Daunted by the eye-popping price of artisanal whole grain breads, and missing the regular bread-baking I used to do when I lived in Seattle, I decide to try the “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” method, a one-container method in which dough is mixed in a capped container, refrigerated and baked as needed.
Checking the cupboard for whole wheat flour, I found that almost the entirety of a 5-pound bag had been colonized by grisly flying things that make me itchy just to look at them. I decided that, from now on, I’m going to buy only as much whole grain flour as I need, which will require a visit to bins at a health food store. (I know I could freeze it but freezer space is scarce at our house.)
Plus, the “Five Minutes a Day” method calls for “Vital Wheat Gluten,” and that, too, is a health food store item.
Planning my shopping-and-errand route, it struck me that I live in one of the most nutritionally blighted neighborhoods in the city: Kalihi. Overweight, diabetes, heart problems — all the lifestyle-related diseases — are rampant among young and old in the nearby projects. And, as much as I love all the amazing local food in Kalihi and Liliha, it’s as though the whole neighborhood were golden brown and deep-fried. Except for a few Thai and Vietnamese outposts, and Tamashiro Market fish, it’s all about crispy-crunchy-fatty (as my daughter likes to say) or gravy-gooey-starchy.
And, unless I missed something, there is no health food store within walking or short bus-trip distance. In the very place where whole grains, fiber-rich vegetables, alternative proteins and healthier convenience foods would do the most good, there isn’t any. that’s just sad.
I’ve mentioned before that markets here practice a sort of culinary red-lining. Many ingredients that are readily available at, say, Foodland Beretania or Times King Street are not to be had at the Foodland and Times markets serving this community. Curly parsley, yes; flat-leaf parsley, no. Artisanal breads are stocked in small numbers, selling out fast. “Gourmet” ingredients come and go unreliably — mostly go. You can’t find “health” foods: bins of grains, a wide choice of cereals, healthier frozen foods, tempeh, seitan, soy foods, yogurt and its cousins that aren’t drenched in sugary syrups. But if you want super-size cans of oil-drenched Palm Corned Beef or giant bags of fatty frozen spare ribs, come see us in colorful “Kaliher.”
I’d love to be truthfully contradicted: Is there a health food store closer than Down to Earth? Is there a bakery doing high-quality whole-grain breads? Can you find fresh local fruit (except for the food stand store on Liliha, forget its name)? Polynesian food, Puerto Rican pasteles, bento and plate lunch, the best garlic chicken on the planet, Filipino baked goods and grocery items, Hawaiian delicacies: we got ’em. Healthy, affordable foods for everyday eating? Go elsewhere, please, while low-income Hawaiians and Polynesians and other ethnicities suffer ill health in shameful numbers.
Yes, I know, nobody’s forcing the weightlifter-size plate lunches down people’s throats. But no one’s offering them much choice, or much education, either. (I know agencies like Palama Settlement and the local health clinics do their best.) If you could find a well-made brown rice and grilled tofu musubi here, maybe they’d buy it instead of SPAM-and-white-rice. If healthier foods were as cheap as fatty, salty, sugary snacks, and didn’t cost gas or a pesky bus ride, maybe more people would choose the better options.
Or maybe I’m just a dreamer.
PS: My first attempt was an edible but disappointing failure. This recipe, from the second book by foodie physician Jeff Hertzberg and chef Zoe Francois, whose first book “Artisan Breads in Five Minutes a Day,” started a small revolution. The second book, “Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day,” focuses on whole grain breads.
Checking their troubleshooting chapter, I see that a) I used bread flour, which requires more water, b) I didn’t let it rise long enough. Their technique owes something to the longtime tradition of sourdough starters, loaves that start with a sponge and cool-rise techniques.
But it’s radical. There’s no proofing (modern yeast almost never fails unless you’ve mistreated it), no kneading, no punching down. If you’ve been baking bread by traditional methods, you’ll be skeptical if not appalled. All you do is mix dry ingredients (including yeast and salt) in stand mixer or by hand, add 100-degree water all at once, turn into a large, covered container, let rise 2 hours, place in fridge to rise another 2 hours (or up to two weeks). Pull of a loaf’s worth, shape in seconds by hand, rise on counter, bake in super-hot oven with a pan of hot water for steam. Next time you need a loaf, cut off a grapefruit-size lump with scissors or knife.
The “Five Minute a Day” moniker is a misnomer: It’s five minutes’ WORK a day, but you do need rising time, during which you can be doing something else. However, you can pull out and shape your loaf in the morning, let it rise in the fridge during the day while you’re at work, then, when you get home, rise at room temperature while the oven heats and bake fresh bread for dinner. See recipes, ideas, FAQs at www.artistanbreadinfiveminutesaday.com.
I’ll let you know how Attempt 2 comes out.