I’ve always loved baking, but I wouldn’t say I was a “scratch” baker, and the experience always came with a heaping portion of guilt over using unhealthy, processed, high-calorie ingredients. Over the years I drifted away from baking, and saw cooking as a chore — something I just had to get through.
But in the last few years, I’ve found myself on a journey of food discovery, filling my brain with as much information as I can about the cultural, social, historical, traditional, and nutritional aspects of food and having new food experiences. Being a person who craves knowledge, analyzing, and understanding, digging into this stuff has helped my enjoyment of all aspects of cooking and baking enormously.
Now I see cooking and baking from scratch as both empowering and nurturing. By having greater knowledge about food and ingredients, and controlling them in my own kitchen, I know I’m making healthier foods. And during times for indulgence (I’m a big fan of the 80/20 principle here) that’s OK because at least I’m using healthier alternatives where I can.
My health story
Many years ago I stopped eating meat (except for fish) for social reasons, and ended up feeling big health benefits. I went from getting sick quite often, to getting sick rarely. It was kind of like a lightbulb went off — I hadn’t previously made much of a connection between what I eat and how that impacts my health (other than weight!).
A few sessions with a nutritionist helped open my eyes to some new things as well. She emphasized focusing way more on fresh vegetables, packing in as many as I could each day, and reducing processed foods. It was starting to become clear that the typical American way of eating (high quantities of processed foods) was damaging, and I should stick to the outer edges of the grocery store.
Then a few years ago my chronic jaw problems went from bad to worse, and I had to stop eating chewy things like bread and start eating soft things like mashed potatoes and pudding. Cutting gluten out caused me to lose several pounds, which led to a flurry of gluten-free eating, as well as books and films about whole-food, plant-based diets and the risks of eating processed foods.
Around that time, I bought a Vitamix and started having green smoothies every morning for breakfast so I wasn’t only feeding my body mashed potatoes and pudding. Despite my health issues, the green smoothies were like a rush of vitamins every morning. This whole nutrient thing was starting to become more clear!
It was also around this time that I read In Defense of Food and Food Rules by Michael Pollan and totally connected with the ideas presented in the books. He just made so much sense: cooking from scratch at home was a pathway to greater health.
I did a lot of bouncing around — gluten free, plant-based foods only, etc. — and have settled happily in an approach where I eat what I want (granted, what I “want” to eat probably looks limited to most people), but I take a balanced approach. I don’t eat too much and I make as much of it myself as I can using ingredients I trust.
While it had taken a back seat in my life, recently several things came together to rekindle my love for baking:
- gradual recovery from jaw surgery, allowing me to eat a greater variety of foods again
- a vacation in Paris, where I became obsessed with the heritage and charm of patisseries and boulangeries, and fell in love with their farmer’s market sweet cream butter
- examining traditions of cooking and baking from scratch at home that are fading (like baking bread) and have been replaced by prepackaged, processed convenience foods
- exploring my passions in life, and what things I used to love as a kid but don’t do as much anymore
- looking to simplify my life and reduce my spending through meal planning, resulting in less wasted food, packaging, and resources
- buying a grain mill for my kitchen that allows me grind my own flour that uses the whole grain and isn’t processed or missing nutrients, allowing me to control my ingredients and use those that provide the most nutrition and health benefit
And since I also like controlling my ingredients and using those that provide the most nutrition and health benefit, I bought a grain mill for my kitchen. This allows me to grind my own flour that uses the whole grain and isn’t processed or missing nutrients, and makes me feel much happier about welcoming wheat back into my life.
My baking style
The qualities that interest me most when it comes to baking are:
- recipes that endure
- natural and authentic over refined and precious
What I’m journaling and why
I’m seeking a way of eating that’s a balance of nutrition and health, and is also enjoyable and delicious. This blog is a journal of my baking and cooking experiences. It’s focused on recipes that use whole grains or those that I adapt for whole grains. UPDATE: the posts about baking and cooking with whole grains have been moved to grainmillbaking.com.
In addition to my general quest for balanced eating, I’m working on:
- cooking and baking from scratch using whole foods as much as possible
- improving my bread baking skills
- being more adventurous with my baking
- adapting existing recipes for whole grain flours
- creating new recipes
I’m documenting this journey partially for my own reference, and if it also helps someone else discover new avenues in their cooking and baking I’d love that. I’ve found so much helpful information on the blogs of others on a similar path that contributing to the general knowledge-base feels good and purposeful.