Say YES to Gluten!

Hello Friends and Fellow Bakers! I have been lucky enough to teach several bread classes this month, for both little kids and big kids alike. And one comment that a student said keeps playing over and over in my head. She is 14 years old, super bright, and very astute. She totally took me by surprise when she asked me: “Well, Mary, if there are all of these books out there that talk about why gluten is so terrible for us, and why we should avoid it, where is your book countering the argument?”

Huh? Sigh… Blurp…

girl-confused

She nailed it. For over a year now I have been talking and teaching and talking some more about why I think that fermented breads are actually healthy for you. Why after years of swearing I would never touch gluten again, I am praising it now, eating it everyday, and all the more healthy because of it. And let me just add: I am not eating commercial breads. I still get a belly ache when I do so. I am eating breads that have been fermented for nearly 24 hours, that are made with freshly milled, organic grain. So basically my 14 year old student brings up a good point. 

Why should one eat gluten or grains when it feels like every doctor, lawyer, neighbor, friend of a friend, mentor, and stranger says to avoid it? 

gluten-bread-caution

Well, huh. That is a very good question. I wanted to know the answer to this myself. So what did I do? Well, let’s just say I used myself as a guinea pig. I started mixing dough, taking little bites of bread, waited, scared for the stomach pain to start…but with my bread — it never did. I took one or two classes, stayed up all hours of the night watching “how-to” videos on youtube, and asked tons of questions. I also started writing this blog to help me uncover some answers. I have spent over 18 months getting to the bottom of the gluten conundrum. And the challenge keeps me on my toes, to say the least. 

There felt like so many sides to the story. The Paleo-folk steer clear of any and all grains; professors of mine in grad school claimed that eating bread (and grains) would amplify any inflammation in arthritic patients. Others claim that Alzheimer’s Disease can be link to overconsumption of wheat products.  And the list didn’t stop there. Millions of Americans were going “gluten-free,” because of “gluten-fear.”

I was curious about all the books swirling around on the subject. It seemed like every person I met or patient I saw in the clinic was reading them. Here’s a few quotes:

Dr. Mark Hyman, author of The Blood Sugar Solution: “This new modern wheat may look like wheat, but it is different in three important ways that all drive obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, dementia and more. It contains a super starch, amylopectin A, that is super fattening, a form of super gluten that is super inflammatory, and [acts like] a super drug that is super addictive and makes you crave and eat more”.

Neurologist Dr. David Permutter, author of Grain Brain: “The problem with gluten is far more serious than anyone ever imagined. Modern…structurally modified, hybridized grains contain gluten that’s less tolerable than the gluten that was found in grains cultivated just a few decades ago”.

Dr. William Davis, author of Wheat Belly: “This thing being sold to us called wheat is this stocky little high-yield plant, a distant relative of the wheat our mothers used to bake muffins, biochemically light-years removed from the wheat of just 40 years ago.”

But what kept popping back up for me, and as you can obviously read, was the fact that none of these writers were saying that the wheat that was eaten thousands of years ago, nor even decades ago before the industrial revolution was actually bad for you. Quite the opposite. They all reiterated the notion that modern wheat was the culprit for so many disorders and disease.

Agriculture_(Plowing)

So many people took this information and just stopped eating wheat or gluten entirely. They turned a cheek towards any and all grains. But what about the good ones? I know I did the same as so many other folks did. I turned the other cheek from bread for years. I ate rice, because it was gluten free. I ate gluten free bread, because it meant I could still have “toast” in the morning. But the reality is that gluten free breads really have no nutritional content. Ziltch. They are made with rice meal, which is basically the scraps from the rice grain. And I wondered why I had no energy. Why my hair was falling out. Why all my clothes were falling off. 

Because the food I was eating was lacking the proper amount of vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates that my body needed to be healthy.

Please don’t get me wrong. Some people prefer not to eat grains or wheat, and I respect that. Two percent of the American population has Celiac Disease, and as a physician, I realize the severity of the auto-immune disease. But if the general public is following a gluten-free diet for the sake of believing that grains on the whole are “bad for you,” well then I have news for you.

Cue Dancing Wheat Berry! This is soooo not true! And I know this because of how much better I feel after eating them this past year. How much stronger my digestion is. How much more energy I have, stamina, heck, even my memory is stronger. And many of my patients who swore off grains buy my bread every week, and have no problems digesting it. They do not get abdominal pain from it. Nor does their skin break out in a rash, or do they get a headache. Why several of my patients with hypothyroidism feel distinctively better when eating my bread each week. Many of them claim that they can actually see a difference in the way they feel if they skip a week off of my bread for one reason or another. 

So — if there is all of these reputable writers and doctors claiming that gluten and wheat are problematic, why aren’t more people recognizing that it has to do more succinctly with the PROCESS by which the wheat is made into bread. And the TYPE of grain that is being used to make commercial breads. Why why why?!?

Many of you are probably wondering why my bread is so different? What makes my bread a supposed “healthy” and “healing” one, whilst other breads that claim to be whole grain do not have the same effect?

It’s all in the process. Real bread takes time. The breads we see on commercial shelves were made with modern wheat that is unrecognizable to our digestive tracts. So when we ingest this fake bread, our bodies do not recognize it, thus igniting an immune response. That is when many of us get sick or feel horrible because of it. Contrary to what most people think, modern wheat is not genetically modified (yet), but it is heavily sprayed with glyphosate (and other herbicides) as a drying agent, and the cows that graze on many of these farms are fed with genetically modified corn and soybeans; therefore we are ultimately ingesting a small portion of gmo’s when we eat this wheat as well. Herbicides also inhibit our endocrine systems, thus preventing normal hormone distribution in the body. By using organic grains, we can keep our bodies healthier. Fermented grains also have a lower glycemic index, reducing the normal blood sugar spikes that commercial breads deliver.

More and more research on all of this information is occurring today. I hope to stage some of my own research studies in the near future.

Peasants_breaking_bread

Bread is the staff of life. Is this really okay to be feeding our families, our children, that which we call “bread” in this country? No, it certainly is not. This is why I am on a mission. A bread mission. One that is filled with love and not animosity. One that is filled with vital information, but it is also filled with my own personal healing and triumph. Nothing makes me happier than to teach someone about the importance of breaking healthy bread with one another. People deserve to know where their food is coming from, and what methods it underwent to get to the table where it is being served.

Many people call gluten-free a fad diet. But I ask you to thoroughly evaluate the nutritional breakdown of that diet and see if you and your family may be missing any valuable nutrients. 1. Whole wheat, spelt, rye, teff, einkorn….All of these grains are incredibly nutrient dense, and offer many b vitamins, insoluble fiber, iron, and calcium. Each and every grain here, if left in its intact form has enough energy in it to feed all of us, if given the proper time it needs to be freshly mixed, fermented, and proved. The nutrition is inherent in the grains themselves; not because they have been fortified with synthetic vitamins. 2. It also needs to be made with wild yeast, not commercial yeast. The reason being that wild yeast in its natural form is full of lactobacillus, and many other pro-biotic bacteria. As human beings, we are made up of billions of bacteria, and we need to replenish our digestive tract every day with healthy bacteria. This is what makes a happy and healthy digestion! Trust me, I know this from experience. As a child, I took at least 15 antibiotics before the age of 16, and one of them being tetracycline for acne for one whole year. No wonder my intestinal tract was not thrilled years later. Antibiotics, although very helpful and necessary in many situations can do a number on your gut flora. 

whole-grains-explained1

wheat kernals

The bread I make and digest every week has healed me. No joke. I feel like I could put on a gown and preach it or go and sing it from the mountains! If I skip a week, I can feel it. I’m not saying that I’m 100% better. I still cannot and knowingly will not eat commercial breads. If I do, I don’t feel well. But I certainly do not have the bloating, pain, and diarrhea (sorry, TMI) that I used to. Thanks to the freshly milled, whole grain, organic, wild-yeasted bread that I make, I can enjoy life more fully than I used to.

Should not you and your family have the same chance at wellness?  Shouldn’t you be able to sit across the dining room table from one another, and break bread that is healing and sustaining, rich with nutrition?

  wheat stalks

The 101 on Baking Bread, Revised

rye pic

Hi Fellow Bakers! I write today to share my most updated basic bread recipe with you. Since I have been teaching people how to bake bread in the last month, I am filled with joy, first and foremost, but I am also realizing that your average breadbook can be a bit intimidating for a new baker. So — I hope this helps you to just dive on in! It truly is not as challenging as it seems. As my students say, you just have to get your feet wet. Then you are that much closer to having freshly baked, nutritious bread for you and your family. And this is bringing me one step closer to my ultimate goal: blocks upon block of households oozing with that fresh baked bread smell. That just makes life a little bit sweeter, doesn’t it?

BREAD CULTURE The 101 on Baking Bread

I have tried my darndest to make it as easy as possible. And trust me from many loaves of experience, it is far easier to just dig in and get elbow deep in dough, than to get intimidated by the measurements, percentages, and what not. I mean — do we not find the most JOY when we are in the moment, experiencing things first hand? HAVE FUN! And I am here for you, should you have questions. 😉

There are only four ingredients: FLOUR, WATER, YEAST, and SALT. That’s a beautiful thing. Here’s the abbreviated recipe for two loaves of bread. If you want one, just cut it in half — but really, who wants one loaf when you can give another to a friend, and then they will be inspired to try to bake their own bread and it will change the world!

INGREDIENT                         QUANTITY                    BAKER’S PERCENTAGE

water                                         800 grams                      80% (hydration)

whole grain flour                    1000 grams                     100%

wild yeast                                 200 grams                       20%

salt                                             25-30 grams                   2.5-3%

1. Grab your metal bowl or plastic (BPA-free) Cambro container (Smart & Final, $15), and your digital scale (Amazon, $30). Measure 800 grams of water into the container. Reset scale back to 0 grams and add 1,000 grams of whole grain, organic flour. MIX with your hands until you cannot see any more dry flour. If your grains are extra thirsty, give them a little more water. You will get used to how much water your flour needs after a few test rounds. Cover your container with a cloth or place a lid on top (not airtight). Let the flour and water mingle. This is called the AUTOLYSE. This is when all the enzymes get to know eachother before the yeast and salt are added. Do not skip this step. Real bread takes time. You will have better bread by giving the dough 20-30 mins to hang out.

2. After your 20-30 mins is up, place the container back on the scale and add 200 grams of wild yeast (refer to my website post Wild, Wild Yeast to learn how to make your own yeast/starter/leaven) and 25-30 grams of salt (that’s up to you). Get in there with your paws and mix all together rigorously for up to 5 minutes. This is the only time you will knead the dough. After the 5 minutes is over, massage your tired arms, and place the lid or cloth back on the container. Now, the initial proofing time occurs.

3. Leave the container on the counter for up to 4 hours (if it is over 90 degrees in your house, make it more like 3 hours). If you are home and able to “do folds,” gently lift the sides of the dough up and onto itself on all sides every 30 minutes or so. If you need to run errands, don’t worry about the folds. Just do one before you put it in the fridge for the bulk fermentation.

4. Bulk fermentation: after the proofing stage is over, you can either shape the dough now and place it in your brown-rice lined banneton and into the fridge for up to 24 hours, or you can leave it in the container and shape it when it’s cold hours later. I usually do the later, but every baker has their preference. So — leave it in the fridge for up to 24 hours. This is where the real magic happens. The dough is allowed to slow down it’s natural enzymatic activity, and this is where the nutritional boost occurs. As I always say, “real bread takes time.” This fermentation allows the bread to become pro-biotic in a sense, since the lactobacillus bacteria in the yeast is interacting with the enzymes and minerals in the flour. Good stuff!

5. After up to 24 hours (but not less than 13 hours), take the dough out of the fridge and let it rise (either in the container or banneton) for up for 2 hours, or until it comes close to room temp. At the same time, PREHEAT THE OVEN TO 485 DEGREES with the Combo Cooker or Dutch Oven inside (Amazon, $40-$60). Every oven is different, so you will have to determine the “sweet spot.”

6. Shaping: You can shape it when it is cold, that can be easier for many of us beginners. Use your dough spatula and bench knife (Amazon, $5 and $8) to cut the dough in half to create to circles with your hands. You can use a little rice flour or non-gmo cornmeal on your hands and sprinkle on the countertop to prevent stickiness. Once you have shaped the two boules into two circles, you are ready to bake!

7. Take the pre-heated Combo Cookers out of the oven (don’t forget your mitts! Those puppies are hot!), sprinkle them with rice flour or cornmeal (prevents dough sticking more than regular flour), place boules into the combo cookers.

8. Score your loaves! Using a bread scorer (Amazon, $8), razor, or sharp knife, slice the top of the dough at a 45 degree angle several times. This allows the dough to breathe, to get the most oven spring,and prevents dough blowout. Sprinkle the dough with brown rice or cornmeal.

9. Place combo cookers in the oven and set timer for 30 minutes. After the 30 minutes is up, take the lids off the combo cookers, lower the temp to 460 degrees, and place timer for 22 minutes. After the 22 minutes are up, check to see if the crust is browned enough, and if not, give it a few more minutes. Then put those oven mitts on, take those beautiful loaves of bread out of the oven, wait at least an hour to break into those beauties! I know, I know, that is so annoying. But it is important to remember — the bread is still cooking once it comes out of the oven, so it needs time to cool down. Trust
me, I know from experience, that eating hot bread is delicious, but can give you a not-so-fun belly ache. It is worth waiting for! Some professional bakers say it is best to eat leavened bread the next day for the most flavor!

To store your bread: leave it on the counter, wrapped in a cloth or placed in a paper bag. It has a shelf-life of about 3 days, so if you won’t eat it that fast, you can slice it first and then freeze it. Then, take it out, let it thaw for a bit, lightly toast, and ENJOY! There you have it, friends!! I wish you all the success and luck in baking your own bread at home. We deserve to know where our food comes from, to eat the healthiest grains possible, and to have more energy because of it. And the other best part is that you get to share it with your loved ones and community. Isn’t that what life is all about?! If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to email me: cultureyourbread@gmail.com.

Love and Real Bread,

Mary

Aunt Mary: FACE YOUR FEAR!

When my niece Lily was about 5 years old, she had a favorite phrase: “Face Your Fear.” No one knew where it came from, but she would repeat it over and over again, as 5 year-olds do, and we would all just burst into laughter, hugging her and smiling. At the time no one really stopped to realize just how incredibly wise she was.

I’ve been thinking about Lily and her phrase lately. She is 17, and applying for college, both an exciting and often fear-provoking task. And I am in the midst of starting two businesses at the same time: 1. my Eastern Medicine and Acupuncture Practice, and 2. Bread Culture as an LLC and full operating bread-teaching service. We both are at the forefront of change.

I am coming clean and being totally honest with you folks — I have a lot of fear surrounding both. All the what-if’s seem to be upfront and center, blocking my view of potential greatness sometimes. Dozens of
questions come up each day, how will I… But then I remember Lily at such an innocent and adorable age, reminding us grown-ups to go for our dreams, to trust the process, and to be vulnerable and courageous in the face of fear. Talk about wisdom!

My missions are strong. They are both rooted in helping others, so I know in my heart that they will inevitably succeed, but putting all fears aside is challenging. I’ve been listening to/reading all kinds of business media stuff lately: bread-talks, entrepreneur podcasts, business documentaries, and they all seem to have one common theme: their greater mission far surpassed all obstacles and “failures” along the way. And sure, they failed. We all do. It just makes us one step closer to realizing success. They were determined like it was nobody’s business. They didn’t take no for an answer, and they surrounded themselves with people who supported them and believed in them.

I think I can…I think I can…I think I can…

My dreams for Bread Culture are huge. I am fully determined to help all of us who want better food in this country, to take matters into our own hands (literally), and start baking! I have visions of a massive bread class in Times Square. It is filled with thousands of cambro containers, dough wands, and bread scrapers. People are elbow deep in dough, and they are smiling and sharing words with their neighbors. They are mixing whole grains in that container. Whole-organic-grains that have just been milled very recently into flour. They are sharing life stories with their neighbor, and that night they will go to their homes, place the dough in their own refrigerator, and wake up the next morning to bake it — themselves. In their own oven. Then they will break it with someone they love.

We deserve the right to know where our food comes from. What the farm was sprayed with or not sprayed with. How many thousands of hours of work the farmer put in that soil, come rain or shine. How those bubbles were created in the wild yeast we used to help the dough get its proper rise. How many hours bread needs to develop. I mean, heck, we all need time to rise, no? Poke a hole in me and I’m not ready at 6am!

So I invite you all to do the same. What is it that drives you? That one thing that keeps popping back into your head when you least expect it, hounding you (in a good way). I challenge you to go out and do it. To face your fear. After all, as Nelson Mandela put it so eloquently:

“There is no passion to be found playing small — in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

I think Mr. Mandela and Lily would have been friends.

lily bread pic

Organic Farming, Iowa-Style

early morning harvest

About 6 months ago my husband Kevin and I went to visit his family in the midwest. Lucky enough for me he grew up in farm country. He was born in Nebraska and spent most of his growing years in southwestern Iowa. My father-in-law bought two farms in his 70’s….something he had always dreamed to do, but wasn’t able to achieve until later in life. I really admire his spirit. One is never too old (or young, for that matter) to make their dreams come true.

A few days into the trip, we were headed to visit my mother-in-law, Ann, in Minnesota, and as we were driving past all the corn and soybean fields, I thought to myself: “there has got to be an organic grain farmer out here somewhere!” So I googled just that; and low and behold I came upon Early Morning Harvest: Iowa’s Premier Aquaponic Produce Farm and Grain Mill. I gasped, Kevin swerved a bit at the wheel, and then I immediately called them. Jeff answered the phone. “Hi there,” I said, obviously excited, “my husband and I happen to be driving through Iowa right now, on our way towards Minnesota. Where exactly are you located?”  A few explanations and directions later, we realized that we would be driving straight through Panora, IA. No such thing as coincidence!

We spent a few hours with Jeff. I asked him a lot of questions about farming. I am totally green, verrrrrrryyyyy green when it comes to this. It is only something in the last 6 months that I have grown more interested in, to be honest. Now, after spending time with Jeff and Kevin’s Dad, and other farmer’s recently, I dream of having my own organic grain farm one day…Jeff was very patient with my seemingly dozens of questions. Farmer’s tend to live in a different time zone of their own. I envy this. And then he showed us his Aquaponic green house. This is a whole post in and of itself, but let’s just say that I was amazed at the sheer possibility of marrying aquaculture (raising of fish) and hydroponics (soil-less growing of plants). Totally blew my mind!

As did their flour. I get it now. The freshly milled flour I get here in CA, still yielding utterly delicious and complex breads, well, let’s just say it doesn’t quite have the spunk that Iowa grains have.  And I am pretty sure it has to do with the water — or lack thereof. Iowa gets a lot more rain than we do and therefore, its soil is more rich in nitrogen; yielding healthier plants and grains. When I first opened a bag of the flour I purchased from Jeff that day, I had to take a step back. I couldn’t believe the smell. This was the Earth’s Flour. It smelled like rain, soil, insects, wheat, sunshine — all of the things you want your grains to smell like. All of the healthy things you want your family to eat, your kids, yourself.

I must admit, I was a little afraid at what the end result may be. I thought “Is my bread going to taste like dirt now?” I laughed at the possibility. I made a few test loaves and was amazed at the complexity of flavor. It is definitely distinct, so I mix a little rye and sprouted sonora berries in there to vary its taste and texture.

I call it Farmer’s Bread. Kevin came up with that one, of course. There is a definite history to the feel of this particular grain. It’s hard-working. You can feel the effort that was given by both the earth itself, and the farmer’s who spent many an hour growing it, sweat, exhaustion, and all. I admire that.

For more info on Jeff and Early Morning Harvest, take a look at their website. He does ship nationally, and in fact, I just order 50 pounds of his whole wheat flour for the upcoming Bread Festival at Grand Central Market this coming weekend.

Hope to see you there!

Love,

Mary

aquaponics

bread festival pic