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Hunger: Breaking (and Sharing) Bread

Hunger: Breaking (and Sharing) Bread

Harry Truman on the back of a train

I’m struck once again by the cyclical nature of the universe. Different times, different responses, same problem – a world full of hunger. This month marks seventy years since Harry Truman broadcast the first televised address from the White House. Since most households still didn’t have television in that post-war era, the story came across the airwaves as well. Truman’s request was basic, yet eloquent:

  1. Use no meat on Tuesdays
  2. Use no poultry or eggs on Thursdays
  3. Save a slice of bread every day
  4. Public eating places will serve bread and butter only on request

Food Rations post from the 40s: save wheat, meat, fats and sugar

“It is simple and straightforward,” said the President. “It can be understood by all. Learn it – memorize it – keep it always in mind.” (NY Times, Oct 6, 1947) Winter was settling in and Americans cutting their consumption of proteins and grains would help hungry Europeans struggling to rebuild.  Church World Service (I’m a board member) started with Friendship Trains that crisscrossed the country picking up food donations for transport to Europe. The last stop was New York City where a ticker tape parade sent these cars on their way, while celebrating Americans’ proud role in this hunger effort.

Eat Less Bread poster from WWII

Truman went on to say “If the peace should be lost because we failed to share our food with hungry people, there would be no more tragic example in all history of a peace needlessly lost” … ” the food-saving program announced tonight offers an opportunity to each of you to make a contribution to the peace.” 

The White House menus for that Tuesday and Thursday?

Tuesday luncheon

–grapefruit, cheese soufflé, buttered peas, grilled tomatoes, chocolate pudding

Tuesday dinner

–clear chicken soup, broiled salmon steak, scalloped potatoes, string beans, sautéed eggplant, perfection salad, sliced peaches

Thursday luncheon

–corn soup, peppers stuffed with rice and mushrooms, lima beans, glazed carrots, baked apples

Thursday dinner

–melon balls, baked ham, baked sweet potatoes, asparagus, cauliflower, green salad, coffee mallow

Got a hankering for perfection salad? Mrs. Truman would be so proud!

Perfection Salad

perfection salad recipe

 

That was then; this is now!

If only those efforts ended world hunger. With the earth’s population tripling in those 70 years (while the planet has pretty much stayed the same size!), hunger continues to persist. Obviously, I’m be dramatic and grossly simplifying what is a complicated situation. There are many factors at play, but there ARE also a few things we can all do to be part of the solution.

Sharing is Caring

The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization marks World Food Day each year on October 16, the day on which the Organization was founded in 1945. Despite many gains over the last decade, global hunger is unfortunately on the rise again. The newest numbers show an estimated 815 million people around the world are hungry and malnourished, especially those living in rural areas. Even here in the US, 85% of those in rural counties report persistent poverty – with many also suffering from food insecurity and childhood hunger.  How can you help??? I thought you’d never ask!

Hunger and Malnutrition: more than 815 million people suffer from hunger and malnutrition

Walk for the Cause

All year long, but especially in the fall, walkers from all faiths recruit pledges to support their walks to benefit the CROP program. Over the past 25 years, more than $300 million has been raised to benefit those in need both in the local community and around the world. People of all ages join to form teams and raise awareness to the plight of so many who are hungry. You too can organize a team. What a great way to enjoy this weather and help a brother out! If you are not a walker, but still want to help raise awareness and funds, you can add your financial support to my hunger campaign at TeamCWS.

Be Less Wasteful

In the US, we are still wasting 40% of our food supply. That’s a crying shame.  About a year ago when I first started writing about food waste, I took on two very simple habits and have not only saved food, but saved a stash of cash while doing so.

40% Food Waste infographic; food waste could feed 25 million Americans

 

  1. Before I lose any fruit that is about to spoil, I trim, peel, chop or whatever is needed and put it in Ziplocs in the freezer. Ripe bananas ready for banana bread? Check! Blueberries for my smoothie. You bet!! I sometimes find multiple things going at once and make smoothie packs…. like one cup blueberries, 1/2 pear and 1/4 avocado in one Ziploc ready for my chia smoothie. Just add coconut milk and chia. (Thanks Lyn-Genet!)
  2. And before I lose vegetables, I make soup. If I don’t have time to make a full batch, I will sauté the vegetables and cover them in stock and then freeze, so I have a soup starter when I do have time.

You can thank me later!

Feeding the Future

As all this waste was churning through my mind, I happened upon a food truck on Columbus Avenue one Sunday afternoon. Or was it? No, despite handing out burgers (or were they?), it was not a food truck. It was The Economist. They were wrangling subscribers, but by highlighting a very real issue, while handing out pea burgers. How do our culinary trends and food production impact our planet? I have to say this graphic caught my eye.

Cost of Livestock infographic - Cost of Livestock trillion industry

Their campaign Feeding the Future (please, please, please check out the amazing info here!) raises very real questions about everyday decisions that have meaningful impact on climate change.  Meatless Monday does more than cut your own cholesterol. It reduces methane gases. More greenhouse emissions from agriculture than all motorized transport combined? Color me surprised.

Half of a Pea Burger in cardboard server

I tried their pea-based burger and it surprisingly tasted and felt like beef. I am not sure that is a good thing. I usually like alternatives that are a replacement with a whole new concept. Innovate don’t mimic. But the point was well taken – you can have a meaty burger without killing a cow. Don’t worry – I’m not going all veg-head on you, but if we sub a few alternatives here and there, those drops in a bucket across millions of people will add up to positive impact. I swear it!

#RealSchoolFood

And if none of this is for you, here is something that you can do for school children with virtually no effort. Everybody is for healthy food for schoolchildren, right?

Real School Food infographic: 1 in 3 American kids are overweight or obese

Snap a photo of yourself/your friend/your dog holding a sign that is tagged #RealSchoolFood and post on social media. Make sure it is public (if posting on Facebook) and tag my friend Chef Ann! (Facebook: @Chef Ann Foundation, Twitter: @ChefAnnFnd, Instagram: @chefannfoundation). And for that tiny little effort on your part, the sponsors of #RealSchoolFood will donate a $1 to improve school meals for all our kids. I call that a winner!

Find a way to make a difference. And help spread the word. Here’s to better eating for all!!

#RealSchoolFood

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Passion & Purpose: Laughing Tree Bakery

Passion & Purpose: Laughing Tree Bakery

Proofing Dough in Baskets

 

Hands. As in hard working hands. Hands is the word that immediately springs to mind after spending a morning in rural Michigan somewhere near Hart. (“We could give you an address, but we’re not really on the map – this will get you pretty close”, I was told.) Hand-built, hand-mixed, hand-folded, hand-formed…made by hand. Until my visit, I thought I had some idea about what bread baking involved. But when I entered the hand-built bakery with hand-made brick oven at Laughing Tree, it was clear I did not. Not like this, anyway. There were no mixers, no rack ovens, no utility lines. Charlie and Hilde Muller have brought their off-the-grid sensibilities that are the basis of their home life to the bread baking business. Solar panels power the very few electric appliances – mainly refrigeration and presumably a couple of lights needed for 2am baking – and hardwood cut-offs, milled locally and the remnants of local pallet making, fire the oven. Laughing Tree Bakery is the only 100% solar-powered commercial kitchen in the state of Michigan.

Charlie & Hilde Muller at the Muskegon Farmers\' Market

While Laughing Tree Bakery has only been around since 2010, Charlie, a veteran of the Peace Corps,  and Hilde have been baking bread – first separately, now together – since the 90s, first crossing paths in Ypsilanti. Hilde eventually found herself at the legendary Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, but not before popping in on the Depot Town Sourdough Bakery in Ypsilanti to see what was happening. Charlie, having baked his way from one coast to the other, was then the head baker at Depot. Along his journey, Charlie had the very good fortune of working with the legendary Alan Scott, artisan of the brick oven.  When the Mullers finally found land where they could build a house and set up their own bakehouse, Alan’s design became the cornerstone of the kitchen. Charlie’s hand-built brick oven uses wood-fired heat captured by 15,000 pounds of masonry to create a radiant environment. This special design results in even heat so critical for creating loaves with “crusty, crackly exteriors and moist, perfectly textured interiors”. The vaulted arch with a low ceiling is important for bread production, so that the top of the bread is closer to the radiating masonry above for even baking and so that the steam is kept close to the bread, aiding in crust formation.

Charlie Muller with a peel in front of the wood fired oven

The commitment to sustainability and attention to detail does not of course stop with design. Over the years, they have sourced like-minded farmers that produce certified organic grains and flours: Central Milling, Natural Way Mills, and Ferris Organic Farm, a Michigan-based mill. Many of the breads are loaded with add-ins – sesames, flax, sunflowers, raisins, walnuts, Sunspire chocolate chips – also all organic.  All but one of their eleven weekly breads – Oceana, a yeast dough named after their home county – are sourdough. Charlie mixes all the doughs, and I was surprised to see, all by hand in large tubs. Sourdough is a very wet, slack dough, and his is made simply from flour, well water, salt and a starter. And unlike yeast-risen doughs that require kneading to develop the glutens, this dough is bulk-fermented and quietly folded several times over several hours. Mind blown.  

Charlie Mixing the sourdough by hand

 

Dumping the DoughRather than develop glutens, fermentation in fact is the key to breaking them down. The yeast and bacteria present in the sourdough starter transform the grains into digestible material. Hilde told me that “this is the process that makes gluten digestible for most. It is essentially a pre-digestion process.  A healthy sourdough can have as many as 14 different yeast strains and multiple bacterial strains.  In a commercially made yeasted loaf, only one strain of yeast is present and no bacteria.” 

Slacking Olive Dough

Resting Dough at Laughing Tree BakeryProofing Baskets on a baker\'s rack at Laughing TreeSaturday is Market Day for the Mullers, but the process for the next week starts again pretty much as soon as the last loaf is sold. It’s a continuous flow. If you have never been on the line in a commercial kitchen, you may not have a sense of the intricacy of kitchen timing. There, unlike in a kitchen using a wood-fired bread oven, we can easily turn up/down the gas with the flick of a wrist, and there are a lot of precise ways to determine temperature. At Laughing Tree, it is more art than science. The oven is fired over several days, long before baking commences, and only then the dance begins to bake the right things at the right time and at the right temp. During the stoking time, Charlie spends Wednesday weighing all the ingredients and add-ins and prepping the baskets. Meanwhile, Hilde is in charge of pastry recipes and production, wholesale accounts, orders, packaging, communications, scheduling and managing the staff. Charlie then spends Thursday mixing, folding, shaping and proofing. By Friday when the temperature has dropped from a peak of perhaps 1100oF to roughly 650oF, it’s time to start baking bread. The cold loaves from the overnight in-basket proofing are transferred to a peel and pushed onto the hot hearth. (All signs of fire have now been swept away.) Charlie generally can get in 8 oven-loads of 30-50 loaves each between 6am and 2pm before the temp gets down into cookie-baking range. Two or 3 oven-loads of Hilde’s cookies later (about 300 cookies), and it’s time to re-stoke the fire. After once again reaching a sufficiently hot temperature, the oven is ready for four evening loads of bread. Most of the bread baking is done on Friday most of the year. However, during summer markets and the very fabulous sandwich stand in the Muskegon Market (stall #9 – run Forest run – from June til the end of this month), sandwich loaves are baked on Thursday so they are cool enough to slice. And if you aren’t tired yet, the Mullers are popping three rounds of scones in on Saturday morning around 2:30 am while packing up the van for the markets. Then – finally – the last remaining bit of heat is used the following Monday to bake off Hilde’s granola and brownies when the temperature has cooled down to 325oF. Applause! Applause!! Applause!!

It’s a Family Affair

Don’t think that Charlie and Hilde are doing this alone.

Alida Muller, laughing tree bakery helperThis is Alida, age 3, and I have to say she was a fine helper the day that I visited. I have seen firsthand what happens when she uses her deft hand to dust the loaves with the final sprinkle of rice flour. While she doesn’t have an official loaf, the Honey Oat Loaf is called Rosie’s Honey Oat, after her nickname. Finn, age 11, is the namesake for Finn’s Pecan Raisin Pecan, chocked full or pecans and organic raisins. And Annie’s Raisin Spice, made with a Michigan-grown whole wheat, is named after the Muller’s 8-year-old. There is a very special Pilgrim Rye that honors the legacy of the angel baby Pippin Muller, who would be 5 now. His name is a shortened version of Peregrine, which shares a Latin root with Pilgrim.

The passion for bread and baking and having a low impact on the world around them has transcended generations and gives this family purpose and a shared sense of responsibility. It is easy to see – and taste – the commitment they all have in sharing their passion with others. It was Charlie’s grandmother that said when the winds are blowing the trees are laughing. I can’t speak for the trees, but the Elbridge  Parmesan Olive Loaf sure puts a smile on my face.

What Makes Our Breads Unique - farmers market sign with Charlie Muller

Where to Find Laughing Tree Bakery Treats

Laughing Tree Bakery breads are available in several farmer’s markets on Saturdays: Grand Haven (through October) and Sweetwater and Muskegon Markets (year-round). In addition, you can find them at Gala Gourmet (Newago), Healthy Pantry (Whitehall), Montague Foods (Montague), The Cheese Lady Muskegon (holiday schedule), Hansen Foods (Hart), and Health Hutt (Muskegon). To get on the mailing list for weekly updates of varieties and schedules, send an email to [email protected].

Hiilde on the Line at Laughing Tree Farmer\'s Market stand

 

Sandwich Stand at the Muskegon Farmers Market

Every summer until the last days of September, the Mullers set up an impressive stand (Stall 9) at the Muskegon Farmers Market. I think we have already established my profound desire over all things grilled cheese – it doesn’t hurt that this is called Grilled Cheese Charlie – but also not to be missed are Suzie’s Voracious Veggie, Market Day Reuben, and Morris Avenue Ham Slam. The Mullers make their own sauces and source organic toppings like sauerkraut and kimchi from fellow vendors in the market.

Reuben sandwich hot off the grill at farmers market

Big Bite of Laughing Tree breads Rueben Sandwich

Grilled Cheese & Tomato on Third Coast Three Seed

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Grilled Cantelet, Chipotle Fig Spread & Pear on Three Coast Three Seed

Laughing Tree Bakery Grilled Cantalet, Chipotle Fig Spread, and Pear Sandwich


  • Author: Katy Keck
  • Total Time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: 1 sandwich

Description

I love choosing a nice chewy sourdough like Three Coast Three Seed Loaf from Laughing Tree Bakery and stuffing it full of cantalet, sliced pears and a healthy dose of chipotle fig spread. This cheese is a great melter and the bread becomes a golden crusty wrap. 


Ingredients

  • Butter
  • Sourdough bread, sliced (Laughing Tree’s Three Coast Three Seed is a winner!)
  • Cantalet or melting cheese, sliced
  • Chipotle Fig Marinade, used as a spread
  • Firm pear, thinly sliced

Instructions

Melt 1 Tablespoon butter in a sauté pan.

Spread one slice of bread with chipotle fig marinade and place slice, along with a second slice in pan, over medium heat.  

Layer slices of cheese and pear on both sides and cook until melted.  When cheese is melted and bread golden, flip one slice onto the other. Transfer to a cutting board and cut in half. 

Notes

Cantalet is one of France’s oldest cheeses. Produced in the Auvergne Valley and dating to Roman times, Cantalet is a firm, creamy, mild but nutty cow’s milk cheese. Try any melting cheese you like, but this one pairs nicely with the chipotle, fig and pears already in play.

If you don’t have any chipotle fig marinade on hand, use any prepared fig spread

  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 5 minutes

Grilled Cantelet, Chipotle Fig Spread & Pear on Three Coast Three Seed

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