Posts Tagged ‘Bread’

We don’t buy bread. We make it. Well, mostly we do. On occasion, as a special treat I buy either whatever is on sale at Whole Foods or a local organic bakery and very, very occasionally I will buy bread from the Bodega — they sell Arthur Avenue Italian Bread. It may be industrial, but it’s local and has local flavor.

Bread is just about as basic a food as you can get. In fact, it can literally mean food or money – whatever it is that personally gives you substance. I grew up on neatly sliced white bread – the neat slices turned brown some time in the 70s when my mother learned that Wonder bread was less than wonderfully nutritious.

Bread was one of the first foods I decided to stop buying and explore making. It was partly because I thought buying bread made garbage. Making bread at home increases the nutrition of the product (at least allows me to really control it) and decreases the garbage output. I”m probalby not taking a lot out of the landfill but home-made bread is not packed or shipped to a store. Sometimes, when I am very flush, I even buy the flour from the farmer’s marke — that makes it super healthy and super sustainable and costs less than a loaf of the organic bread I used to buy.

But I also wanted to make bread  because there’s something about the idea of bread that has always fascinated.  Like cheese and wine, bread is a science experiment that someone had to develop. It fascinates me that yeast, this hidden magic bug. Yeast is like a real  version of the Star Wars  magical Midi-chlorians, the intelligent microscopic life forms that lived symbiotically inside the cells of all living things that give humans the power to become Jedi. Yeast, like the Midi-Chlorians, are the keepers of the force.

Although I love yeast breads, and will make them if I have the time, my daily staples are quick breads. I usually either make Irish Soda bread, which I load up with lots of oatmeal (can you say protein) and just a little sugar or a quick bread using a recipe I learned from Mark Bittman. Both use the combination of buttermilk and baking soda to create the amazing force of rising. And both are very versatile.  We make bread about twice a week. I used to do more Irish Soda bread, but it is heavy and harder to make toast or sandwiches with. The Bittman bread, on the other hand, slices well, and makes delicious sandwiches. It it most definitely one of my sustainable staples.

Note: This is part of the That’s How We Do It: 2011 series of blogs which give a top line overview of the “sustainable basics” or measures I am taking to live sustainably in NYC.

Irish Soda Bread

I first blogged about Irish Soda Bread last year, I realize now I never gave my recipe. Here it is:

(Prep time: 15 minutes. Cook time: 40 minutes)


3  cups whole wheat flour

1 1/2 cups oatmeal flour

2 TBSP sugar

1 TSP salt

1 TSP baking soda

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 3/4 cups buttermilk

1. Make the oatmeal by grinding regular oatmeal into flour. You can use a coffee mill or actual flour grinder. I use the blender. If you grind extra by mistake, you can store it in the cabinet in a closed jar.

2. Preheat oven to 425°. Mix two types of flour, the sugar, salt, and baking soda into a large mixing bowl. I like to use my hands.

3. Make a well in the middle of the flour. Add the egg and buttermilk and mix in with a wooden spoon until dough is too stiff to stir. Dust your hands with a little flour, and  gently knead dough in the bowl. Form the dough into a ball. I like to split the dough into two balls at this time.

4. Sprinkle a little corn meal on a baking sheet. Place the two loaves on the sheet, giving each enough room to breath. Cut an x in the top of each loaf (if you’re baking with children, tell them it’s to keep the fairies out!)

5. Bake for 35-40 minutes until  bread is brown. The best way to test if it’s done is to pull it out of the oven with a tea towel and tap the bottom. If the bread sounds hollow it’s done.

I’ve made this recipe in a baguette pan. The slightly sweet bread looks impressive and it’s a more sustainable alternative to store-bought crackers.

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Ok. I’ll admit it. I’m tired. Tonight when I got home from work I baked bread. One of my attempts to be sustainable is to cut down the amount of supermarket related garbage I consume.Baking bread felt like something I could do, and would want to do, too.  I figure it I actually want to do it, it’s more likely it will get done.

There are some things that sound hard to make, but really aren’t. Breads is one of them. I know it sounds a little wacko, but actually it’s pretty easy. It just takes time and planning.

I’ve been planning to make bread since Sunday. But it wasn’t until tonight, when I made a choice to make it my priority that it actually happened. And even then, it almost didn’t.

I made an Irish Soda Bread  — a recipe I made for the first time a few months ago. I was surprised at how easy and quick it was. And the kids went crazy. Blaise went on and on about how it was the best bread ever. He wanted me to go into the bread making business. (The whole world’s a lemonade stand for Blaise.)

Organic whole wheat or multi-grain bread costs me between $3 and $5  a loaf. Plus, it tends to be mealy and the crust crumbles. I found one small batch bakery that Whole Foods sells that isn’t bad — I may buy that on occasion as a special treat, But other than that, the bread isn’t great and it isn’t cheap.

Even buying organic flour, I’m figuring the bread should cost me about $2.50 a baking. And the loaves are quite large — definitely enough to last more than a week.

Irish Soda Bread is a non- yeast bread. The bread rises because of the chemical reaction between buttermilk and baking soda. Apparently you can use regular milk and baking powder as well. I’m a bit skeptical that the taste will be as good — I’ve had bad experiences with baking powder. It can make baked goods taste medicinal. But I might try it, just to see.

I’ve always made Irish Soda Bread with buttermilk. But buttermilk can be a pain to keep on hand. Tonight I had about enough for a third of the batch. The cookbook said I could use sour milk instead of buttermilk. Ok, but was is sour milk? After a quick consultation with my father, who is a chemist, and a  little surfing, I found a recipe for sour milk — 1 TB of lemon juice to 1 cup milk. Wait til it curdles and voila — you’ve created a buttermilk substitute.

This recipe,which I’ll post tomorrow, is pretty forgiving. I mixed in the milk to the honking bowl of flour (almost 8 cups altogether) and the batter was too dry. It was wet enough to form a pretty hefty size loaf, but there was a lot of flour in the bowl. I added the optional egg to that second batch and made another cup of sour milk.

Although the breads actually both tasted the same, the one with the egg had a more bread-like consistency. It was easier to slice and I think will make a better sandwich bread.

All and all, it only takes about 20 minutes to mix and knead the bread. Then it takes another 40 or so to bake it. It’s not a lot of time, but its another thing for my to -do list. Also, learning how to make sour milk means I don’t have to worry about finding grass fed buttermilk. That would have been hard to track down and pricey if I did.

I am definitely choosing weird stuff to be fixated on. For example. I baked bread today, but I used a paper cup for coffee. There was vendor at work and I just forgot. I could have easily gone in to my office for my mug, but I didn’t. I’m also still not buying local produce. My escarole came from California. My organic apples from Washington State.

My priority has been to buy as much organic as I could afford. Whole Foods has been my best bet.

But so much of what I’m doing now is just opening my eyes to all the options there are around me. For example, there is a Farmer’s Market in Inwood, just up the block from me, every Saturday. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for over 12 years, I’ve never gone. Apparently there’s a Greenmarket at the Port Authority every Thursday form 8-6. I commute through the Port Authority twice a day — how did I not know?

The thing is that I am not a complete novice to thinking outside the supermarket box. Yet, I am still completely unaware of all the opportunities and options the city has to offer. It’s partly information overload, and it’s partly a matter of priorities.

Another reason I think we don’t prioritize being green is because we think of it as being optional. Intellectually we know we will run out of gas in 40 years and that global warming is happening. Yet for some reason it’s not impactful. Even if the winters are colder and the summers are warmer, we can still get a cup of coffee for $2 that makes us feel civilized and rewarded.

I made a commitment not to buy more aluminum foil or plastic wrap or plastic bags. So when it’s gone it’s gone. I’m finding that you can wash off a piece of plastic wrap and re-use it over and over again.  I said to John, “How come we never knew that?” and he looked at me like I was stupid. “It’s just easier to throw it away,” he said.

For me, the shifting my cooking options is easier to do. I like cooking. I’ve always liked to cook from scratch.  For me, there’s a lot of going back to how I used to do things before I had kids going on.

It’s also good because the kids are involved and interested — it means I’m passing on to the next generation a deeper  knowledge of food.  They’ve helped make bread. They know it’s possible. Connecting to how staple foods in life are grown and made is important — especially for kids  It’s one thing to know that buying bread is easier than baking it. It’s another to think baking bread is too hard for the average person to do.

It’s would be scary if everyone thought only the supermarket holds all the secrets of creating cuisine. I want to be sustainable, not only for the planet, but for my own day to day survival. But again, I’m not the first to talk about this — there’s a whole “Take Back the Plate” movement.

But here’s what I’ve learned in the  last week or two — there’s a lot of info out there, figuring out what’s right for you is hard enough, but  shifting to put that believ into practice is not as easy as it sounds.

But for this evening, at least, I managed

Lisa’s List of Things That Are Easy To Make At Home

  • Salad dressing
  • Bread
  • Sour milk
  • Salsa
  • Humus
  • Guacamole (ok, I know we don’t live in an avocado zone)
  • Soup stock
  • Tomato sauce
  • Soup

(Hopefully I will be putting yogurt and seltzer on this list soon!)

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