You might ask, "Why the name 'Simple Kneads?'"
Or you may not have given it a second thought, or you may think it's slightly cute-sie,
but nothing more. On the contrary, there is actually depth behind the title.
This blog is a long time coming.
I have adored the art of homemade long before I knew that there was such a thing. Let me explain.
As a child of divorced parents, living with a single mother (who eventually remarried, but that's another story for another day) I was raised on canned goods, Velveeta, Little Debbie snacks, and quick-fix meals from a package or box. There was nothing particularly bad about this, it made perfect sense considering my Mother was an in-home daycare provider and didn't have time or energy to seek out fresh foods. She also didn't have the drive or passion to make things from scratch--nor did she grow up in that environment herself.
Once I reached my pre-teen years I began to gain more weight than my neighborhood friends and classmates. As a girl, I was extremely self-conscious of this fact, not to mention I was painfully shy and awkward. My Mom took note of my steady weight gain and pushed organized sports. As a teen, my Mother had an eating disorder and was aware of the potential ramifications of weight obsession; she saw herself in me, and didn't want me to stumble down the same road. Unfortunately, I later would--albeit a different rocky path, I was still weight-obsessed and took various means and measures to ensure that I would stay a certain size.
All this to say, if my mother would have promoted healthier eating, more natural practices, and a "wholistic" approach, if you will, I may have steered clear of the practices which would later plague my teenage years. I don't blame any of this on her, she hadn't the means or the knowledge to know otherwise.
In high school, amid my struggles, I got my first job at a natural foods store. In essence, it changed me. I began to study nutrition, and how each thing I eat or drink affects my body--and how quantity and quality are major factors as well. I began to make changes and slowly, my mind and body were altered. I no longer made excuses for my weight, as I did in junior high (e.g. I am just big-boned" or "I have low metabolism" or on the flip side, in high school "I am not starving myself" or "I don't have an eating disorder."
My weight became healthy because I changed my lifestyle, and because I was aware of how certain foods could benefit me both in the present and future.
I went all-natural, baby.
But don't worry, I still shave my armpits.
I took these concepts with me to college. I'm not going to say I didn't stumble a bit through certain periods, but I definitely had a new perspective. I walked everywhere (not kidding, my college roomate can attest to this!). I hit the salad bar every meal while living in the dorms (and, honestly, the salad bar at Burge dormitory was pretty high-quality!). I ran consistently and participated in my first half-marathon. I drank tons of water. I warded off sugar, and took the stairs as often as possible.
I changed my life.
I continued to educate myself on a daily basis, reading articles and shopping at my local organic foods store. I got married and realized, I'm now in charge of cooking for my family--thus, started a love of baking/cooking. My culinary practices have stemmed from making simple meals of a meat, a green veggie and a starch to stir frys, roasts, braising, searing, broiling, poaching, emulsifying, etc. I endlessely watched the Food Network to learn new tricks, studied my cookbooks, and watched friends and relatives closely. Two years ago I went to China for a month and was able to gain a whole new level of understanding: the art of international cuisine. My mind expanded to include other nations and cultures--how do they cook? What makes their culinary practices unique? I delved into French cooking methods, Italian gastronomy, and ancient Chinese utilization of food-as-medicine. My mind was thirsty for more knowledge, more understanding. However, I had one thing that had always intimidated me. One thing I could just not master.
It perplexed me. I didn't understand it. And the idea of something that was, literally, living in my bread, was a touch terrifying. However, I wasn't willing to stop until I learned how it was done. Forget breadmakers, stand mixers fitted with a dough hook (though now I use this method at times), or frozen, store-bought dough. I wanted to learn the real way to do it. I wanted to learn to knead.
Soon, I got my chance.
Last year, my husband and I lived in Africa for 10 months. We lived in extremely remote tribal regions within Kenya, Sudan, and Tanzania. I met and befriended three incredible missionary wives (Sheila Dilworth, Deb Miller, and Sue Scheenstra) who each tought me the art of bread-making, because, well, there is no other option! When you are in the middle of the African bush "getting groceries" means having to fly baking goods in via Cessna aircraft (or drive for miles on unpaved, ghastly roads to find the nearest duka--small shop--of which would generally have nothing but cornmeal). Pre-made bread was not an option. It was trial by fire and my tush was burning. Either learn to make it or whither away on beans and rice. I chose the former. I’m glad I did.
Mixing, kneading, waiting, watching, punching, shaping, waiting, watching, baking. These became my modes of pure joy. I know what you’re thinking: “What a sad, sorry soul.” I beg to differ. It is an act of patience and precise understanding of elemental baking. It is beautiful. It is infectious. It is my yeast…um…infection. Haha. I wrote a short piece on this very same infection for one of my favorite blogs, found HERE.
Pizza made in Tanzania (with all home grown, home made ingredients):
While in Africa I learned everything there is to know about yeast. I made white and whole-wheat bread, buns, cinnamon rolls, pizza crust and hamburger buns. I lived for the smell of rising bread. It was contagious and it has become, well, the love of my life (ahem, aside from my husband, har har). At the end of my time I was teaching some of my close native friends how to work with yeast, showing them how to cook more healthfully and in a wholesome fashion (sidenote: many native Africans, especially in the East Africa region, use mass amounts of oil to cook nearly everything; they need the fat, but it causes quite an array of problems in the long run).
Here is a photo of my friend Elizabeth, and another local woman, making yeast rolls:
Then eating bread made from the pumpkin in Elizabeth's garden, this was a baking lesson from a previous day:
It was wonderful, learning how to create meals from local ingredients, then teaching others to do the same. It started, yet another, fire within me to continue living this way once we returned to the U.S. Upon return, I experienced much culture-shock, to be sure, but the most shocking of all was seeing how wasteful and consumptuous (is that a word?) Americans are.
It's incredible, really.
We eat, and eat, and drink, and drink, and waste and waste and waste. And we don't care. We don't take notice of it whatsoever. We also eat without thinking, eat while we're driving, eat while we watch TV, eat while we play on the PC. We eat because we're bored or because we're depressed. We take no pleasure in eating except to stuff ourselves or satisfy our gluttonous ways. We don't savor each bite, nor care how the food was made, we just consume. There are exceptions to the rule, however. I have met many who think and act differently. Yet there are far more who fit the stereotype to-a-T.
Thus, I have set out to share and show how this problem might be turned around. How I have turned around my own life. How I have learned and grown through my own education and travels.
This site will include articles, facts, recipes, featured bloggers and friends, thoughts, fun finds, and other tidbits that will help you make more informed gastronomical choices. This is not a weight loss website, it isn't even a "all-natural, organic, going-green" blog, it's simply posts about how you can learn to be healthier and better satisfied with your body, mind, and lifestyle through "the art of homemade."
It's a blog about needs, simple needs.
Or rather, Simple Kneads, because there is nothing more foundational that the practice and purpose of breadmaking. It is what paved the way for me. I hope, through this little project, you might find something that does the same for you.