Wednesday, February 18, 2009

In Defense of Food and a yummy recipe

Do you know Amanda? Crazy talented blogger (Through the Looking Glass) and dear friend, she has retired from the blogging world and although I would wish her to pull a Brett Favre (I mean, before he re-retired, but the un-retirement is what I am speaking of) I am thrilled to have her putting her two cents in here.

I think the list needs to be re-written. You know, the list of things you don’t talk about in polite company. Sure, religion, money and politics can be polarizing, but tell me this: Have you ever walked into a room of moms and started tossing around theory as to what children should/shouldn’t eat? Be careful – that’s a Playtex sippy flying towards your head!

I read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food a month ago and haven’t been right since. And by “right” I mean I haven’t been able to take a spoonful of Mrs. Richardson’s fudge straight from the jar, nor have I been able to let my kids eat their fourth fruit snack of the day, without severe guilt. Let’s say it rocked my world. Let’s say what I read is now permanently emblazoned in my mind and I can’t go back to the days of hot dogs and McDonald’s runs, pretending I don’t know I’m basically feeding my kids toxic sludge with a side of mini Madame Alexander doll.

Stop. Put down that sippy and think before you hurl it at your computer screen. I am not the enemy. I’m not going to say anything you probably didn’t already suspect. HFCS (that’s high fructose corn syrup, for those of you who aren’t food Nazis… yet) is killing us. We’re fat. Don’t sugar coat it – yum, sugar-coating… acknowledge that as a country we have never been sicker, fatter, less mobile, and more likely to die of weight –related issues. We even eat health food that comes packaged and processed so it can live in our pantry until 2019. Some kids go days without seeing a vegetable only to break the streak with a healthy dollop of sugar-infused, chemical-laden ketchup on their fries (or their mac and cheese – it happens).

Here are the basics - Pollan says adhere to these three rules and your life will be forever changed:

Eat food

Mostly Plants

Not too much

Did you just say, “Huh?” Is this confusing in its simplicity? Was for me, at first. Basically, “eat food” means don’t eat anything your great-grandparents wouldn’t recognize as food. No margarine, nothing with HFCS, nothing with trans fats (anything that says partially hydrogenated _______ oil), and nothing that has ingredients you don’t recognize. Are you eating margarine because you think it’s better for you than butter? Oh dear, oh love, you are so behind the times. Margarine is death knell. Butter is where it’s at. Sure, butter has saturated fat, but haven’t you read a New York Times lately? Saturated fat is now in. All the cool kids are eating it.

Next, mostly plants. Well, that about says it all. Meat? Okay. Bread? Some. But the mainstays? Plants. Anything that can grow in a garden is a free for all. Oh, and Pollan has plenty to say about all of us eating pineapple shipped in from Peru in the middle of January. He encourages eating in season, he encourages eating local, and he encourages organic. Yep, that “cha-ching” was the sound of your monthly grocery budget getting bigger. But in theory, you won’t mind, because at the same time you will be getting smaller and healthier. See how that works?

Not too much. Hmm. Tricky. See, I’m an eater. Doughnuts, chicken breasts, air-popped popcorn, you name it; I can eat it all and in big doses. I blame my Italian heritage for my bottomless pit-of-a-stomach. But what I am slowly figuring out, especially four kids later, is that I can’t eat as much as I want whenever I want. There it is – the harsh reality. The older you get, the more you’re fighting your metabolism as well as your urge to go to great lengths to stay skinny. Is all that deprivation really worth it? Nah. Just watch what goes in the boca. Too much = muffin top. You already knew that; don’t shoot the messenger.

So there it is; everything you never wanted to know about what you’re eating and what you’re feeding those little angels. Sure, we’re all older and stretch-marked and our glory days feel like they’re behind us. But what of those little perfect people, fresh out of the wrapper and ready to thrive in the world? Take stock of your kitchen. Eye your pantry like it’s hiding a dirty secret. Try shopping without buying pre-prepared foods. Make things from scratch and marvel at your talent. From scratch is so vintage, and everyone knows vintage is all the rage.

So you just finished reading and are wondering, "Now what?" I'm not suggesting you go all macrobiotic or anything, but try starting where I did: After reading the label on my "100% Whole Wheat Bread" from the grocery store, I was less than surprised to read "sugar", "corn syrup" and a bazillion chemicals and preservatives I can't pronounce.

I've started making my own Whole Wheat bread for my family. It's not remotely difficult, takes way less time than it should, and has five ingredients - no preservatives. I can't tell you the places I feel tingles when I whip up warm, pillow-soft bread for my family each Monday. It makes me feel like a rock-star, my house smells like carb-heaven, and I feel so domestic and darling I practically spend the afternoon in my apron, just to prove my point. Try it. You'll love how it makes you feel, though be prepared for the initial few weeks of eating bread for every meal because it's so much more delicious than anything you're used to.

Foolproof Whole Wheat Bread (taken from The Domestic Art cookbook)

*I halve this recipe because the full amount sends my KitchenAid into cardiac arrest after kneading for ten minutes
2 T. yeast
7-11 C. whole wheat flour
1/2 C. warm water
2/3 C. honey
pinch of sugar
2/3 C. oil
5 C. hot water
1 T. salt

Sprinkle yeast in water, add sugar, but don't stir. Combine 5 cups hot tap water and 7 cups flour in large bowl of mixer. Add oil, honey, and salt, and mix until well blended. Add yeast, then 4-6 cups flour. Add flour only until dough begins to leave the sides of the bowl. Knead on low for 10 minutes. Coat bread pans with spray or butter, then turn dough onto oiled surface and divide into 4 equal portions and shape into loaves. Place dough in pans, put in a warm place and let raise until doubled in size. Bake at 350* for 35-40 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

**A few tips: This bread is absolutely delicious, it is dense and moist, and I've compared it to half a dozen others and think it's the best. I use a standard KitchenAid and my dough hook attachment. After my dough has been kneaded, I roll it out on an oiled surface (or use a Silpat non-stick mat) and roll it into a rectangle. Then, since I halve the recipe, I slice the dough down the middle, making sure the length of the dough doesn't surpass the length of my bread pan, then I roll it up like a cinnamon roll dough and plop it in the pan (seam-side down). This assures a perfectly sized, uniform-looking loaf. Also, I stick my loaves, uncovered, in the micro to raise and it works like a charm.


***If you need some better clarification on what bowl when, warm vs. too hot, Amanda has left a clarifying comment in, of course, the comments.

Thanks Amanda. Friends, thoughts?



Christy said...

I've been hearing 'don't eat things your great grandparents wouldn't recognize as food' and didn't know it came from this book. I've already begun checking my labels much more carefully, and I'm very interested in trying this bread. What a perfect recipe to test out my brand new kitchenaid mixer on!

You can remove this part from the comment if you want - or leave it in...I have a few questions - could you either post your answers or email me? My email address is on my profile. Thanks!

I've never made bread before and maybe I'm a little dense this morning but could you please clarify? you add the yeast/water/sugar to one bowl. Then mix the tap water and flour, etc in the large mixer bowl? Then add the yeast/sugar/water mixture (or do you take yeast out of the sugar water solution?) and an additional 4-6 cups of flour to the mixer bowl, right?

Also, how long do you stick it in the microwave for? Apologies for the lengthy comment/questions...

Through the Looking Glass said...


Can I just tell you that I have been stumped by my second grader's math homework more times than I should admit in the past year? I apologize for not being more clear - I can't talk on the phone and bake at the same time because my brain can't keep track of the fractions; let me clarify my directions!

I use a liquid (glass) measuring cup and measure in the warm water first. Yeast is a difficult mistress; the water needs to be warm, bordering on very warm/hot without being hot. Hot kills the yeast, too cool means it doesn't react and your bread won't rise. Then I add the yeast, then pinch of sugar on top. Let it sit there while you do everything else.

In your KitchenAid bowl, add the hot (really hot, don't stress about this temp) water and the first dose of flour. Next add the oil, honey, salt, then mix for a minute to incorporate everything. This isn't kneading - not yet. Finally add the yeast mixture -the whole thing you did in the first step, then the last batch of flour. Turn on your mixer using the dough hook and knead away.

It will take about five minutes for the dough to start forming a ball. The whole kneading process takes ten minutes. After you've rolled it out and put the loaves into the pans, stick them in the micro for about an hour. This isn't precise, but that seems to be the time it takes for the loaves to double in size. If you leave them in there too much longer, they can get huge and inflated which yields a less dense loaf and alters the taste a bit. An hour seems about right.

Hope this helped, Christy. I can't wait to hear what you think of the recipe. I made two loaves yesterday - they were out of the oven after dinner, around 6 p.m., and the first loaf was gone by bedtime. My family struggles in excess.

Scarchiba! said...

I'm looking forward to trying this bread recipe...homemade is definitely better and I've been looking for a good whole wheat recipe. Also, I'm definitely going to read "In Defense of Food". Thanks for the info!

Katie @ said...

Great review of the book. I think that I read it about a year ago. Christy's comment assured me that I had.

I love the layout of your site and can't stop thinking of fresh baked bread right now. There is a bakery down the street (I'm in Germany) that makes the most amazing things without preservatives or artificial ingredients. I have to remind myself "more plants, more plants" each time I walk by just like you say here!

LC said...

Amanda you're the bomb - I am totally scared of reading this book, but I really want to. I am already super chemical-phobic so it might make me super crazy, but hopefully it will help me feed myself and my family better.
I CAN'T WAIT to try the bread. I have never known how to make bread (except in my cheating bread maker) and I love the fresh bread Monday idear - - inspiring and yummy.
PS: How hilarious are those high fructose corn syrup promotion commercials??? I love how they make the mom who was trying to avoid it look like an idiot. So funny.

Christy said...

Amanda - perfect! Thank you. I will definitely report back with my success (optimistic, why yes I am!) story!

Katie - you crack me up. Eat more plants! I might print that out and put it on my fridge. hehehe.

mavis said...

I know you have given this recipe to me weeks ago, I am going to try it within the next few days - I hope it is foolporrf, I am much better at savory cooking, not baking. I love all the conversation this is making - do you feel the buzz Mands?

Through the Looking Glass said...

I'm loving this positive reaction; I expected far more, "Shut up and leave my children to their Gogurt drips permanently hooked up to their baby IV's".

Oh. I didn't tell all of you what Pollan says about Gogurts yet, did I? Bad news, friends, bad news. Turns out the only part of a Gogurt that's yogurt is the "urt" in the name. Stopped buying them months ago - we're still chuggin' along!

Miss(Michelle) said...

Depressing news as I am downing my birthday McDonalds fries and Diet Coke. I know it is all true...why else is everyone trying to clense that colon, mavis!:)
If we truly ate what we were made to then we wouldn't need that "garbage in...garbage out" pills to make us loose the sludge.
Good news for tomorrow. I will ban the goldfish and Cheetos and put apples and carrots in their little pink lunch bags...we will see the reaction I will get come 3:25...
If you don't hear from know it was off with my head.

paula said...

Well what do ya know...I just got a mixer for Christmas and a huge, hard core rolling pin for my birthday (I really did ask for it). I've been wanting to find a good bread recipe. I can't wait to try it. I love the idea of eating healthy and more "natural"....sometimes it's just so darn inconvenient.

whitney said...

You had me until the whole gogurt issue, not I have to do some serious soul searching.

Anonymous said...

i think you could start with the whole recipe, knead half & put it in the freezer, then the other half and set it out to rise, then let the freezer bread rise and bake when needed.


these things confuse me.

Dandee said...

I HAVE to read this book! Thanks for sharing.

p.s. Your writing is clever and I loved every second.

Christy said...

Just had to say that for my first time baking bread, I'd consider it a smashing success. I'm actually posting about it on my blogs today/tomorrow. Thanks so much for the recipe!!

whitney said...

Ok, I tried it. I am now eating a peanut butter and honey sandwich on it. I had some trouble with it "kneading" so it is a bit dense but still moist and yummy. Hopefully I get better at it each time. And thanks for the extra guidance Amanda. Yum.

rookie cookie said...

I absolutely loved that book. Changed my opinion on a lot of things. But mostly, it just solidified my opinion on how to feed a family. Such a great book.

My favorite part is all about shopping the perimeter of the grocery store. Fresh meat, produce, dairy and cheeses are on the perimeter.

suzana said...

Oh man, I have a lot of learning to do... My 3 year old has a goyurt in his hands right now... He got it from the "healthy snacks drawer" that I have in my refridgerator!! So, it sounds like I really need to read this book. I am all about teaching my children to eat healthy. I love that my 5 year old is really interested in eating healthy and I want to do whatever I can to keep it this way.
Thanks for opening my eyes. It looks like I need to re think the contents in the "healthy snacks" I have around for my kids! I also need to set aside some time for baking my own fresh bread!
Which means cutting out blogging and facebook hours once again ;)

Through the Looking Glass said...

Whitney, dense bread is still delicious bread, right? And Christy, I'm sayin "YAY!" as loudly as I can right now! I'm so glad it was a success for you. The next thing that went off my grocery list, after bread, was any kind of pre-made cookie. I only make homemade cookies now, which I did a lot of anyway, and while they are by no means health food, they are preservative free and made with real ingredients. Baby steps. I looked into making homemade graham crackers and decided I need not become a Quaker just yet.

Suzana, don't be sad - I hope I didn't alter your reality with the Gogurt thing. We used to buy the monster pack every month at Costco and my kids often ate two a day. Pollan mentions them specifically in the book because really, they are almost all sugar. Unfortunately, with the exception of Greek yogurt (which tastes like sour cream and your kids will GAG!), there is very little yogurt on the mainstream market that is palatable for kids but not loaded with sugar or chemicals. I don't know how to win this battle yet, so I buy the lowest in sugar I can and they eat less of it.

I maintain this whole process, as Pollan maintains as well, is about looking at food differently. If you can believe it, the same time that I've been overhauling our food world, I've also been downsizing the grocery budget. While quality ingredients do cost more, nothing is more expensive than all that processed stuff. I've managed to learn to buy, like it was said above in comments, mostly from the periphery of the store. Dairy, produce, meat with a few staples like cereal, shampoo, pasta thrown in. I spent $99 on my week's groceries today, (and that's at Harmon's, not Walmart - land of dirt-cheap groceries) which let me tell you, SHOCKING! I used to spend over double that in a week. (Don't judge - four kids, one dog, two guinea pigs, and I cook a lot!)

Spencer Family said...

I loved this post--thank you! I made the bread this morning and we ALL loved it. My grocery bill just went down $3.69 a week--thank you!!! Any other recipes to share? :)

we chirp said...

I know several little kids who GOBBLE down Horizon Organics vanilla yogurt. I haven't checked out the sugar content. Another trick that I use (this will work with some kids, but not all) is to use their plain yogurt (I sometimes use full-fat...totally yummy & "all natural" right) and stir warmed honey into it (warm it so it will blend & not harded), top with berries, bananas, and/or granola. Pure maple syrup is a good stir in too.


Christy said...

Amanda I'm in awe! I can't imagine only spending $100 a week on groceries. And we're just two people. How do you do that? I shop sales and use some coupons, but I always spend almost twice that...something is really wrong with my shopping skills, clearly.

I LOVE the idea of only baking cookies, not buying them. I hope to see some of your cookie recipes here too!!!

Through the Looking Glass said...

Christy, can we pretend we're in therapy? If I say, "Hello, my name is Amanda, and I am an extravagant shopper.", will you follow with a "Hello, Amanda"?

Here's my story: A year ago at this time my family of 6 was easily, and by easily I mean "spending more than", spending $1000 a month on groceries. That number did include diapers and wipes as well as all household items and toiletries/sundries. I couldn't figure it out. How did anyone not bank the bank on food? I spent a little over 6 months shopping at Walmart and yes, my grocery bill was $40+ less each week but I was depressed. The produce depressed me. The cramped aisles depressed me. The haggard she-males at checkout depressed me. No one smiled. No one offered my baby a balloon. No one sliced an orange for me in the produce dept. so I could taste how fresh it really was. I knew I was throwing my hard-earned dollars at an American behemoth who paid its employees scraps and shipped in its meat from Nowheresville, USA.


I decided I had to find a way to be frugal but at my neighborhood grocery store; a store that recently underwent a fancy remodel and now carries gourmet cheese and bread and a ton of organics.

I have friends who do the whole coupons/mailers/discount web site thing but total immersion in that seemed tough for me. Instead, I clip coupons every week from my Sunday paper and file them away. Once a month, and only once at the beginning, we go to Costco for our Costco-items. 25 lbs. of flour, 5 dozen eggs, milks, frozen stuff, produce, canned things, cheese, meat, etc.. I easily spend $350 or more on this trip, but this counts as a week as well. For the last three weeks of the month I shop at my grocery store, trying to be mindful of the sales and bringing along my coupons.

I have found, through honest comparison, that Costco meat is better quality and is the SAME price as regular meat at the grocery store when it's on sale. Pound for pound it's equal to the sale price, but much better meat. On that first monthly trip I buy all my meat for the month and split it into smaller ziplocs when I get home and freeze it. The best thing we ever did was buy a freezer for our garage. That means for the rest of the month, I am only buying produce, eggs, dairy and other sundries we need (but hopefully with a coupon) and aim to be at or around $100. That would put my monthly budget around $650, which I know ain't pennies, but is a solid $400 less than I used to spend. Also, I keep a really well-stocked storage room in our basement and rotate everything as I use it so I'm always buying heaping amounts of things like sugar, chocolate chips, rice, and then just using it up.

This spring we're planting our first vegetable garden and I can't wait. It won't be huge savings, but like the book I recommended, once you look at food a little differently, you start developing a less abusive relationship with it (and girlfriend, I could talk for DAYS about bad relationships with food!) and you want better quality, simpler choices, less money wasted.

Aaah. That was a monster comment - I apologize. That did feel like group and I thank you for that. I know you have a smaller family than I, but think about Costco. It really isn't just for the big families.

Kristin said...

Amanda please come back forever

Through the Looking Glass said...

Kristin, just between us, I'm kind of thinking about it.

Christy said...

Amanda I'm printing out the comments so I can show to my husband and rethink our grocery spending. I've been really struggling with this budgeting thing...and may I ask, come back where? from where? I'm confused!

Through the Looking Glass said...

Christy, I served time for taking a parmesan grater to my husband's unmentionables. I'm recently paroled.

Fine, that's not exactly how it all went down. Once upon a time I blogged on my own, loved it but left it, and I toyed with the concept of starting it up again. Writing here sort of put a fire in my belly and I've decided to start writing on my own blog again.

Which story makes me sound more exciting?

Christy said...

hahaha! You're hysterical. I'm so happy you're going to have your own blog (again) - can't wait to add it to my daily reads!