What if…?? A Kind Compliment and Something to Think About.

A wonderful patient of mine came in today and asked me a question. “What if I told you that you could eat bread everyday of your life and not gain weight or get sick?”

I just looked at her and smiled. She then added, “You can! That is your Bread, Mary! I do it every day!” First of all, it was a humbling exchange. I thanked her and definitely blushed.

 

 

 

But then I realized it was a lot more. It was a reason to get on this site and write more about why she and me and many others feel this way about fermented, sourdough bread. I mean, I’ve been eating it for years and therefore know this, but for those of us who are gluten free and haven’t touched it, that idea feels some sort of dream.

The reality is that you can eat bread again.

You can eat bread that was made with grain that was grown organically, harvested consciously, milled fresh with its entirety intact (whole grain!).

You can eat bread that was then made with loving hands, that was naturally leavenened, and given the proper time it needed to ferment.

You can eat it and feel satiated, and not feel bloated, nor foggy brained, nor have rashes, nor migraines, nor have crazy stomach pain (like I used to have).

I have written a lot about gluten in the past. And sure, that’s a big part of it ~ reducing gluten protein during the bulk fermentation is a big part of what I stand for. It makes the bread more easily digested.

But what about the bulk being the time when the phytic acid that’s naturally present in all grains transforms into lactic acid during the fermentation process, through the assistance of the lactobaccilus and other healthy bacteria in the starter? Thereby making the natural vitamins and minerals present in the whole grains shine forth, presenting an easier way for the body to digest and assimilate these vitamins and minerals, and in addition reducing the amount of gluten in the bread?

This, in turn, Giving the body vital energy via complex carbohydrates that through fermentation yield a lower glycemic index, bioavailable soluble and insoluble fiber (a welcoming digestive aid), keeping the body full and energized for hours.

MIND-BLOWN? I know, me too.

Let me add that I am not a scientist. I cannot prove the theory on this with a three-tiered study. But I can admit that I have used myself as a case study for many years and the proof is in the sourdough. Many people who have taken my Bread class or another similar one and have “gluten intolerance” or a “wheat allergy” report that they are able to digest sourdough without an inflammatory response. I should add that those with celiac or a severe allergy is another story, and I understand that.

That aside, show some respect for the grain and where it comes from — take a 3 hour class on how to learn an easy sourdough method that you can do in the comfort of your own home, and be present with each bite. It will fill you up, it will satiate you, and no it will not make you sick.

You too can eat this bread everyday! Just like my wonderful patient said! Have you found your favorite fermented spot yet? Have you found your class? I’m proud to say that I’ve been included in a recent LA Times article written by a friend of mine, Amy Halloran. And then subsequently, a few days later The NY Times wrote a great article highlighting more LA Restaurants and Bakers who are putting the “G” back in “GLUTEN,” if you know what I mean! Please check out the articles here and here. And please join me for a Bread class. I don’t think anything brings me more joy than to teach people how to bake a loaf of bread. Ahh, it’s just the best. Being of service and getting to talk ad nauseum about my favorite thing in the world!

If you get, give. If you learn, teach.”

We can always rely on Maya Angelou for jems like that one. So true, right?

Big Love!!

Mary

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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! 

 

Wild Yeast Questions Answered

Hi Friends,

Many students have been asking some great questions about wild yeast lately, so I thought it would be helpful if I clarified some things for you all.

I wrote a post called Wild, Wild Yeast about two years ago which you can read here, but since that time I have become better acquainted with my pet starter. Thus, I will happily share my knowledge on the little beast.

First off, for those of you who take my class, you know my little trick of breaking off a piece of dough from the one you mixed in class to jump start the process. Here are the directions:

When you get home after class, tear off a quarter-size portion from the dough and place it in a quart-sized mason jar (preferred) or BPA-free plastic container. To the jar add one cup organic flour and one cup filtered water. Stir. Place lid gently on top and place in a cupboard, out of sunlight. 

For two more days, feed it once every 8-12 hours: Dump out 50% of the starter, add one cup flour, one cup water. Stir. It shouldn’t be too liquidy. Think pancake batter with lots of bubbles and an aroma of wine. That’s a healthy starter. 

Once you have fed it 3 or 4 times over the course of the first 2 days, it should be happy and bubbling. At this point, you can try your hands at baking a loaf of bread with it, or if time doesn’t allow it, you can place it in the fridge. Make sure you feed it once/week if you store it in the fridge. Some say it can go months without feeding, and that may be true, but in my experience, it is best not to abandon it and just feed it once/week. That way it will also remind you to bake those loaves of bread for your friends and family.

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Some questions answered:

If I store it in the fridge, when do I need to take it out of the fridge in order to bake? Usually a minimum of 12 hours, but ideally one or two days before you bake is best. That way, you will get the chance to feed it between 2 and 4 times before baking. You want to see the starter bubbling and smelling yummy. That’s when you know it is ready to be mixed into dough.

Help! Is my starter dead? Wild yeast is amazingly resilient, but if it does turn pink or moldy in color, or smells horrifically of your sister’s nail polish remover (acetone), then it’s best to chuck it and start over again (directions here.)

Is that liquid on top hootch? Should I throw it away? That is ethenol (alcohol), and some people like to stir it in before they discard their 50%, bc it adds to the sour taste of the starter. Personally I usually pour it down the drain, and then discard 50%, and feed it.

Why do I have to discard 50% every time? What can I do with the stuff I discard? Yeast is a living bacteria. A probiotic one at that. Many of these bacteria experience die-off after hours of not being fed, so essentially you are discarding half of it to revive it with fresh food. I know it can seem frustrating to some who do not wish to waste, so luckily I recommend using the stuff you pour off in pancake mix (Chad Robertson has a great recipe in his Tartine 3 book), or instead of baking soda/powder in muffins or cookies (substitute 1 tablespoon starter for 1 teaspoon baking soda/powder). There are still many trillions of healthy probiotic bacteria in that discard, so why not create some new tasty creations with it.

 My starter has been fed nearly 5 times over the course of 2 or 3 days and it still doesn’t want to bubble…what do I do? Fear not! Add 1/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar or pineapple juice or freshly squeezed OJ to it and stir. The acid will wake it up. Feed it a few more times after this and if it still doesn’t bubble, you may need to start over.

How much starter should I have in my jar at any given point? I always like to keep a minimum of one or two cups in there, in case I want to mix dough on a whim. After you use a bunch of it, always re-feed it one or two cups flour, one or two cups water before putting back in the cupboard or the fridge.

Why can’t I use commercial yeast? Commercial yeast is made of only one bacteria: Saccharomyces cerevisiae. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t have lactobacillus or any other bacteria that is healthful for our gut health. It is also chemically processed, and by making it into a powder, it loses the peak of its nutrition over time. To me, the yeast is the most important nutritional aspect of the bread. It is what makes it rise, it is what has healed my digestion, and the digestion of many of my patients who eat my bread each week. I can’t emphasize it’s importance enough.

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There you have it, friends. If there is something I did not answer here, feel free to write and ask me questions. And stay tuned for a webinar with more details and bread baking galore in 2016.

Thanks for reading. Happy Holidays to you and your families and friends!

Love,

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

 

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.