Back in the 1940's, the US government published a set of guidelines for healthy eating. It was based on the early twentieth century "food guide" developed by an early nutritionist to outline the kinds of things (and amounts) that children should be eating. It has gone through many modifications over the years, and most of us learned all about these wonderful recommendations when we were in school. The "USDA Food Pyramid" has permeated our culture.
The problem, according to Harvard scientist, Dr. Walter Willett, is that the original food pyramid is flawed and misleading. Much research regarding nutritional recommendations has been accomplished over the past hundred years, but the original recommendations haven't kept up with the new information. Additionally, it has been shown in some cases that a diet high in carbohydrates, as recommended by the food pyramid, may actually be the culprit in our current problems with obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
In short, according to some significant research, it's the wheat in the cake, and not the sugar. In fact, if we believe Dr. Atkins we can have our cake and eat the whole thing by ourselves, as long as it's half cake (Deus Ex Machina calls it "half cake", because it uses a half-pound of butter, a half bag of chocolate chips, and a half dozen eggs ;).
Working like I do, kind of in the medical field, I spend a lot of time thinking about and hearing about medical issues, and on the forefront, right now, is the whole gluten argument. Like fat in the 1970s gluten has been implicated in all manner of diseases (see above), and really, the evidence seems pretty neatly stacked against our daily bread.
The issue (and the unfortunate fact) is that American food is drenched in wheat-based products. I challenge anyone to come up with a meal plan that does not include a wheat-based carb, either as a side dish or an entree. It's not easy, and many of the "quicky go-to" meals (like pasta) are out if one is trying to eliminate wheat. Compound it with trying to eat local, which means that most quick-cooking grains (like rice) are out, and the dilemma becomes more clear.
Still, I was (and am) determined to make wheat-based products something other than the base of our meals, and so I refused to buy flour ... and then, we ran out.
For a week, my pickiest eater in the world ate nothing but the granola (which is little more than a flour-less oatmeal cookie, which is why she likes it so much ;) I make ... with yogurt, though, and so that was better, in my opinion than a bunch of bread.
And while there was no grumbling, I could see that my family wasn't happy. I came up with some creative solutions to our usual wheat-based choice (like adding pumpkin seeds to soup instead of crackers - which I actually, now, prefer), but they really would have preferred the bread ... or pasta.
One of my goals for this year is to eliminate wheat from our diet, and I still want to do it, because I think we're too dependent on a thing that might be difficult to find in the coming years. Perhaps, though, there's some wiggle room, and maybe I don't strive to "eliminate", but rather put it where it belongs, as a supplement to, and not a base of our daily intake. If we truly get wheat products into the supplemental category (at the top of the pyramid rather than the bottom), then, if/when we actually do find that we don't have wheat to enjoy, it won't be such a hardship on us, and we'll have discovered a plethora of alternatives.
This weekend was one of those experimental moments. Deus Ex Machina made, what Big Little Sister said tastes like "bread pudding" (a favorite of hers) without even a crumb. We've been wanting to make half cake with something that is locally available for a long time, and finally, this weekend, we did. Deus Ex Machina made it with blueberries. It was delicious! It didn't have the texture of half cake (which has a fudgy, cake-like consistency), which didn't surprise me. It was more like a souffle or a quiche. The important thing is now we know that we can make a bread pudding-like substitute using a half pound of butter, a half dozen eggs, a half cup of sweetner (we used raw sugar) and some blueberries and it bakes up quite nicely.
We kept the experiments going. I caved in and bought more flour, but I still R-E-F-U-S-E to bring home any store-bought bread product. Forget it, people. No more Hannaford brand English muffins for you!
But it's okay, because I'm learning that just about anything bread has six basic ingredients (flour, water/milk, yeast, salt, sweetner, oil/butter/lard), and the difference, most often, lies not in what's in it, but how it is cooked. Regular loaf bread goes through a couple of rises (one in an oiled bowl and one in the bread pan), and then is baked a low-temp oven - around 350°F. My favorite French bread (because it only takes an hour from start to finish, including baking time) takes only one rise, but bakes at a much higher temperature.
I've even made flat bread, and the first time I made Pitas, and they actually rose up like pita bread and we could actually cut them in half and stuff them, I thought I was in Disney land! It was like magic!. Naan is one of the coolest breads I've ever made, and it cooks on the grill (bread? on the grill? Oh, yeah, baby!), which is awesome during the summer or during a power outage, when the kids want bread, but we don't have time to wait for a regular loaf to bake.
My favorite new bread discovery is English muffins. The basic recipe is the same as for other breads (the recipe called for shortening, and I substituted lard, because I don't use shortening). I actually liked rolling out the dough and cutting them like biscuits (it's the southern girl in me ;). To make it that much better, though, they aren't baked or grilled. It's fried bread. Awesome!
I cooked them in our iron skillet on the woodstove.
Deus Ex Machina tells me they're as good as (the girls say better) than the store-bought ones, and at this point, I guess I'm not as concerned with the taste as I am with ... *I* did it!
I'm still working on lowering our wheat consumption, but if I can't get the pack to go cold turkey, at least I can limit how much they put into their bodies by how often I knead.