The first two days of the week were tied up in deadlines, while the next two were bogged down by yet more snow. While I love, love the beauty of the farm while it's covered in a thick batten of fresh snow, and one of my favourite places this time of year is parked in front of the wood stove (usually with a mug of tea and some knitting), by now I am getting pretty grumpy about this winter thing. This moroseness always hits me this time of year and peaks after my son's birthday the third week of the month.
One activity that always brightens my mood (and heightens my popularity with the rest of the family) is baking -- the delightful fusion of disparate ingredients, the wet and the dry, into cohesive treats that induce smiles and lips smacks and pips of "can I have some more?"
I love trying new recipes and my oft-mentioned fondness for books includes cookbooks, so I recently picked up new one called "The No Grainer Baker" by local author Ann Preston. It may be a small spiral-bound book, but it contains a wonderful cross-section of 45 gluten-free, grain-free baked yummys, such as muffins, cakes, cookies, squares and biscuits.
While none of us has food sensitivities and I'm not baking gluten-free for health reasons or because bread seems to be the latest buzz-worthy diet prohibition, I am trying to reduce the amount of carbohydrates we eat. Not in an Atkins-type way, but just becoming more conscious of how often we pop some kind of grain in the form of bread, crackers, muffins, etc., into our mouths, especially in the winter. Recent reports have argued that the high glycemic index of bread (which is the comparative effect of
carbohydrates on blood sugar, i.e. a high GI number leads to a
spike in blood sugar) is a leading contributor to type 2 diabetes, as well as heart disease and even cancer.
That said, bread make with whole grains, especially heritage grains, versus store-bought flour that's had most of its nutrition stripped and replaced with stabilizers and other synthetics, ranks lower on the glycemic index, say researchers. While I try to bake much of my family's bread, I admit to still using some "conventional" flours (though this blog post is perhaps motivating me to take the next step to sourcing more local grains...)
I've been working my way through the book and yesterday I made some Seedy Nutn' Honey Muffins with our own eggs and honey. Instead of using flour, Preston uses four ingredients: ground almonds, coconut flour, ground flaxseed and psyllium. In addition to that, her recipes calls for the usual -- eggs, brown sugar, honey, buttermilk (I make soured milk), baking powder and soda, plus nuts and four different kinds of seeds: raw sunflower, sesame, poppy and hemp seeds.
While they look like something you'd leave out for the birds, they were absolutely delicious -- sweet but not cloying; moist but not heavy; and seedy without being too crunchy. I liked that the kids thought them a treat, but didn't suffer from any post-sugar infusion crashes afterwards.
I did feel a niggle while baking these in that they're not very sustainable if you're thinking about feeding yourself using local, seasonal or low-impact ingredients. For example, while I can get Red Fife flour from down the road, I don't know any farm in Ontario growing coconuts. But then again, I still drink (fair trade) coffee, treat myself to the odd avocado, and include bananas in the kids' smoothies, alongside with local berries.
While food has become so politicized and an ever spinning carousel of pundits tell us what we should and should not eat, I'm trying to create our own "diet" -- one that is tasty, nutrient-rich, chemical-free, seasonal, local, sustainable and humanely raised, while taking into account the limitations of living in a northern climate. It's still a tall order, but I think it's important to at least consider these criteria when selecting ingredients and recipes. I'm by no means a purist, and some might call me hypocritical as I often feel like I'm working with a moving target, but it can be exhausting, overwhelming and downright paralyzing to vet every morsel of food that comes into my kitchen. (Still, there are some places I won't compromise -- I refuse to buy factory-farmed grocery store meat anymore, for example, because I will not support a system that is predicated on the extreme and long-term suffering of animals and the degradation of our planet.)
Perhaps rather than preach a particular food dogma, we need to get back to to enjoying, no celebrating, food as something more than just fuel for the body. And sometimes that means baking a really delicious muffin, coconut flour and all.