUCK IT”.  (For anyone looking to avoid this experience, never go to Bitto Bistro)

This made me more determined to find some really common household beverages and whip up a fantastic alternative. And so, I bring you a low-sugar Sex on the Beach martini (suck THIS, Bitto Bistro) and the Watermelon Basil Martini.

Both recipes I’d found for these drinks initially didn’t work for me at all (so I won’t credit their authors here); the measurements on the watermelon basil drink had way too much watermelon juice which put it way high on the glycemic scale (and totally spiked me for like 3 hours) and the “low carb” Sex on the Beach was just, well, gross. I did some tinkering with both to bring down the natural sugar content and try to at least go from gross to halfway decent.  I think they both ended up pretty quality, but you’ll have to let me know (and no judgment here on your timing for making Sex on the Beach…promise).

Oh, and a note about flavored vodkas.  My Sex on the Beach recipe requires the use of flavored vodkas, to maintain the fruity flavors of the drink without the added juice. I spent some time talking with the knowledgeable folks at the liquor store about which flavored vodkas were best to purchase from a lesser sugar perspective (but that weren’t crazy expensive), and they said go for the flavored vodkas that infuse flavors rather than use sugar to add flavors. The difference was, no big surprise, reflected in the price; by purchasing infused-flavor vodkas rather than the Smirnoff-type choices I probably added about $20 to my total price tag when checking out. But for staying low sugar I think it’s worth the extra money.

Low sugar Sex on the Beach martini

Low sugar Sex on the Beach martini

Low Sugar Sex on the Beach Martini

Ingredients (makes two martini glass-sized beverages):

  • 2 oz Vodka (best to keep it quality because there’s a lot going on in this drink – I used Tito’s)
  • 2 oz Peach vodka
  • 6 oz Diet cranberry juice
  • 1 tsp Orange Extract
  • Sprite Zero (or club soda, if you want a less sweet drink)
  • Ice

Recommended steps:

  1. Combine vodka, peach vodka, orange extract and cranberry juice in cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well.
  2. Pour equal amounts of liquid into martini glasses.
  3. Fill glasses the rest of the way with either Sprite Zero or club soda, depending on your sweetness preferences, and stir.
  4. Garnish with a slice of lime.

 

Low Sugar Watermelon Basil Martini

Low Sugar Watermelon Basil Martini

Low Sugar Watermelon Basil Martini

*A note about this one: watermelon is one of my absolute favorite fruits, but it makes my pancreas go nuts. I can manage it in small amounts, but it does make my BG go up and this drink required a couple of units of insulin. If you’re one of those people too, keep that in mind when consuming this drink.

Ingredients (makes makes two martini glass-sized beverages):

  • 2 oz watermelon juice from watermelon (I got half a watermelon, cut it into chunks and basically smashed them into a strainer to juice it – it makes a lot of juice so this is a good recipe for a larger group, or if you’re a lush)
  • 3.5 oz vodka (best to keep it quality – I used Tito’s)
  • 2 oz St Germain
  • 3-4 large basil leaves
  • Slice of lime
  • Club soda
  • Sprite Zero
  • Small chunk of watermelon and another basil leaf for garnish
  • Ice

Recommended steps:

  1. Smash watermelon chunks to obtain juice.
  2. Combine watermelon juice and basil leaves in cocktail shaker. Try to smash basil leaves to extract flavor without spilling watermelon juice all over counter/floor like I did.
  3. Add vodka, St Germain  and a few ice cubes to cocktail shaker and shake well.
  4. Pour mixture into martini glasses.
  5. Top off with club soda and Sprite Zero in equal amounts (I found the drink too sweet just adding Sprite Zero, but that’s personal preference most likely)
  6. Squeeze in a slice of lime, and stir.
  7. Garnish with a small chunk of watermelon and a basil leaf.

Keeping It Classy With the Sugar-free Iced Latte

It’s time to give coffee some more due diligence because I’m not certain I’d be alive (and possibly neither would some of my coworkers) without it. I love the taste, but there’s more to it than that – making a coffee drink has become an art and a comforting ritual for me.

In my first post about coffee, I mentioned that I was never a big fan of sugary, non-coffee-tasting coffee drinks (like those everyone likes to purchase at a place that starts with “S” and ends with “-ucks”), so I haven’t had to make any real sacrifices or dietary shifts with my diabetes diagnosis. But, every now and then I enjoy a nice caramel or vanilla latte and sometimes even rarely crave a big ass frappucino with whipped cream, so I can understand that the struggle is real.

And, as I mentioned previously, the struggle is not totally necessary because those drinks are all still within reach. In this post, I’m going to focus on how to make a flavored iced latte yourself, the correct way – then you can save your $6 and the half a vial of insulin you’d have used for a crappy, poorly made drink at Starbucks to pay for more insulin so you can eat cake (or something) instead. You’re welcome.

How to make a sugar-free flavored latte the correct way

Iced latte.

A homemade iced latte. Note the nice espresso crema on top.

An iced latte is comprised of espresso, milk, a flavor (if you want to flavor it), and ice. There are a few tricks to making a good latte:

  • Use good espresso. Don’t use the cheap crap they sell in Safeway; shell out some $$ for a higher quality brand (that you’ve tried first and know you like), make sure it’s ground finely so you get the most flavor out of the beans, and is reasonably fresh (hasn’t been sitting in your cupboard for 2 years). You will spend more on espresso up front getting a better bean, but you’ll save like $300 and your palate not going to Starbucks. Again, you’re welcome.
  • If you have the money, I’d recommend getting a decent espresso machine. You don’t need to spend $2000 so don’t go to Crate & Barrel and get talked into that ridiculousness. There are many good machines starting at around $75 to about $300  available just about anywhere that make a really nice pour (and you just saved $300 not going to Starbucks, so you can afford it).  There are also a lot of coffee/espresso machine combinations that also work just fine. I currently have a $300 DeLonghi that I’m really happy with. But, honestly, you can also make espresso without a machine at all, and it’s really up to you how you get something you’re happy with.
  • There is a proper order to adding the ingredients so you don’t end up with a watery, tasteless mess.  If you’ve ever seen a “barista” (quotation marks intentional) at Starbucks just throwing everything into a cup all at once, they’re doing it wrong, and you’re going to get a crappy, watered down drink. More on the order in a moment.
  • Use a good flavoring option for your drink. I’ve previously extolled the virtues of sugar-free Torani syrups in several posts already; they’re my preferred go to brand for all coffee drinks. They have literally about every flavor you could possibly want, so you can also mix and match and experiment with which flavors you prefer together. I’ve found that the amount of flavoring I put in to a drink depends on the flavor; some flavors are more subtle than others so you need a little more. It’s best to experiment to see what fits your preferences.
  • Oh, and milk type is kind of a personal preference. I really only ever drink milk (skim) when I’m drinking a latte, so I can’t speak to how different types of milk might affect blood sugar. I would note that a higher fat milk makes a smoother drink overall because it holds flavor better than skim, but I can’t stand drinking high fat milk so it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. Obviously, any amount of milk contains carbs so there might be a small amount of insulin required to treat but in my case, the BG raise has been negligible for me.

My recommended order of ingredients to get the best-tasting, smoothest drink:

  1. Make your espresso pour. Most standard espresso machines will make two shots at a time, and most espresso drinks are made with two shots. I like my drinks strong and I’ve been drinking coffee a long time, so I use four for my drinks.
  2. Measure out your sugar-free flavor and pour into steaming hot espresso. Mix well to evenly distribute flavor. I’ve found, depending on the flavor, that 1/2 to 3/4 oz. sugar-free Torani syrup is a perfect amount for a standard drink-size latte. My favorite flavors are vanilla and salted caramel (sometimes together).
  3. Set espresso and flavoring mixture aside.
  4. Fill a standard cup, glass or travel beverage container completely with ice. The larger the ice cubes, the better. Using enough ice (and large cubes, if possible) is important because if you don’t use enough, when you mix in the hot espresso your ice will melt and you’ll end up with diluted espresso and a lukewarm drink. More ice = more cold surface area to cool the espresso more quickly, so the ice doesn’t all melt at once, and then it will stick around to keep your drink cold while you consume it.
  5. Pour milk into your ice-filled glass until it’s about 1/2 full. Pouring the milk in first is another way to keep things colder overall and prevent melting and dilution of your flavors.
  6. Pour espresso & flavoring mixture into the glass.
  7. Add ice if more is needed and mix well. Enjoy your high quality sugar-free latte and flip Starbucks the bird.
  8. Optional: You may find your drink isn’t quite sweet enough to your liking once you try it. You can either add more flavoring until the sweetness is to your satisfaction, or you can add a little bit of liquid Stevia, which I’ve found both sweetens the drink and brings out the flavoring a little more.

 

Gin gimlet

Drink Review: Diabetics Doing Denver

What do you immediately think of when I say summer and alcohol? Yup, that’s right: patios and refreshing beverages. (if you thought of something else, I don’t want to know what it is)

In between recent extracurricular adventures, I’ve been upping my hipster quotient in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood, checking out the patios of some of the chic new restaurants that seem to be popping up everywhere in an area that was until very recently a sad row of abandoned warehouses. These are the kind of restaurants that attract snobby assholes who eat inside buildings wearing their sunglasses, are rude to the waiters because they believe it’s their birthright and assume we’re all here to wait on them hand and foot — but, for better or worse, there’s a reason they’re there: the food is damn good. These restaurants view food as an art, and I’ve been gratified to discover this extends to their mixology, as well.

At two such places, I wasn’t able to find cocktails on the menu that I was interested in/that seemed safe to consume, so I decided to risk it: I told the bartenders I was a diabetic and challenged them to make me a refreshing low sugar cocktail.  It’s been a lucky couple of weeks for me, and my luck extended here, as well — both restaurants delivered excellent beverages. In both cases, when I asked them to leave out the simple syrup and mentioned that I used Stevia to sweeten my drinks instead, the bartenders offered to mix in my Stevia packets without a second thought.  One of them actually spent about 10 minutes talking to me about his experience working with Stevia, said that he thought it was the best option for alternatives for alcoholic beverages, and suggested I grow my own plant.

(As an aside, it has literally never occurred to me to grow my own plant – I frankly hadn’t put much thought into where Stevia came from, much less that I could create my own sweetener. Who the fuck knew? I might look into this, so stay tuned for an update in a future post.)

Until recently, I’d have felt like a high maintenance asshole asking a bartender to use my artificial sweetener in their fancy, carefully created artistic drink – but I’ve decided the risk of social shaming is worth the positive outcome.

So, new D4D tip — if you have the balls and the social skills, ask your resident bartender to cut the simple syrup and mention you have Stevia they could use, instead… and suggest they mix it in for you.

Drink 1: Blueberry Saketini, Mr. Tuna

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Blueberry Saketini, Mr. Tuna

This was a twist on a drink listed on their menu. When I asked the bartender what she recommended I try, she suggested a twist to one of the drinks on the menu because of its simplicity and used Stevia to replace the simple syrup.

Key ingredients:

  • Blueberry sake
  • Crushed mint
  • Bitters
  • Simple Syrup/Stevia

Score on the D4D scale of 1 to 5: 4.

Drink 2: Gin Gimlet, Acorn

Gin gimlet

Gin Gimlet, Acorn

Acorn didn’t have any drinks listed on their menu I was interested in (or that looked manageable) so I asked the bartender to make me something using cucumber and basil. He suggested a gin gimlet because of the relatively few ingredients, and then used my Stevia in place of simple syrup.

Key ingredients:

  • Gin
  • Lime juice
  • Crushed cucumber and basil
  • Soda water
  • Simple syrup/Stevia

Score on the D4D scale of 1 to 5: 4.2.

 

Liquid Gold

Raise your hand if you’re reading this WT (while tired).

It’s somewhere in the middle of a week after a long weekend literally designed for grilling, drinking beer (more on that later), relaxing with family and friends, and celebration. Maybe you ate too much, or drank too much, especially last night at 10pm when you were in denial you had to go back to work today (I mean, I didn’t… I’m just asking for a friend).

Whatever your reason, you’re dragging, and I have a solution.

No, it’s not quitting your job (sorry). Here it is:

Drink coffee - do stupid things faster with more energy.

Drink coffee – do stupid things faster with more energy. (this photo belongs to Amazon)

My solution to nearly all the ills in life is coffee. It tastes amazing, it can warm you up or cool you down, and as an added bonus, it can help you do stupid things with more energy. The first question I asked my doctor when I was diagnosed was “can I still drink coffee?” That is how much this liquid gold matters to me.

This blog promised to cover all of the liquid perks life has to offer, and I particularly look forward to exploring the world of coffee. I’ve heard anecdotally and read in a few articles that coffee (or, rather, the caffeine in coffee) will raise blood sugar in some Type 1s marginally but not on a massive scale. I haven’t found that to be the case myself, but I have a rather stubborn dawn phenomenon that occurs with or without coffee, so it’s hard for me to separate the two in a quantifiable way.  Further, I’d rather take insulin than be cranky (you’re welcome).

I suspect my present day fascination with mixing drinks can actually be tracked back to my days as a barista, when I officially became addicted to caffeine and was introduced to the notion that drink making could be an art. This was back in about 2000, when Starbucks only had 3,000 stores and only half the country thought it was cool to drink pure sugar that tasted remotely like coffee. Today, every Pinterest model can be seen sporting two critically important accessories: a cell phone and a plastic Starbucks cup with the latest flavored frappucino or flavored latte. For better or worse, this has created an expectation, at least in the U.S., that coffee must taste like smoked marshmallow instead of coffee. I’m not actually sure half of the coffee drinkers in this country know what real coffee tastes like, which seems to be sad only to me and people who actually know how to make coffee.

Those of you who know me well know I fucking hate Starbucks and I always have for a lot of reasons, but let’s all be honest with ourselves: those frappucinos don’t suck, and that’s because they have a shitload of sugar in them. I had a frappucino once post-dead-pancreas, because I didn’t even think about how much sugar was in there and it was hot and I wanted whipped cream. An hour later, my blood sugar was almost 400 and no amount of insulin would bring it down. Whoops. On the plus side, I rarely drink that crap anyway because I believe in quality coffee roasted by people who know what the fuck they’re doing (Starbucks has neither), so giving up fake-coffee-sugar-drinks wasn’t a huge sacrifice. But I know I’m in the minority (haughty sniff).

The good news is, there’s a TON of alternatives for great (and sweet) coffee drinks for those of us who can no longer survive a frappucino without a trip to the hospital. But this *might* mean you will have to learn to make your own coffee drinks in some cases, so hang in there with me. I promise, real coffee drinks can be as good as a frappucino.

A couple of thoughts about things you can change right away to ante up your coffee quality of life:

The world of sugar-free flavored syrups is worth exploring. I mentioned in a previous blog post the many, many virtues of sugar-free Torani syrups, which can create a beautiful, smoked marshmallow world for those of you who prefer it that way.  While there are lots of syrup brands out there, Torani is used most consistently in the coffee world — it’s good stuff. A bigger coffee shop will carry at least one or two sugar-free flavors, so it’s always good to ask what they have before assuming you’re stuck with something boring (I do happen to know that every Starbucks carries sugar-free Vanilla, at a minimum). If you want to buy your own to make your own coffee drinks, just about any flavor you can imagine is available on the Torani site or on Amazon. If you’re in a hurry, you can pick them up at World Market, which carries several flavors.

You do not have to suffer because of someone’s hipster liquid agave. I’ve noticed a recent trend: today’s local coffee shops (which you should be going to instead of Starbucks because their coffee is actual coffee) have gone very modern and minimalist in order to enhance the customer experience, and in some cases, this means they no longer offer artificial sweeteners because it will RUIN their minimalist look and kill your $6 pour-over (haughty sniff). Instead, you will find a very chic looking single bottle of liquid agave on the condiments counter, because liquid sugar is the new thing. How classy. So, for a diabetic, you might believe your choice is to drink fancy but bitter unsweetened coffee, or risk a blood sugar spike… not true! Fuck that hipster shit.

Now, you know that you should carry a few packets of artificial sweeteners with you everywhere you go because you read my post on tips and tricks, and you can use those anytime when you order your coffee and discover you’ve chosen to patronize somewhere too cool for you. I’ve also learned that sometimes coffee shops do carry artificial sweeteners but they hide them, so you should always ask. And, this is a very recent discovery – some coffee shops are learning they have been assholes and are starting to carry sugar free liquid sweeteners, too!

Kudos to Ziggy's Coffee in Longmont, CO, for carrying sugar-free liquid sweetener.

Kudos to Ziggi’s Coffee in Longmont, CO, for carrying sugar-free liquid sweetener.

I was actually not aware Torani even made liquid sweetener prior to taking this photo, but I am now. Kudos to the Colorado-based Ziggi’s Coffee for carrying this alternative.

In the next few posts about coffee, I’ll explore some recipes for summertime drinks that are low sugar and just as damn tasty as a frappucino.  In the meantime, you’ll likely find me sucking down my bucket of sugar-free liquid gold at work tomorrow. Zzzzzz….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SaveSave

Random handy tips & tricks: Installment 1

By necessity, diabetics are a pretty resourceful lot. Being a healthy diabetic requires a shitload of supplies and a level of preparedness usually reserved for a girl scout (raise your hand if anyone has ever called you that when you hauled out your bag of diabetic crapola to calibrate/adjust a sensor/inject, etc.). Having a fickle/dead organ can result in some fun surprises, most often at highly inopportune times (my favorite diabetic surprise so far was having a low while in the middle of negotiating the purchase of a vehicle and having to explain why I was consuming Skittles while signing $30k+ of my life away – I really like to keep it classy) and I’ve found the more prepared I am, the less intrusive my disease needs to be.

Now that I’ve launched the blog, I’ve become a little more woke to my day to day coffee/cocktail consumption routine, and have noted some of the little tricks I’ve learned that make my life easier and the disease less obnoxious. These are aggregated both through my own trial and error, but also from reading learnings from other diabetics and diabetic blogs, so the credit belongs fully to the community.  These are by no means comprehensive and this is an evolving process, so I’m loosely calling this Installment 1.

Oh, and BTW – please leave your own learnings in the comments! We can keep this discussion rolling.

Anything in liquid sugar form is a fucking PITA for my pancreas. What I mean by this is that for diabetics, managing sugar intake is the name of the game, period, right? And I’ve found, in my limited experience, that managing sugar in liquid form is extraordinarily difficult because it absorbs much more quickly into the bloodstream and it’s nearly impossible for any short-acting insulin to keep up in order to manage it (unless you really time an injection/bolus carefully). Therefore, from the perspective of a blogger writing about things in liquid form, one of the main goals of my recommendations, recipes, ideas, etc. will be to avoid sugary liquid in any form as much as possible. The good news is that there are a lot of ways to swap/skip those ingredients, as well as several methods to slow down the rate of absorption so it’s much more manageable if you really must consume sugar.

Artificial sweeteners in varying forms have changed my life. I’m going to talk about these a LOT, because they are my go-to replacements for a lot of sugary ingredients. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I’m NOT A DOCTOR and I am aware there are mixed reviews on artificial sweeteners and their potential affects on health. In fact, here’s an ADA overview of a few, or feel free to google “artificial sweeteners and Diabetes” and go to town. Ultimately, these are just my opinions and you should do what’s right for your own health.

My personal favorite of all of the sweetener options is Stevia in its varying forms; the research indicates that it’s the most natural option (because it’s literally plant-derived) and to me, has the least chemical flavor. I use it in almost everything I make.

IMG_1646

Varying Stevia options currently in my cabinet, both in crystal and liquid form. Most of these can be found at any major grocery store.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention another flavor assist: Sugar-free Torani syrup. Anyone who has had fancy coffee drinks with some kind of flavor added has had Torani, which, as far as I know, is the most widely used brand of syrup for flavoring coffee drinks nationwide. And because there is a god, Torani makes a ton of sugar-free flavors that are GREAT. More on Torani and its amazing-ness coming in other posts.

I carry my sweetener of choice with me, everywhere I go. I cannot tell you how many times a couple of Stevia packets have saved my ass. And, if you’re thinking “I don’t want to carry extra shit” — for those diabetic girl scouts, are a couple of square sized packets really going to push you over the edge in terms of space management? I mean, really.

Here’s a couple examples of why these things save my ass:

  1. I like to go to fancy, pretentious new coffee shops to try their espresso or cold brew because I love good coffee and I like trying all the new roasts in my vicinity. I’m also a coffee snob, but not hard core enough to drink coffee black; I like a little cream and sweetener in it (and I’m assuming most of you are wusses like me because places like Starbucks are still in business). Because these places are so pretentious, they often only offer “organic agave nectar hand-picked by your local dude with a beard and a trucker cap” and they believe in minimalism, so if you don’t want agave because you can’t consume liquid sugar, you can pretty much suck it. Hey, look at that! I’ll just surreptitiously pull out my Stevia packet, sneak half into my coffee when no one’s looking, and enjoy my snobby coffee like a champion.
  2. Wayyy more to come on this later, but when I go out and have drinks, many times it’s at places that don’t actually have artificial sweeteners on hand if I ask them to cut sugary ingredients out of drinks. Think: bartender at club who is like “WTF dude you’re at a skeevy club and you want Sweet & Low? Are you fucking kidding me?”. I don’t want to suffer through something bitter and horrible because I’m at a skeevy club, so voila! Order gin & soda & lime and add Stevia, enjoy excellent drink as though you are an excellent dancer.

And, I keep my sweetener and the rest of my shit classy. Even though I’m making jokes about girl scouts, the truth is that if you’re a diabetic and you plan to make a night of it drinking/clubbing, you can’t be a dumbass because alcohol and diabetes have some issues when running in parallel. If I plan on really making a night of it, I will always make sure I have the right stuff with me to deal with a severe high or low. But I do like to keep it classy, and I’m not going to haul around my Harry Potter purse if I actually plan to dance, which is why I love my Myabetic purse. I’m not getting paid to say anything about Myabetic and there are plenty of blogs out there touting their amazingness so I’ll keep it short – my point is that there are plenty of ways to be a classy, drinking diabetic without again, having to sacrifice much of anything, including style.

IMG_1658

My Myabetic purse with all my crap (note, importantly, Stevia packets on left which are always in there). You can use the cross body strap or remove it and just use the wrist strap.

I really would have thought this was all a no-brainer and maybe it is for you, but I can’t tell you how many diabetics I recently surprised at a Type 1 social in Denver when I whipped out my handy Stevia packet to add to my sugar-free drink.

I’ll see you at the club, sweetener in hand.