May 22, 2018 § 16 Comments
I have a friend named Nancy. She rides bikes. She is a super friendly lady. Nancy always smiles at you, compliments you, has something nice to say. Weirder still, it’s sincere.
Occasionally I will do a bike seminar with her and her friends and she always finds some way to thank me. Sometimes it’s a coffee card, sometimes it’s a treat at a coffee shop, and most recently it was a gift card to an Italian cafe that specializes in … coffee.
Nancy knows what I like.
Down at the grass roots
Thing is, Nancy knows what everyone likes, and what everyone likes is a good word. It’s funny how a good word here and a good word there can make good things happen. For instance, if I asked you to name the biggest bike club in Los Angeles you might say it was Velo Club La Grange, or Team Lizard Collectors, or Beach Cities Cycling Club, or Team Gargantua, but you would be wrong.
The honkingest bike club in Los Angeles is almost certainly the PV Bike Chicks, with over 900 members. I’ve totally made up the statement that they’re the biggest, but you have to admit, 900 is massive.
How did it get that way? I’m sure I don’t know. But part of it has to do with the vibe that Nancy is famous for. It’s the vibe of inclusiveness and friendliness. In fact, all of the PV Bike Chicks I’ve ever met are that way. Chicks on bikes just want to have fun, apparently.
I’ve noticed something else about my friend Nancy. She’s always trying to figure out how to help local businesses get a toehold.
How can I help?
Remember Steve Bowen, the wonderful man who ran the PV Bicycle Center? Nancy was an ardent supporter of his. The new bike shop over on Deep Valley that opened up a little while ago? Nancy makes sure everyone knows about it. The little cafe next to the PV Ranch Market? Yep, Nancy makes sure to patronize it and introduce other folks to it, along with the other businesses there.
So when she gave me a $25 gift card to a new coffee shop called Caffe Tre Venezie that has opened up on PCH and Madison, we went over to check it out. As you might expect, the moment we showed the owner our gift card, he smiled broadly. “You must be friends of Nancy!”
Alessandro is Italian, and his cappuccino is sublime. The gelato, equally so. There was even a dude hunched over an Italian textbook, practicing phrases with Alessandro in between customers. The coffee and gelato were great, but the vibe was even better. And of course it always feels good to thumb your nose at Starbucks.
Being there made me think about how powerful one person can be when she’s out there trying to do good, saying good things about people, supporting their businesses, doing what she can to make the hard work of entrepreneurship just a little bit easier.
What if everyone were that way?
We bought our coffee with a gift card, but your $2.99 will help my habit when I go back. Please consider subscribing … Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!
May 21, 2018 § 12 Comments
If you have grown kids who have moved out of the house, gone to some faraway place and started a family of their own, you may have experienced “conversation awkwardness,” especially if you are a guy talking to your son. This happens when you are having a conversation and the son is very animated and updates you on all kinds of interesting stuff, after which he lobs the ball back into your court.
“So what’s new with you, dad?”
Well, the fact is that there’s nothing new with you and hasn’t been for about twenty years. You are stuck in a rut deeper than the folds in Trump’s chins, and although you might be able to muster up a news item or two, chances are good that when you reflect on your past week or month, everything seems like it’s been painted with the old unvarying color of same.
“Oh, not much. Same old stuff, really.”
This is a pretty classic dad answer, even if you manage to garnish it with a doodad or two about a bike ride or something you read in the news.
Prepping for conversation
Since re-entering the gladiator ring of Facebag I’ve been super savvy. Before I log on, I take out a notepad and jot down exactly what I’m going to say. Then I go online, type in my update, do a couple of other things, and log off.
Although the idea behind this strategy is self-protection from the Face-abyss (Destroyer once told me I was #socmed bipolar), it occurred to me that this technique might also be, at least in part, a good strategy for kidversations. So before I dialed up my son in Vienna this morning, I jotted down a few notes to prepare myself for the inevitable “What’s new with you, dad?”
The notes are reprinted below for your benefit. Feel free to use them in your next kidversation, or to make up your own.
What’s new with me
“Well, I’ve been baking bread lately, as you know, and I made a little outline so that there would be some give as well as take in the give-and-take. So here’s what’s new with me, son:
- A mostly-bread diet has helped me control my weight. Sounds crazy, but whole grains chock full of seeds and eaten with butter, cheese, and jam fill you up from one meal to the next, so no snacking. [Opportunity for son to express disbelief at this latest quack theory.]
- By baking every day you have way more bread than you can possibly eat, so I’ve been giving it away. It’s fun to give away bread. People seem to like it. [Opportunity for son to express amazement that I would spend so much time doing something and then simply donate it to the bottomless pit charity of cyclist stomachs.]
- Bread is great for cycling. You don’t have to buy candy bars anymore or snacks of any kind. Just wrap up a couple of small bricks with PBJ in tinfoil and you’re good for 100 miles. [Opportunity for son to note that home baking, when you factor in the time, is about 1,000 times more expensive than a Clif bar.]
- Little kids love it. Grandkids and friends’ small children like fresh bread. This is way better than a new video game. [Opportunity for son to openly doubt that small children like gnarly, 281-grain bread with the density of the atmosphere on Venus.]
- Baking everyday is a great part of a healthy morning routine. [Opportunity for son to scoff at having to awake daily at 4:00 AM for anything, ever.]
- Every time you pull a loaf out of the oven it’s exciting to see how it will look. An adventure in every loaf! [Opportunity for son to wonder why, after the first three hundred loaves, you’re still unsure how it’s going to turn out. Competency issues?]
- Bread is a great intersection with all things Germanic. Think Viennese bakeries! Sechskornbrot! [Opportunity for son to point out that you can get all the same recipes by running them through Google Translate without having to mutilate German.]
- Super fun meeting other home bakers, who also happen to be cyclists, and who share your passion for 4:00 AM. [Opportunity for son to doubt that other home bakers are equally unbalanced.]
- Learning how to bake requires dad to avail himself of mom’s baking expertise, which leads to lots of great spousal interactions in the kitchen, teamwork-type stuff. [Opportunity for son to closely question how long this goes on before it leads to an argument.]
- Down with consumerism! Home baking frees you from the shackles of the supermarket’s industrial food chain and Wonder Bread, and you can bake only what you need using basic, organic, healthy ingredients. [Opportunity for son to ask why, if it’s so economical, you make so much you have to give it away, and also have to buy a $500 home grain-mill.]
- Books! Anyone who bakes will eventually buy a library of baking books, and reading is its own highest good. [Opportunity for son to point out how this is more rampant consumerism disguised as education.]
- Travel opportunities for bread bakers abound. Now, each trip abroad can focus on visiting a quaint bakery with some local, historical specialty. [Opportunity for son to note that 10% of global carbon emissions are from tourism.]
- Reducing needless food purchases because good bread goes with everything. [Opportunity for son to note that no, it doesn’t, you’re just on a bread kick now, dad, and will soon tire of it.]
- Home baking is a new hipster trend that has outflanked craft beer and beard care products. Your old man is now on the cutting edge! [Opportunity for son to sigh.]
In the final analysis
As the conversation wrapped up, my son looked at me through the Facetime thingy and smiled, especially after I gave him a tour of the giant 11-gallon buckets filled with flour, seeds, and wheat berries.
“My family is … funny,” he said.
He’s a very literate guy. I’m sure that wasn’t the first adjective that came to mind.
$2.99 buys five pounds of organic flour in bulk. Basically, you’re saving the world one loaf at a time. Please consider subscribing … Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!
May 6, 2018 § 5 Comments
I know I am. Or rather, I’ve finished about eight weeks of feeling great on the bike and now the peak has passed. To continue, experience tells me, will result in much badness filled with unhappiness and sadness and etc.
What are the symptoms of overtraining? You certainly don’t need to look here, as it is well covered by numerous other #fakesports publications.
- Bodybuilding has you covered!
- Men’s fitness has you covered!
- Wikipedia has you covered!
- Bicycling has you covered!
- Cycling Weekly has you covered!
- Joe Friel has you covered!
- Cycling Tips has you covered!
- Pez Cycling has you covered!
- GCN has you covered!
- And thank goodness, Semi-Pro Cycling has you covered!
Reading through all these tips and clickbait and insurance offers for cyclists who ride more than 50 miles a week, you may well get overtrained from reading about overtraining.
However, Cycling in the South Bay can save you from all those other articles with a quick, ad-free list. Here’s how you know you’ve fallen into the hole.
- The little voice inside your head (or all fifty of them) shrieks “Fuck you!” when people harass and disturb you by saying things like “Good morning!”
- You glare at your bicycle.
- Every non-cycling thing you’ve ever done in your life and given up on seems incredibly fascinating.
- Amazon. For hours.
- Your idea of social time with friends is staying in bed, alone.
- Astonishing soreness in your legs when you attempt major physical efforts, such as standing.
- The last ride you did you felt invincible. For ten minutes. After that, you felt like you look.
- Food appears to be a kind of poison.
- Ordinarily stupid things like the Giro and the Tour seem like crimes against intellectual humanity.
- If you had to choose between doing another interval and being strapped to a Nazi fallbeil, it would be the easiest choice you ever made.
Sticks and stones may break your bones, but to really feel awful it takes words, and lots of ’em, lined up in mostly the right order, which takes time, effort, and lots of care. Please consider subscribing … Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!
May 1, 2018 § 10 Comments
A few decades ago I bought fifteen or twenty small hardback books from the Modern Library. Some had green dust covers, some had red. One of the red ones was the Letters of Seneca. I remember little of the book, but I took from it a line that has stayed with me ever since: “Men don’t know the value of time, they squander it as if it were free.”
But after more than thirty years I began to wonder if that were really the quote. After all I had engraved on my memory two unforgettable lines, neither of which the Internet can find. This one from Shakespeare: “A tooth is more precious than a diamond.”
And this one from Samuel Johnson: “If a man hates at all, he will hate his neighbor.”
Though I’ve never been able to confirm either quote, they are pithy and brilliant such that I could never have thought them up; if I had I’d never attribute them to someone else. But if I could be so wrong about those made-up quotes, I wondered if perhaps I were also wrong about the quote by Seneca.
This time, the Internet didn’t fail me. After clicking on a few search results for “Seneca and time” I hit the mother lode, and the quote was actually not too far from how I had misremembered it: “Nobody works out the value of time: men use it lavishly as if it cost nothing.” Seneca’s was better, though. Duh.
Rehashing the hashed hash
A few clicks down the wormhole and up popped a whole bunch of other quotes about time from Seneca the Stoic.
Indeed the state of all who are preoccupied is wretched, but the most wretched are those who are toiling not even at their own preoccupations, but must regulate their sleep by another’s, and their walk by another’s pace, and obey orders in those freest of all things, loving and hating. If such people want to know how short their lives are, let them reflect how small a portion is their own.
Ouch. A whole lot of people should be feeling ouch about right now.
But like any good philosopher, Seneca had a few more granite blocks to drop on your big toe. Like this one:
It is inevitable that life will be not just very short but very miserable for those who acquire by great toil what they must keep by greater toil. They achieve what they want laboriously; they possess what they have achieved anxiously; and meanwhile they take no account of time that will never more return. New preoccupations take the place of the old, hope excites more hope and ambition more ambition. They do not look for an end to their misery, but simply change the reason for it.
In sum, the problem, as you may surmise, is you.
It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.
Five or six years ago my wife started baking bread, and about three years ago we stopped buying bread pretty much completely. Then a couple of years ago we started roasting our own coffee. Last year? Making our own yogurt, making our own jam. This year? Making our own granola. Last week? Grinding our own wheat into flour.
As one of my friends said, “Keep at it, Seth! Pretty soon you’ll have entered the 19th Century! You might need a bigger apartment for the bags of cotton, the spinning wheel and loom, though. And the Merino sheep may not fit in the living room too well.”
Behind the humor was a criticism, which I’d roughly approximate as “What the fuck are you doing?” As he put it, “It’s awesome that you bake bread, but you know I can buy a loaf at the store for $1.99.”
“I’m cheap,” I said. “My bread costs a few pennies a loaf because we buy the wheat in 50-lb. sacks. And,” I added with my holiest-than-thou, “what you’re buying at the store isn’t bread. It’s a chemical cocktail.”
He laughed. “Of course it’s bread. Flour, water, yeast, salt, sugar, and 47 FDA-approved additives. You may not like the taste, but it’s still bread.”
He was right, you know. The next day I went for a bike ride and thought about it.
No woolen underwear for this cowboy
In fact, I am cheap. But also in fact, I’m not trying to get back to a past I never knew. The next step isn’t raising my own sheep and growing my own cotton so that I can weave my own clothes. There is no next step, because “next step” suggests a plan, a method, a strategy, a goal. I have none of those things, exactly.
But over time I’ve consistently tried, often failing, to choose things that extract the maximum value out of my time, and have eschewed those rote, common-sense choices that have never made any sense, at least to me. And few things have been as value-laden as bicycling. It’s bicycling, in fact, that has kept my needle pointing due north. If you’re willing to forego many of the “must-haves” in life so that you can pedal your bike around the planet, you’re probably going to end up jettisoning more and more must-haves as you age, quickly determining that rather than “must-haves” they are “must-avoids.”
And if you ride enough and read enough and travel enough and look around enough, you eventually start to focus on what you eat, even more so if you’re sober. In my case, if you ride enough and you’re cheap enough, you come around to bread. And mark my words, the rumblings of the biker bread revolution are already here. How do I know? Let me tell you how I know…
Flogging for fun and gluten
Last Thursday I finished the Flog Ride and a new rider came up to me atop La Cuesta. “I love this ride!” he said, which is what people always say after their first flogging, and which is invariably followed by their failure to ever come back.
“Great,” I said. “That makes you weird.”
“Well, cyclist,” he said.
“Good point. How’d you find out about it? Most people in the South Bay make a point of pretending they’ve never heard of it, even people who live within 100 yards of the start there at Malaga Cove Plaza.”
“Your blog,” he said. “You’re kind of into baking, right?”
This was a difficult question. Yes, I was into baking, but like virtually everything else I’ve ever been into [such as: archery, guitar, piano, flute, harmonica, Thai, Chinese, Slovak, Japanese, French, German, Spanish, shaving with a straight razor, Chaucer, self-published journals on Japanese law, birdwatching, nature trails, backpacking, butterfly identification, surfing, swimming, running, ceramics, sumo, podcasting, cyclocross, photography, blogging, poetry, beer making, beer drinking, bike racing, coffee roasting, web site designing, museum consulting, and countless other things of varied scope and longevity] there’s a big difference between being “into” something and being “good” at something.
“I like to bake bread,” I said cautiously, sensing a trap, but it was too late.
“What kind of organic stone-milled flour do you use?”
Just as I had feared! Someone who was an actual baker about to grill me on my fumbling and amateurish techniques. So I went big. “I grind my own.”
“Yeah,” I said, trying to pretend that I always walked around with four aces or a royal flush. “we grind our own flour at home. Buy the wheat in bulk and grind as needed.”
The significance of this wasn’t the posing. That’s a given for any bike group ride, and mandatory for the Flog. The significance was that some biker dude, instead of asking me about watts and power meters and Strava, was asking me about organic stone-milled flour. This is what’s known as a harbinger. The world is changing and it changes with the hipsters first, and this dude wore his hipster cred on his chin, with a beard that would have easily housed a colony of weaver birds.
Bread and bikes
You’ll not be surprised to know that baking bread is easy and cheap. How easy? It’s so easy that I can do it. Watch me surf sometime, or watch me try to change a tire, and you’ll realize how easy baking has to be. The thing about bread that is mystical and magical, though, isn’t simply that you can feed a family on it. What’s mystical is that something so simple can be so filling and substantial.
Over the years, my wife has given out countless loaves of bread to friends and family, and she’s even made it an offering of sorts, as time allows, for #profamateurs who conquer the wind out at Telo. People’s reactions are uniform–they tear into it, and in a very short while, it’s all gone. Every piece, every crumb. Note: This isn’t what happens when you give someone a $1.99 loaf from Von’s.
Making your own bread plays into Seneca’s hands, because it forces you to sacrifice that one commodity you can never replenish, time. Like learning a foreign language, the time expenditure seems vast until you’re staring at the hieroglyphics that you now can read, until you’re pushing into your mouth the fresh slab covered with butter, until you’re listening to the smile in the voice of the person with whom you’re breaking bread, experiencing second-hand their joy at an unspeakable luxury that for you is … your daily bread.
None of these things happens unless you’re willing to turn your back on the must-haves. As simple as baking a good loaf of bread may be, you have to give something up. What will that be? #socmed? Noooooo! The big game(s)? Noooooooo! Dinner out? Noooooooo! In fact, there’s even a great series of Internet lists that sums up all the things you have done today or are going to do tomorrow that will get between you and a fresh loaf of bread, a/k/a Unbelievably Stupid Shit That You Waste Your Time On:
- Not too sure about No. 7, but No. 20? Yessss!
- Pretty sure I’ve never done No. 4, or No. 24. No. 16? GUILTY!
- I especially like No. 1.
As you scroll through these lists, cringing, hopefully, imagine how your life might change with a couple of more hours in the day, hours spend getting your hands doughy. In fact, the craft bread movement, with cyclists in the lead, has been well underway for a while. Team Lizard Collectors member Gregory Cooke, a fantastic baker, was the first person who advised us on flour. French cyclist and baker Marilyne Faye feeds her family on home baked bred. Local hammer Alex Barnes is married to a magnificent baker; they’ve recently installed a commercial oven and are going to begin sharing Lisa’s astonishing bread-artwork with the public.
Bikers off the front, but instead of shooting up EPO, they’re peddling bread crack. Yum.
But what about my tummy???
The big fear for most cyclists isn’t squandering the precious minutes in their life on something worthless, they’re cyclists, for dog’s sake. The true fear of a full-on bread diet is the calorie count; my standard sourdough loaf packs almost 3,000 kcal. As with most phobias, the phobia of bread = fat is a fallacy. Home baked whole grain bread that’s dense and eaten with butter actually helps you keep your waistline in check.
For one, the whole grain and the butter slow down the digestion, so you don’t get the crazy sugar spike + sugar crash that come from eating Twinkies, Wonderbread, or other commercial snacks. In point of fact, for the 5.5 hours I spent flogging myself on the BWR, I had a baggie of raisins and almonds, and two tinfoils with sourdough-and-pb. I ran out of watts, but never came close to running out of energy. I think Surfer powered a chunk of his BWR on Wanky Bread & pb, too.
Aside from the nutrition of home baked loaves where you–not a CEO with a degree in chemistry–get to choose the ingredients, there’s another factor that helps keep uncontrolled eating down, and it’s the simple fact that when you’re the one who has to make the stuff, you’re not quite as cavalier about eating it. After the gluttony of the first few dozen loaves wears off, you realize that every slice you eat is a slice you’re going to have to bake later. And with this comes something long lost from most of our lives: The preciousness of food itself.
It’s this process of synching what you consume with what you create that, like a millstone, grinds down the obstacles standing in between you and the things that can add meaning to the minutes you’re here. And you don’t, emphatically, have to return to 1850 to do it.
It takes energy to ride yer bike. Why not power it with something you make yourself? Please consider subscribing … Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!
April 2, 2018 § 8 Comments
This past Friday was “Grandpa & Me” day. They dropped off my grandson with his push bike, which I put in the back of the car.
We drove a short way down to the mall and walked around. He found a bug on the pavement and picked it up. It was a dead bug. He squatted on his haunches and looked at it. Then he set it carefully back down on the pavement and stood up, looking at it, waiting for it to move. It didn’t. He squatted down again and nudged it with his finger but the dead bug still refused to move. He stood back up and then squashed it with his foot. That was a double-dead bug.
We walked around the corner of the Rite-Aid towards the Starbucks. There was a long, narrow planted area. He walked off into it. Too late, I saw it was planted with young roses, bursting with thorns. Somehow he didn’t get scratched. I hurried to grab him but we were obviously playing chase. He ran along the edge of the planted area, stumbled, and fell into the warm dirt.
I brushed him off. While I was brushing him off he saw a red berry and picked it up. He moved it around carefully between his fingers. It was smooth and bright red. He put it up to his nose, moved it down towards his mouth, then looked at me.
“Better not,” I said.
I reached down for the berry but he claimed a Pyrrhic victory by crushing it between his fingers. Clear juice with tiny seeds ran out. He spread them onto his palms and then onto his shirt, where they mixed in with the remnants of the dirt.
After walking around the mall we drove up to del Cerro Park. I took out his Strider push bike. He jumped up and down, so happy was he to see that I’d brought it along.
He got on the Strider and raced away. The sidewalk was slightly uphill. He pushed and ran-swam his little legs until the top of his head was covered in sweat. Then he turned around and pushed and ran-swam back down the sidewalk, wheeing and laughing.
As he got near me, I spread my legs and he shot between them. “Through the gate!” I yelled. He laughed gleefully, raced along for a little, then turned around.
“Through the gate!” I said again, and we did it over and over, so many times that I lost count and he was tired. He pointed his bike for another run, got up to speed, lost control, and had his first bicycle-falling-off incident. He fell slowly to the side, came off the bike, and did a little half-roll. The second he stopped rolling, he started crying.
“Oh, no!” I said, scooping him up. He was unscathed on the outside, but the inside needed a lot of hugging and cooing. I had brought ample supplies of both in the diaper bag. He did one more run but it wasn’t fun any more.
We got back in the car and returned to the mall, which has a Baskin-Robbins. He got a single scoop of vanilla that was almost as big as his head. But what he really liked was the chocolate-covered cone with the colorful sprinkles.
Best medicine for a bike fall, ever.
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March 26, 2018 § 17 Comments
I was in a deposition a couple of weeks ago, and before opposing counsel came in I was chatting with my client, a guy from Eastern Europe. We were talking about bread and he lamented the absence of heavy, dark sourdoughs here in the U.S.A.
I mentioned that we bake sourdough at home and that I eat it for breakfast with lots of butter and jam, and for lunch with peanut butter.
The court reporter blurted out, “How can you be that skinny and eat that much bread?”
I didn’t break the bad news to her. At 5’11” and 155 lbs., I’m not skinny for a historically healthy person. If anything, I’m a bit on the large side. But for a modern American, where the standards for normal body size begin with “immense” and go rapidly upwards, I suppose the word “skinny” fits.
But I did break the good news. You can eat dense, high-calorie bread, and eat a bunch of it, and not gain weight.
Bread’s bad rap
I thought I would try to prove this by reading some dreck on the Internet, but there is an extraordinary amount of digital nonsense that says bread is really bad for you. The reasons are mostly the same, no matter what article you read: Bread is bad for you because refined bread causes sugar spikes, bread turns to sugar (and we all know that sugar is bad), wheat is grown with deadly pesticides, commercial bread additives are potentially carcinogenic, and bread contains gluten, a substance that makes you sick and wrecks your health.
A quick search for “Roman Meal bread ingredients” confirmed some of this when you click on the ingredients button down the page. This go-to supermarket loaf contains “Coarse Whole Wheat Flour, Water, Brown Sugar, Whole Grain Wheat Flakes, Yeast, Vital Wheat Gluten, Whole Grain Rye Flakes, Soybean Oil, Honey, Molasses, Salt, Cultured Wheat Flour, Dough Conditioners (Calcium Sulfate, Enzymes), Yeast Nutrients (Ammonium Sulfate, Monocalcium Phosphate), Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid, Soy Lecithin.”
Roman Meal has huge amounts of sugar added in the form of sucrose and molasses. The malted barley flour is fermented barley, which results in more sugars and more sweetness. A breakdown of the ingredients in Wonder Bread is equally depressing; the main ingredient after flour and water is sugar. But the biggest knock on these two supermarket staples is that they are uncooked to a degree that they taste like soggy, barely dry dough. Forget a crackly crust, or chewy bread that makes your jaw sore. Modern store bread can easily be eaten without teeth.
And compared to those two supermarket staples, the McBun is a veritable nutritional sewer. Unless, of course, you’re big on high fructose corn syrup, sugar, calcium sulfate, calcium carbonate, ammonium sulfate, ammonium chloride, sodium stearoyl lactylate, datem, azodicarbonamide, mono- and diglycerides, ethoxylated monoglycerides, monocalcium phosphate, enzymes, guar gum, calcium peroxide, calcium propionate and sodium propionate. Aren’t those all flavors of ice cream?
Scientists have taken a serious look at wheat and its component part gluten, and have tried to address how it affects humans. A great overview of the main types of problems people have eating wheat is laid out in this this scientific review, which breaks down the various difficulties that some people run into eating the most staple of all staples.
But one question in these investigations don’t answer is, “What are you calling bread?” People who exhibit gluten intolerance may be ingesting nothing but commercial, sugary, chemical-laden, starchy foods that use bleached white flour as the main ingredient, but does that make it bread?
Not in my house, it doesn’t.
Bread’s good rap
Of course if you don’t like one set of facts, keep googling and you will eventually hit upon a set that more closely conforms to your personal prejudices. For example, these folks insist that whole wheat bread is quite good for you.
“Scores of studies,” they say, without citing any of them, “have found that whole-grain carbs can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, colon cancer, strokes, and obesity.” And they recommend a whopping three servings a day. Yum! Sounds good to me.
The payback to all this gluten gluttony? You’ll be more energetic, you’ll be healthier overall, you’ll live longer, you’ll feel happier, you’ll be skinnier, you’ll shit like a bike racer, and you’ll be blessed with healthier hair and skin. I don’t know about you, but #5 pretty much closes the deal.
The taxonomy of bread
Getting back to the deliberate confusion of calling a variety of things bread, regardless of what they contain or how they’re made, it occurred to me after wading through much sound and fury, signifying clickbait, that one problem people have with bread is defining it. Is Roman Meal bread? Is Wonder Bread bread? Is the McBun bread? If so, saying “bread is bad” is probably pretty safe, at least relative to other food options out there, such as sand or plutonium.
But how then do we explain the fact that bread, the “staff of life,” has marched in lockstep with the exploding human population for the last 10,000 years? If bread is so toxic and so inextricably linked to illness and bowel disease in the 21st Century, why didn’t it kill us off in the first twenty? And if you are a Christian sort of person, you’d have to agree that for such a terrible, toxic substance, bread sure gets it share of airtime in the bible.
The article on gluten-related disorders by Sapone et al. suggests that “One possible explanation is that the selection of wheat varieties with higher gluten content has been a continuous process during the last 10,000 years, with changes dictated more by technological rather than nutritional reasons. Wheat varieties grown for thousands of years and mostly used for human nutrition up to the Middle Ages, such as Triticum monococcum and T. dicoccum, contain less quantities of the highly toxic 33-mer gluten peptide .”
In other words, the wheat we eat now differs from the wheat we ate in the Middle Ages. Wheat varieties have suffered from a dramatic decrease in genetic diversity since 1960. One study suggests that relatively recent nutritional changes show up in the content of the wheat itself: A comparison of modern wheat with wheat from 100 years ago shows a steady reduction in micronutrient values.
Modern wheat yields more calories than historic varieties. The variety that accounts for 99% of all wheat production, semi-dwarf wheat, yields more grains per acre, is resistant to the devastating disease of wheat rust, is hardier due to its shorter stalk, and is easily harvested by heavy equipment. There’s more of it and it’s cheaper to eat, so we do what everyone does when you shove something in front of our face, we eat more of it, and as with anything else that is over-consumed, it causes problems.
But modern wheat is much more caloric than historic varieties were due to changes in processing as well. Until the early 20th Century, almost all wheat was milled so that the entire wheat grain got crushed up and used as flour. Roller milling allowed the healthy parts of the wheat to be efficiently stripped away, leaving nothing but the starchy kernel. The result was bread that had more calories, but became a barren nutritional landscape.
Sound familiar? Cue Wonder Bread …
My point, then, is that when we talk about bread, we’re probably talking about completely different things. Bread bashers are talking about what they buy in the store or pick up at Fasty McFastfood. But I’m not talking about the garbage that supermarkets pass off for bread; that kind of white sugar-squish never makes it onto my plate. I’m talking about something else.
Cooking made easy and other redundancies
A lady in our complex recently signed up for one of those Blue Apron-type services, where they bring you the ingredients, the recipe, and make home cooking “easy and simple.” Of course the problem isn’t that cooking is complicated or difficult. If it were, people would have died out long ago, and baking bread is Exhibit #1.
So when I say “bread,” I’m really talking about a well-defined thing whose ingredients couldn’t be simpler: Flour, water, yeast, salt, and maybe some uncrushed seeds for variety and flavor. Baking bread is simple, too. All it takes is the one luxury that rich people can never seem to buy: Time.
That’s not to say that all baking is simple, but making a delicious and wholesome loaf of whole wheat bread is flat-out easy, especially after you’ve done it a few times. All of which brings us back to that deposition and the astounded court reporter.
My go-to loaf these days is a whole wheat sourdough with six grains. It takes about 24 hours to make; this includes getting the starter going, making the dough, letting it rise overnight, setting it out to rise again for two hours during the day, about 45 minutes in the oven, and another hour to cool. All of this can be done in between other things; the total amount of time actually making and baking is about 90 minutes. And of course my wife’s legendary white-whole wheat loaves can be knocked out in a couple of hours, also while doing other things, taking up less than thirty minutes of actual “doing.”
Sourdough bread leverages the live yeast and bacteria in starter to ferment the dough, which results in a “mini-ecosystem packed with flavor-making potential. Both yeast and bacteria increase the acidity of the dough, which fends off harmful bacteria and gives sourdough its characteristic tangy taste.” Sourdough is healthier and easier to digest, and “the long fermentation time required and acidity of the dough are what really contribute to its health benefits.”
Cycling and bread
Along with water in my water bottle, I’ve found no other food will sustain you on a ride as long as a granite-heavy slab of multi-grain sourdough slathered with butter and homemade jam, percolating away in your guts. It powers your legs long after the quick shot of “Barbie food,” as my friend Dan Sievert calls gels and similar snacks, has been vaporized.
Another huge benefit is that thick, dense, grainy breads crowd out other snack foods once you’re off the bike. After a slab of bread you just don’t want to eat anything else, especially if you’ve washed it down with a tumbler of cold milk.
Bread is also social. We talk about it in the kitchen, we compare it to previous loaves, and we excitedly peek into the oven to see what the newest offering looks like. Every loaf is a creation, albeit a temporary one, and hardly immortal.
When baked the old way, it sustained mankind for millenia, so I think it will get me through the Donut Ride. And if this weekend is any indication, it may even do so with flying colors. Wonder “Bread” need not apply.
Eating home-baked bread is one of the finest things in life. The smell, the taste, and the enjoyment of something so simple yet infinitely complex. It’s good for your riding, too. If this has been a good read, please consider subscribing … Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!