Friday, May 20, 2011


Mark Bittman's in Iowa (I follow his blog). Nonetheless, via How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, he helped me invent whole wheat hamburger rolls yesterday and they turned out so well that I've given my recipe below.  I served Alice one warm with a blackbean burger on it. She gave me a thumbs up while her mouth was still full. I gave myself a pat on the back and thought for the millionth time: I love Mark Bittman.

The bread section of his cookbook has given me the confidence to start dough in the morning without any idea what I might do with it later in the day, or when.  It's just nice to have the option of making fresh rolls or a baguette or pizza for dinner. Or not. In which case I make the dough into a ball and freeze it for another time.

I just wish Mark didn't go on so much about food processors. I'm not a gadget person for a number of reasons -- I don't have a hand mixer or a microwave oven or even a clothes dryer. And I don't want to get down about it. So I don't like reading: "food-processed dough is not only easier but better than hand-kneaded dough:  The food processor doesn't care how sticky the dough is; in fact, it should be rough looking, what bakers call 'nearly shaggy,' halfway through the processing. It becomes a smooth ball when you continue to process beyond this point -- the part of the processing that is the machine kneading."

I was part owner of a bakery once -- Abigail's Bakery, in New Hampshire (was that really 25 YEARS ago?) It was a lot like The Daily Bread Bakery Mark visited in Iowa yesterday. I stood next to a giant Hobart mixer hundreds of mornings watching the ingredients in the three foot steel bowl come together "shaggy" then finally pull away from the sides of the bowl forming a single smooth mass. That was the time to stop the machine and lift the dough into a 5 gal. bucket and sit it in the proofing cabinet.

Truth be told, I wasn't a confident baker back then. I stictly stuck to the recipes. But now, thanks to Bittman, I can picture myself leaving cookbooks behind and making bread anywhere I find myself in a kitchen with some flour, salt, and random other ingredients (I'll be packing a little yeast).

Handmade Whole Wheat Hamburger Buns:

Stir together these dry ingredients: 1 cup white flour and 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, 2 tsp. salt, 2 tsp. instant yeast, 1 T. sugar.

Cut 2 T. butter into little tiny pieces and dropped individually throughout the dry ingredients.

Add: 1 egg and 3/4 cup of milk and stir with flat wooden spoon until the ingredients start to come together. Then add 1/4 cup of milk and all the dough will actually come together "shaggy." Ditch the spoon and start kneading with your hands. The dough will be quite moist and somewhat sticky, but not so sticky that it continues to stick to the bowl and your fingers. Don't add extra flour if you can avoid it.

Once the dough forms into a cohesive mass knead a little longer until it's relatively smooth. Form into a ball and leave in a lightly oiled bowl covered with a towel or plastic. Let it rise for an hour or two. (If it's going to be much longer, put it in the fridge and take it out an hour before you want to bake it.)

I let this wholewheat dough rise for about an hour and a half. Then I pushed the air out and divided it in 8 pieces. I let it rest again while I did some dishes. Then, working on the lightly oiled baking pan, I formed rolls by first flattening the dough with my palm and then folding the edges toward the middle and pinching them together.  I put the rolls, seam side down, as far apart from each other as I could, sprinkled some sesame seeds on top and let them rise while I ran out to buy lettuce and tomatoes (20 minutes?).  If they'd been left longer, it would've been fine too. Meanwhile the oven was pre-heating to around 350º. Before putting the rolls in the oven I flattened them a little with a spatula so they'd be slightly flat and so the seeds would stick.

They were done in about 15 minutes.  I could tell they were done because they were light brown and when I tapped on them they sounded hollow. Also I loosened one from the pan and it was quite brown on the bottom.

Monday, May 16, 2011


     My husband, daughter Alice, and I are planning to drive from New Hampshire to Boulder, CO in June to deliver a car and, get this, we're already fighting about whether we'll be stopping at McDonalds. Alice got furious when I said we'd bring a cooler full of healthy food so we wouldn't be captives of fast food on the highways.  She yelled, "WHAT? Are you nuts? That's half the fun of the trip!" Now I'm worried. I know what it's like to take a long car trip with someone who's always wanting to stop at the next bad food venue. My mom was like that.
     My family took lots of long car trips together in the late 60's and the 70's. I loved riding in the backseat with my sister, my book, my knitting. It was great. The only thing I hated was all the stopping. Sometimes it was for the bathroom, but lots of times it was for food. "Didn't we Just Eat?" I'd be asking. Next thing we'd be piling out for ice cream at Howard Johnsons. Two hours later we'd be stocking up on pecan candy at Stuckey's.
     My mother was a food addict. Sweets were her food of choice, but fatty salty foods also played their roles. Her problem affected the whole family. From my first memories on she suffered from migraines, kidney stones, high blood pressure, type II diabetes, and finally cancerthese are all linked to food addiction. She died at the age of  61.  I could only think of her yesterday as I listened to Dr. Mark Hyman describe the behavior of food addicts in his 23 minute lecture on  the Causes of Food Addictions.  It explains so much. In it Hyman goes over some of the indicators of a food addiction:

  • Substance is taken in larger amount and for longer period than desired
  • Persistent desire or repeated unsuccessful attempts to quit
  • Much time/activity is spent to obtain, use, or recover
  • Use continues despite knowledge of adverse consequences 
  • Tolerance (marked increase in amount; marked decrease in effect)—in other words you have to keep eating more and more just to feel “normal” or not experience withdrawal
  • Characteristic withdrawal symptoms; substance taken to relieve withdrawal
     Having Alice pitch a fit about not eating McDonald's on a trip that's six weeks away, makes me worry a little. Could she be on her way to becoming an industrial food addict? Certainly McDonald's has done what it can to encourage that sort of "loyalty", but what part did we, her parents, play? We hardly ever eat fast food, BUT when Alice was 3, 4, and 5 years old, we drove from New Hampshire to and from central Mexico. That's a five day trip in one direction and we stopped at McDonald's for many meals because they had Playlands where we could let Alice get some exercise. That came back to haunt us last night as we watched the part of Super Size Me  (0:27:43) where Professor John F. Banzhaf III, talks about Brand Imprinting for Later Actualization in Life. This was something the tobacco industry came up with. They thought kids who smoked candy cigarettes would associate those feelings of fun with smoking as adults and the brand of cigarettes on that box of candy would come back to them from the recesses of their minds. According to Banzhaf, Playlands and Happy Meals are like candy cigarettes: "Kids remember the warm feelings of playing, of getting the toy, of being with mom and dad, and it's going to carry through." OMG, was it carrying through to Alice yesterday when we were talking about the trip to Colorado? What a creepy thought.

In Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock starts to exhibit the signs of addiction after only two weeks of eating a diet solely of McDonald's food. (I wonder how long it would take for a 3-5 year old.) He feels lethargic and depressed between meals. Only immediately after eating does he briefly feel great. After three weeks, his liver, which was healthy when he started, begins to look like an alcoholic's on a mega-binge.  The point is, food addiction is real and real serious. So do I worry about Alice? Yes. Will we be stopping at McDonald's on the way west this summer? Not if I can help it.

If I can't help it, maybe I have some questions to ask about my own attractions to food. What about you?

Here's a section of the Yale Univ. Food Addiction Scale
They ask you to circle all the following foods you have problems with:

Ice cream 
White Bread 
French Fries 
Soda Pop 
None of 
the above 

Monday, May 9, 2011


Have you ever thought about how sugary breakfast is? Cereal, muffins, toast w/jelly, granola bars, pop tarts and even juice and fruit... it's all sugar. This may be a bad way to start the day. I believe what Dr. Robert Lustig says: sugar gets in the way of our body's signals that tell us we're full.

I love to feel full! Not stuffed, just full enough so I'm not thinking about food all the time. But that sensation of total satisfaction for me is rare. Sometimes even after a big meal, I still crave something sweet. But not if I start the day with a no-sugar breakfast. If my first meal of the day is an egg dish, or oatmeal without raisins or sugar or milk (lactose is sugar too),  I can go for hours without thinking about food. When I get to the next meal, if I again don't have anything sweet, I never get a sweet craving.  It turns out I can go all day like that. I'm so surprised to discover this. You might be too.

If you try it, let me know if you have the same experience, I'm really curious.

This morning I'm going to have leftover chicken soup for breakfast. Why not?

According to Lustig, sugar in large quantities drives up insulin secretion. This insulin floods the brain, and in particular the hypothalamus, which regulates energy use in the body. As a result, leptin, a hormone that tells the brain when the body needs more or less energy, can't get its signal to the hypothalamus because the insulin blocks the way.

The result is that the body is thrown into starvation mode -- the brain thinks it isn't getting enough energy and therefore needs more calories and to save energy.  People end up feeling the symptoms of starvation: malaise, depression, a lack of motivation to exercise and, of course, hunger.

Read more:

Thursday, May 5, 2011


These days I'm all about the liver -- my liver, my kids' livers, your liver. Since I watched Sugar the Bitter Truth as recommended by Gary Taubes in his NY Times Magazine article Is Sugar Toxic?I can't stop thinking about the liver.  You can't live without one, you know, and having one that isn't functioning well can make you feel and look like hell.

Sugar the Bitter Truth is a lecture by Robert H. Lustig, MD, a specialist in childhood obesity.  It's an hour and a half and very sciency, but I've watched it twice and taken notes. Basically it's about how sugar effects the liver to create fat. And most of us consume way too much sugar (a lot of it hidden in processed foods in the form of high fructose corn syrup) without enough fiber, so most of us have weight issues or more serious issues (metabolic syndrome, gout, heart disease, diabetes) caused by a fatty liver.

Note: it's possible to have a fatty liver and not be fat.  

It turns out our bodies don't process all sugars the same way and that almost 100% of the fructose we consume goes directly to our liver, and eventually the liver gets overwhelmed and starts converting the fructose to fat.  30% of fructose converts to fat.  That's more fat than we can burn.  Particularly if we're not eating the fructose with fiber like in fruit. That's why little fat kids who drink lots of juices and sodas have big bellies just like people who drink too much beer. (Alcohol also goes almost 100% to the liver.) Belly fat is a particularly good indicator of a toxic liver.

I don't have a big belly. Anymore.  I've been living a food-healthy lifestyle for the past ten months and have gotten rid of a lot of it. That is until last week when I volunteered for an over-night, week-long camp for girls and started eating their meals.

First, let me say, the camp experience was wonderful -- horseback riding, swimming, kayaking, water fights, sleeping in a bunk bed.  I even liked and admired the cooks.  Three women cooked outside in a small space three meals a day for 35 people. They made beans, rice, meat, chopped salad, and brought in hot handmade corn tortillas.  There was cut up fruit or bananas with each breakfast.  The problem was the additional breads, pastas, sweet rolls and sugary juices that were served with every meal, the hot chocolate at night.  Plus every girl had a private candy stash.  It was quite heavy on the sugars and refined carbohydrates.  I ate it all with gusto!

Statistic: Women today eat 335 calories more than women 20 years ago and ALL of that additional is in carbohydrates.

Other statistic: Women today weigh 25 lbs. more on average than they did 25 years ago.

Here is how I looked and felt the day after I got home:  distended belly, flaring rosacea, aching legs, fatigue, depression, and I was unable to sleep through the night.

This was hardly the first time in my life I'd over-indulged with food. On the contrary, I used to do it a lot more often, but this time I thought of it as abusing my liver, whereas I used to think about my liver only when alcohol was involved. Dr. Lustig has changed my perception of that.

The good news is: it's easy to restore an abused liver. After three days of hardly any sugar, including no alcohol, I feel like a new person.  My mood is stable, I don't look pregnant, I've had three good night's sleep, and a lot of the redness has left my face. Also, between meals I feel full and don't think about food all the time.  I wonder, WHY DO I EVER EAT SUGAR?  I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER WITHOUT IT! And because I better understand liver function and how sugar works on the liver it makes more sense than ever. Knowledge is power!

Unless you're a kid.

My impression is that if you're a kid and you're addicted to sweets -- and you are because you're fed sugar starting from the first bite or sip you take in the morning (cereal, juice, toast) and throughout the day -- knowledge is something to be avoided.

I thought a lot about that at camp watching the scene. How, I wondered, could I convince any of these 6-17 year olds that what they were chowing down on so heartily would make them sick and fat? What about the cooks, could I convince them? The other volunteers?  I didn't even try, who needs a Debbie Downer at camp? No, I decided, camp was not the place to bring up the liver-sugar-fat connection.

This is the place.

Are you abusing your liver?  Your kids livers?  You may be surprised.  Watch this: