January 27, 2010

The Staff of Life

I have saved Jen T.'s comment from two weeks ago because she touched on exactly the issue I wanted to write about this week. Bread. I have talked about bread in other posts. But it needs to be addressed here again. It may just be wheat, salt, water and yeast but it is something I feel very passionate about both from a financial and a health issue.

My mom always says, "Bread is the staff of life." I think that is a very true statement. A good loaf of whole grain bread is filling, satisfying and nutritious. What is better than a nice piece of toast when you are feeling under the weather? Have you ever enjoyed a meal of bread hot from the oven with fresh butter? Bread is indeed the simplest and most basic of foods and when properly prepared can be both incredibly nourishing and enjoyable.

However, the stuff that most of us are eating is neither nourishing nor, if we really admit it, enjoyable if not to carry the topping or filling. Bread, in its unadulterated state, can stand on it's own in glorious splendor. When was the last time you desired to eat a slab of that processed, chemical filled stuff for it's delicious flavor? No, on second thought, don't answer that. Even if you do eat plain wonder bread out of the bag and enjoy it, sadly it is because your taste buds have not had the opportunity to really enjoy the good stuff.

When the Israelites were wandering in the dessert, what did God provide them with on a daily basis? Bread. This ought to show us that it is an important aspect to our diet. Jesus called Himself the bread of life. And there are indeed many spiritual lessons to be gained from that analogy. However, I will let it suffice to say that bread should have some serious consideration from a health standpoint.

When we talk about bread from a commercial point of view you can sum it up in two words. "Too much." The ingredients are too much and it costs too much! I have said it before, I said it again last week and I will say it again now, read that ingredients list! All it takes to make an excellent loaf of bread is, now say it with me: flour, yeast, water and salt. What other junk is in your loaf? Further more, even with the unbelievable increase in the cost of flour in recent years, you can still make a loaf of bread for about fifty cents worth of raw materials. How much did you pay for that last loaf off the grocery store shelf?

And this is a great way to convert your family to a healthier status. Dear Daveda, in reference to your comment about your sweet hubby's refusal to eat healthy bread.

"As far as stubborn hubby's my is at the top of the list...still. There are many things he will not switch on, for example bread, so in these area's as much as I hate to do it, I have to buy bread for "us" and bread for "him" YA...stubborn!!!"

I am willing to bet that if you have a loaf of bread ready to come out of the oven when your man comes home from work, he will not only ask what that delightful smell is, but also be hanging around waiting for a taste.

Listen up my friends!

This is a big first step in converting him, not only to better bread, but also to better overall eating. That's how I won my husband over many years ago. He still talks about that wonderful bread. And I still have to smack his fingers away when I have a few loaves on the cooling rack. And he still will choose some home made bread sliced up and toasted for breakfast or a snack. And that my friends is a far cry from the frozen pizza and Little Debbie snacks who used to call food!

I stand firm that the best way to go is to start with grinding your own wheat and forming it into something terrific. But don't sweat it if you are not ready to take that plunge yet, although, it is a lot easier than it sounds. There are lots of options between wonder bread and your fresh ground whole wheat home baked loaf.

This recipe I posted some time ago, is a great one to start with. As I look back over this post, I see that I covered the basics of grinders here, too. So pop on over and take a look. With this recipe, I have found a great way to have fresh bread ready all the time is this... I mix up 3 loaves and form three into loaves, put them in the pans to rise and bake right away. (Three is the magic number because I can mix three at a time in my kitchen aid and three is how many my family eats in a day.) Then, while I already have my ingredients out and the mess on the counter, I make up a few more batches. I shape them into loaves that will fit my pans and place them on a greased cookie sheet. Then it is straight into the freezer. Once they are frozen solid, I wrap each loaf in plastic wrap and pop them into a freezer bag. When I need a loaf of bread, I simply grease my pan, drop the dough in and let it thaw and rise until it is about 1 or 2 inches above the top of the pan. If you have a wood stove or fire place, on the hearth is a great place to do this. It will speed the process and there is something aesthetically pleasing about seeing bread rising next to the fire.

You are very welcome for that little side note. Now, for those who aren't ready to find their way into the kitchen or aren't yet convinced to take the plunge, go one step at a time.

This week when you go to the bread aisle, try to get one step better than what you normally buy. If you are a wonder bread family, try the "whole grain white bread".

Then next week move up to a fake wheat bread. One of those breads that say they are wheat but when you read the ingredients it is in fact bleached wheat flour and a lot of stuff to make it look like whole wheat.

The next week, go for the one that actually has some whole grains in it.

The next week try one that has unbleached flour as the main ingredient.

And the next week try to find a loaf that has unbleached flour and does not contain high fructose corn syrup. (High fructose corn syrup is an entirely different post but let me just say here that it is one ingredient you should avoid at all costs.)

Before you know it you will be ready to buy the 100% whole grain loaves available.

Then you can move on to the ones sold in your health food store that are baked by locals from fresh ground wheat. Some large grocery stores have a health food department where you can find these sorts of products.

Finally, your family will be hooked on this delicious product, you will get sick of paying the prices and learn how to bake your own bread.

Yes, this can be a long process, and I assure you that the family will balk at it a lot more than if you just do as I suggested earlier and bake some at home, but some times people like to take things a bit slower. Daveda, I do not suggest this method with your hubby. This method will only work on those where bread is not a big deal. For you my dear, I fear, it is the baking challenge alone that will work. In fact, I am so sure that you can convert him this way, that I am willing to reimburse you the cost of your bag of whole wheat flour if he won't eat it or doesn't love it. Furthermore, to anyone who rises to this challenge and posts or emails me a picture of their bread or family eating the bread I will award them with this wonderful Staff of Life made by my dear darling Brianna.

Do you think your family is already doing well because you buy the high fiber breads sold in the stores? Did you ever wonder how they get all that fiber in there without adding more whole grain? Paper. No joke. Some of the commercially prepared high fiber breads actually use the equivalent of paper pulp in order to boost the fiber content. Don't get me started on the fact that the government allows such labeling and falsehoods in the ingredients label.

For those who are more advanced bakers you could check out some artisan breads, like this recipe I posted. And for those who are really going along well and want to take that final step you can move on to 100% whole grain in bread recipes.

Which brings me back to Jen T's questions and comments on bread from a few weeks ago.

"Great post. Back when we were first married in Japan we bought a bread machine. When we got back to the states we went to Sam's Club with my mom and picked up 6 bread machine cook books. We still have them and use them to this day. In fact, I just put in 2 batches of dough for Herb Rolls for lunch. It calls for bread flour (which is white), but I substituted fresh ground wheat. What do you grind your wheat berries in? We use our new 5200 Vita-Mix. It works just as well and faster than our grinder attachment to our Champion Juicer. Anyway..."

OK, my friend, Jen T. You bring up a lot of great points here. What not to do when looking for a wheat grinder? Don't use your Champion Juicer. (Although, for those who are asking this is my definite preference for juicers). The Champion Juicer, or any juicer, nor your kitchen aid have motors that are made to stand up to this kind of work. Despite the manufacturer's suggestion that you can grind wheat berries and other whole grains with these appliances, no one I have ever spoken with who tried it found success and all of them ended up burning out their machines in which they had invested a good amount of money. Better to just make the investment in a good grinder to begin with.

Speaking on the Vita-Mix, I have heard of success when grinding wheat berries, and with such a great long time warranty who cares if the motor burns out? However, ladies I have asked who have used both a grinder and a Vita-mix to grind told me that they found the vita-mix to be slow and cumbersome. Not a problem if you are baking an occasional loaf but a hindrance if you are grinding for a family of your size. On the other hand, with so many children there are lots of people to do the work so if you are good with it, I say go for it and get the most out of that Vita-Mix. However, if you don't already own a vita-mix and you are looking for a grinder, the vita-mix is not a small investment and you can find a grinder for less that will do an efficient job.

I had a friend who's husband refused to invest in an electric grinder. He bought her the old fashioned wheel kind. They had six children and he rigged it up to the exercise bike. Each day the children were required to grind a certain amount of flour, which I think was one cup. They found this a useful way to burn off some of the boys' excess energy so they would sit still for school. If you have a garage, need to lose a few pounds, or like my friend have five energetic boys, I say more power to you here!

But I have neither a garage nor the time to invest in grinding wheat like my great grandmother did. So for me I have the Wonder Mill. This was formerly called the Whisper Mill. You can check out all the details and even watch a video on their website. There are lots of other grinders on the market. In fact, I used to own the k-tech. Which is a high end mill and does the job well. However, it was so loud that we did the grinding on our porch or in the basement because I truly feared it would hurt the children's hearing. It also took a long time to grind 8 cups of wheat berries, created a lot of dust and was cumbersome to clean up. I was thrilled when my Allen gave me the Wonder Mill for my birthday a few years back. It runs quieter than my kitchen aid, makes no dust at all, can grind 12 cups in a matter of minutes and requires no more than a wipe with the tea towel to clean up. Unlike some of those sales videos, their demonstration video truly shows what it is really like. The prices run the same from dealer to dealer but some dealers do offer free shipping so look around to save yourself a few bucks.

Another point that Jen T. raised was that once you get comfortable with making your own bread you will be whipping up a batch for breakfast, lunch or dinner without giving it a second thought. If Jen can do it while homeschooling their many small children, you certainly can!

Jen also brought up bread machines. This can be a great asset to starting your journey to home baked bread. I know longer own one because it couldn't keep up with the amount of baking required for my family. Plus I have limited counter and storage space. So when I was blessed with my kitchen aid, I did away with the bread machine. I found the bread machine was great for white bread products but I did not care for the way a whole wheat loaf finished in it. HOWEVER, I did put my ingredients in the bread maker and let it do the work of mixing and kneading for me. Then I would take the dough out, put it in my pans to rise and bake as normal. Don't let me discourage you from trying out a bread machine. I know lots of people who love theirs and if you don't own a kitchen aid this is a cheaper option if you are just looking to knead some bread dough. Check out good will and yard sales for used machines for even less. I have seen them for $10 and $20, a real bargain.

Of course, there is something wonderfully delightful and pleasing about kneading a loaf by hand if you have the time and are willing to get your hands sticky. Hint: Remove your engagement ring before trying this.

Well, my friends, my time has come to a close for this week. My friend Gaby at True Blessings has asked me to do a post discussing my eating habits and portion suggestions. So stop back next week for answers to those life shattering questions.

In the mean time be sure to check out 365 Ways...

Stop by We are That Family for more Works for Me Wednesday ideas.



  1. Great posts! We switched over to mostly organic, etc. a few years ago. I still have not made my own bread, but buy it locally where it is made daily from fresh ground grains with NO additives, etc. My husbands says he is going to start making bread now that he is retired and I am hoping he does! I love it. After eating fresh bread I don't even want the other stuff.

  2. Wow, this post makes me want to start grinding the oats right now!

  3. Great post! hehe
    BTW...I have a friend who makes wonderful wheat bread. I used her recipe and mine still wouldn't turn out like hers. (Hers is so good they sell it to families in their church). Anyway, I asked her the secret and she said they grind their wheat THREE times! She said she puts it in the freezer between grindings so it doesn't get too warm and gooey. It turns out as fine as the white flour you would buy in the store.

    I would like to get a regular wheat grinder, but for now I'll just keep using the Vita-Mix. :) And actually the latest model is pretty fast. It grinds up two cups of berries within seconds. I don't know what it's doing to the motor, but we have a 5-year warranty on it. Maybe they didn't realize how much we'd use it for that. :)

    Wow. Maybe I should just write a post about this too. lol Actually, I plan to make doughnuts tomorrow morning...hmm...

  4. You are the reason I am converted to a bread baker!!! Yours was the first recipe for homemade bread I ever tried! You're right, you do just get used to making it and it doesn't even seem too cumbersome! I love how much better it tastes, feeding my family REAL food, and not having to ever put bread on my grocery list!!

  5. Wow!! Thank you for all this info. My husband loves to buy wheat bread, and never the white. I do love homebaked bread too!

  6. What a thorough post on bread! Thank you!