A Bun in the Oven

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Hi Friends!

So by now, many of you are wondering if I have dropped off the face of the earth, took up another hobby, or gone gluten free.

Not to fear! None of the above is true. Thank GOD (especially the gluten free part!).  What is indeed true is that I have a different kind of bun in the oven. A baby boy kind of bun! Kevin and I found out in January that I was expecting a baby. We are overjoyed!

But my first trimester has been particularly hard, lots of daily nausea and all-day morning sickness. Needless to say, I sadly was unable to bake for the last three months because of how severe my aversion to yeast was. If I even smelled it from another room in the house, I would get sick. At the time it was very upsetting, but I began to realize that I knew in time I would be back at it again, and the most important thing then was resting and not lifting cast iron pans in and out of the oven. (I will leave that to Kevin now!)

I have had many requests for a spring class, so I am keeping my fingers crossed that I continue to feel better and that I can hold a class in late May or June. I will keep you posted. In the meantime, I greatly appreciate those of you who reached out and we were wondering where the heck I went and why I wasn’t blasting my Instagram page with pictures of my latest loaf or images from my latest bread class. So to that I ask you to still be patient with me. All good things take time. I am busy baking my little guy in my own oven of sorts, but will be back at it again in no time, I am certain!

And I must add, if you yet to see Michael Pollan’s new show COOKED on Netflix, I highly recommend it. I have been a huge fan of his for many years, and I was blown away by the adaptation of his history of food, particularly the “Air” segment, which dives into the history of fermentation and bread. So awesome!! You can watch here: https://www.netflix.com/title/80022456

Thanks again, my baking friends! May a lot of love be mixed into your loaves today, tomorrow, and always!

Mary

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Me at 18 weeks — Baby Parr is starting to make an appearance! 

 

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…

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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?

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Baking and Breaking

Hi Folks! This past week I had the fortunate opportunity to go to Josey Baker’s book signing at one of my favorite places, Grist & Toll. If ya’ll don’t know who Mr. Baker is yet, and you are loving baking (or in the beginning of a love affair with it), I highly recommend you check him out. His book is fantastic; especially for those of us who are new to bread baking — not in a machine, but rather in our very own oven, made with our own two hands.  Josey himself is super personable and gregarious. He answered every and all questions that we all had, for nearly four hours, with a smile.  That’s a lot of questions and a heck of a lot of answers to come up with! I am planning on making a trip to his San Francisco bakery, The Mill, at the end of the month to try some of his famous toast. I’m salivating just thinking about it! He, too, mills his own flour there. What an inspiration!

My new baking-friend Michael O’Malley was on the scene as well. We all brought dough with us, and were able to bake it fresh in his MOMO oven. If you don’t remember who Michael O’Malley or MOMO is, check him out here. By the end of the evening, that oven pumped out probably 50 or 60 loaves of piping hot breads, made with all different kinds of flour.  Emmer, einkorn, spelt, sonora wheat, rye, you name it! So awesome.  I told my husband that I seriously haven’t had that much fun since our wedding last year! It’s true! We were all breaking and sharing bread together. Happily, without a care in the world. We were in the zone.  I tried all kinds of bread that night, probably 20 different kinds, and I felt totally fine afterwards.  How the heck did I feel fine after eating 20 pieces of bread? I know, I was thinking the same thing.  Honestly, I think it mostly had to do with the fact that all of those breads were made with fresh starter, or leaven, and probably underwent some fermentation.  So I didn’t feel bloated, or have a belly ache afterwards.  Amazing how years ago I wouldn’t even consider touching bread because of my “gluten allergy.” Today, I am beginning to realize that it really doesn’t have to do with gluten at all…it has to do with how the bread is made, with what grains, and what process it undergoes.  Please don’t get me wrong — there are very real gluten and wheat allergies/intolerance out there.  And Celiac Disease is a serious auto-immune disease… But I must say that it is my goal to determine if people out there who think they may just be sensitive — if they try a whole grain organic bread, fermented for 18 hours to many days, made with only 4 ingredients — flour, water, leaven, and salt — would they have the same reaction? Since the gluten proteins break down during a long fermentation, the glycemic index is lowered, there are no fillers or preservatives or pesticides, and the bread is easier to digest.

I often feel like a detective, obsessed with solving the answer to the whole gluten conundrum. Like most great detectives, I will keep researching. I will keep educating people about nutrition. And the best part, I will keep breaking bread with them. I may be a bit of a Sherlock in disguise, but it is all for the sake of happier and healthier belies, my friends!

Josey Baker Toast!
Josey Baker Toast!
MOMO in action!
MOMO in action!
Rye, Spelt, Sonora, oh my!
Rye, Spelt, Sonora, oh my!
A community of bread
A community of bread

A More Scientific Look at Bread

The more I bake, the more I realize that each loaf has a personality unto it’s own and no two loaves are alike.  No matter what the process I use is; no matter how exact the grams I use, they always seem to come out just slightly different.  One may be more dense, another more sour.  Some bakers would argue that temperature has to do with it — that there is no controlling mother nature in that way.  I can recall a friend saying about a loaf I made, “this bread isn’t for a side of soup…this bread is a meal from the earth.”  There is my goal. Simplify bread for nutrition sake and for social consciousness. Bring nature to the forefront.  And not in a hippy-dippy sort of way, but in a “we have the power to take control of the foods we eat and we can do so with Love!”

I think of bread as I think of people — constantly changing, evolving, with their own set of unique characteristics that make them who they are.  It is this diversity which makes the world go round. Or might I say, the boule go round!

I came across an article of a group of grad students who seem to feel the same way I do about bread.  It made me so happy to hear their take on the whole “gluten-free” epidemic.  And yes, I realize the term epidemic may seem dramatic to some of you, but in reality, the word doesn’t have numbers attached to it and it is pretty darn appropriate.  An epidemic is symbolic of something that is occurring in the now, at present.  I’m super into the etiology of words, and epidemic happens to have a greek origin, meaning “upon or above people.”  And to me, the thousands of people who feel the side effects from eating processed gluten have the right to call it an epidemic.  I know that there is an attachment for many to believe that going “gluten free” is a fad diet, or a restriction that some use just to lose weight, or because “everybody’s doing it.”  But trust me when I say, a gluten allergy is not fun for a person who really has one.  It can be debilitating for many, but also a saving grace for those of us who feel the importance to raise awareness and find ways to break bread with eachother once again, gluten-free, slowly fermented, or otherwise.

Please click on the link to read all about how Washington State University is trying to come up with some scientific explanations for why bread has lost it’s way and how we can bring it back for the healthful sake of ourselves, our families, and society as a whole.

Jonathan McDowell of the Bread Lab says it best: “If you look at gluten as what holds bread together, and you look at bread as what holds our society together, what is ‘gluten-free bread,’ then? Is it not a symbol of our times?”

Yes, Mr. McDowell, Amen!

http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2014/02/toms-kitchen-100-whole-wheat-bread-doesnt-suck-and-pretty-easy

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It’s Like Shakespeare for the Breadmaker

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“A baker’s true skill lies in the way he or she manages fermentation.  This is the soul of bread making.”

Oh, how I read these words with such delight! Yes! Someone else feels the same way as I do.  They really get me.  What a magnificent feeling that is for a newly passionate baker.  I don’t know where I would be right now if it weren’t for my starter.  I feed it everyday, it’s like a little refrigerated pet, and it soothes my spirit to know that it is booming with nutrients and will make a pretty awesome loaf of bread everyday, if I want it to!

Any human being who writes words like that will grab my attention…Let’s just say, I am an instant fan.  It feels like Shakespeare to me. Shakespeare for the Breadmaker. And now I cannot put his book down. Whom is this person, you ask?  Well, it is no one other than Mr. Chad Robertson of Tartine bakery in San Francisco. Mmmmmm. If you haven’t been to this bakery and live within a hundred miles of the Bay Area, you are missing out. Get your tail on that BART and get some bread already! Don’t worry — if you are gluten free, they have some options for you that are super delicious too. And for those of you who don’t live closeby, his new book is a must-read for all of you out there who are uber passionate about fresh bread. His recipes are simple and thorough and his constant drive to create wholesome bread with just the four main ingredients is so refreshing and inspiring. The entire first chapter is devoted to his time in France when he was first starting out. Talk about taste nostalgia. It is a cookbook, but not in the formulaic sense. It feels more like a narrative and it helps teach you to dig into your intuition when it comes to making a better loaf of bread.  Amazing, if you ask me! I took a class a few weeks back taught by a great guy named Michael O’Malley and he told us all about Chad Robertson and how his book, Tartine Bread, is the hot new book on bread. I cannot put the thing down!

http://www.tartinebakery.com/

And speaking of the class, I must tell you about it…It was pretty much like a Sourdough Starter 101 class.  I heard about it from the wonderful folks over at Grist & Toll. I had a hunch it was going to be great. And it sure was!  Michael was thorough and charming, he was informative, he really helped me understand the importance of keeping a healthy starter and what it would do for my bread in the long-run.  Michael himself is a sculptor, who happens to also be passionate about making bread, so he build a mobile bread oven so that he could drive it to various parts of California and elsewhere in hopes to build enthusiasm for fresh bread in our community.  He refers to his oven as MOMO, or the Michael O’Malley Mobile Oven.  Pretty sweet.  You can read all about him and maybe make a loaf for yourself at one of his community days right here:

http://momalley.org/

Here’s a few tips that I learned in class that day that were spoken by Michael, but I think may have been inspired by Tartine Bread. Some of these things might be common sense for the more advanced baker, but a lot of it was news to me:

1. If you want to be a real bread maker, invest in a scale.  Cups aren’t gonna work anymore, folks.  Grams are much more consistent.  You have to start thinking more like a chemist, if you want to be a pro.

2. Feed that starter everyday, if you can.  If you miss a day, don’t be hard on yourself.  It will survive.  But nurture it, because after all it is a living thing.

3. In the words of Andrew Whitley, “real bread takes time,” but it also makes time too.  I used to say I never had the time to make my own bread, that I was too “busy.” In reality, making more bread has allotted for more things to get accomplished because I have become more patient and conscious of timing…that’s a beautiful thing.  You can do it! Trust me, there is always enough time! Try it for yourself and report back if you think I am crazytown or there is some truth in it!

4. The hotter the oven, the crispier the bread.  Seems like common sense, but wow! The MOMO oven is heated up to nearly 600 degrees, the bread is finished in under 20 minutes or so, and the crust is crispy and the inside moist.  Yum!

5. Mixers are not necessary.  Don’t be afraid to get in there and use your hands.  Less clean up, less oxidation (nutrients don’t fall away) and at the end of the day, there’s more love in it too.

6. If the starter floats in water, it’s healthy.  If it smells like acetone, trust yourself, it is acetone.  Try to revamp it, don’t give up immediately, but if it continues to have a searing smell like your sister’s nail polish remover, throw that stuff away and start fresh.

And the most important lesson in all of this, the Aesop’s Fable of sorts, well, at least for me is that it is of the upmost importance that you are doing what you love in life, folks.  Regardless of time, and money, and stress, or whatever.  Little did I know that having a sudden, crappy gluten allergy was going to lead me on a tailspin of happiness and self-discovery! I hope the same for you all, that you do what you love, no matter what it is that makes you smile!

Recipe Share — Persimmon Bread

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Tis the season for my friend Lia’s persimmon tree, filled to the brim with hundreds of persimmon in need of a home…or a few dozen bellies.  This has been a favorite recipe of her’s for many years, and two years ago I opted to try it with a gluten free garbanzo bean flour.  It was very tasty, mind you, but this year, since I am on the ‘grinding my own flour’ kick, I decided to give farro a try.  WOW! It sure is tasty! It has been a big hit at parties, especially Thanksgiving.  My boss at work calls it my ‘Medicinal Bread,’ since it has freshly ground farro and wild yeast (chock full of lactobacillus), in lieu of the baking soda…I am just over that stuff and I want that wild fermented goo to get in there whenever possible!

The recipe itself was created by no one other than one of the most famous chefs/bakers, Mr. James Beard. And he is not shy on sugar or butter or bourbon, and trust me, it is all well worth it.  Of course, I should add that it certainly is more healthy to use organic grass fed butter and cage-free eggs and organic sugar, but at the end of the day, it always ends up heavenly.  Your family and friends will love you even more for it and be asking for seconds!  The only one alteration I make is to the sugar and the types of persimmon…I half the amount of sugar bc the persimmon are already sweet enough and I like the nuttiness of the farro flour to shine through and I also use ‘Fuyu’ persimmon (No, I am not cursing at you!).  Fuyu’s are the short, squat ones that are crispier and less squishy than their distant relative, the Hachiya.  Those tend to be chalky tasting, and as a friend of mine says, they tend to leave you ‘devoid of all moisture in your mouth.’  We can’t have that now, can we?!

Ok, let’s get  to the recipe.  ENJOY!! And let me know how it ends up!

Persimmon Bread

Two 9-inch Loaves

Using the higher amount of sugar will produce a moister and, of course, sweeter bread.

Adapted from Beard on Bread by James Beard.

3½ cups sifted flour (ground farro or other favorite)
1½ teaspoons salt
2 teaspoon baking soda (or 1 teaspoon sourdough wild yeast starter, if you have it)
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 to 2½ cups sugar (your call)
1 cup melted unsalted butter and cooled to room temperature
4 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
2/3 cup Cognac, bourbon or whiskey
2 cups persimmon puree (from about 4 squishy-soft Hachiya persimmons)
2 cups walnuts or pecans, toasted and chopped
2 cups raisins, or diced dried fruits (such as apricots, cranberries, or dates)

1. Butter 2 loaf pans. Line the bottoms with a piece of parchment paper or dust with flour and tap out any excess.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

3. Sift the first 5 dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

4. Make a well in the center then stir in the butter, eggs, liquor, persimmon puree then the nuts and raisins.

5. Bake 1 hour or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Storage: Will keep for about a week, if well-wrapped, at room temperature. The Persimmon Breads take well to being frozen, too.