In my 20s, when I dabbled in vegetarianism, Diet for a Small Planet was something of the holy book. In those days, I baked most of the bread I ate with Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book guiding the way . Then real life intervened with work and higher education and other interests, and I drifted in to the world of industrial eating: plenty of meat, white sugar, and processed flour.
Now, a whole series of books has led me back to those early days of real food, and I’m finding that the farm environment only makes it seem more sensible. Not to mention a not-so-much-older friend whose failed stress test led to a strict vegan diet and just a general desire to feel better and lose some weight. I suppose it started with Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma coupled with Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. They were stark reminders of just how far away I personally had moved away from my own convictions when it came to what I put in my mouth. And the baking impulse can be traced to browsing the King Arthur Flour’s whole grains baking book, fondly remembering the wonders of bread baking and the enticing smell and nutty taste of whole wheat bread.
The most recent book came from the Green Valley Book Fair in Harrisonburg, Virginia. I wandered through the wooden tables and made it across the walkway to foods and crafts. And there was Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Cook Book. I was taken immediately by his pragmatic tone…he still eats meat but is trying to be less meatatarian. He has adopted a different relationship to meat and that has made the difference. His wonderful recipes celebrate all the foods that often take a back seat to the protein and in the section on baking, I found his amazingly simple whole wheat bread recipe that called for something my friend of the King Arthur book had also mentioned: instant yeast.
What a concept. How many bricks have I baked when the yeast failed to rise? Even a short flirtation with a bread machine did not make things any more consistent unless I used a mix. I found sour dough bread to be fool proof but after months of eating it, my husband begged for something else and that really was the end of my bread baking days.
But now I’m back, with two loaves of bread under my belt just this week. I baked them with the instant yeast, and both of them–one made with white and one made with whole wheat–turned out perfectly. I can’t wait to get into the kitchen and try something else: maybe some whole wheat hamburger buns.
I’m also experimenting with a healthy muffin recipe as a vehicle for all the strawberries, blueberries and raspberries in the freezer. My friend on the strict diet ate three of the most recent attempt that included oats, whole wheat, apple sauce and agave nectar instead of the white stuff (flour, sugar) and vegetable oil. They could have been a bit moister but other than that were quite good with nice flavor and texture. I sent the rest of the batch home with them and made whole wheat scone with raisins for us to eat this weekend.
And so, the bakery at Bottle Tree Farm is born.