Years ago, I bought a bread machine at a thrift store for six dollars -- figuring it was a steal even if I rarely used it. As it turns out, I made bread nearly every weekend. I made a loaf nearly every Saturday afternoon to snack on while watching Saturday Night Live in the late evenings.
Then one day, I lost the bread paddle. I still don't know where it is, and I keep the bread machine around hopefully as if the prodigal paddle might come back some day. I wrote it off as a loss, deciding it wasn't worth the hassle to track down one part for a machine I got for pennies on the dollar. I haven't really made bread since.
With October: Unprocessed upon me, I made a trip up to our local Wheatsville Co-op for a few staples.
I tend to think I eat pretty healthily -- I was vegetarian for years, I eat mostly organic and local, you know the type -- but October: Unprocessed has made me confront the spots in my diet that contribute lots of calories but no nutrition: the white rice and pasta, the white flour tortillas, the occasional cheesy-poofs, not to mention my deep abiding love affair with mayonnaise. When I first encountered the October: Unprocessed challenge, I crossed my fingers behind my back and flippantly declared that white rice wasn't processed "in my world". Yesterday, I decided to take that back.
So there I was in Wheatsville, wandering through the bulk aisles. It didn't feel as normal and familiar as it should, and I realize that I still give myself credit for things I did ten or fifteen years ago. It doesn't work that way, as my extra twenty pounds easily show. I didn't have to buy much -- I have tons of legumes at home filling gorgeous jars and making it into not enough pots. But I did buy a bit of fresh, raw tahini and a few bags of gorgeous grains: thick rolled oats, proper brown rice, some gorgeous blue cornmeal. In the cold case, I was thrilled to discover my regular organic low-fat yogurt (Wallaby) has nothing in it but milk, and that our local El Lago Tortillas offer a probiotic whole-grain version. I live on tortillas for snacking, so this was a huge win. I also eyed the wide array of local beers, wines and cheeses, but opted out of buying any for this trip.
And then . . . I got stuck in the flour aisle. As in, walking in and out of it several times. As in, standing there stymied long enough that one of the workers came up to ask if he could help. As if the molasses and barley malt had spilled on the floor and gummed up my shoes. Simply stuck. Between the number of options and my sense of being inept at baking from scratch, I kept going back and forth over what to buy. Finally, I ended up with some barley malt to add to the host of raw sugar, honey and molasses I always have at home, and several kinds of Bob's Red Mill organic flours: big bags of whole wheat bread and whole wheat pastry, and smaller bags of rye and 10-grain. I figured between those types and the yeast I have at home and never use, I could come up with something.
Coming home, I had a bowl of my very tasty Hoppin' John variation. It turns out I used barley instead of brown rice along with the fresh black-eyed peas, but the soup was no worse for it. It was also the first time I'd actually used some of my frozen tomatoes, and I'm sold. The texture was like canned, but the taste was bright and clean in a way that even home-canned tomatoes aren't.
And then I hit the books. Before long, I uncovered a recipe for what's called Grant Loaf. Apparently, Mrs. Doris Grant of England made a mistake one day when making bread, and accidentally created a recipe that she loved. It's completely whole grain (originally whole wheat, which is how I made it, but my book also suggested spelt) and requires no kneading and only one rising, right in the pan. It sounded almost as easy as bread machine bread, and honestly it was. You can find an online recipe courtesy of The Zest, which essentially matches the version I used. Another blogger posted a spelt version.
From start to finish, the recipe took less than three hours. The result? One very tasty, extremely dense whole wheat loaf. In contrast to those white bread-machine experiments of yesteryear, I only wanted two pieces -- not because it wasn't tasty, but because it was very dense and satisfying. I'm planning to eat the rest over the next few days as toast.
So there we are. I entered this month thinking "Oh, I already do that, it'll be a piece of unprocessed, organic cake!" and already by Day 2 it has me confronting myself and my patterns on a pretty profound level. When I say it's all about mindfulness, these are the encounters I'm talking about. Oh, and I ate fresh bread while writing, doing a bit of blog publicity, and listening to great music. Never a bad night, that.