Tuesday 7 July 2020

The Millefiori Project: Exploring the science, history, and culture of gluten-free ingredients through articles, videos, live classes, and more!

If you’ve followed this blog for a long time (in which case, hi, and thanks!), you will know that some years back I started talking about my intentions of writing a book, right around the time I started talking about starting a bakery. While I finally got a tiny baking business officially started a couple years ago, the would-be book continued existing only as an ever-expanding collection of files on my computer. It turns out that even a microbakery takes up a ton of time and energy, (who could've guessed??) and I found it harder to prioritize writing when - blunt as the truth may be - people buy bread, and writing was unpaid work. Even harder was trying to navigate the line of which results of that work I could afford to put out for free, versus what I ought to save for The Book. Hardest of all, I was having to pick and choose which of the zillions of fascinating findings I collected were the best fit for this book, which meant at some point I had to arbitrarily decide I was “done” with a topic, and also leave out a lot of worthwhile stuff just because a book wasn’t the best medium for it, and…well, I think you get the idea.

So, I came up with a better idea. Introducing: The Millefiori Project. 

It’s sort of like a cookbook, except I’m putting it out a few pages at a time (starting right now instead of having to wait for a faraway publication date), and some of those pages are videos. This project is the natural continuation of the last several years of my work investigating our foods from the overlapping perspectives of chemistry, history, and culture. I can’t describe how exciting it is to finally bring all the pieces together! The result is a place to share all the research, experiments, and other discoveries that don’t fit at the bakery or in a cookbook, and even more importantly, it allows the level of community discussion and collaboration that are essential to progressing our collective understanding of baking without gluten.  

I may be a bit biased, but I believe if I do my job properly, the work I’m doing here will be relevant to the fields of culinary history, food science, and various adjacent social sciences, as well as being accessible and interesting to the broader audiences interested in food and/or culture. 

I don’t want the future availability of that information to be subject to the whims of a publishing company that decides when or if it gets another printing run (let alone a revised/updated edition) based on how profitable they think the gluten-free diet is at a given point in time (because despite the broad applicability of the research, any book produced from this work would at its heart be a cookbook, and a gluten-free one at that). This is an important consideration when writing about subjects with frequent research developments, yes, but also vital to acting in accordance with my values. By making my work accessible in real time, it also creates opportunities for discourse, collaboration, and community - all of which take the project to far more interesting places than I could reach as a solo researcher.

You can find more information about the work I'm doing, follow the project, and get involved on the website, Patreon, Instragram, and Twitter. The first live video class, coming very soon, will be a sourdough workshop!

Tuesday 30 July 2019

Millefiori Bakery will be at Raleigh Living Free Expo - ticket giveaway!

 As you may know, last year I started selling bread and other baked goods as Millefiori Bakery. I'm excited to announce that on August 10th I will have a table at my first big event - you can find me at the Raleigh Living Free Expo which will take place inside the Kerr Scott Building of the Raleigh State Fairgrounds. The event goes from 10 am - 4 pm. 

I will be there with a selection of my favorite gluten-free sourdough breads, pastries, and cookies, both for sale and to sample! I will also be giving an informative talk on gluten-free breadmaking. 

Hope to see you there! If you would like to enter to win a free ticket or two, please leave a comment on this post or send me an email!

Saturday 29 December 2018

I’m a bakery now

Awhile back I promised you all an exciting announcement. Well, here it is: 

...  ...

I have opened my baking business!! This project has been many years in the making but now it’s really here, I’m so excited I can hardly believe it myself! 

I named it Millefiori, which - translated literally - means “a thousand flowers” but is regularly used to just mean many flowers, such as with a wildflower honey, or even a floral design...or in my case, a pun for many flours...get it? (It’s worth mentioning, too, that I indeed use flowers in my baking as well, as all of my colorings and flavorings are plant derived.)

I specialize in sourdough breads and wild yeast breads, and also make many sorts of cakes, cookies, and pastry. As with my blog, all my products are all natural, free of gums, and feature a focus on local and heirloom ingredients and traditional baking techniques.

If you live in the Durham area you can order from my website, or (hopefully - I’ve just applied!) find me at the Durham Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays starting this spring. (Unfortunately I am only allowed to ship within NC at this point.) My website is still under construction at the tim of writing but soon it will have a more complete menu of photos to order from. Meanwhile simply email me to order breads etc. Keep an eye out for Millefiori on social media later this month, too. And don’t worry, the blog isn’t going anywhere! I actually should have more time to post recipes now that my Big Not-so-Secret Project is finally rolling!

Sourdough bread from millet starter
Italian lemon almond cookies 
Hummingbird cake with white chocolate buttercream

Sunday 29 July 2018

Raleigh GFAF Wellness Event: 11 August

Hey everyone in the Triangle area - the annual Raleigh GFAF Event is coming up on Saturday, August 11! Like last year, the event will be at the NC State Fairgrounds, and it starts at 10 am.

I will be speaking at the event to answer your questions about gluten-free breadmaking and sourdough (with samples)...and I will have a sign up sheet for my new baking classes!

As usual, I have some tickets to give away, so if you'd like to join us at the event leave a comment below!

Wednesday 30 May 2018

The case against "aquafaba" (Or, in defense of bean broth).

I realize the title of this post may ruffle some feathers, so let’s get one thing straight: I have nothing against this ingredient - on the contrary, I’ve been using it regularly for a few years now. (If you’re still wondering what this so-called “aquafaba” is, don’t worry, I’m about to fill you in.) And if you know and love this stuff, hear me out - I love it too, but there are a few issues I just can’t overlook...about its name. It’s been quietly bothering me since I first encountered it, and now that some commercial products are starting to use the ingredient, I just have to speak up. 

First off, just to make sure we’re all on the same page here: I’m talking about a certain egg substitution trick that’s been making waves in the last three or so years. It works fantastically in many situations, in fact, often much better and more versatile than other popular subs like flax gel, fruit puree, tofu, or packaged egg replacer. Most importantly, unlike these other egg subs, it creates a stable foam. And chances are, you already have it in your pantry! If you’re already in the loop, you know where this is headed. But if not, get ready...this is going to sound pretty weird. Are you ready? OK, here we go: It’s the liquid from boiled or canned beans. Yep, that soupy stuff you usually pour down the drain. I’m serious! The chemical/molecular reasons why it works are very different from what goes on in an actual egg (I’ll get to this later), but the end results have a surprising number of similarities. When I first read about this back in 2015 I was immediately excited - what a neat way of exploring the properties of food! 

Now, here’s where the controversy comes in: This discovery is attributed to certain individuals in the vegan baking community, and these same people dubbed the ingredient “aquafaba,” cobbled-together Latin for “bean water.” Again, I’m very fond of the ingredient, and find it extremely useful - in fact, in some GF formulas, I find the results to be superior to using actual eggs (I’ll get to that later too). But first, let’s address the terminology. I’m not a fan of that name. Commonly, the immediate response to hearing it is “aqua-what??” Newcomers to free-from diets are already overwhelmed by the long list of unfamiliar inventory. There’s no need to add to that by making up new words for things that we’re already well acquainted with. Just call it what it is: bean broth. That may still take a tiny bit of explaining, but it’s a descriptive and matter-of-fact term that avoids making it sound weird or “alternative.” 

But wait, shouldn’t the people who discovered it have the right to name it what they want?, you may be asking. Which brings me to my next point: I’m not on board with the origin story either. As a matter of fact, we already know that bean broth actually has been deliberately used as an ingredient for centuries. In medieval Europe, where animal foods were intermittently restricted by the Catholic calendar, water from boiling legumes was commonly used to enrich soups in place of meat broth on non-meat days. So we know for a fact people noticed its consistency was useful. That’s an example that’s actually documented - many more everyday uses of humble ingredients likely went unrecorded! This knowledge wasn’t lost in the middle ages, by the way: for instance, the 1982 cookbook Bean Cuisine (where it is referred to as bean stock) suggests using it to add body and flavor to casseroles and soups. 

The people who are given credit for “discovering aquafaba” might have been the first ones to notice that the liquid from canned beans is just the right concentration that it can be subbed for eggs by weight - and that is indeed a highly significant discovery, don’t get me wrong. But considering beans have been boiled in kitchens everywhere for hundreds and hundreds of years, I would honestly be surprised if no one ever considered its potential until 2014. I mean, have you ever watched a pot of beans cooking, when the foam starts to rise and maybe even boils over? That stuff fluffs up like a bubble bath! I can't really fathom that in all the time humans have been cooking legumes, there hasn't been at least one person who's noticed that foam and thought, ‘hey, maybe I could use that property,’ just as people noticed it could be used to thicken. Additionally, on an academic level, the foam-stabilizing properties of legume arabinogalactans have been noted in research papers (specifically, papers focusing on the microstructure of idli and other fermented foods) going back to the 1970s - so we also know the foaming properties were indeed previously recognized as useful in baking applications long before this decade.

So, there’s my rant. Check back soon for part 2, where I’ll show you the science of how and why to use this ingredient for gluten-free baking!

Bean broth whipped for icing.

Tuesday 8 May 2018

Happy celiac awareness month!

As you may have heard, we're now a week in to Celiac Awareness Month! By this point, you've probably seen a lot of posts using this awareness to urge people to get tested and get their family tested, as the disease has a strong genetic link and is present in almost 1% of the population (in case you didn't know that - I do still run into plenty of people who believe it's "super rare" based on outdated info)! 

But what if you've already done those things? Or what if persuading family members to get tested is easier said than done? What if all the awareness-raising suggestions you see just feel too big for you right now? 

So, I decided to come up with three smaller, more approachable things YOU can do for celiac awareness this month:

1. Make your community more accessible for celiacs by educating others about how to reduce cross-contamination. This can be as simple as suggesting to your local food co-op about organizing bulk bins so the rice and beans are very far away from gluten items (I've done this, and it worked!!) or politely asking detailed questions about preparation when you go to local restaurants.

2. Lead by example: I don't know if you've had this experience, but I've encountered many people over the years who acknowledge they may have some degree of sensitivity, yet avoid getting tested because they think they'd have to give up everything good. Yikes! Few things are more frustrating than someone saying "I'd rather be sick than give up bread' - especially when you know that being celiac doesn't mean giving up bread at all (as you can tell from a look through my site)! So, maybe this month share some good GF food with someone who could be helped by seeing that living GF doesn't have to be difficult or mean missing out.

3. Build community by meeting and supporting fellow celiacs. For most people, the single most difficult part of a restricted diet is feeling left out and standing out when you don't want to - making friends with other food-sensitive people is a great way to help prevent that for you and someone else! Find some people who you can go out to restaurants with, swap recipe tips with, or even have potlucks with and all feel normal together. 

A great opportunity to do that third one is coming up in less than a month for those of us in NC: the Triad Gluten & Allergen Free Wellness Event will be held on Saturday, the 2nd of June, at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds. (Yes I know that's no longer May, but it's pretty close...) I will be there giving a talk on GF breadmaking. Hope to meet some of you there! I also have 4 tickets to give away - please leave a comment with your name if you would like a ticket or 2!

P.S. I have a really really exciting announcement coming up in the next few weeks, so stay tuned!

Tuesday 2 January 2018

Reflections and resolutions

As of a few days after Christmas, it’s now ten years that I’ve been gluten-free. That’s well over a third of my life! I had fully intended to mark the occasion with not one, but two new recipes that were not only seasonable and festive, but also of the traditionally-French persuasion that has been an inspiration for my baking since the beginning. But (as life has tended to do these last weeks-months-years), life got in the way of being able to fine-tune these recipes in a timely manner (really, there are only so many failed bûches de noël one can stand to make before deciding that whatever comes out of the oven this time will be the holiday dessert, no matter how it looks!) - and so, by the time Christmas came and went (so quickly!) both of these recipes were still in something of a rough-draft stage: pretty enough to photograph, plenty good enough to eat, but not quite polished enough to post. 
Bûche de noël
Buckwheat pain d'épices
Funnily, that says a lot about how far we - the gluten-free community - have come in these ten years: back then, anything reasonably edible and presentable was cause for celebration and sharing the recipe would be a matter of course. Now, we have the luxury (perhaps even a little bit of a duty?) of being perfectionistic, because we’ve collectively proven that things made of buckwheat and beans and chestnut and millet and potato and rice and sorghum can and should be every bit as good and as real as those made from wheat and rye. And so I give you pictures for now, because while these things were good, I know they can be better. It didn’t happen in time for Christmas, but it will happen. The bar for victory is higher, and that’s a good thing. 

So, this New Year’s Day, I propose a resolution for the celiac/GF community: going forward, let’s remove phrases like “too good to be gluten-free” from our vocabulary. Clearly, if we’re saying that about something, it’s good and it is gluten-free. There was a time when that may have been surprising. Now, though, we have more than enough examples of beautiful and delicious breads, cookies, pastry, and cakes to show that this phrase has lost its relevance. Is it harder, does it take longer to fine-tune a recipe? Maybe. Is there still a lot of bad GF food out there? Yes, of course. Will baking disasters and terrible recipe attempts still happen? Oh yeah. But it’s easy for us to forget, with the larger learning curve we face with our flours, that those disasters and disappointments happen to wheat-bakers, too. And yet, still we all seem to keep being surprised when something is good even now that "too good" seems to have become more of the norm than the exception. So, GF bakers and GF eaters: this year, let’s resolve to stop perpetuating the stereotype. Here’s to a year of baking and eating and sharing things that are exactly good enough to be gluten-free, and getting even better all the time. 
Good bread. Gluten free.