Mar 10

Sprouting: a quick lesson

We still haven’t figured out the best uses for sprouted grains, but that hasn’t stopped us from sprouting them. According the internet, there are nutritional changes in the grain upon germination that are good for us peeps. Sprouted grains and beans are rich in vitamins, minerals, amino acids, proteins, enzymes and phytochemicals. Of wheatcourse, we can’t vouch for any of this, but it makes a certain amount of sense that a germinating seed is full of - and has unleashed - the energy that the plant will use to grow, flower, seed and die.

In culinary terms, the sprout has been relegated to that unwelcome wholesome flavor on cafe sandwiches. But our friend Jess once brought a pile of mung bean sprouts to a potluck and sauteed them in sesame oil and garlic. She served them to us warm. That was the revelation that led us to sprout. That, and the many, many pounds of grains that took over kitchen early this year. (An aside: Wheatgrass juice is simply sprouted wheatberries, just like the ones shown here, juiced. Another aside: Malted barley, the very heart of whiskey and many beers, is sprouted barley that is then kiln dried, a process which allows the yeast to access the proteins better. Cool, huh?)

It could not be easier. All you need is a jar, a rubberband and cheesecloth or something like it. A scrap of a rag will do.

  • Soak the grains/beans overnight
  • Rinse
  • Put them in a jar
  • Cover the jar with the cheesecloth/cheesecloth substitute
  • Turn upside down in a bowl, so that it’s not directly perpendicular, but at a slight angle, so that the water can drain.
  • Rinse twice daily (Just inside the jar. Simply fill the jar with water - through the cheesecloth - and drain.
  • Soon, you’ll see sprouts. Let them grow or don’t. You can eat them as brand new sprouts or let them get taller and greener
  • If you want a nice green sprout, keep them in very indirect sunlight during the sprouting and intial growth. Put them in direct sun for the last bit.

Oh, and please let us know if you have any good ideas for how to use sprouts.

Feb 10

Sourdough starter+ grain csa = bread

Many of you know that we bought a grain csa share from the Pioneer Valley Grain CSA folks out in western img_2352Massachusetts, and have been milling, sprouting, soaking and eating whole grains ever since.

Because the pickup was in Amherst, a few of us organized a car pool for other Boston area shareholders. On the day that we dropped off Aaron Foster’s share, he thanked us with some sourdough starter.

At first, this was terrifying. And we kind of planned on killing it. But some friendly advice got us on our way to feeding it (more on this later), and using it to actually make bread that actually rises and is actually delicious.

First, starting a sourdough starter is not easy. We tried once to no avail. It’s basically a question of leaving flour and water out to capture bacteria and wild yeast in the air and to ferment. But if you don’t have a happy colony of cooperative wild yeasts in your kitchen, no dice. So the gift was a great start. Next, we learned that feeding it is just about as simple as giving it flour and water a couple times per day. The rest of the time, it sits on the counter in a covered jar, growing, hissing, bubbling and smelly boozy.

The recipe we’ve used a couple of times now to make bread is something like three quarters of a cup of this starter, a couple cups of flour, a cup of water, honey, and salt. Mix. Knead. Let rise. Let rise. Let rise. Bake. It’s dense, and delicious.

What’s really fun though (aside from thwarting yeast manufacturers and pretending to eat like characters from the Bible) is starting a new sourdough starter from virtually nothing. Once you’ve used what you’ve grown to make bread, the jar is empty. But the stuff left on the sides is alive enough to allow you to start feeding it again successfully. Et voila! Another starter.

Now who wants some?

Feb 10

Milling party!


Thank GOD our mill came with this headbanded, smiling man. He really made grinding corn and spelt on a Saturday night more fun than I imagine my commoner ancestors had it.

Of course, that’s fellow localvore Ryan, and Kristi on the hand crank. The mill is actually my brother’s. Liam, 25, a former Marine and Iraq war veteran and current out-of-control new-agey yoga teacher, Earth chakra seeker, raw foodist type has apparently been grinding his own flour for years. Who knew? Which is just to say, get to know your siblings. Because who knows what’s changed since we were all kids together. And they might have a mill that you might happen to need.

Ryan is holding the mill because this Ebay special kind of shook itself off of the counter, where it was clamped. But it made our milling party of five really feel like a party. Because people were always switching off, and no one was ever left alone, grinding, grinding, while the sound of laughter and clinking glasses floated in from the other room.

Members of our party each brought a few quarts each of whatever they wanted milled. The spelt milled easily down with one pass through the mill, while the harder wheats (like the Hadley wheat) we choose to put through twice. And, miraculously, the dent corn was ground down no problem into something that looks like it will make a very hearty polenta or porridge.

Only twice did someone (me!) pull the hopper off the rest of the thing and send grain flying all over. Here, enjoy some dark scenes from a mid-winter grain milling dinner party:

Jan 10

The grain CSA hath arrived

The grain CSA we bought from Pioneer Valley Heritage Grains has finally come in. We split our share down the middle. What follows is what is in a whole share, and what follows that are some scenes from the efforts to make some order of it all. Yes, those are pillowcases we are storing the grains in. They tell us that because these grains have not been industrially dehydrated, they need to breath otherwise they’ll mold.

Also, we’re in the market for an inexpensive (or free!) mill. Any type, really, but one of the Kitchenaid attachments would be great.

  • 30lbs of wheat (spring and winter wheat)
  • 10lbs of black beans
  • 10lbs of oats
  • 20lbs of corn
  • 5lbs of barley
  • 6lbs of rye
  • 15lbs of spelt
  • 4lbs of emmer

Jan 10

The power of flour

Old-school flour ad
Flour is highly explosive.
Flour is highly sought-after.
Flour is highly malleable.
Flour is, in a word, powerful.

Your purchasing dollar is powerful, too.

I’m going to discuss the spectrum of flour options that whirled through my head the other day. I won’t be discussing the benefits of whole wheat flour vs. white flour vs. rice flour, etc. Rather, I’ll be sharing a few ideas about the options for your next purchase of something as trivial-seeming as flour. I’ll talk about price, availability, labeling, etc. and hope that my sarcasm and bias aren’t TOO evident…

I wanted to avoid going out into the chilly weather, but alas needed this key ingredient. I found several different flours at home, but the combination of whole wheat, all-purpose, masa harina, etc. still didn’t amount to what I needed. I found myself having an all-too-frequent inner debate regarding where to shop: Harvest Co-op or Whole Foods? Scraping by with whatever was in the house wasn’t an option, so I headed out.

I had quite a load of food scraps that were begging to be dropped off (the Whole Foods on Prospect Street in Cambridge has a complete recycling/composting center), so I went for that option.

Below is what I’ve discovered about this powerful stuff. Caveat: I didn’t pursue standard brands, like Pillsbury or Gold Medal. This is my bias, I guess. Instead, I’m addressing items that I’d consider buying and that are available in my immediate neighborhood…

Whole Foods 365 Organic Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

  • Kosher, organic, $3 for a 5lb. bag, paper bag. Distributed by Whole Foods, Austin, Texas.
  • Ingredients: Organic unbleached wheat flour, organic malted barley flour.
  • In their own words: “Product of USA”

Not a whole lot to work with, right? Whole Foods “365” packaging is mysterious. They tout their local and organic products and yet, the only information that you get is “distributed in Texas.” I find it disconcerting that this could mean that your organic berries are from South America or that your salmon was caught in Washington, sent to China to be filleted and then sent to Texas and then to Massachusetts for your lox and bagel brunch. Kinda makes the organic argument moot if it’s saturated in fuel. The “corporate organic” dilemma is frustrating, to say the least. Granted, you are hands-down doing the right thing by choosing organic over conventional. But the truth can be blurry, if not downright hidden, sometimes.  

King Arthur 100% Organic Bread Flour

  • Kosher, organic, $5 for a 5lb. bag, paper bag
  • Milled exclusively for The King Arthur Flour Company, Norwich, Vermont
  • Ingredients: Certified 100% organic hard red spring wheat flour, certified 100% organic malted barley flour.
  • In their own words: “No bleach or preservatives ever added.” “Milled from 100% U.S.-grown wheat” “100% employee-owned, 100% committed to quality” “Never Bleached. Never Bromated.” “We keep the best interests of our employees, our community, and the environment top of our mind in everything we do.” B Corporation logo as well as testimonials, recipes, and a letter from the president of the company.

We had a bag of King Arthur flour in my apartment, but I never gave it a second look until it was practically empty and destined for the recycling bin. This bag is chock full of information, a lot of which is subtle, but still very present. This company is incredibly forth-coming with information regarding labor practices, environmental commitments and socially responsible behavior. And it’s locally produced, to boot! I also learned that the company is a B Corporation, which as far as I can tell, is a very cool thing. By slowing down for a minute to read the package, I have been prompted to action, been educated, and been caused to feel warm and fuzzy in the process.

Arrowhead Mills Organic Stone Ground Whole Wheat Flour

  • Kosher, organic, $3 for 2lb. bag, paper bag
  • Manufactured for distribution by Arrowhead Mills, A Division of the Hain Celestial Group, Melville, New York
  • Ingredients: Organic whole wheat flour
  • In their own words: recipes, “Grown without synthetic pesticides” “Whole Grain Flour” “Low fat diets rich in whole grain foods and other plant foods may reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.” “Good Source of Fiber and Thiamin” “Low Fat” “All Natural – no artificial anything!” “Whole Grains Council stamp” “Naturally Nutritious” “All Natural” “Stone Ground Whole Wheat, the ‘Miller’s Choice.’ You will still find our signature organic whole wheat stone ground in our old fashioned mill, just as it had originally been produced long ago in the midwest. Naturally sodium and cholesterol free, low fat, and a good fiber source, our stone ground whole wheat is a true American grain staple.”

Again, Arrowhead Mills succeeds via its packaging, giving the consumer the information he/she needs to make a wise and informed decision. I also learned that they are part of a large conglomeration (corporate organic bells ringing!) that produces many other widely-found organic lines. However, they seem to be doing the right thing, by way of a Corporate Social Responsibility Report on the home page of their website, for example.

Bulk organic flour from Harvest Co-op (Arrowhead Mills selection)

To my surprise and pleasure, I learned that the bulk selection of flours come from Arrowhead Mills as well. Buying in bulk saves money, minimizes (or eliminates) packaging, has a much smaller carbon foot-print, and is more engaging than simply grabbing something off the shelf like a zombie. The Harvest Co-op, too, is an important place to spend your dollars, as it is a local, cooperatively-owned business that practices what they preach.


Pioneer Valley Heritage Grains

  • Kosher, organic, $300 for 150 lbs. of assorted whole grains, Eco-bags: hand-sewn by owners, farmers, share-holders
  • In their own words: “Restoring community based grain, bean and seed production. Organic, ecological agriculture for nutrient dense food! In response to escalating grain shortages worldwide (due to climate choas, population growth, and increased energy demands) growing grain for ones own community is not only sensible but a necessary component of food security. Communities all over the globe are taking their own food systems back into their hands and producing, as humans have done for millennium, their own sustenance. Thank you for your support and YES WE CAN!”

Ben and Adrie Lester are endeavoring to have a grain CSA for the first time ever. I am a share-holder, and am eagerly awaiting 150 lbs. of locally-grown wheatberries, beans, barley and other grains. I am very, very excited about the prospects of having locally-sourced grain at my fingertips for an entire year. I haven’t yet determined how I’ll mill the grain, but I’ll sort that out, possibly even buying a mill collectively and having monthly milling parties. This option for grain results in the fact that I will establish a relationship with the actual people who have grown, processed and organized getting the food into my hands.

One of my main food-related goals is to avoid having to go the grocery store as much as possible. The grain CSA will eliminate many trips to the store, is the most affordable choice, brings me a ton of new information, introduces me to new people and ideas, and is the most healthy. I feel very privileged to live somewhere with so many choices.

So there you have a summary of my latest braindump. But so what, right?

Labeling is key; corporate responsibility is huge. There are several companies vying to corner the market for scannable barcodes that will deliver immediate information regarding the impact of your purchase. Until this becomes a standard practice, I encourage you to read labels, send emails, post links, and basically question everything. The Smart Choices Program failed. Why? Because people like you and me got pissed off and did something about it.

If a grain CSA isn’t an option, I highly recommend that you look at your options and take a few minutes to make conscientious decisions about how and where you spend your money and how and what you put inside your body. It’s worth the extra couple dollars to stimulate local economies and stimulate better, healthier appetites.

I’m all too aware that green-washing or “green fatigue” is ever-present, causing one to feel frustrated, misled, and pushed-around. If we take the helm, we can make healthy decisions based on our own research, conversations and gumption.

Don’t forget: “Eating is an agricultural act”.