Wednesday, June 05, 2013

LENT CHANGES (Slow it down, let it RISE)

Yes, I know that Lent is long gone.  Yes, I know that it's now summer.  That's just what I feel like talking about right now.  Spring is one of my favorite times of year. So much potential, so much rebirth taking place all around us.  It's really no a surprise that this is the time of year where changing something about our current paradigm makes sense. 

I am not Catholic (or really any specific religion although I was raised in a wonderful Methodist church) but I seem to have an inordinate number of Catholic friends.   Lent is not really a big deal in the Methodist church.  I mean, we change the vestments and we might have a little more seriousness in the sermon but I didn't know anyone growing up who gave up meat on Fridays.  That's just not part of our religious tradition.  However, as I've gotten older, I seem to befriend every Catholic that walks across my path (or maybe there are just more Catholics down here now).  Many of my Catholic friends give up something for Lent.  I have a friend that gives up several beloved things every year (chocolate, coffee, wine, TV) only to go straight back to them after Lent stops.  I don't really think it's having much impact on his spiritual life but he seems to think it does.  I believe that God loves me (and you) and wants us to be happy.  I also have never 'dieted' or gotten on or off a wagon.  I usually decide to change something and then change it.  Or decide that it's totally ok as is now so ignore it.  I'm lazy and realistic at the same time-giving up something that is actually good for me or provides joy doesn't make sense to me.  If I'm making myself miserable for a reason that I don't understand then I know I won't stick with it. 

For several years I watched my friends limit things for 40 days, listened to them complain about how hard it was and remained confused about why they were doing it at all.  About 10 years ago, I spent some time investigating what all this self-flagellation was about and had an epiphany.  Lent is supposed to bring you closer to God, closer to your true self, closer to the best you.  It's not a time of deprivation for deprivation's sake-it's a time of introspection and communion with the Spirit.  For resetting your internal balance.  That is something that I can understand and participate in.  Each year I change a habit that distracts me from being my best self.  One year I gave up gossip magazines and websites.  A few years ago, I worked out every single day of Lent.  My adjustments don't always stick for good but most of them do. 

I've gradually gotten my family to adopt similar behaviors.  My son gave up spending his allowance one Lent.  What it taught him was how happy he was when he saved and that he didn't miss not going to Target with $3 burning the whole in his pocket.  My husband usually makes a change too but he's less public about what it is.  This year, I decided to drag the whole family kicking and screaming into my personal lent adjustment.  For Lent, we were giving up all foods that contained 'fake' ingredients.  The definition of fake in play here is MY definition of fake. Essentially my definition of fake boils down to anything that reads like a chemical or additive on a label.  I know that baking soda reads like a chemical on a label and that one is fine.  The problem for me comes in when I can't figure out what the chemistry is or what it's purpose would be if this food wasn't meant to last 10 years unopened.  Dyes, fillers, texture additives, coagulants, texturizers etc just don't seem RIGHT to me.  And really, why are we eating that gunk?  Because it's easy.  And oh, by the way...who in my house is eating that gunk?  The little people who are growing quickly and need the best building blocks.  Generally the list of things that to be purged for 40 days were things that were predominately eaten by the 10 and under camp.  You know:  cereals, crackers, bread, chips, ORGANGE PUFFED SNACKS, store bought cookies.  I don't even like these things so this was not a problem for me.  The problem for me is that I was buying this stuff and giving it to my family.  I say pretty often that homemade food is packed with love.  There is no love in a loaf of storebought bread.  By buying it and feeding it to my beautiful little sweeties, I was not in alignment with my own belief system.  So, my Lent would help me fix it (by torturing them)!  I promised to make anything they wanted-from scratch.  And seriously, if anyone can spend time making homemade crackers or bread-it's me.

Once I determined the challenge, I spent a lot of energy marketing it and setting expectations.  Around Christmas I started seeding the information and by Lent, they were nervous but resigned.  I was really going to go through with this.   the biggest adjustment was going to be in terms of bread.  My son makes his lunch every day and it usually revolves around some kind of sandwich.  I tried the Mark Bitman bread recipe which is easy and fantastic.  But, it's more of a crusty bread with soup kind of loaf. Fantastic taste, easy and chewy but...hard for a little kid to slice and needs to be eaten within a day or so.
Here's a pic of my effort:

I was looking for more of a sandwich bread that my son could slice easily and spread assorted toppings on without a lot of effort.  Also, I figured it would be an easier transition if the bread looked similar to something he's used to. 

I googled and trolled blogs but I felt like I needed an educational overview. Should I shoot for sour dough or something else?  What the heck is starter and how do I feed it?  To say that I am an avid reader is like saying I kind of like to eat.  I finally settled on a tour of the offerings at my awesome local library about bread baking.  After reading probably 20, I settled on this one:  Artisan Breads Every day by Peter Reinhart.  Not only is it full of useful information, it is EASY and really geared for home bakers. 

What I learned is that baking bread at home is actually easy to do.  Who knew?  The biggest challenge is that you need to plan ahead.  If you want bread today, you should have started making it yesterday (or even 2 days ago).  You cannot get up in the morning and decide that you're going to make bread from scratch for lunch (unless it's cornbread or biscuits).  I finally understand why there are things called quick breads.  Actual hands on time for making delicious bread at home can be as little as 10 minutes.  But bread needs to sit a while and meld after you've given it a little love (kneading).  Then, it needs to be shaped and then rise again (proof).  You can't rush it but you don't really need to fret about it either.  I even have gotten good enough with the basics that I can experiment a tad.  Here are some rolls I made using the basic sandwich recipe:

I was worried that this bread wouldn't keep very long.  What I've found is that the sandwich bread recipe will keep for up to a week on my counter in a plastic bag.  Exactly like store bought but without the chemically names and color additives.  And the flavor is much better than store bought.  My little sweetie skeptics approved the change immediately.  They did have a few gaps where we ran out of bread and their lunches had to shift a little-but hey!  That's not a bad thing in my book!

I also made lots of other goodies.  Cookies I can practically do in my sleep since I make them for gifts all the time.  I ended up making a batch every Sunday while I did my normal futzing in the kitchen:

I also made a cake once in response to pleading.  I don't really like cakes because I think the empahsis is usually on how they look, not on how they taste.  This one turned out lovely (yes, I know sprinkles have fake stuff but they were already in the drawer) and the taste was ok.  The pink color comes from raspberries.

The results of our Lent experiment have stuck (mostly).  I did buy my daughter cheetos as a treat the other week.  What can I say-she loves them in spite of their stinky-dog-foot smell.  But, she knows they're a treat and that there's nothing good for her in them.  I've not bought store bought bread again and I don't intend to.  The bread I make tastes better and is filled with LOOOOVE.   

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