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Archive for the ‘breads’ Category

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The day before Christmas Eve, my mom and I wandered about Whole Foods picking up miscellaneous things for our holiday dinner. We spent an inordinate amount of time at the cheese counter, discussing cow vs. goat vs. sheep, what types of salamis might be good, and circling the olive bar with a highly critical eye, making sure to buy extra amounts of our particular favorites. When the subject of crackers vs. bread came up, I emphatically stated crackers but was a little bored by the thought. Water crackers, oh joy. We needed to zip this charcuterie platter up! Then while waiting for some sliced proscuitto, I looked down. Raincoast Crisps. Perfect.

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This recipe started out as crackers. I had quite a bit of cotija cheese left from a prior recipe and given that it’s a bit similar to parmesan, I thought to make a cheese cracker. An ever so slightly sweet, crisp wheat cracker spiked with some heat – a Mexican inspired Wheat Thin of sorts. The thing is, the idea was solid but what came out of the oven? Not so much. Though the friends I hoisted my experiments onto disagreed, I thought they were too crispy, too bland and too blah. They liked them but I didn’t think they were quite right and I wasn’t sure how to fix what I saw as the problem. Which was everything. So I gave up and changed direction. You have to know when to throw in the towel on occasion.

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It’s officially October, which means it’s time for the annual Unprocessed October Challenge. Coming off the wanton abandonment that is the summer months, full of travels and adventures and an appetite to match, my eating habits need some firm redirection. It’s little things that creep up on me, mainly due to sheer exhaustion and a whole lot of laziness. The irony of being a professional cook is that what you do all day for other people leaves you little energy and interest in doing it for yourself. Take out, delivery, drive thrus and shortcuts become the bane of our existence. Because shortcuts are easier and that’s the crux of it, isn’t it? A multi-billion dollar food industry is built upon that very premise. So I take this month to get things back on track, especially before the holidays hit and things go off the rails again.

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When I started to write this post, I was awaiting the results of a blood test to determine if I had celiac. Oh joy. I was pretty pissed about it too. I’m a pastry chef. Wheat flour is my job, something I work with every day. A positive diagnosis would be difficult in so many ways and I was overwhelmed thinking about where to even begin. Forgive me if I sound flip and self absorbed. For those that do have celiac or high gluten intolerances, I feel for you. As a friend put it, “I had no idea how terrible I’ve felt my whole life.” I get it. Believe me, I do. But coming right back to the “what about me” realm, I panicked at the thought of giving up my beloved bread and pastries. My favorite food group, besides blue of course, is carbs. A positive would break my heart. But I came up with a plan: I would think about it after I got back from France. Yep. That was my plan. Temporary avoidance. Solid, right? I also decided to bake this bread as a sort of childish middle finger at it all. But also because it’s really really good and I wanted to enjoy it while I could. Then yesterday I received some good news: negative. Oh thank you thank you thank you! To celebrate, I had a warm slice slathered in fancy butter. Because I’m worth it. Now they’re talking lactose intolerance. Arrggghhhh. Later. When I get back.

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With this Unprocessed October Challenge, I’ve been reading a lot of labels. I forget how much crap is in things. I don’t buy much processed food, or thought I didn’t, but I tend to forget about everyday purchases like tortillas or crackers. Just the other day I threw a pack each of corn and flour tortillas into my cart without much thought. They’re tortillas from a local company, not chicken nuggets so they’re fine, right? Maybe, maybe not.

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1hero.lrg.IMG_3863 The annual Unprocessed October challenge is two weeks in and I’m doing OK. How about you? I’ve slipped up a few times, usually not realizing it until I’m halfway through eating or drinking something but overall this one is certainly do-able. The Vegan-Before-6 challenge I decided to tack on isn’t going nearly as well. Processed foods are easier to avoid, for me at least, but this vegan challenge takes some planning and thought. Neither of which are a particularly strong character trait of mine early in the morning. The very first day, October 1, I ate a mini Snickers bar at work, which technically voided both challenges. Great. Day 2 I purposely drove out of my way to a particular café for lunch where I thought I’d find a vegan friendly option. Not so much so I decided on the fly that simply vegetarian was an ok substitute and had gouda on my rather plain, disappointing sandwich. Day 3 I absentmindedly buttered my morning toast, out of habit. Day 4 I did it again. Day 5 I made a beautiful stir fry packed with vegetables and tofu, then tossed in a healthy shot of fish sauce before I realized what I was doing.  Day 6 I threw all rules to the wind and thoroughly enjoyed 3 fat spoonfuls of pastry cream I’d made for a Boston Cream Pie. It was delicious. And that’s when I decided I would have to amend my challenge. I really have no problem avoiding meat but dairy is my downfall, and I accept that. To do this right, I need to concentrate and now is not time so I’m going to continue with Unprocessed October and make conscious choices in other matters, vegan-ish if I can swing it. No need to beat myself up about this.

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I was talking to my cousin last week and among many things we discussed – work, politics, holidays, travel, hipsters, Reuben sandwiches – was her recently departed mother. My Aunt Patti was a real character, a remarkable woman with strong social and political opinions backed with just as strong action. That woman did things, made things happen, made a difference. She was really funny, had boundless energy and laughed easily. She and my uncle had a bit of hippie in them, lived in a solar house they built themselves, raised and butchered their own animals for a time and had an enormous garden. She approached this newfound hipster fascination with butchery and canning with a bemused grin given that she’d been doing in for years. When I excitedly told her how I was spending time with butchers, learning how to break down a pig, blathering on about heritage hogs and whatnot, she howled with laughter and reminded me that back in the day, Thanksgiving at their house also meant it was time to butcher the pigs they raised. Much to my city girl chagrin I realized I should have paid more attention back then. Patti was also a helluva cook, coming from a long line of great cooks. She was the caretaker of our family recipes, taking the time to learn from her mother and grandmother many of our sentimental favorites.

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