Do you like to eat bread?
I am a bread eater.
I can distinctly remember craving the biscuits more than the bacon when breakfast was served while visiting my grandparents as a kid. I would opt for an extra dinner roll, the plain old brown ‘n’ serve kind, instead of more of my momma’s creamy casserole or my favorite sliced turkey at our holiday meals. Bread with my salad in a restaurant? Bonus points. A bit of crusty loaf to dip in my soup? Even better.
Don’t even get me started on bagels.
Obviously my love for warm and freshly-baked bready goodness has been less than kind to my hips. And it’s probably added to the jiggle under my arms. Lent it’s comfortable bready consistency to the extra roundness in my cheeks.
Probably the cookies don’t help either.
But it’s the B.R.E.A.D. that gets me every time. Something about the texture, the variety, the pure pleasure that comes from straight up noshing starchy white, or grainy wheat, or earthy pumpernickel. No spreads or jams or dips or creams are ever necessary when I’m lost in my own little bread world (though they never hurt). Warm from the oven with a thick toasty crust and soft squishy center is my very favorite bread thing.Life has been strange for me this past year. With no clock to punch on the daily, no unyielding, inflexible, unforgiving, and wholly unfriendly boss to report to, no schedule to keep except my own, it’s been easy for me to make some much needed life changes. Mostly they’ve been for the better.
One year ago yesterday I quit smoking. I only remember the date because it was the last time I saw my little sister before she left for France (no worries; she’s since returned), and I distinctly remember she and I baking in the Indian-summer-Carolina-heat while sitting on my back steps. I brandished my very last cigarette while she mindlessly tugged at the sun-dried brown grass jutting haphazardly through the wooden slats and we talked each other’s heads off. I remember hoping I wouldn’t make a liar of myself, hoping I could stick to my resolve to quit by the time she came back. I did it.
I can remember in the beginning, the conscious calorie-counting, the careful measuring of my daily intake, the constant fear of the cliched quitting smoking and getting fat(ter). I’m not an itty bitty person to begin with; I stand tall for a girl at almost 5’10”, and those waify modelesque proportions they give freakishly tall girls in magazines ARE NOT part of my genetic makeup (curves, curves, and more curves). I was careful for several months, and then, when the ugly nicotene monster stopped rearing its head, I stopped worrying.
The gain was gradual; I didn’t notice it at first. The Christmas pictures were my first clue. From one year to the next, I could see my face a bit fuller, my jeans just a touch more snug. I spend a good bit of my time photographing the world around me, but I’m pretty proficient at avoiding the camera when it’s pointed at me. So I guess I managed to avoid my image being captured for the rest of the winter months. When my sister posted pictures from our family Easter holiday, I was shocked to see that I looked like a giant version of myself. Photos from Mother’s Day brunch were even worse yet. The dreaded negative effects of my healthy life-changing decision were glaring me in the face. Laughing.
In retrospect, I KNOW that as soon as I stopped freaking out about the non-smoker weight gain, I started to pack on the extra pounds. In learning how to navigate my morning coffee without a cigarette, I unwittingly replaced that cigarette with an extra slice of toast at breakfast. A bite or two of cookie dough while baking before lunch. An extra roll with my dinner. Little bits of leniency here and there added up to what amounted to super crummy (pun intended) eating habits.
I probably ate waaaaay too much bread.
This past May I got sick of looking at the bloated version of myself. I got tired of being worried about whether the camera would pan across my mid-section, no longer wanted to stress about if from the side I have a double chin. I started the Insanity workout, and true to it’s name, it is completely INSANE.
I ran and jumped and sweated and basically wanted to die six days a week, 40 minutes to an hour every day, for 63 days.
I lost 21 pounds and still ate bread. And brownies.
Also my knees hated me.
So I was feeling good. Really good. And all of that cardio helped me to realize that I never ever could have pulled that rigorous workout off with a pack of smokes in my purse. My lungs would have leapt from my chest, stomped on my face, and promptly deflated. Instead, they thanked me.
Could I have lost more weight without the bread and brownies? Absolutely.
But in this process I’m in, this labor of loving my healthy habits, I’ve found it’s been easier for me to break it all up into bits and pieces. To absorb it all slowly and savor the progress one meal, one workout, one day at a time. And so, having mastered a year with no cigarettes, and another several months dedicated to exercise every day, it’s time to take on my carbohydrate cravings… time to tackle the bread habit that seems to have returned from my childhood to replace the smoking that I think replaced the bread habit to start with.
Did you get all that?
Oh, also two weeks ago I threw myself into P-90X (after Insanity it’s a workout walk in the park). I’m loving it (I think I accidentally just borrowed McDonald’s catch phrase of late… or maybe it was subconsciously on purpose and my brain would really like some fries to go with that).
So a more carefully-crafted meal plan has worked its way into my life.
I know I write about basil butter and cheesecake, and the volume of cookies that comes out of my kitchen would probably be considered obscene in most health-foodie circles. I know I make jokes about extra jumping jacks for pizza and bingeing on chocolatey frozen coffee drinks… but in real life, in my real life, I’m working super hard.
I had to decide that moderation was the only route for me, though, because deciding to never eat another Reese’s peanut butter brownie or oatmeal raisin cookie again in my life was like deciding to fail before I ever began. And so, even though bread is basically my nemesis, my diet does occasionally need to include it.
Sometimes it also needs to include white bread (but not the Bunny Bread/ Wonderbread sort of sandwich slices of white bread; that for me is total ick… like what a waste of calories! If food is going to stick to the roof of my mouth it better be peanut butter… or Nutella. Just sayin. But if that bread is your cup of tea then please ignore my bready prejudice; I’m kind of a bread snob. Especially when I can only have it sometimes). Like this baguette I made with two purposes in mind: 1. to smear with the remaining basil butter in my fridge, and 2. to dip in my tomato basil soup (recipe for that in the next few days). Freshly baked baguette has to occasionally work its way in to my cheat-food rotation. Things like P-90X would be a drag without it.
All of this is to say that though I still have quite a ways to go, though the Oreo cookies still beg me to buy them every time I pass the snack aisle in the grocery store, and though some days I still have to talk myself into lacing up my sneakers early in the morning, I know in the end it will all be worth it. That even on my worst of days I feel better than I did way back when.
And that in 20 or 30 more years, the little boys won’t begrudge me a few secondhand loaves of bread.
Freshly Baked French Baguette (referenced from this recipe at Filing Away Cupcakes, but it doesn’t cite the original source)
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus a little extra for kneading
2 teaspoons salt
1 package active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups luke warm water
1 tablespoon olive oil
a bit of butter to grease the parchment paper
1 egg plus 1 teaspoon water, lightly beaten
In a large bowl whisk together the flour, salt, and active dry yeast. Pour in the luke warm water and stir everything together with a wooden spoon until a shaggy dough forms. Use your hands to scrape the bits of dough off the spoon and begin to press the stray bits together. Knead the dough in the bowl for about 20 minutes, adding flour just a tiny bit at a time as needed. Work the dough into a ball. ** I only had to add flour twice; this dough is soft and pliable, but didn’t stick to my hands, so for me extra flour wasn’t really necessary**
Grease the bottom and sides of another large bowl with the olive oil. Place the ball of dough into the greased bowl and turn it so that all sides are coated. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap and then cover with a clean towel. Let the dough rise for 2 hours.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper. Punch the dough down in the center and then pull the sides in towards the middle. When you’ve pressed the air out of the risen dough, use a sharp knife to cut it in half. Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour and roll each half into a log or snake-like shape. Place the rolled logs of dough on the prepared baking sheet. Cover with a kitchen towel and let the dough rise for 40 minutes.
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. I used a pizza stone to bake on, but if you don’t have a pizza stone, just bake the bread on the buttered, parchment papered baking sheet. Pour about a cup of hot water into a shallow pan and place it on the bottom rack (you’ll be baking on the top) of the oven. This creates moisture in the oven.
After the 40 minute rise, use a sharp knife to score the loaves diagonally just before baking.
Bake for about 20 minutes, until the bread starts to look a little golden brown, and then brush the loaves all over with the egg wash. Drop the oven temperature to 350 and bake for another 5-7 minutes, just until the egg wash is baked on, golden, and a bit shiny looking. Let it cool just a little before cutting.
Freshly baked bread is best served the same day.