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! 

 

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

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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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!

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!