Saturday, December 4, 2010

my kingdom for some bread

Bread.  There are so many forms bread can take.  Commonly, it is merely the outside of some delicious inside that makes up a sandwich, but Mister and I quite enjoy bread simply for its breadiness.  We love the house-made focaccia at Horizons, as well as the microwave-warmed pita at Cedars.  We love the hearty whole grain bread from Whole Foods and the meal-in-itself 12-Grain bread by Arnold.  We love to use bread to dip in the hot broth of our soup while we wait for it to cool enough that we can eat it without scathing our tastebuds and Mister especially loves to scoop up various Italian-influenced dinners with some bread.  We have a variety of spreads for our bread: hummus, tahini, peanut butter, apple butter, Dark Chocolate Dreams, and a few samples of Justin's Nut Butters; but sometimes, I just spread some Earth Balance love on mine.

Do you know people have gone to prison over bread?  Even in the popular musical, Les Miserables, one of the main characters, Jean Valjean, spent 5 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family.  I realize the novel and resulting musical are works of fiction, but it is historically-based fiction and you can see the same theme represented throughout literary history.  When I was in college, I was part of a group that visited a local prison, seeking to show kindness and compassion to people who had that in very short supply.  I was intrigued by my new "hobby" and integrated it into my studies, even writing one of my term papers on prison recidivism.   Here's where it gets interesting.

Yes, of course I can relate all this prison talk to dinner.  I guess that doesn't say much for my culinary skills, does it?  Regardless, we had Pasta e Fagioli from Vegan on the Cheap, which I truly thought would be brothier than it turned out (as you can observe in the picture - also note the bread; it's about to be important).  Additionally, when I finally arrived home after a brisk walk through mid-30-degree weather, I had an irrepressible craving for toast.  Not just a "Hey, ya know what might be nice?" kind of craving; rather, the kind of craving that causes all the wind to be knocked out of your proverbial sails when you preheat the toaster oven only to open the refrigerator door and bread.

So, I re-wrapped myself in my scarf, coat, hat, and gloves, and much to the kitty's horror, headed back out the door.  Mister needed coffee creamer anyway, otherwise tomorrow morning would be very sad, so I headed up to Superfresh for some pre-shopping (tomorrow is grocery day).

Has it ever occurred to anyone else [in America] how absurdly fortunate we are that there is an entire aisle at the grocery store devoted to bread?  Take a minute to ponder that, because it's not like that everywhere.  I walked the length of the aisle with my eyes peeled for the bright orange circle that signifies this or that bread is on sale.  Best bargain?  $1.50 for a loaf of whole wheat bread.  However, upon examination, I couldn't figure out why it needed half of the ingredients it contained, so I moved on to the $1.79 loaf.  A little better, but still not really a whole grain product.  What I really wanted was for some Arnold's bread to be on sale, even though I knew the best I could hope for was $2.50.  That's exactly what I found and I did stand there for a moment, pondering whether a 71-cent savings was worth the finely milled wheat flour and HFCS.

People go back to prison because of high-pressure decisions like that one that I was privileged to make and sometimes, I totally get that.  It can be overwhelming.  Think about it: for however long you've been "locked up," someone else decided what and even when you ate.  Not the most favorable situation, but what choice do you really have?  So, you do your time: you're where you're supposed to be, you eat what you're fed, you wear what you're given, and you keep yourself out of trouble.  Now you're back in the free world and you have to go food shopping for the first time...and then the second, and on and on.

I have always had the freedom to choose my own bread and it drives me crazy sometimes because of how many darn options there are.  Can you imagine not having to choose and then having so many choices?  I kid you not - honestly rehabilitated people become so overwhelmed with the decision to buy this bread or that bread, they unconsciously put themselves in situations where they are set up to fall again.  Their motive?  To return to what they know, where they feel safe - a place with no decisions.

Heck of a food blog, eh?

Alright, back to the food.

I would much rather have the burden of choosing my Arnold bread if it means I can also make tasty, hearty, inside-out warming soups like this one.  I'm sure prison food has come a long way since, well, whenever, but I'm still pretty sure my soup is better.  It came together quickly, too, although the broth did require some tweaking.  It tasted very tomatoey and not quite as rich and garlicky as I wanted it to, so I added a bit of sea salt and white wine vinegar.  That seemed to do the trick.  I ended up having my toast for dessert, since there wasn't really any broth to sop up (and I really wanted toast anyway).

Finally, I'll leave you with a happy picture and my new menu:  here is my first purple oatmeal of the season!

I get the frozen mixed berry blend at Whole Foods and then heat about a half cup of berries in a covered saucepan until they get all sizzly and juicy, then I sprinkle in the oatmeal and add 1 cup of almond milk and stir everything up.  I had forgotten how good it is.  And how purple.

Despite my best intentions (and the paycheck I just got), this week's menu comes completely from Vegan on the Cheap...again.  Yup, it sure does appear that I'm getting my money's worth from this one!

1. Moroccan Chickpeas and Couscous

2. Indian-Spiced Lentil Ragu

3. Better-Than-Takeout Tofu Stir-Fry - I have skipped over this the last three times I made my menu from this book because broccoli has had a bad year, but I'm going to try this with frozen broccoli and see what happens because it really does look like an incredibly tasty recipe.

4. Rice Island Casserole - I have no idea what is going to happen here, but I think it'll be good.  Either way, doesn't it have an awesome name?

5. Samosa Pie - Mister and I love Indian food, as you have probably observed if you've been reading for a while.  Even more than that, Mister and I love samosas.  There is just nothing bad about them.  The whole pie crust thing has kept me from doing this before.  It may be the wine speaking, but I'm feeling a bit intrepid this week, so let's see how it goes!

6. Vegetable Lentil Stew - yes, it sounds boring after...well, the other 5 menu items, but Mister loves him some lentil stew.


  1. Natalie, I know what you mean. When I lived in Ukraine for a short time, we had two types of bread from which to choose: white or dark brown. We are truly blessed to have so much choice.

  2. You know, it's funny you mention that, Jackie - my initial title was "In Soviet Russia..." (pronounced with the cartoonish russian accent). I realize Ukraine is a separate country, but it was still quite affected by the extreme poverty wrought by the end of Imperial Russia. In the end, I decided not to title it that because I do have some readers in Russia whom I didn't want to offend.