Tiburón -Shark- Žralok

Tiburón -Shark- Žralok: Writing Cooking Traveling

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Bready Goodness

I currently work next to Amy's Bread in the West Village. While this shop also boasts some pretty incredible-looking cookies, cupcakes, muffins, scones, and sandwiches, they really make some stand out bread. What's wonderful about working next to Amy's is that I've realized that bread is not just bread. Bread is white, whole wheat, multigrain, pumpernickel, brioche, croissant, sobao, de agua, Italian, French, black, potato, Challah, and comes in the form of loafs, bagels, nan, rolls, pizza, sticks, toast... Bread is the backbone of culture (where bread is not found in prominence, rice will often make an appearance, but even those cultures have some sort of bread). You can even have it as a drink in the form of beer (every culture has beer). Its as universal as marriage and dessert.

Lately I've opted for more savory baked goods as my mid-afternoon, I'm-going-cross-eyed-but-have-no-desire-for-coffee pick-me-ups and for some reason I feel guiltier after eating two bread twists or half a mini-loaf of some delicious bread (they even contain seeds and healthy things like that) than if I'd eaten a whole chocolate chip cookie from Jacques Torres or City Bakery (big, big cookies full of butter and chocolate). And I'm slightly outraged by this. I've fallen into the cultural trap of hating bread. I've been well-aware of this for many years but I really thought I was over it. I want to make a case for modern Americans, myself included, not to hate bread.

For centuries bread has been close to holy. Challah is eaten on high holy days and blessings are read over loaves as big as a medium-sized dogs. To invite someone to break bread with you is an indication of trust and affection. Everything cool that has been invented is called the best thing since sliced bread. For so many years bread in America was as wholesome as white bread.

In the Middle East, bread is eaten with every meal even if that meal already includes rice or couscous or pasta. In Ethiopia it replaces cutlery. Even in Europe bread is a daily part of life. For breakfast, for lunch, for dinner as baguettes, sandwiches, or creating a bread crumb and cheese crust over a cassoulet or a gratin. My friend Marc, whose culinary habits I find intensely curious specifically because he is French, would sometimes eat nothing but a bagel all day. Then have another one with us after several rounds of beer. Bread and peanut butter were his food of choice. And yes he was skinny (stupid French people).

Bread often makes top ten lists of favorite things about being alive. A warm loaf out of the oven, the smell of bakeries, the way butter melts and becomes yellow and liquid on softly browned toast, the tart crust and the soft sweet insides. They look attractive, be it speckled with whole wheat, dark and black, pure white and yellow, their insides flaky or crumbly, magically leavened by yeast. So what happened, people? Bread was been basterdized (like everything else was) by the food and diet industries.

I started making my own bread recently because I wanted to save money and because I really

don't like it when things in my life are too easy. The ingredients in the recipe I found include whole wheat, yeast, honey, salt, milk, eggs. A stark contrast to the bread I would buy at the supermarket that for some reason contained high fructose corn syrup, sugar, natural flavors, and coloring. The good news is that like everything (the best thing to happens to organics since profits), certain brands are embracing the Obama-Vegetable-Garden, celebrity chef with a cause, 20 and 30-something-year-old urbanite mentality that processed food should still be food and taste good, so you're seeing a drastic reduction in their ingredients lists. Score one for bread! But why is bread still the bad guy?

Basically, bread still hasn't found its margarine.

Back in the days before trans-fats, butter became Public Enemy Number One and margarine came on the scene as the savior of both our taste buds and our arteries. Of course chemically produced spread made with hydrogenated oils were better than rendered dairy solids! Except, they were better in the way that guns are better than knives. Once margarine was ousted as the real enemy of your heart, butter came back into the good graces of the public or at the very least stop being attacked.

Since Atkins, bread has not found a satisfactory scapegoat to blame fatness on because the problem is Atkins actually worked. It didn't work the way Atkins followers believed it worked (all they were really losing was water), but people were becoming thinner. And while nutritionists brought people down from the bacon and eggs enduced highs and told them they needed to start eating fruits and vegetables again, bread remained black listed. It feels too filling, you know? It expands in your stomach. Its so easy to overeat it. Yes. But you can say that about anything we like to call food, specially if it contains sugar, alcohol, or cheese.

At the height of my own diet-craze I came to stark realization: What's life without sugar, alcohol, and cheese? Dull. And living without bread, while it would mean I would be skinny, would also mean missing out on one of the better things in life. I don't have to eat it three times a day but why feel bad if I do? We eat corn flakes, for god's sake, and that doesn't make any sense either if you think about it nutritionally and in terms of flavor.

So go out right now and eat some bread! And I'm not talking the sliced stuff from the supermarket. There are still bakeries in abundance. Don't worry, you'll walk it off on the way there.

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