I've spent the last four days with friends in the country--calling for owls, making a few new whole wheat recipes, playing canasta, making goat cheese, and remembering what incredible changes some of our friends are making in their lives.
Our friends out in Millville Plains have three kids under the age of five. They have two sheep that are lambing as we speak (three lambs already born! That mama was big!), plus a few more, and a llama, and chickens, dogs, parakeets, and a milking goat. Mrs. Millville is having some health issues, and it seems that switching to raw, fresh goat milk has been one of the good things to do. They are now having to incorporate more whole, natural, unprocessed, and raw foods into their daily routines. With three kids and a small ranchette full of animals to care for, this could be daunting. Whole, natural, and unprocessed food sometimes means homemade, time-intensive, and complicated. Romantic titles help a little: real food, slow food, whole food. But idealism can dissipate quickly when reality hits.
Being on their small ranch gave me all too clear a picture of how much work it is to do it all yourself like I think I want to. They actually don't even try to do it all. It kind of scared me witless.
But! The sky is blue this morning, the trees already show promise of buds, and I am going to help myself squidge my boots from the mud-guk. Whole, natural eating, whole real food, whole real fresh food is neither impossibly complicated nor impossibly expensive. I just need a little planning, a little resourcefulness to get me going.
Here are three things I have found overwhelming when it comes to obtaining whole, natural, fresh food and here is how I am dealing with it.
1. Fresh, Raw (Goat) Milk. I tried goat milk in the store. It was organic and local. It was not that good. Mrs. Millville Plains promises that fresh, fresh goat milk is absolutely delicious and does not taste goaty at all. She had two goats at one point producing milk and said it was 'way too much' for the milk-consumption needs of a young family of 5. So if you have a little time, goats are very good. You can house the goat on your own property if you have it, but you could also rent a little space for your goat in the country. A little organization means fresh milk.
For those of us who are just die-hard cow milk users, raw cow milk is available too! Depending on which Provence or state you live in, obtaining raw milk can be as easy as going to your local health food store, or as mildly complicated as finding a cow-share program in your area (where you buy and own a share in a cow and therefor can legally receive whatever that cow produces). I live in California where selling raw milk is still legal, so I have decided to jump in. I already buy organic unhomogenized whole milk in glass bottles, and if I was ever worried about price, raw milk is really not that much more than what I spend now. No excuses from here on for the goodness of living food.
2. Homemade Whole Wheat Bread. Have I mentioned before that I have not been able to make a good loaf of whole wheat bread? Like, ever. Have I mentioned before that I make the impractical (chocolates, cookies, cakes, dinner when no one is around) really well? Practicality is yet not a strong point in my life. In my kitchen many whole grain baked goods end up with the taste and texture of roofing tiles.
The problem? Bad recipes, old flour, undeveloped technique. Whole grain flour goes rancid more quickly than white (it has the grain germ in it, containing those good proteins and oils that make whole grain flour worth the effort), and I have cooked and baked with a lot of old flour. The fresher the flour, the more the nutrients, the better the flavor.
In the last couple of years I have discovered a few tips on making nutritious food not only edible, but fabulous. A. Use the freshest ingredients possible. Everyone says this, but will anyone listen already? Seriously. Grind your own if you have the tools. Throw out that bag of five-year old cornmeal. It is no longer a food source for humans. Give it to the pigs. Put it on the compost. But do not bake with it. It is actually closer to eating the roofing tiles than we'd like to think. (Confession: I just did the baking with five-year old rancid cornmeal. It was quite possibly the worst well-made arepas I have ever tasted. I almost cried. I have made a vow: no more 'salvaging' food through my body. That is what the compost is for. That is what good planning and anti-consumerism is for. Buy or grow what you need. Eat what you need. Give the rest away.)
B. Read up on how to's. Then practice with patience. Don't expect lovely bread the first time around. If your friend makes the same recipe taste good, chances are, so can you. 3. Find someone who loves the bread they make. There are so many recipes out there and not all are created equally. It is a little like finding good wine, or mushroom hunting sites, or friends--recommendations are a real time saver.
This last weekend I made my friend's Amazing Whole Wheat Bread recipe, and it turned out!
3. Whole Grain Treats. Until this past Saturday I was a believer in treats being just that...treats. I have had difficulty seeing the point in making cookies, chocolates, cakes, and other desserts anything but sugar-ladened, white flour comprised extras. I have seen little value in tampering with recipes to make them wholesome at all. I might make roofing tiles, but I don't like making them, and I certainly do not like eating them...especially when I want something of the 'treat' genre.
...and then Mrs. Millville Plains made whole wheat cinnamon rolls. They were not roofing tiles. They were amazing.
These cinnamon rolls are my new beginning. There are no longer two levels of food (the daily healthy stuff and the occasional--or not so occasional--treat). Now there is a continuum. I still believe there is a place for the layered cake slathered in buttercream. But maybe I've just put together the reason those layered cakes are called 'occasion cakes'. They are eaten on occasion.
Thanks to Mrs. Millville Plains (and some perusing of Molly Katzen's cookbooks and a recent stomach ache from cookies taking the place of breakfast and lunch), I have begun implementing whole grains (and whole, less processed foods) into my treats. The idea is, I should at least sometimes be able to eat the treat instead of lunch without feeling awful the rest of the day. In other words, there needs to be some nutrients, somewhere.
The whole grain solution seems the easiest place to start because there you don't have to tamper with wet and dry issues (honey vs. white sugar and so on). And, there are some really good alternatives in addition to plain old whole wheat. Try whole wheat pastry flour instead of unbleached white in a batch of cookies. So good! Ever had spelt flour? My sweets craving couldn't tell the difference.
This cinnamon roll recipe rivals the best white flour recipes. And it is pretty easy. And, you can freeze the formed rolls and bake them later. Have fun.
Whole Wheat Cinnamon Rolls adapted from Linda's Harvest Cinnamon Rolls
Mrs. Millville Plains found this recipe by google-ing cinnamon rolls. Linda's recipe was one of the top of the list, from Whats Cooking America. Her methods included a bread machine, Kitchen Aid, and food processor as options. Mrs. Millville Plains made them by hand and they were unbelievable. Soft. Light. Sweet. I have a hunch that natural brown sugar would be as perfect. If sugar is just too much for your healthy treat conscience, try a pureed mixture of raisins, butter, and cinnamon.
For the Dough:
1 cup milk warmed milk (warmer than the 'warm' water)
1/4 cup warm water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
5 cups whole wheat flour
3 teaspoons dry yeast
1. Dissolve a little of the sugar in the warm water. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and stir to dissolve. If it does not foam, throw it out and try again. When it foams:
2. Combine flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add the rest of the wet ingredients, including the yeasty water into a large bowl. Stir to combine, using your hands when a spoon is no longer practical.
3. When the dough forms a nice, soft ball, oil a kneading surface and knead the dough for about 10 minutes, or until elastic.
4. Cover and let rise for about an hour, or until doubled in bulk.
5. When everyone has rested and risen roll and stretch the dough into a 15x24" rectangle.
For the Filling:
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
5 tablespoons cinnamon
6. Brush/spread filling butter over the rectangle, spread brown sugar over the top of that, and sprinkle the cinnamon of it all.
7. Starting with the long end, roll up dough into a log; pinch the seam to seal.
8. Cut into 1 1/2 inch rounds (dental floss works very well).
9. Place cut side up in buttered pan. Don't pack too tightly; they will rise to touch.
10. At this point you can cover and let them rise overnight (10-12 hours) in the fridge, or, to bake immediately, let rise in a warm place for 45-60 minutes or until doubled in size.
11. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake 25 minutes, or until lightly browned.
For the Icing:
3 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons orange juice
12. Meanwhile, prepare the icing. Beat cream cheese and butter until creamy. Beat in remaining ingredients until smooth.
13. Spread icing over warm rolls. Enjoy!