The other day I was at a loss, thinking of a food to write about for this blog that would fall under the category “transformational.”
I mean, it is kind of a personal experience, isn’t it? What foods have literally transformed a life since childhood, while traveling, when eating with special people under special circumstances.
For me, there are so many such events.
There are soups and stews created together to feed the masses.
There was the time my friend Mary and I made huge vats of French fries to feed about 60 tired people in the pouring rain on the side of the road somewhere near Philadelphia. I was in my 20’s on the Walk Across America for Mother Earth.
Then there was the Irish “bloxty” I gulped down in doughy clumps with a hearty Guiness at The Field Irish Pub in downtown San Diego just a few months ago. I felt like I was literally eating the stubbled Irish plains (and after finishing this meal, I didn’t need to eat until about 3pm the next day, which was convenient).
My first sip of a creamy cuarto at the dock café in Valencia.
My first bite of juicy steak grilled lovingly over a tempered flame by the BBQ-man himself, Mr. Shane Barksdale.
Huapia and green papaya salad eaten from a bag at the Hilo Farmers Market. Da kine!
And then there is Chocolate. Eaten every which way. In a five-layer cake. In so many layer cakes made all along the Delta by the doughy hands of grandmothers in shelter kitchens just after Hurricane Katrina. Somehow they must have known (like grandmothers know) that a bite of Duncan-Hines inspired chocolate cake with store-bought chocolate frosting would make us forget, at least while the plastic fork was going up and down, that we were not at home, that there was no home anymore, that THIS wide expanse of auditorium with its industrial kitchenWAS home for now….
Sometimes comfort in the little things can be transformational…
But now, on to the bread!
Why do I say that, above all other foods, bread is the most transformational?
Think about it:
Bread is probably the most politicized food there is. It has caused riots. It has led millions. It has fed gazillions. It has created long-lasting sustenance to those who refuse to die hungry.
Historically, it has been the most nutrient-dense food there is, the most able to be preserved.
And so it wasn’t a surprise when, after I posed the question, Shane said rather matter-of-factly (without even looking
up from the chicken tikka masala he was stirring on the stove):
“BREAD, of course.”
Of course, the transformational power of bread! All the memories came flooding back to me.
First of all, there was that chicken tagine I ate from a bowl as big as the table as I crouched around it with ten others in the tiny village of Jajouka in the southern Rif of Morocco.
We ripped thick pieces of flat khubz off of a single massive orb and swiped chicken chunks clumsily into our mouths together with the bread.
It was a visceral, carnal, wild act to our Westernized palettes.
Eating like that made me feel free.
It also reminded me of what my stubborn great-grandma from Zacatecas, Mexico use to say:
“You no use fork! Tortilla is fork!” she would reprimand, as she looked at my father and I with a mixture of love and disgust. My fifteen year old self thought she was pretty darn crazy.
Back in Jajouka, diving into our food, hoping the bread doesn’t run out, it was at that moment that I finally knew what she was talking about.
No fork! Just tortilla! Just khubz!
Experience your food. Feel your food. Appreciate your food.
In Jajouka, famous for their Jbala Sufi trance music made famous by Beat Generation artists like William S. Burroughs, our salty little band of sailors still smelling of fish and kelp broke bread after a sweaty night of dancing to the eerie snake-like sounds of the lira and the gimbri and the djarbouga.
We were the head officers of the ship RV Heraclitus and somehow we were granted an invitation to dance and break bread with the locals and wake up the next day and talk to the ladies who, since dawn, had been stoking the hot coals of their clay ovens in which they made piles of bread for the whole neighborhood.
By the time we woke up from our slumbers on the cool white-washed floors of various homes in the tiny village , it was late morning and the smell of baking bread was all around.
More and more bread. Huge rounds of it like thin pizza doughs, flipped gracefully but the strong hands of the Jajouka women wearing in long, thin dresses with scarves over their heads to protect them from the beating sun.
They looked at us, looked at each other and giggled to some inside joke.
We were the joke of course. And of course, they offered us bites of bread. Gabby the Galley Manager and I were the
only ones who stayed past breakfast, sitting on the rocky ground watching the women scoop up the bread with spatulas built for giants.
One of the women, with a sly look, asked if we wanted to flip one. I motioned to Gabby. I was still getting my bearings.
Gabby put her tiny hand inside the gigantic oven mitt and scooped with all her might. The women laughed.
Then we ate more bread.
Bread is ancient, nourishing, consistent.
Or at least it use to be.
Because, let’s be clear folks…
TODAY’S BREAD AIN’T NO BREAD AT ALL!
Commercially-produced bread is perhaps the most feared food on the planet for those who are health-conscious and environmentally aware.
And so it should be.
A quick search on Google produces dozens of articles about the strange laundry list of chemical additives they put in that loaf you’re about to pick up at Alberton’s on your way home from work:
Soybean Oil: Unless it says its not, it’s GMO
Calcium sulfate: this is Plaster of Paris folks!
Mono and di-glycerides, ethoxylated mono and di-glycerides: Trans fats used to stick things together that normally dont mix. Also used as a preservative.
High-fructose corn syrup: Never eat anything with HFCS. It’s manufacture uses chloralkali, which contains mercury.
Calcium propionate: In the early 1990′s, it was linked to attention deficit disorder in children.
Ammonium sulfate: typically used as a fertilizer
Azodicarbonamide: Yes, used in McDonald’s hamburger buns and also used to make yoga mats.
DATEM (Diacetyl Tartaric Acid Esters of Monoglycerides): In animal studies since 2002, DATEM has been linked to “heart muscle fibrosis and adrenal overgrowth.”
Of course, there is gluten added too, which could be why everyone is so sensitive these days. OR more likely (in my opinion) the culprit of “gluten-intolerance” is what this added gluten that comes from who-knows-where does when it is mixed with the above substances and then gets mixed all around inside your gut.
On a happier note…
Do your body a favor. If you get the craving for some of the doughy stuff, have your own transformational experience.
Make your OWN BREAD!
You can say you are doing it for posterity!
— — — — — —
Learn more about this recipe HERE
2 cups + 2 tablespoons organic, non-GMO light spelt flour
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup almost boiling water
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda.
Stir in the hot water and oil until a shaggy looking dough comes together.
Knead the dough with your hands about 15 times, soaking up the extra flour at the bottom of the bowl as you go. If the dough is still too wet, add a touch of flour and knead again.
Shape dough into a ball and place in the bowl. Cover with a tea towel so it doesn’t dry out.
Preheat a large skillet over medium heat.
Grab a chunk of dough just larger than a golf ball. Shape into a ball and sprinkle on some spelt flour to coat lightly.
Place a large nonstick baking mat on the counter and flour a rolling pin. You can also use parchment paper instead of a nonstick mat. Sprinkle the mat with a dusting of flour.
Roll the dough all directions into a circular shape until it’s paper thin (t’s ok if it’s not a perfect circle) Drizzle the tortilla with a tiny bit of olive oil and spread it out to coat the entire surface.
Place the tortilla on the preheated skillet, oil side down. Cook over medium heat for around 30 seconds and then flip it with a spatula and cook for another 30 seconds or so. If you cook for too long, your tortilla might be prone to tearing or drying out, so keep that in mind.
Place cooked tortillas on a plate and cover with a tea towel to prevent drying. Repeat steps for the rest.
Store leftovers on a plate with a lightly damp paper towel spread out on top. Cover the plate with plastic wrap and place in fridge.
Would you like to share about YOUR transformational food? Let us know about it in the comments section below!