BREAD Talk: Michael O’Malley and MOMO

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I asked a great baker turned teacher of mine if I might interview him for my blog. I am simply fascinated with the work he is doing.  I took a few classes with him in the last few months and he taught me a ton about the bread-baking basics; which were desperately needed. He is an artist, a sculptor, a baker, and a pretty wonderful teacher.  I learned more from him in a two hour class than I have reading three books on sourdough bread.

I have high hopes to start conversations with people like him who are trying to change the world through baking bread, even though they themselves may not be aware of just how great their impact is and will be for people in the future.  Humility goes a long way in my book.

His name is Michael O’Malley and to those of you in the baking community out here in Southern California, you may have already heard of him.  He built a mobile bread oven, which he calls “MOMO,” short for Michael O’Malley’s Mobile Oven. To me it incorporates everything I want to pursue in baking bread: combining community with functionality, making fresh 4-ingredient bread accessible to every person, regardless of who they are or where they come from.  His oven reminds me of something theatrical; like stage plays on wagons during the medieval times, traveling town to town just to make people smile. I can remember learning about it in my college dramaturgy classes.  Back then, everyone in the town would gather to witness some comedy or tragedy brought forth for them. People looked forward to them as a way to be a bigger part of their community, to meet new people, to share an experience.  MOMO has a similar function.  But it certainly has a few more advantages: it’s hip, modern, sustainable, and it can feed a big hungry crowd with freshly baked bread.  Can’t get much better than that, folks!

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How did it all begin?  This bread baking hobby/passion/obsession of your’s?  And how did it stick?

My bread making began many years ago when I was living in Wiscasset, Maine. I was there living and making art at Watershed center for Ceramic Art. A cute little store in Wiscasset called Treats began carrying this bread from Waldoboro called Bodacious bread – later Borealis. It was an amazing bread and my favorite was a cardamom raisin, naturally leavened. I vowed to learn how to bake like this one day. And though many opportunities came along, I deferred taking the plunge…some things you just know are endless rabbit holes. Ten years later and on the other coast, in Pasadena, I got fed up with the horrible bread I was finding. This frustration combined with a trip to Barcelona to do research on Antoni Gaudi…A place on the ground level advertised wood fired pizza. I am sure I was famished but the pizza was gorgeous…it was about bread and a few fresh ingredients…That was it…I was all in.

So when I came back to Pasadena, I began building an oven in my back yard. Then I read as many books as I could and began by making a sour dough culture. I baked twice a day that first month and talked non stop about bread. Like watching someone in love, my friends were equally amused and annoyed by my affection for bread.

As an artist, I am always pursuing something I want to see. First an idea, then a drawing culminating in an object and of course the thing fails or pushes back at what you want … so you go again. Baking is the same way. And every once in a while you hit that sweet spot…but then you eat it so you are back to, once again. I love the process that baking is: a constant choreography of materials and time and temperature, and that this is a practice – then “judged” by the senses… the baked loaf for me is more akin to the residue of a process /performance – That ‘residue’ of course activates all your senses as this beautiful thing you share with your friends

What do you find is the most important ingredient or crucial step that a great bread baker should never miss (or go without)?

I don’t consider myself a great baker but a committed one with a fair amount of experience….With that caveat…I am not so sure one step or particular ingredient makes a great baker… Baking is a practice. While the results of which can be these truly liminal, life affirming moments … …there really is not an end point just more and more little rabbit holes of curiosity to run down…and while there are many moments along the way the very ephemerality of bread makes it more like live music…mastery may be real but its also fleeting…tomorrow new variables and the dough will also put out new questions or challenges.. Practice of being aware and conscious is really important, being open to all of the little “tells” that come through from the senses…noting them…and understanding how one thing pushes on another – how one variable makes a different game…

Any tips for a new bread baker?

Bake. Bake. Bake. And find out what you like. It’s the only way to learn. Baking is an embodied knowledge/practice. (This is why bakers are free with information and recipes…at best the recipe gets you half way there. Only by baking and getting all of that sensory experience lined up with a deep analytical/conceptual understanding of what is going on in the dough, the starter, the flour, the salt will you become a good baker.

What inspires you as far as baking is concerned?  Or, in general, if you are so inclined…

Baking serves as a kind of literal metaphor for me… It’s the thing and not the thing…As a practice it always reveals the person and what they value: process, money, the loaf, community etc… As a narrative baking speaks to how we relate to the earth, resources, stewardship and each other. As an object it can be an incisive, sensory experience that critiques and proposes in the same gesture. Baking declares in this sensory and poetic way, “This is the kind of world I want to live in.” All of my work as an artist deals with that question, “Why does the built environment (and all its objects) look like that?” Can we make a built environment that speaks to our poetic, relational, 7th generation selves that want to see narratives of beauty and generosity and empathy and connection? If design had empathy at its core rather than make it fast, cheap and disposable, the world would look really different.

Is the nutritional component of baking with whole grains important to you at this stage in your baking?

Becoming more so. I think that the visual aesthetics of what a loaf looked like directed many of my earlier choices. When you start eating bread from grain that comes from a place and a context suddenly the visual aesthetics become one factor… And for many the available flour has had a limited range of qualities. When you start using grain that is whole grain –it is just a different thing.
A few years ago I realized that I did not know much about flour so I did what I seem to always do – I do something that pushes me to learn.. in this case I purchased a 1963 Allis Chalmers All Crop Harvester – aka AC-72.. This multi-grain/seed combine needed just a bit of work and after of few weeks of climbing over it; I also understood how it worked. A friend and organic vegetable farmer, Richard Giles of Lucky Dog Farm, who had said he wanted to get into grain knew I was serious when he saw the purchase of the combine. So we planted 10 acres in October of 2011 and the next summer had an amazing harvest.

So now I have grain and realize that I need to learn how to mill and use whole grain.

Who are your go-to bakers that have inspired you throughout the years?

Jeffery Hammelman early on for the conceptual framework and later Chad Robertson for the aesthetic impulse and dough development. I finally took a couple of workshops this past year after almost 10 years of baking with Craig Ponsford and Dave Miller. They both are amazing bakers and I learned a lot from them.

Tell me about MOMO and why you decided to build it?  What do you hope to accomplish with it?  Was it a personal goal or were you thinking more about the community at large? Is the social conscious component of “breaking bread” something that you wish to be a part of? 

I see MOMO as a sculptural, relational, gesture that combines the nomadic, “missionary” zeal of a Johnny Appleseed with the once civic relevance of public, community ovens. It shifts between being a theatrical performance centered around baking bread and promoting new narratives of living, to a mobile kitchen/classroom, to a local community oven. Along the way the piece engages multiple audiences from art communities, bakers, to the under-served.

My intellectual interest in the terms and forces by which the built environment gets decided upon and built do not have a kind of pop culture cache or an immediate accessibility. Bread does. And it took many years to figure out how to frame this as part of my practice. One day I realized that the baking was doing what I wanted my practice as an artist to do. Be a beautiful object, that embodies this really specific poetic stance to the design directives and be something that while being shared could serve as a stage to talk about the world. Basically, I have come to view bread as a cipher of my artistic practice. It engages the real world. It has history and tradition. It disappears. It connects to both the personal and the local. It’s made by hand, has a low environmental impact and is always unique. It connects me to my community and always remains a practice.

I am of the feeling that we cannot escape being political or historical or social participants… we implicitly or explicitly endorse the way the things are. I like that MOMO has an ability to reach out to many different communities /audiences. It’s a thing that gathers meaning and narrative from the context that it engages – rather than coming as a self-contained plop on the audience. Bakers, artists, kids that do not know where food comes from or are not aware that this is their world…

Where do you see MOMO in 5 years? 10 years?

MOMO will morph. It is a piece and so will have a life. I will move on from this iteration…and likely it will become a fixed oven somewhere…MOMO has already inspired the next iteration which will be to build community ovens around the country so that people from really different contexts have experience and conversation with each other. Objects that bring people together and offer experience rather than confer status.

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There you have it, folks.  Incredibly interesting stuff, right? Take a look at his website for more info.  Who knows, maybe MOMO will be coming to your town sometime in the near future!

http://momalley.org/

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January is National Wheat Bread Month!

Hi Everyone!

In just a few days, we will begin celebrating our entrance into 2014! I imagine the next year to be full of wonderful things, great and small for everyone.  2013 seemed to be a rough one for many people, so let’s embrace the fresh start that we are about to receive in the new year …The future is BRIGHT!

And it just so happens that National Wheat Bread month is in January! I deem it my job to keep you all up to speed with the healthier side of wheat, and so I will start off by giving a list of fantastic, organic, hybridized free bakeries across California, that I know and love. I plan on finding a national directory, and maybe even international, so please be patient with me as I continue my search! My hope is that you are able to locate one in your area and go check it out.  Maybe one day we will all decide to only go to these local bakeries/bread makers and we will begin to have a greater appreciation for the healthier side of bread.  Not only for ourselves, but for our family and friends!

If making your own bread isn’t a viable or time-honoring option, here are several bakers that I know and love in California area:

1.  Jack Bezian of Bezian Breads in Los Angeles, http://www.bezianbakery.com/

2. Red Bread in Los Angeles, http://www.thebreadisred.com/

3. Grist and Toll — opening soon in Pasadena, http://gristandtoll.com/

4. Wild Flour Bread in Freestone, http://www.wildflourbread.com/

5. Morel’s Bread in Berkeley, http://www.morellsbread.com/Morells_Bread/Home.html

6. Acme Bread in San Francisco, http://acmebread.com/

7. A guide to eating well in CA — bakeries start on page 3, http://www.eatwellguide.org/localguides/ca_2_guide.pdf

Hope this helps! May you all have a happy and healthy New Year!!

Love,

Mary

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This is a mouthful of a bread: Ready…Carrot Apple Kale Ginger Raisin Walnut Whole Wheat bread.  Phew! I did it!

Do You Believe in Bread Miracles?

It’s almost Christmas.  And it is around this time that I am continuously reminded of what I am most grateful for.  And beyond the obvious — my life, my wonderful husband, my family, my dog — I am also most thankful for a little bread company called Bezian Bread. I discovered Jack Bezian when I came back from France.  I was spending any and all free hours I had sitting at my computer, typing away, trying to locate a bread maker similar to those in the French countryside.  Similar in that I could eat bread that actually had gluten in it, and not get sick.  I was unconvinced that it was even possible in this country, until I discovered Bezian Breads.

To me, it was like finding the Holy Grail.

So what is so special about Jack’s bread?  Well, like I have mentioned before in other posts, his breads undergo a long fermentation process.  Sometimes he lets them go for up to a month.  This puts sourdough on a whole other level.  His main argument is that the longer the fermentation process, the healthier the bread.  Sounds too good to be true.  Bread that is actually healthy for you?  But wait a minute! A lot of people says that gluten is bad; that carbs are the enemy; that they slow down the brain function and can make you fat!

Not so, says Jack.  And I agree.  I have been eating his bread now for about 3 months, and I can attest to the richness of the sourdough.  I know that each and every loaf is chock-full of healthy probiotics, that my belly is being healed just by eating a slice (or 4) a day! When I was gluten free, I wasn’t getting enough nutrients from the GF breads or carbs I was eating…my hair was falling out, I was too thin, I did not have sustainable energy like I do now.  I was experiencing the first signs of malnutrition and I made a conscious decision that in order to prevent osteoporosis or other chronic diseases, I had to get to the bottom of it. I hesitated at first, just like I did in France.  I took a small bite and waited for the belly pain to start.  But I was optimistic because I read so many testimonials from other people who also have a gluten intolerance and were able to eat this bread.  I am telling you, it is a bread miracle! There are nearly 20 million people in this country with a gluten/wheat allergy/intolerance and someone has to get to the bottom of it!

So, where can you find this delicious bread?  Farmer’s Markets in Pasadena, Hollywood, and Santa Monica only.  Jack has been making bread since the 60’s and it is through the markets of Southern California that he shares his knowledge and his hearty bread. So if you don’t live in the area, I suggest making friends with someone who does, and have them ship it to you.  Sounds daunting and a little bit tedious, but trust me, it is worth it.  Most people stock up since they cannot get it on a daily basis. Lord knows I do not have time to make my own bread every day, so Jack’s bread is a helpful addition to my weekly staple!

So — how does it all work?  Simply put — the longer the fermentation process, the less overall gluten, and the more healthy bacteria (or lactobacillus in this case) for the gut.  And the process yields all kinds of great nutrients — it becomes rich in B vitamins, fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins C and E.  And it is because of the fatty acid strains, that these nutrients become bioavailable (making the body capable of synthesizing the healthy benefits).  This bread is medicinal.

Check out his website for more info.  Make sure to watch the videos and learn more about this Miracle Bread!!

Oh, and p.s. I am still not 100% convinced that it is indeed the actual ‘gluten’ that is making a lot of people sick.  And Jack’s breads are just one more confirmation of this…more on this in a later post! Happy reading!

http://www.bezianbakery.com/

Whole Grain Farro: What Is It Exactly?

All of this talk about what shenanigans have been added to our bread just becomes the opposite of positive in my mind.  So, I figured I would try out an alternative.  LET’S MAKE OUR OWN! There are four ingredients in bread.  Or at least, there should be only these four:  Flour, Water, Yeast, Salt.  

Today we will focus on FLOUR. 

Those four ingredients can turn goo into a delicious feast.  When I first began making bread, I would make gluten free bread, of course. And I discovered tons of delicious options.  Sorghum flour is yummy.  It makes the bread a bit dense and it great to bake with.  And garbanzo flour is also pretty awesome too.  I have made a killer persimmon bread using garbanzo flour.  There is also almond flour, coconut flour, brown rice flour (I use to thicken stews and bread chicken). The list goes on.

But lately, since my return from France, I have started experimenting with wild-yeasted sourdough (fermented yeast helps break down the gluten content), and grinding my own Farro grain into flour.  Farro is one of the original whole grain, that has not been broken down and therefore, not been oxidized yet.  My friend Jack Bezian, who owns Bezian Breads in Hollywood (a whole post on his suberb bread is to come) suggested I try to grind my own Farro.  He said that is the best way to deter any pesticides or hybrid flours in and that my belly might be able to handle it more.  Also, it has less gluten in it than wheat grain and is more easily digested.  It is super nutritious, since is in it’s full form and hasn’t been tampered with.  I am trying to eat more foods that are in their highest state, so to speak.  Because I believe they have the most life force in them, or “jing” as we call it in Chinese Medicine.  I use the medium size Farro grain, or “emmer,” as it is also referred to.  It is very popular in Italian Cuisine.  They use it to make breads, risotto, soups, and the list goes on…

Here are a couple tid-bits on Farro:

What exactly is it? It is a unhybridized grain used for thousands of years in the Middle East, parts of Europe, and Africa.  It may even have been used as money in the height of the Roman Era.  Believe it not, they say that farro grains have been found in Egyptian Tombs alongside the mummy. SPOOKY!  

How does it taste? Nutty and crisper than your regular flour, with undertones of wheat and barley.  

How does it pack a nutritious punch? It is very rich in fiber, magnesium, and Vit A,B,C, and E.

Where exactly is it grown? Italy.  Specifically in the mountains in Tuscany.  Since it is born and raised in such a rugged, richly nutritious terrain, close to the sky, you know it is going to be healthy.  

But don’t get it confused with? Spelt or Wheat Berries! It is a totally different grain and people often confuse the two because they all look so similar.  

And there you have it.  See, my friends, there are alternatives to wheat! There are soooooooo so many grains that have no gluten or less gluten.  There are more possibilities! ENJOY THEM! Image

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Here is a great article I found as a resource for me in my farro education: http://www.nytimes.com/1997/06/11/garden/farro-italy-s-rustic-staple-the-little-grain-that-could.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

Tackling the Bromine Conundrum

So what is this Bromine stuff anyway? Well, we can start off by looking at the Halide column of the periodic table of elements. Bromine, or Br, is found alongside Fluorine (Fl), Chlorine (Cl), Iodine (I), and Astatine (At).  It is part of group 17 in the table, and as you descend down the column, the elements become become less reactive.  So that makes Fluorine the most reactive and Astatine, the least.

Now, I am no chemist, but after going to France and eating my fill of pastries and breads, despite my supposed gluten allergy here in the states, and then reading a great article about a French baker who questioned the amount of Bromine or Potassium Bromide in American bread… Well, let’s just say it got me wondering.

And then I became more and curious as to why the United States has not banned the use of said Bromine in many commercial breads, pastas, and cereals?  So I started to do a bit of research and was astounded to find out that many countries around the world, including the majority of the EU has banned Bromine from its shelves for many years, no, decades, actually.  Research says that it is highly carcinogenic and that how it reacts in your body is pretty gnarly.  Ultimately, it grabs onto T3 and T4 receptors, where Iodine normally resides and leaches the iodine from the system.  Thus, leaving an individual with a deficiency of iodine (the healthy stuff), and an excess of bromine (the unhealthy stuff). And the symptoms of Bromine toxicity look much like that of gluten intolerance: brain fog, nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea, dizziness, hives, headaches, and the list goes on.

After learning this, I started wondering if Bromine toxicity may be prominent in the US, and why do we not ban it, like so many other countries before us?  If it is a known carcinogen, why are we allowing it to remain in our foods?  Sure it allows bread to have a longer shelf life, but ultimately, for thousands of years before us bread was made the morning it was consumed, and in really, 12 hours is the normal shelf life of bread.  It all started changing during WWII when food supplies were sparse and scientists were looking for a way to keep more people fed, for longer.

After some more research, I found out that Bromine (or potassium bromide, as it is also called) , is not only used as a preservative in the foods we consume on a daily basis.  It is also in our Gatorades, in our Sodas that we drink, used as a pesticide to preserve fruits and vegetables, in our car upholstery, in the mattresses we sleep on at night, in our TV screens to hold particular plastics together, in our public pools (alongside chlorine) and jacuzzi’s to help “clean” them.

I am filled to the brim with bromine! And not in a good way!

So if there is this much bromine in our environment, then it must be making some sort of impact, right?   After all, thyroid cancers, breast cancer, and prostate cancer make up the most amount of cancer in this country.  These cancers are all related to the endocrine system, which is related to the healthy levels of iodine in our system, which is related back to the thyroid.  If the thyroid is unable to excrete the proper hormones throughout the body, the system begins rebelling.  It is as simple as that. All relates back to Yin and Yang, as we refer to it in Chinese Medicine.  It is a balancing act. If one system becomes imbalanced over time, it cannot sustain itself, and thus begins shutting down.  Like begets like.  The bad guys start taking over.

As you can see, this all can get a bit overwhelming.  And I do not claim to know the in’s and out’s of it all.  I realize that.  But I also know that my instinct is telling me to get to the bottom of this Bromine Conundrum.  So that the 20 millions people in the US who claim to have a ‘gluten intolerance,’ or the third of the country who has decided to lessen or eliminate the gluten from their diets, can understand if it is really the gluten that is causing the allergy, or something else that can be replaced with something more natural.  And another intention of mine is also to inform the people who complain of symptoms similar to hypothyroidism, so that they too can get some answers.

But in lieu of complaining, I have begun to seek explanations.  I feel that if we fight strongly with negativity in our hearts, that change will not come. That instead, the cycle will continue.  But if we get to the bottom of it, empower the public, even if it is grassroots style, that our voices can be heard.  It starts right in our own home. Breads need to start being made just as they were in the past.  With four ingredients.  Flour, Yeast, Salt, and Water.  That’s all. It starts with educating ourselves.  Let’s get back to the basics.

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For your reading/viewing pleasure. The articles and videos I spoke of above:

Bromine in Commercial Breads: http://voices.yahoo.com/why-commercial-baked-goods-kill-you-3168947.html?cat=5

Andrew Whitley: “Why Bread Needs Time” video:  

Article on BVO: Brominated Vegetable Oil in Sodas: http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2011/brominated-battle-in-sodas

American Nutrition Association: Dr. Brownstein video: 

Glory Glory Breadalleluia!

Never thought I would be into bread again.  Ever.  For three years I didn’t touch the stuff, swore off of it, anytime I ate it, I would get super sick and sad and pissed all at once.  

Until now.  After going to France for my honeymoon, I realized that eating bread doesn’t mean war.  I know, I know, it was risky what I did.  But I knew I didn’t have Celiac and the rumors I kept hearing about ‘flour being different over there,’ left me salivating over croissants, baguettes, and everything doughy.  So I took the plunge.

And boy, am I glad I did.  It has left me on a conquest for getting to the bottom of the bread dilemma.  But it has furthered my question asking too. Is it really the gluten? Or is it possibly the yeast? 20 million Americans report a gluten allergy/sensitivity or intolerance.  Commercial yeast does, afterall, triple the amount of gluten in the bread.  For awhile I thought maybe that was the answer.  So I started sprouting my own yeast. Afterall, using wild yeast amplifies the lacto-bacillis (the good bacteria for the gut) in the bread, so that must be it.  Nope, that was a part of the puzzle, but I am still not satisfied. Perhaps it is the potassium bromide that is added to many commercial breads in this country and has been outlawed in lost of the world because it is a known carcinogen and depletes iodine from the system.

Now, that had me wondering.  And it still does.  So that is where I will begin.  Tackling the bromine conundrum.