Friday, August 6, 2010

A Cool Dude Writer Eats His Own Words

How can you respect white bread? I mean, c'mon. Soft, airy-fairy, doughy, wimpy stuff that you can wad up into a tiny ball. Bugs won't eat it 'cause it's got zero nutrition. Mix it with water and it melts into this gooey, sticky mess. When the Bible says, "Cast your bread on the water and it will come back to you," I think it was referring to white bread. People on the other side of the lake don't want it. They send it back. Keep trying to send it to them and they'll come and burn down your village. Especially the bakery. No white bread.

I once had an upperclassman in my college fraternity who made me clean his room when I was a freshman pledge. He then took a slice of white bread and wiped the room down. Door tops. Tops of door casings. Chair rails. Places I didn't think to clean. He then made me eat the bread to teach me a lesson. Soon after, I switched to wholewheat.
Cool Dude Writers, of course, are kitchen magicians, and these days in our house we bake our own bread. I used to knead it by hand, but now we have a bread maker that makes the job real easy. We put in some water, olive oil, wholewheat baker's flour, dense wholemeal flour, whole grains, and a bunch of other stuff that magically turns into this fantastic elastic dough. You can then let it stay in the bread maker, where it bakes to golden perfection, or yank it out and divide into baguettes or little rolls, or pound out flat, throw high in the air in a circular motion, let flop on the counter, smear with tomato sauce and other goodies and bake as pizza on a stone in the oven. Over the years, Wendy and I have fine-tuned this recipe to our liking. It was perfect. Life was good. I was happy. No more white bread. Ever.
However, Wendy sometimes gets on health kicks and wants to start messing with perfection. You can see it in her eyes. They get this glassy, determined look, like a tiger about to strike.
And she had that exact look in her eyes the day she came home from the Adelaide Central Market and announced: "I'm adding millet to our bread."

If you don't know what millet is -- it's, well, bird seed, simple and plain. I once had a parakeet that loved millet. Parakeets are called "budgies" here in Australia -- short for budgerigar -- with the tight little Speedo swimming shorts that men wear called "budgie smugglers," for reasons I won't go into here.
Anyway, some countries consider millet a staple food. It's a grain that is extremely high in protein, as well as being alkaline. Too many acid foods and beverages -- like coffee, soft drinks, meat, white bread -- can create conditions favorable to disease. Alkaline foods help fight disease. That's why we need to eat fruits and veggies every day. Besides being full of nutrients, they are alkaline. So is millet. Which is why Wendy wanted to add it to our bread mix. Our perfect bread mix.
"I already eat enough alkaline foods," I explained. "Besides, our bread is perfect."
"This will make it better."
"You can't improve perfection."
"We won't know unless we try."
"Millet's bird seed! It'll ruin the bread!"
"No, it won't."
Foot down. Executive decision: "Yes, it will! Not going to happen!"
With glassy, determined look in her eye, like tiger about to strike: "Wanna bet?"

Wendy started to pour the millet into the bread maker.
I tried to stop her.
She dropped the cup.

Had it been flour, it would have made a messy pile on the counter and I would have wiped it up. But it was millet. And each of the thousand or so little grains was perfectly spherical, like micro-BBs. The stuff scattered everywhere. And then rolled even farther. Under furniture. In tiny cracks in our wooden floor. All across the living room rug. In fact -- all over the house. I knew I was in trouble by the dagger looks I was getting from the tiger.
"Oops," I said, smiling sheepishly. "I'll help you clean it up."
"No, you won't be helping me. Nor will I be helping you when you clean it up. The vacuum's in the garage."

I vacuumed millet for the next half hour, and to my surprise, I occasionally still find it hiding under bookcases and in other tight spots. And I'm a pretty good house cleaner.
But by far the greatest surprise was the bread. The millet added this kind of wild prairie taste that absolutely took our "perfect" bread to a whole new level. It was fantastic! And I cannot tell you how hard it is not to overdose on the stuff, especially when it comes fresh out of the oven. This stuff is perfection!
I feel obligated to take some of the credit here, because had I not protested the way I did, Wendy might have wimped out at the last minute and not added the millet. Think of what we would have missed out on had it not been for me. (I know, I know -- I don't swallow it, either. But I had to try.)
So this Cool Dude Writer had to eat his words that day. But by far my greatest surprise -- and pleasure -- was eating that bread. That perfect bread. So the next time you come over for dinner...
Originally from Baldwin, Kansas, author James Houston Turner takes partial credit for making perfect bread in his home in Adelaide, South Australia, where he writes thrillers and does his best to keep Wendy away from buckwheat, another alkaline grain. He loves flying Qantas and is astounded the company hasn't asked him to be their chief bread consultant. You may visit him at