Sunday, March 23, 2008

Not loafing around

I haven't had much time to post recently, since my other hobby, scrapbooking, has gotten in the way. I'm working on a big family scrapbook for my grandfather's 90th birthday party, which is in two weeks. This doesn't mean I haven't been cooking, but otherwise, I've been up to my elbows in paper, stickers, and photos. Now, however, I've got some time because I ran out of archival-quality glue stick and all the craft stores are closed for Easter.

(Couldn't they have at least stayed open for a couple hours? Having had lots of time to explore scrapbooking materials, I've noticed that the majority of craft stores market to Christian soccer moms with big families who go on vacations to the beach, camping, or Disneyland every summer. Not that I have a problem with these kinds of people! It just makes it hard for the rest of us scrapbookers who don't fall into that category and want materials that touch on other topics — and who need a glue stick on Easter. But I digress...)

Inspired by variety of people — Alice Waters, Barbara Kingsolver, my cousin Deb — I've taken up making bread. Using the recipe for sandwich bread in How to Cook Everything and armed with a food processor, today makes my third loaf of bread in a month. Before this, I hadn't made my own loaf of bread for over three years — and it had been done completely by hand. Well, no wonder bread seemed hard to make, what with all the stirring and the kneading of the sticky dough. A food processor makes it the easiest thing in the world to make incredibly delicious, yeasty bread.

The first loaf I made didn't seem to be rising, and I thought I had somehow ruined it. This time, I put the dough to rise in my oven (which is gas and stays slightly warm all the time), and it has risen so much better than previously. For the second loaf I made, I forgot to grease the loaf pan, and the bread stuck pretty tight, which required a lot of tearing away of the nice, brown crust. I definitely remembered all steps this third time around.

After coming out of the oven, the Anthropologist and I can easily eat half a loaf right away, with butter or as a PB&J. Over the next few days, we eat slices with eggs or as French toast for breakfast, and the Anthropologist makes sandwiches with anything that might happen to be leftover. I've been making white bread, since that is the type of flour I've had on hand, and this is hands-down the best and the only white bread I will ever eat. (Typically, I buy whole wheat bread from the store.) The Anthropologist asked me why this bread is better than what we can purchase, and honestly, I'm not sure. Is it the lack of preservatives or bread softeners? How incredibly fresh it is? Or maybe that it's made with love?

Whatever it is, I'm eager to make other kinds of bread. I bought whole wheat flour today and will make whole wheat bread next weekend. And perhaps I will start looking into more labor-intensive breads, like challah or sourdough. Meanwhile, I challenge you to make your own bread — because once you do, you may never want to go back to store-bought bread ever again.

Sandwich bread
(courtesy of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything)

3-1/2 c all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
2 tsp salt
1-1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 tbsp sugar or honey
2 tbsp butter, room temperature
1-1/3 cool, whole milk
oil or butter for greasing

Into a food processor, put the flour, salt, and yeast, and process for 5 seconds. Keep the machine running, and add through the feed tube the sweetener, butter, and milk. Pulse for 30 seconds, until the dough forms a ball. If it seems too sticky, add flour one tablespoon at a time, pulsing for a couple seconds after each addition. If it seems too dry, add milk one tablespoon at a time, pulsing afterward.

On a lightly floured surface, knead for one minute. Shape into a ball, and place into a large greased bowl. Cover with a damp towel, and let rise for at least 2 hours or until doubled in size. Once risen, punch down, then recover and let sit for 15 minutes.

Knead on a lightly floured surface for another minute, then fold slightly into a rectangle. Place into a greased loaf pan, flattening it firmly into the pan. Cover, and let rise 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush the loaf lightly with water, and place in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool on a wire rack before slicing.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Seasonal Eating 101

Not too long ago, the Anthropologist asked me how he was supposed to know what was in season. Rather than telling him to Google it, I put together a list of fruits and vegetables, organized by the season they are available here in California. I printed it small, so that he could tuck the paper into his wallet for easy reference when he was at the store.

Fast forward to a week or so later, when I brought chocolate sugar cookies (the first thing the Anthropologist and I have ever cooked together) to a classroom potluck. I left a little note on them, letting everyone know they were made with organic and fair trade ingredients. Apparently, when I was out of the room, the parents began talking about how it's hard to know what to buy these days. (Maybe it's time to start preparing some notes for a presentation on sustainable eating...)

Then I decided that I could share the list I created with the families — and with the entire Center in general. I emailed my coworkers to let them know I would get them some copies if they wanted them. And I got several "orders" right away! So I tweaked the format of the list to make it double-sided, still wallet-sized, with some handy info about seasonability. They are a little labor intensive to make, but I'm rather proud of them — and excited that I can share something I am passionate about.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Emailing about milk

While I don't read as much as I'd like (oh, television, you are so hard to give up), I do manage to read a whole lot about food. In fact, I have an entire shelf in my bedroom dedicated to the food books I am slowly but surely accumulating. Currently, I am working on Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (which the Anthropologist got me for Christmas) and Sandor Ellix Katz's The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved. I am full to bursting with food knowledge that I am eager to share with others — whether they want to hear it or not.

Working at a child care center, the topic of food often comes up, not only in relation to children but in relation to the food that the teachers eat (remember who I work for and the free food we get?). The first food-related email thread that went around a couple months back wanted to know why we didn't get fruit like grapes and bananas in our kitchen and how difficult it was to get used to eating seasonally and locally, which is something the chef staff highly values. So I got onto my soap box and let them know why eating this way is a good thing (better nutritional value, supporting local farms), including giving them what I call my "banana lecture," which basically breaks down why buying bananas creates such a large carbon footprint. I don't know if anyone actually paid any attention to me, but I did get a couple of thank-yous for the information.

The latest opportunity for me to spread the good food word came today, with an email about milk consumption at the center. The head chef was concerned that the children weren't drinking enough milk and that 12 ounces was meant to be their recommended daily allowance. Back up I went onto my soap box, and I said: "Milk is a food, and it is a food that the children are consuming as part of a varied diet. By eating milk and milk products, beans, meat, grains, veggies, etc., our kids are getting what one would assume would be a well-rounded amount of nutrients every day. K------ said, 'Children require about 12oz. of milk each day to insure proper growth.' I would think that if the children are getting their calcium from dark leafy greens or yogurt or cheese, and their vitamins A and D from other sources (carrots are a good source of A; sunlight gives us D), we shouldn't worry too much about how much milk they are or are not drinking."

It's am interesting topic to me, this whole milk thing. Personally, I love milk. After reading Marion Nestle and Nina Plank, and doing research on which companies produce the most sustainable, consumption-friendly product, I drink whole, nonhomogenized, organic Strauss milk (in the glass bottles). Despite being able to easily put away a glass or two of milk in a sitting, I don't necessarily agree that milk is as important as a food as the dairy industry would like us to believe. Certainly, it is no more important than any other foodstuff. Anyway, I'm curious whether anyone will have a response to my position on milk.

In other news, I have been very uninspired to cook lately, and I have to convince myself not to stop at Taco Bell or suggest to the Anthropologist that we have dinner at the brewery. The last couple times I went to the farmers' market, I went home with very little in my bag — which is, perhaps, just a sign of the between-seasons slump: I'm tired of root vegetables and greens, apples and oranges. Bring on the asparagus, artichokes, and peas!