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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Dessert-less December In Review

Dessert-less December has just about come to a close (two days left but I will NOT be consuming sugar on either of these days). If you will remember, I began my Dessert-less December as a way to consume less sugar so as to better fight inflammation. I allowed myself exactly seven days of sugar in the month of December. I am a bit of a sugar addict and so it was a challenge to really look in to how sugar (particularly fructose) might be affecting my Psoriatic Arthritis and my inflammation. Though I now know a lot more about what fructose is doing to my body, I don't plan to cut it out entirely. I plan to allow for five celebration days a month (not seven as I found that this was way too many) where sugar consumption can be done in moderation. Starting in 2016, I'll have five celebration days: one day a week, plus a floater celebration day in case anything comes up.

Reducing my sugar consumption this month has really made me more aware of how much sugar affects my body, my mood, and my general inflammation and soreness. It was a great experiment to come up with the seven days that I would allow for sugar consumption in my Dessert-less (-ish) December. During a season of party after party, I really had to prioritize which days would be celebrated with sugar consumption and which would have to be celebrated in other ways.

This is how the breakdown of my seven days went:
  1. December 5th: My Annual Crafting and Cookie Decorating Party
  2. December 13th: Family Friend's Annual Christmas Pancake Brunch
  3. December 16th: Day one of All Staff Retreat For Work
  4. December 19th: Annual Cookie (and Castle Cake) Decorating Day With Nieces
  5. December 22nd: Annual Fancy Christmas Lunch 
  6. December 24th: Christmas Eve Party
  7. December 25th: Christmas Day

My main take aways were these:
  1. I noticed, most drastically, the positive effects of limiting my sugar intake on December 13th because that was the longest period in a row where I did not consume sugar (the 6th through 13th). During the Pancake Brunch I found the syrup and spiced hot apple cider jarring though the pancakes were fabulous as always! (Persimmon pancakes, walnut date pancakes, and lemon pancakes! Yum!)
  2. I really wish that I'd avoided consuming sugar for the entirety of my work All Staff Retreat. I'd allotted for both the 16th and 17th as possible sugar consumption days. I was able to minimize it to only consume sugar one one of the days. I feel that I could very easily have avoided sugar both days, though that is sometimes hard when food is being supplied by an outside source. In the future, I'll prioritize homemade sweets over extremely sweet donuts or other store bought pastries. I found that though it was fun to be able to consume these treats, they were overwhelming and unnecessary. 
  3. Because of the craziness of the holidays, I felt like from December 13th - December 25th, I was eating sugar pretty much every three days or so. Due to consuming sugar so often during that time, I was aware that I felt much more inflamed and generally sorer during that period of the month. 
  4. I will never regret decorating cookies with my nieces or celebrating Christmas day with my family. These two days, above all, are the main days that I could not see myself removing sugar from. Sugar is so integral to both of those celebrations. 
  5. In addition to general inflammation and autoimmune arthritic soreness, on the days after I consumed sugar, I often felt almost as though I had a hangover (even though I no longer consume alcohol).
This is an exact list of all of the sweet things I consumed during those seven days:
Hot spiced apple cider, homemade sugar cookies with and without frosting, a single brownie, candied nuts, a couple chocolate covered graham crackers, maple syrup, a donut, a churro, a single Ferrero Rocher, one dark chocolate dipped pretzel stick, one slice of S'more Pie from Buckeye's, a slice of vegan gingerbread with coconut whipped cream, coconut chocolate pudding, two square of homemade fudge (one made by each of my aunt's who make homemade fudge), gingerbread cookie dough while I was making mini-gingerbread houses for everyone for Christmas dinner, and a slice of homemade chocolate coconut cake (also made by me!).

All in all I think that I did fairly well. It was very hard to cut down to 7 days of sugar consumption in the celebratory month of December. As it was, I felt pressure to add more sugar days here and there. I had to really priorities the days where sugar was integral to the celebrations. In some cases I had to opt out of eating desserts or conversely was guilted in to consuming sugar when I didn't feel I actually really needed it to celebrate. In the future I will find it important to prioritize homemade treats as these really are the best. Often store bought treats are overly sweet and their costs to my joints are not worth it to me.

I believe that anyone can do an (almost) Dessert-less  month and that the more reduce fructose in our diets, the better. In the coming months, I'll continue to share how my sugar reduction is going. In the mean time, best of luck to you as you reduce your sugar intake! 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

10 Sugar-Free Stocking Stuffers (For Teens and Adults)

Not just kids have sugar thrust on them all throughout the holiday season, everyone does! Christmas Eve, Christmas day, and all of the sugary goodies leading up to them are hard to avoid. Homemade cookies, cakes, pies, fancy warm adult beverages (if you partake). Not all teens and adults get stockings, but those who do, often find them full of candies, gum, and other sweets just like kids do! So, in an effort to help out Santa and his elves, I've come up with a list of 10 things that he can put in our stockings that won't cause inflammation. 

Some are the same as what I suggested for kids:

1. Flower or herb seed packets!
If your parents are anything like mine, they love to garden. Though we may be deep in the depths of winter, spring is just around the corner. Getting seeds to grow veggies and flowers will give folks a reason to get excited for spring.

2. Nail Polish (or a gift certificate to get a manicure or pedicure)!
Spa day, need I say more?

3. Color Pencils, paints, and crafting supplies!
Just because someone is an adult, doesn't mean they've lost their creativity. Filling stockings with knitting supplies, glue guns, or general art supplies is guaranteed to make many people happy.

Some are more specific to teens and adults:

4. Role of Quarters!
I know that some people will find it crass to give out money for Christmas, but there is nothing more useful than a role of quarters. Particularly college students and folks who live in apartment buildings without laundry machines. Quarters are also helpful for those cities where they have yet to adopt credit card payment options for parking meters.

5. Books!
Though not all books will fit in a stocking, small books will. Over the years Santa has given me many short poetry books, Spanish/English translation books, small dictionaries, and even a novel!

6. Soaps or miniature toiletries!
I love getting toiletries as stocking stuffers! Everyone needs small toothpaste bottles or mini shampoos when they go on vacation. It is sometimes even handy to bring a travel toothbrush or mouth wash to work for those days when you have an important meeting right after you eat your garlic-y leftovers.

7. Tea bags or tea strainers!
Nothing is more calming than tea. Nothing.

8. Tools!
Hammers! Wrenches! Screwdrivers! Measuring tape!

9. USB!
We could all be better about backing our files up and an extra USB in our stocking is a great way to remind us!

10. Fancy Corkscrew or bottle opener!
Whether you're popping open some bubbly or opening a ginger ale, having a bottle opener is an important tool in your adult arsenal.

Monday, December 21, 2015

10 Sugar-Free Stocking Stuffers (for Kids)!

Between Christmas Eve, Christmas day, and all of the treats leading up to it, there seems to be sugar everywhere we go. Hot cocoa, homemade cookies, cakes, pies, and then on top of all of that, there are all of the treats we find in our Christmas stockings. So, in an effort to help out Santa and his elves, I've come up with a list of 10 things that he can put in our stockings that won't cause inflammation. 

1. Flower or herb seed packets!
Though we may be deep in the depths of winter, spring is just around the corner. These seeds will give children something to look forward to and will be fun to watch as they grow.

2. Bubbles!
Children, dogs, cats, and even grown-ups, love bubbles! If Santa puts a bottle of bubbles in your stocking, you're certain to have a good time.

3. Toy cars, trains, or dinosaurs!
These small vehicles and animals are great because they are not only fun to play with but they're great for the imagination.

4. Nail Polish!
Honestly I think this can be given to anyone. Not only is it fun to paint our nails, but the posh is also great for paint jobs of toy cars and other fun creativity.

5. Crayons and Color Pencils!
Kids are super creative and giving them the tools to build up their creativity helps them to feel inspired and motivated.

6. Stickers!
Whether or not they are car stickers, flower stickers, stickers with characters from their favorite movie, sparkly stickers, glow in the dark stickers, or even fuzzy stickers, kids love to decorate their school supplies, their rooms, and even themselves with stickers.

7. Temporary Tattoos!
Temporary tattoos are fun and make kids feel tough. Get them some fun temporary tattoos that they can cover their arms with.

8. Glow in the dark Stars!
I had these as a kid and they were great! They made me feel like every time I was laying in my bed starring up at them, I was looking out in to the great expanding universe!

9. Finger puppets!
Kids can build up their imagining skills by creating whole stories between their puppets.  

10. Mittens or gloves!
For warm fingers on cold days!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Recipe: Fructose-Free Swedish Snowball Cookies // Adapted Family Recipe

I am becoming more contentious about my sugar intake to reduce my inflammation.

Despite my desire to fight inflammation and generally be more aware of the effects sugar (fructose) has on my body, it has been hard getting through the holiday season without my holiday go to treats. One treat in particular has been hard to go without: Swedish Snowball cookies. These cookies consist of powdered sugar, SO MUCH BUTTER, walnuts, flour, and really nut much else. They are a tradition in my family and are really only made once a year during the holiday season. 

A christmas without Swedish Snowballs seemed impossible. So, in an effort to think outside of the box, I decided to purchase Dextrose. Dextrose is also called d-glucose and is what our body converts in to energy. So, unlike fructose or sucrose (table sugar usually used in baking), it is not solely absorbed by the liver. 

I did have to make a few adaptations because Dextrose absorbs moisture in a different way than sugar does. 

1 Pound Butter (2 cups)
1 Cup sifted Dextrose
2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1/3 Cup almond milk 
4 Cups unsifted flour
1 1/2 Cups chopped walnuts

Note: These directions can be made VEGAN by replacing the pound of butter with a pound of Earth Balance or other butter replacement. 

1. To begin, pre-heat the oven to 300 degrees. Then use your hand or stand mixer to mix together the pound of butter and cup of sifted Dextrose.

2. Add in the vanilla extract. 

3. Slowly add in the 4 cups of flour. Mix until one solid ball of dough. 

4. If the dough isn't solidifying in to one whole unit, slowly add in the 1/3 cup almond milk.

5. Chop up walnuts.  

6. Add chopped walnuts into the dough until they are evenly distributed.

7. Once the dough is fully incorporated, roll dough in to balls that are approximately one inch in diameter. 

8. Bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes.

9. Let cookies cool for about half an hour or until they are not warm to the touch. 

10. Once cookies are cool, roll them in Dextrose to make them look like they are covered in snow!

11. Enjoy!

I hope that you enjoy this recipe and that it helps you get through the holiday season! Adapting this family recipe has really helped me make the holidays better and made me feel like I wasn't missing out on my favorite holiday treat. I like knowing that though there is still a lot of butter and flour in them (and thus, I should still consume them in moderation, at least I know that the sugar I am consuming in the form of Dextrose/Glucose is giving me energy rather than just feeding my sugar addiction and inflammation. Despite the fact that these cookies turned out deliciously, they were nowhere near as sweet as traditional Swedish Snowballs. Though I love eating and enjoying them, I haven't felt an uncontrollable urge to eat all of them at once. 

***Warning: Just because these are made out of all healthy whole foods and natural sugars, does not mean you should eat a crazy ton of them. Just like with regular cookies, you should eat them in moderation. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Sugar Confusion

There are three primary forms of sugar:

  1. Glucose 
  2. Galactose
  3. Fructose
These three forms of sugar are not interchangeable. Each is used by the body differently. Some forms of sugar are our life force energy and others are considered by our body to be tantamount to poison. I'm going to try to quickly sum up how each form of sugar works within our body:

  1. Glucose
  2. Galactose
    • Galactose is only found in milk sugar. It is almost instantly turned by our liver in to Glucose. 
  3. Fructose
There is much confusion over the idea that Fructose is bad for us. Because many of us grew up being told that "an apple a day will keep the doctor away," we are not willing to think of fructose as potentially negative. We associate fructose specifically with fruit and we associate fruit with health. When we eat fruit, our body consumes not only fructose, but also fiber. The fiber in fruit helps limit the absorption of fructose. When you refine sugar (which pretty much means that you remove the fiber from the sugar), you absorb the sugar (fructose) all immediately. Your liver becomes overloaded with fructose and ends up converting it in to liver fat. This is why consumption of straight fructose without fiber (fruit juice, soda, honey, agave, sucrose - the combination of glucose and fructose, or generally any time that the naturally occurring fibers that were attached to the fructose are gone) causes us to gain liver fat.  

The more fructose we consume, the harder our body has to work. When we eat too much sugar (read - fructose), our immune cells secret an inflammatory messenger called a cytokines. When cytokines are excreted, our bodies become inflamed. As someone with an autoimmune arthritis who is fighting inflammation constantly, I now monitor my sugar consumption for this reason. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

My Anti-inflammatory Eating Journey

I was diagnosed with Psoriatic Arthritis in 2009. Since that time, I've gone through massive flare ups, long periods with an inability to walk in the mornings, days when I could not climb down steps at all and had to slide down on my butt, massive pain, and so much frustration over the fact that I have to live with an autoimmune arthritis. I was so frustrated about it, in fact, that for the first few years after diagnosis I told very few people what I was going through. I went through the pain alone, fought it, pushed through it, and often made it worse in the process.

I didn't take control of my situation. I felt a victim rather than empowered (I'm happy to say that I now feel empowered). I assumed that whatever a doctor was telling me to do, was the best solution. I'd never met anyone else my age with arthritis. I didn't know what I was supposed to do with that information.

In the past few years though, I've finally shared my story. I have taken control of my experience. I have tried acupuncture (it hardly helped). I've bought orthopedic (but stylish) shoes. I've changed the way I eat.

A few years ago I began to look in to how my diet may be affecting my autoimmune arthritis. I met others with autoimmune diseases. I spoke to them about their diets. I made changes. The first change that I made was to remove lactose and dairy from my diet. In addition to just generally making my digestion work better, I realized that I must actually have been lactose intolerant all along. I do not drink milk, eat cheese, or really consume any dairy products anymore (like ice cream, whipped cream, butter, etc). I feel that removing dairy has impacted my arthritis positively and made my life generally better. 

Despite the fact that removing dairy made a noticeable difference in my health, in 2013 I went through an extremely hard 6 months of flare ups and was having a hard time walking or partaking in my main hobby: swing dance. It was frustrating. So, upon suggestions from a few fellow autoimmune arthritis friends, I decided that I would try to remove gluten from my diet. They all said that it had helped them and I had high hopes that it would help me.  I spent six rather unpleasant months gluten-free. It made literally no difference. I continued to have my worst and most long lasting flare up to date. Going gluten-free was not my solution (much to the relief of my friends and family). It worked for others, but not me.

In the past year, I began to look in to what foods generally cause flare ups and inflammation. I stumbled upon nightshades and a number of other foods to avoid. The prime suspect was sugar. Cutting out sugar seemed hard, though. I love sugar. Like many others, I began to realize that I was pretty darn addicted to sugar. So, I began to look in to what it does to the body. I was shocked. Fructose was pretty much a poison. I'd always been told that an apple a day kept the doctor away and I'd always been told that fruit was fructose. How could it be bad for you? The more and more I read, the more I realized that I needed to cut it out of my life as much as possible. So, last spring I began a challenge where I ate no added sugar OR even things that converted quickly in to sugar. The impact was almost instantaneous. I felt so much better. Unfortunately I was unable to sustain my sugar-free (read fructose-free) lifestyle. In an effort to feel better and generally take control over my body and my health, I've begun the process of really cutting down my sugar intake in a sustainable and manageable way. I'm hoping to get to the point where I only consume a maximum of 5 days of sugar in a month (equaling 60 days of sugar consumption in a year).

I know that sugar reduction isn't the only solution though. I know that I need to avoid other inflammatory foods. I know that I need to take control of my experience with my doctors. I know that I need to continue to try my hardest to make the best of my situation. I am not my arthritis. 

Despite the months and weeks and days of pain that I've gone through since 2009, I am thankful for my arthritis. You read that correctly: I'm thankful for my arthritis. I've had to re-frame my experience. I know that it doesn't make sense, but my arthritis has actually made me a better person.

Reasons I'm thankful for my autoimmune arthritis:
  1. It has forced me to really appreciate when my body is working well and the ways that it moves even when I'm having a rough patch.
  2. It has helped me to become more cognizant of others and both their sufferings and their joys.
  3. It makes me appreciate the people in my life and the adaptations they make to make my life easier.
  4. It causes me to reflect on how my stress and emotions can cause damaging physical effects.
  5. It makes me appreciate dancing and swimming so much more and motivates me to find a solution for my inflammation so that I can continue to feel joy in movement.  
These are only a few of the reasons that I am grateful for my Psoriatic Arthritis. I have built a better sense of empathy from the experience. I have grown so much. I am taking control of my health, my life, and my larger impact on the world. It would be so easy to feel downtrodden by my Psoriatic Arthritis. It would be understandable to be sad. I am not sad, though. I consistently aim to live positively and find the best ways to make my life deliciously joyful despite autoimmune arthritis. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Dessert-less December: 1/3 Check In!

We are 1/3 of the way through December, the hardest month to go sugar-free! Just like I recommended to all of you, I chose 6 days that I knew I'd be tempted to consume sugar and left one extra sugar day for any spontaneous celebrations that might come up. For every other day, I've remained diligently sugar-free. On my Sugar-Free Advent Calendar, the strips of purple paper are slipped in to each date that I have gone without sugar. The green slips are placed on any days I'm planning ahead to celebrate and consume sugar.

To keep myself on track, here are some tricks I used:
  1. I allowed for my exception sugar (85% or higher dark chocolate). Though I didn't eat much of it, a small square every day or two, really helped me feel like I wasn't missing out. 
  2. I reminded myself any time that I saw store bought cookies, cakes, pies, or treats (which, unfortunately are around quite often at the office during the holiday season) that homemade holiday treats were so much more worth it! This worked in my favor when, four days in, I was really craving sugar. I was able to look ahead to my pre-planned celebration day on the 5th when I knew that I'd have homemade treats that were much better than any store bought sugary treats I might get to satisfy my mid-afternoon sugar cravings. Waiting until my celebration day was really worth it as I was more able to appreciate the sugar I consumed because I knew everything that went in to it. 
  3. I brought to work my own tea bags, almond milk, and even a larger mug. Often times in the winter months, I'm tempted to go out and buy myself a nice warm cup of almond milk hot cocoa from the cafe across the street from where I work. Instead of doing that (in an effort to both avoid sugar AND save money), I made my own large cups of tea to drink daily.
  4. I brought my own lunch daily as well as small healthy snacks to tide me over in the late afternoons when I often crave sugar.
  5. I did use a celebration day and did not make myself feel guilty for doing so. Because I'd planned ahead for the day, I did not feel like I was going off track. 
See some of the hand decorated holiday cookies my friends and I decorated during my holiday party on my celebration day (I don't generally follow the traditional holiday colors or holiday shapes):

My key takeaways from the first 1/3 of my Dessert-less December are:
  1. My skin is slowly beginning to become more clear. I've found that the more sugar I consume, the less clear my skin becomes. This is partially in reference to general acne, but also in reference to my psoriasis. 
  2. Though the first few days were hard, I've generally become pretty okay with removing sugar. Reading more about Fructose and the effects it has on our body has made me feel more and more like I'm making the right decision in reducing my intake of sugar.
  3. Post-celebration day I was certainly feeling the difference. In past months, I'd cut out sugar and had a similar reaction the days after I'd eat sugar again. This time I felt a strong sense of fatigue and a dull ache in many of my joints that had been less apparent during the sugar-free days leading up to the celebration. Though I generally do have sore joints (due to my psoriatic arthritis), I hadn't had a flare up in a few weeks. 
All in all, I think that the endeavor to minimize my sugar intake has really proven to be the right decision and I hope that I can keep it up for the upcoming 2/3 of the month and ideally in to future months! Over the coming week, I have 3 pre-scheduled celebration days, though I'd like to minimize how many I actually use because three in one week seems a bit much. Ideally, I would cut out one or two of them so that sugar-free days are more spread out. However, I will not let myself feel guilty if I do use them to celebrate, as I've already planned ahead for the celebrations. I hope that you're doing just as well on your Dessert-less December! Let me know if I can help you more in your process of cutting out fructose!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

How To Allow For Sugar-Free Folks Who Might Want To Attend Your Party

So, here is the thing: Today was one of my 7 allowed sugar (CELEBRATION) days in December. I threw a festive holiday party and I knew that today represented one of my yearly traditions: My 9th Annual Recyclable Rentable Holiday Party. I did eat sugar, but I also allowed for people to go through the whole party without consuming sugar... if they so chose. Despite the fact that I do not think there was a single attendee that actually did actively avoid sugar, I wanted to make sure to allow for those who might choose to.

Firstly, this was an annual holiday party that I've thrown for nine years. It has evolved over the years but mainly consists of three elements: cookie decorating, christmas card making and crafting, and holiday movie watching. I intentionally separated the room in to three stations: 
  1. SUGAR = My kitchen. This was where the cookie decorating was taking place. I'd made loads of sugar cookies, placed out loads of sprinkles of various shapes and sizes, and displayed bows of colorful frosting. The kitchen was also where you could find the Warm Spiced Apple Cider and Hot Cocoa with the option of marshmallows or peppermint whipped cream.  
  2. SUGAR + SAVORY = The Crafting area. At this table, I placed both brownies and chips. 
  3. SAVORY = The holiday movie watching area. Where I put salsa and chips as well as a variety of veggies and hummus. This way, if folks mindlessly ate while they watched the movie, at least they would be eating fairly healthy stuff and would avoid mindless sugar consumption.
By separating the stations, I gave folks the option to decide if they were going to partake in sugar consumption or not. Also, I noticed that when folks were beginning to feel overwhelmed by their sugar consumption at the cookie decorating station, they'd slowly move toward either the crafting or movie areas. 

In addition to strategically choosing where to place the various foods (sugary or savory), I made sure to have both sugary and sugar-free treats on hand for guests.

Sugary treats:
  1. Warm Spiced Apple Cider (kept warm in a crock pot)
  2. Hot Cocoa - With the option to add mini marshmallows and/or peppermint whipped cream. Also note, that this was only for folks who could eat/drink dairy (also kept warm in a crock pot)
  3. Martinelli's sparkling apple cider
  4. Brownies
  5. Homemade Sugar Cookies, sprinkles, & Frosting to decorate them with
Savory treats:
  1. Mineral water
  2. Tea
  3. Rotisserie chicken
  4. Large Salad with homemade dressing
  5. White bean hummus
  6. Celery
  7. Carrots
  8. Corn chips
  9. Traditional Salsa
  10. Corn Salsa
I do not regret eating sugar today though my body might react to it tomorrow (stupid autoimmune arthritis!). Because this is a celebration that I only throw once a year, I felt that it was worth the sugar intake, particularly because the sugar cookie recipe is a family tradition. Though I did consume sugar, I wanted to make absolutely sure that if someone did not want to consume sugar, they would not have to. 

If you are planning to throw a holiday party this year, I'd highly suggest making options available for those who might want to forgo sugar. Though some folks may love and enjoy consuming sugar, this season can be full of holiday treats almost daily. Some folks might wish to forgo sugar, even if only for one day amongst their piles and piles of holiday parties! You can make that easier for them, by making sure to have sugar-free options at your next holiday party!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

6 Mid-day Sugar-Free Snacks To Bring To Work

One of the harder parts about avoiding sugar is that mid-afternoon slump. I don't know if you're like me, but come 3pm, I need a little snack. It is during that time when avoiding sugar is the hardest. So, you've got to prepare ahead of time! Here are a few of my go to snacks that I bring to work. I would suggest investing in some good reusable portion sized containers and filling them up with these treats!
  1. Skillet roasted lentils! I use this recipe, but cook them in the oven afterwards so that they are almost dry. They are very flavorful and a full protein. Despite their small size, they are very filling. I keep them in small mason jars that I bring to work. 
  2. Beet Hummus and celery! This hummus has an anti-inflammatory superfood in it: Beets! They make the hummus happy and vibrant and give it a more earthy flavor. I follow this recipe but have found that it works better with just one large roasted beet rather than two. With two it often can seem to wet and not have the same hummus like texture! 
  3. Collard Green Chips! You can follow my recipe HERE!
  4. Home made nut butter and fruit. I made this cashew ginger butter but combining raw cashews and raw ginger in my food processor. It makes for a great and hearty snack. Plus, the ginger tricks your mind in to thinking that it is getting something sweet! Nuts in general are a great snack, so I also often just bring unsalted roasted almonds to work to munch on!
  5. Fruit, snow peas, and celery! Such an easy and filling snack.
  6. Toasted pumpkin seeds! Add olive oil and your seasoning of choice before backing them in the oven at 300 until golden brown.