Thursday, March 29, 2012

Made From Scratch Diet

"If your subsequent encounters with either the process of baking or eating bread is somehow altered toward the good, the noble, and most importantly, the holy, then I will be able to rest more comfortably with the weight of my burden."

Erica has been out of the house and in her own place now for eight months now. She was pretty sure that once she moved she'd lose a little weight because she'd be more active, going up and down the stairs in her townhouse, vacuuming, dusting, doing laundry, grocery shopping—you know, all those things she hated doing here at home, but that would keep her dashing madly about once she moved. It didn't quite happen, though. Well, she does dash about, and the house is always clean, but she didn't lose weight. I did the same thing. When I moved in with Rick I gained twenty pounds that first year. I guess I cooked too much food. And I probably snacked way too much. (We were also living in Texas, really far away from home, and I was totally in love with chicken fried steak with white gravy.) Erica's a great cook, though, so at least she and Chris have been eating scrumptious food. I was just plain lucky I didn't kill Rick in those early years since I made some absolutely awful horrible barely digestible unidentifiable meals. Now I can laugh about backing the car up over "donuts" I attempted to make from poppin' fresh biscuits and not having them break. Seriously, not a dent. I consider my mom a darn good cook, and my mother-in-law is fantastic. I wanted to be like them—and like my grandmother, who was from Bari, Italy—and cook simple and seemingly effortless meals. So, I learned. And probably not a minute too soon for Rick's sake.

As the years passed, knowledge and influences and tastes changed. Rick and I moved back to New York from Texas. We became fascinated with Japanese cooking, became coffee snobs, wine snobs, and then vegetarians for seventeen years. We slowly incorporated meat back into our diet a little at a time and for various reasons. We've had bee hives and collected the honey, made our own beer, and had awesome vegetable gardens, canning and freezing the excess. Rick got his hunting license, but never caught anything although he got really good at tracking (he couldn't shoot the animals). Instead, he had customers at his photolab who gave him venison. We live right near the water, so went fishing often. We've always made our own yogurt and bread. We made fresh juice with a hand-cranked juicer. But there were times when we got lazy and bought processed foods (don't tell, but I've gotten the tiny bags of Fritos at the grocery check out and eaten them in the car ride home), but every so often we'd catch ourselves and purge the house. When we learned about BPA we tried not to buy anything in cans. It's not like we bought a lot, but we did buy tuna and anchovies and tomatoes and pineapple. Now what? Well, we started buying Pomi tomatoes and anchovies in a jar. We tossed all plastic containers out and bought glass. We quit buying plastic wrap and only use aluminum foil on very rare occasions. We also try to buy humanely raised beef and chicken. And organic vegetables. We try really hard to make everything from scratch, if possible. Recently, we began dehydrating vegetables, while they're in season, to last us until the next season. We're fermenting foods all over the kitchen. My Christmas present from Rick was a handcranked mayonnaise maker. (It's awesome!).

Which brings me to the whole foods diet. Erica and Chris are giving it a try (along with a stricter exercise program, which I'm sorta kinda doing, too, in an abbreviated version because I'm older). "Whole foods" refers to unprocessed products, like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. It may include meats, poultry, and fish depending on what you read, and by who. On one hand it makes complete sense—eating healthy and whole foods should be everyone's goal—but on the other hand, some Web sites and books on the subject seem just a bit too rigid for me. Some processed foods just don't seem all bad. Life without ketchup? I've actually tried making my own, following recipes from Laurel's Kitchen and another from Nourishing Traditions. As much as I love both cookbooks, I still like store bought ketchup, sorry. I only buy organic, no additives, but to some it's still considered processed. I only cooked brown rice for awhile, and still do at times, but I happen to like white rice a whole lot better. And, if you read my blog with any regularity, you know I love bread, but white flour is a big no no to some whole foods advocates.

I would imagine Erica and Chris will be strict for a while and then settle into what works best for them. Rick and I went through similar decisions and discoveries concerning food. Heck, their enthusiasm might make me and Rick take notice of a few things we've overlooked (like the bottle of lemon juice, which I never thought to check, is loaded with crap). Rather than call our diet a whole foods diet, though, I call ours a made-from-scratch diet. Sometimes it's just plain inconvenient to be too damned fussy. Not to mention, we ain't got tons of money. If I only have $25 to spend on food for the week and I really really want to make sauce, well, then, I'll buy a can of crushed tomatoes for 88¢ instead of the Pomi tomatoes for $2.49 and hope the BPA won't kill me. If the butcher has chicken cutlet on sale for $1.99/lb., I'll pick some up and not ask how it was raised. I guess the thing is to compromise wisely. I carry my dirty dozen/clean 15 fruits and vegetable list with me, and I check the Better World Shopper site every so often, too, to kind of cross-reference what I buy. I do the best I can with the money and resources I have.

A very young me attempting to make gravy
for my first Thanksgiving dinner. I think
this was one meal that actually came out okay.
Rick apparently documented the occasion.
Odessa, Texas 1978.
Eating is about nourishing yourself; to foster and sustain good health and support life. There are times, though, when food needs to feed the soul as well as the body and nothing does that better for me than a loaf of fresh baked bread, white flour or no. Or maybe, like tonight, homemade pizza. I guess I'm addicted, as Brother Juniper so eloquently writes, to the religious and spiritual aspects of baking bread. 


  1. I found a great whole wheat pizza crust recipe. The boys have no idea....I'll e-mail it.