Not Baking… and Here’s Why

So, if your brother tossed an enormous bag of bread into the front seat of your car, what would you do?

We–pull out the bread knife.

The Kids–eat all the chocolate bread in one fell swoop.

I–make a lot of croutons.

I–give some of it away.

I–make two batches of French toast. (French toast made with old sourdough bread is the BEST!)

I–burn some of the French toast. (See this post.)

I–don’t do a whole lot of baking. Not for five days–maybe more.

And now, the brothers are threatening me with a 50 pound bag of flour sent up on one of their bakery trucks. My answer?

Yes!!!

 

How a Bread Eater Stays Thin :: Being Slow

Face it. The evidence is overwhelming. Too many carbs will make you fat. Our country has gone carb and junk food crazy and it’s showing. Even kids these days are struggling with diabetes and over-eating issues.

But you know all this…

With my father as a baker, we always had bread in the house. Fresh bread, every day, came home from those fabulous old brick ovens at 512 Rose Avenue. I bet I ate a sandwich on sourdough bread every day of my elementary school life! I loved salami and yellow mustard best. (Still do!)

Over three posts I’m going to outline a bit how our family, despite the enticement of fresh bread being pulled regularly from the oven, has managed to stay thin.

Quick Disclaimer! I am not a medical doctor. I don’t pretend to be a nutritionist. My only expertise is a lifetime of trying to be Jane.

Slow.

My husband and I used to own a much bigger home, and spend more money, and drive more miles, and consume many more goods. We were the kind of Americans who helped the people in Washington DC do the Happy Dance. Somewhere along the line we made a few big decisions and moved (from Colorado to Santa Barbara) for a variety of personal reasons. We found ourselves at a time of change, which allowed us to make all sorts of choices about our lives. We set out on a course to live more simply, and slowly, and have been adjusting this past decade, with more changes probably still to come.

I believe that many of these changes have helped us live a happier, healthier life–keeping us fit and thin. Here are a few examples of how choosing slow–over the alternative of fast–has kept us in shape.

Walking Shoes. Well, we wear sandals most of the year, but we chose to buy a home in a neighborhood that is near many services. It is a quarter mile walk to: two food markets; the post office; the hair salon; a bookstore; three coffee shops; dry cleaners, etc… You get the idea. When there’s a choice to walk or drive to pick up those fall pumpkins using the blue wagon, even if it means taking an extra half hour, we walk. And when it’s a bit too far to walk, we (my husband mostly) hops on the bike. Down to the farmer’s market, off to the beach. We’ve even set our big kids free, encouraging them to get places on foot. Three miles to downtown to hang out with their friends. They plan a bit in advance, put on their favorite pair of Vans and off they go.

Muscle Power. In our home we have an assortment of appliances and machines, just like in other homes. A mixer, a vacuum, a waffle maker, a dryer, even a mini food processor. But when it comes to making choices, we typically choose the slow, electricity-free route. We use a push mower on our lawn, we sweep with a broom, we knead our bread by hand, we crush the croutons into bread crumbs using the mortar and pestle, we hang our sheets on the line, we even gave away our microwave. If there’s an opportunity to get fit and do a chore, we choose the muscle-building route. It may take a bit longer, but in the end we’ve saved energy, money, and burned a few calories all in one swoop! Not a bad tradeoff.

Saying No. This is a big one, and something we have to struggle against constantly. We try to live a life that leaves us time to sit and chat with the neighbors. We say no to many extra activities so that we can take a walk after dinner, or go for a hike on a Saturday morning. Sure, my husband is on the parish council at church, and I volunteer at my kids high school often, but we know our limits. Being out every evening at meetings, rushing from place to place changes the way you eat, and live. Suddenly you’re sitting at In n Out, munching down fries and a hamburger. Or drinking too much soda in the afternoon to keep you awake. Or having to drive that quarter mile to the store simply because you don’t have two extra minutes in your schedule.

Eating Together. Though breakfast and lunch are a bit scattered, with most of us on different schedules, we always have dinner together. Every night we set the table, light the candle, prepare a healthy meal and sit around our table, eating, laughing, planning and simply being together. We don’t watch TV and eat. Well, we don’t watch TV at all. We eat our food slowly (most of us, Andrew!), teaching our kids to enjoy a variety of different foods and to enjoy them in company. Dinner is at least an hour long, and later there is herbal tea in the pot.

So, there’s some of what we do to live a life that isn’t flying by at super speed and that helps keep us active and thin, despite fresh enticing loaves of bread. I know many of you live this way too. I’d love to hear your ideas–feel free to add any and all in the comment section below.

Cheers, my friends!

Quilted Gifts

Two loaves of brown buttermilk bread

Mixed: 7:30 pm

Molded: 10:00 am next day

Baked: 11:50

Gave to a quilting friend

One of my very favorite children’s books is The Quiltmaker’s Gift. A friend sent a copy to us several years ago and it’s a wonderful repeat read, a story you never tire of, no matter how old you might be. I read it the other day to my four-year-old, who immediately wanted me to read the prequel, The Quiltmaker’s Journey. They’re both lovely…

If you haven’t seen or read this book yet, find it and tuck a child next to you, and read! It’s a story about an old woman who makes beautiful quilts and finds people who are on the street and in need, and gives them away. She doesn’t sell her quilts, or barter them, and this angers the king, who loves getting things–not giving… Over time the king learns to give, but I don’t want to give it all away. This quiltmaker is the ultimate giver. A much better giver than I’ll ever be…

I was baking some buttermilk and Guinness beer bread and wanted to share a loaf with a quilter. Immediately I thought of a friend who sewed a lovely flannel quilt for my little one when he was born. I love people who sew–they are so amazingly creative and brave! I wish I were more courageous, and maybe someday I will be, but right now I simply sew things in straight lines, like this sweet little napkin that I worked on a few weeks ago. This was before the scones…

Here’s the after 🙂

So, if you’re in the market for children’s picture books, consider these two lovely choices. The illustrations are so marvelous you can peer over them for hours–and if you know any quilters–these two books are sure winners.

And if you’re in the mood for buttermilk beer bread

sew a quilt, give it away, and, somehow, I’ll find you!

Behind the Walls

My brothers are so fun!

Don’t you love this imaginative loaf of sourdough?

I grew up in Santa Monica–a Southern California beach town. When I was young it was a beachy place, where kids played in the streets (our street–18th street– was LOADED with kids), where my friends rode their bikes with surfboards over their shoulders, to catch a few waves before school. We hung out at the local drugstore and ate jolly ranchers. There was even a dirt lot around the corner where we took our bikes and shovels and made race courses… But, Hollywood folk, and other money-makers, have changed the landscape of Santa Monica into a city of walls. At least the north end, where I visit, and where my parents still live.

The other morning I was out for a walk. I wondered who in the world I would share a loaf of my brothers’ bread with, since an extra loaf or two makes its way to my parent’s home almost every day. Their sourdough is worth sharing–so very delicious–and missed by many who used to eat this bread for years before the original Pioneer French Bakery was closed.

But who to give to? So many of my own school friends have moved, and the close neighbors we once knew, and loved, have also moved on. My mom muses how amazing it is to live in a place with so many people who rarely notice one another… This city has become a place of walls,

where the only people you see moving up and down the old neighborhood streets are gardeners, maids and subcontractors…

But just when I began to despair about who to give this gorgeous loaf of bread to, I found an email on my computer from an old school friend. “Come meet us–we’re at the beach!”

Ah, the beach. The Mighty Equalizer! There are no walls at the beach. There is sand, and water, and little kids playing in the waves, and big kids with their boogie boards, and old friends still wearing bikinis! Love it!

So, I went to the beach and sat in the sand, and chatted for a wee bit with women that I haven’t really seen since they were girls. The loaf of bread was greeted by happy eyes. I wish I’d had more time, but what fun. What fun!

It makes me wonder, though, seeing and thinking about all these walls… What sorts of walls have I built in my own life to keep people out? I like being out of sight, and out of view. Maybe the walls in this changed city aren’t so very significant when it comes to giving bread. Maybe I just need to work a bit harder to knock down my own inhibitions–and simply head to the beach!

(Thank you, Susan and Linda, for the invite!)

Favorite Things

Two French jacos

Mixed: 10:35 am

Molded: 1:45 pm

Baked: 3 pm

Gave to Jeff, the tennis teacher

My daughter has recently discovered a love for tennis, so we decided to take a loaf of bread to Jeff, her teacher, just because…. Despite the photo, she didn’t deliver it to him on her racket. We wrapped it in some brown paper and tied it with string…

Which… Reminds me of that rainy night outside of Maria’s room in Austria, when suddenly she burst into Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, wrapped herself in the curtains, then ended up collecting all the frightened Van Trapp kids on her bed for a lively sing-along…

I’ve been struggling health-wise these last several months, and a call from the doctor today confirmed that I’m still not on the strong and vigorous track. It’s been months of struggle, but even so, baking has been a blessing in the midst of all of this. Pulling a few loaves out of the oven feels like an accomplishment, and then giving them away to others has been a mental and spiritual boost that has kept me feeling productive. I should be back to normal soon, but in the meantime I just might hum a few more bars of that Sound of Music song. Baking bread IS one of my favorite things, and giving it away has made it even better.

When the dog bites,

When the bee stings,

When I’m feeling sad;

I simply remember my favorite things,

And then I don’t feel…… so bad…

What are some your favorite things?

Ingredients: Salt

Two loaves of French bread, made with our own sea salt

Mixed: 6:45 am

Molded: 9 am

Left on counter for 1/2 hour to rise before retarding in fridge for several hours

Baked: 1 pm

Gave to: Mr and Mrs B, and Mrs B’s parents who are visiting from Far Off Canada

When I put together this post a few weeks ago I started thinking further about the four ingredients needed to make a basic loaf of bread. And since I was headed to the beach the following day, I decided to try my hand at making sea salt from scratch. I’ve always been a bit of a “survivalist” (…wondering if that’s really a term). I like to think about what I would do if I lived centuries ago, or if we didn’t have all the resources available to us–resources like grocery stores and electric ovens and super speed computers. Anyway, making salt the old fashioned way seemed like a great way to find out about a very basic resource, and understand better one of the key ingredients in my bread baking.

I live only a little over a mile from the Pacific ocean. It didn’t take much research to convince me that salt making can be done with almost no equipment; all I really needed was a willing soul to wade out past the tide line and fill up some empty jugs with sea water, and a few sunny days for evaporation. In walked my energetic daughter. Perfect!

Making sea salt was easy and fascinating. While the evaporation process was taking place, I read a book titled Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky. I took some time, too, to browse the web and see what other amateur salt makers had to say. Here’s some of what I learned about this important ingredient in our diet:

  • Salt is derived either from water evaporation or from rock deposits. Chrystaline salt deposits are found on every continent.
  • Ocean water is 2.7 percent salt.
  • Both humans and animals need some sort of salt intake to survive.
  • Bread is icky if you leave out the salt. I know… I’ve done it…
  • If you want a really cool salt box, like the one we bought made of olive wood, then you can find them at Williams Sonoma or other kitchen stores. But if want to make salt in order to save money, it’d probably take you thirty years of monitoring your evaporating pans before you pay for your very cool box… Salt is cheap today, unlike the price it fetched during the Middle Ages. Some called it White Gold back then…
  • There are many resources on the web that speak of the uses and benefits, health risks and origin of salt. One website I found interesting is put together by the “Salt Institute” and this page of facts is packed with all sorts of information. Here’s another website (a commercial one that sells salt) that is filled with well-organized information regarding salt.
  • Just like anything else, salt intake needs to be balanced. Too much, or too little can get you into all sorts of health trouble.
  • Homemade sea salt is moist to the touch. I tried to dry a particularly wet batch in the oven and ended up making something that looked like white coral. I’m thinking that I probably destroyed some of the minerals in the salt when I overheated that batch.
  • One of my very favorite chocolate treats is found here in Santa Barbara, at a local chocolatier. Chocolate Maya sells a truffle with a dark chocolate exterior, a caramel interior, and it is topped with several rough grains of sea salt. Oh, my.
  • Most salt that is mined or made today is not intended for human consumption, but instead used in manufacturing. If you live in the north east, you might know that 16% of salt used in the US is for deicing roads during the winter.
  • Guess what Salzburg means?
  • And back to tasty treats… I recently tried Bequet caramels. They’re made in Montana and one of the varieties mixes the soft caramel with Celtic sea salt. What a great way to get your daily salt intake 🙂
  • Table salt is a simple combination of sodium and chlorine. Refined salts may have other additives, such as iodine and anti-caking agents. Sea salt, like the one I made!!! contains over fifty trace minerals in addition to the all important sodium chloride…

Okay, here is my salt making journey!

Even though it looks sunny and warm, Mad is wading out in ocean water that is about 61 degrees cold. Eek! Before I sent her out, I checked the water quality at this beach–Butterfly Beach in Santa Barbara–and it had just received an A+ rating…

My brave and adventurous daughter

We evaporated some salt water in the sun after quickly boiling the water over the stove, wondering if the grade A rating could be trusted. We also evaporated another batch that came straight from the ocean. Here is the salt that was boiled, forming crystals in the bottom of the pan after about five days in the sun.

I learned after a wild wind storm that you need to cover the sea water so that dust and tree debris is minimized. We eventually came up with a method where we would cover our glass pans with a clear thin acrylic cutting board, leaving a corner of the pan uncovered so there was adequate air flow.

Here I am filtering the sea water through a coffee filter after the wild windstorm

Here is another batch of sea water that is just beginning to show signs of something salty. Because I only evaporated a little under two gallons of water, it took just a few sunny days to complete the process in these shallow pans.

This is a picture of the salt that I thought was too moist, so I baked it. It was so hard that I ground some to a fine dust. I wouldn’t recommend doing this–I wouldn’t be surprised if I baked some of the trace minerals out in my hot oven…

Here is my Santa Barbara Sea Salt, looking so important in this beautiful olive wood salt box that my husband found

And here is a French Jaco, made with flour, water, yeast and homemade Santa Barbara sea salt!

So there’s my sea salt story. I enjoyed this process so much that I think I’ll keep it up during the warm months. I’d love to hear your salt facts and stories. Please share!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. Not from my favorite chocolate shop, not from the RealSalt website, not from Bequet, who makes the most delicious caramels in all the world. But I suppose there might be some give and takes with Mr. B, whom is right now eating my bread, because he teaches my daughter math, and is just a handy friend to have around. I’m no good at math. If anyone owes anyone anything–then I really must pay some royalties or a bigger allowance to my daughter who dives readily into the sea to scoop up salt water for simple experiments. Okay, this has gone on long enough. Later, and back to the regularly scheduled show– I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

You know what, though? I’m thinking that maybe I should write a children’s book on salt. The bread and the wine are covered… If you have a starting point for me please send that along.