29 Sep

Flour Girl: Gluten

With celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Victoria Beckam, and Chelsea Clinton (does she count as a celebrity?) going gluten free, everyone seems to be jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon these days. While gluten does effect people with celiac disease, like my best friend Sarah,  and others may experience some gluten intolerance, most of us can live quite happily incorporating gluten into their diet.

And that’s a good thing too, because we need gluten to make fantastic loaves of bread.

Basic Sourdough Bread

What is gluten anyway?

Barley, rye, and wheat naturally contain proteins glutenin and gliadin. Gluten is formed when these two molecules are linked together.

How does gluten form exactly?

Kneading the dough is the process by which the glutenin and gliadin proteins link together to form gluten. When you smack the dough around a bit, these proteins start bumping into each other and the result is the molecular cross-linking we know as gluten. The more you knead the dough, the more homogeneous the links, and the stronger it will be.

Don’t worry about overmixing the dough to the point that gluten strands start to breakdown again. Unless you have a bionic arm, this is impossible.

It helps to use a flour that is high in protein to ensure a hearty loaf of bread. No two flours are created equal.Most bread recipes will work with all purpose flour, but your best bet is a bread flour or a high-gluten bread flour.

High Gluten Bread Flour: 14-16% protein

Bread Flour: 12-14% protein

All Purpose Flour: 10-12% protein

Pastry Flour: 7-10% protein

Cake Flour: 6-7% protein

Well, then what about those crazy “No Knead” bread recipes? Do they have gluten?

But of course! A lot of these recipes call for an overnight pre-ferment. Gluten will develop naturally and slowly during this fermentation process. Also, the manual  mixing and shaping of the dough will assist in the gluten development.

Why do we need gluten in baking, exactly?

Well, remember all that enzyme activity I talked week?

“Proofing” the dough (ie. letting it rise) allows it to just relax and chill out while the yeast eats up the glucose we’ve created from our flour, water, yeast, salt combination. Once the yeast is full from it’s glucose feast, it poops out carbon dioxide and ethanol gases which can’t escape, so the dough rises.

If you were wondering why the gases can’t escape, the answer is gluten. Gluten is like a big balloon that holds all the gas byproducts of all the chemical reactions going on during proofing. Without it, there would be nothing to hold the gas and the bread would not rise. That’s why it’s important to be sure that the gluten is fully developed before you let the dough proof.

How do I know if I’ve developed the gluten?

The windowpane test.

Gluten development is tested with the “windowpane test.” Pinch off about two tablespoons of dough and try to stretch it into a paper-thin membrane– a windowpane. If you can do so without tearing, you’ve got gluten!


Did you know? More development of protein creates chewier products like pretzels and bagels, while less development is ideal for pastries. Shortening is used in pastries because it literally shortens the links between the protein molecules to prevent the formation of gluten resulting in a flaky product (like scones or pie crust). Pretty cool, eh?

Other posts in the Flour Girl Series:

All About Enzymes

27 Sep

You can’t tell me what to eat!

Last night Matt and I were watching the news with my Nonna. You don’t have a lot of TV choices with Nonna– it’s news ‘round the clock with breaks in between for The Price is Right and Entertainment Tonight. Given that she made us some delicious gnocchi for dinner, I wasn’t complaining.

But, this is all besides the point.

During a commercial break, I overheard this:

“…they want to put taxes on like soft drinks, sports drinks, juice drinks, even flavoured waters, trying to control what we eat and drink with taxes!”

Matt and I simultaneously burst out laughing.

So I checked out their website (http://nofoodtaxes.com). Apparently this is a legitimate advertisement funded by a less than legitimate “coalition of concerned citizens” called Americans Against Food Taxes. And who are those “concerned citizens”? Primarily corporations whose primary motive is obviously their bottom line and not the government infringement on their civil liberties. The group has over 86,000 supporters including Wendy’s, McDonalds, Burger King, 7-Eleven, and countless soft drink and beverage associations. You know, all those corporations who really care about your constitutional, inalienable rights.

“Government is getting too big and too involved in our personal lives. . .If we let government tax beverages, who knows where it will end? The next time government wants to fund more programs, they’ll just slap taxes on more of our groceries. Government needs to trim its budget fat and leave grocery budgets alone.”

The government is out to get you. Of course! It makes complete sense. Next thing you know they’ll start making you fix your old jaloppy because it emits more carbon than a factory, and charging you taxes on other daily necessities like cigarettes.

Come on people, really? The government charging you an extra penny an ounce for your daily Coke is a breach of your freedom of choice, but the huge roster of corporate supporters have no ulterior motive in hawking cheap sugar. Really?

If you have a problem with the taxes and want a government to trim its budget fat, maybe they should start by trimming the subsidies for the corn growers that provide all the cheap HFCS (oops, I mean corn sugar) to make those soft drinks so affordable. No extra taxes but the price of pop still goes up? Sounds like a win-win to me!

Reading further, I learned that Americans Against Food Taxes is on a mission to educate the nation on how to achieve a healthy lifestyle without encroaching on your inalienable rights to drink as much sugar as you want because “education, not taxation, is the key to reducing obesity and improving public health.”

Now, I’m a proponent for education. I think it’s great to educate the nation about how they should limit their intake of sugary drinks which are a major contributor to obesity. According to a USDA Study from this past July a 20% soft drink tax would reduce daily caloric intake by 37cal for adults and 43cal for kids, reducing the obesity prevalence by 3%. Except they’re not teaching that at all. What they are teaching is the ignorant message that all processed food corporations want you to believe: obesity is controlled by balancing diet and exercise. It has nothing to do with the fact that processed “food” is extremely cheap, calorie-dense,  easy to access. No. You’re fat because you’re lazy and you clearly don’t exercise enough.

What’s your take on the soft drink tax?

25 Sep

do ya think I`m sexy?

In Thursday’s post on the No Make-Up Challenge I cited providing a good example to young girls as one of the reasons to leave the house without make-up this week. The current cultural obsession with sex as public performance provides a a convincing argument why. Wearing make-up for the purposes of looking good and feeling sexy perpetuates the idea that sexuality is all about looks.
Yesterday I read an article on Jezebel stating that that 40 percent of six-year-olds wear lip gloss or lipstick regularly. Lipgloss? I guess that`s not THAT big of a deal. I mean, what grade school girl didn`t have their favourite Lip Smackers (vanilla frosting, anyone?) holstered in their pocket to whip out at a moments notice and compare with friends? Lipstick, on the other hand, that was always for women.
So what is the big deal if 6 year olds girls are wearing lipstick? It goes back to that whole sexuality as performance thing.

According to Peggy Ornstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter:

“When girls are pushed [into sexuality] prematurely… they learn that sexiness is a performance, and don’t learn to connect it with their own feelings.” Orenstein said, adding that this was the crucial distinction between being “anti-sex” and “anti-sexualization.”

Psychologist Deborah Tolman questioned 30 teenage girls about sexuality. She found that they understood being sexy as being sexy for someone else, not for themselves, showing that, for them, sexuality is all about performance rather than a personal and intimate experience. According to a New York Time article Tolman states “By the time they are teenagers, the girls I talk to respond to questions about how their bodies feel — questions about sexuality or desire — by talking about how their bodies look. They will say something like, ‘I felt like I looked good.’ Looking good is not a feeling.”

I personally don`t see anything wrong with associating feeling sexy with looking good. Knowing that she looks good often gives a woman the confidence that she needs to let go of any inhibitions that might be holding her back from seizing her sexuality.

The problem lies when a woman doesn`t gain confidence from looking good, but rather sees it as a prerequisite to being sexy for someone else (that whole sexy as performance thing again). Women could be missing out on their sexuality entirely if it becomes just an act rather than an experience.

So, when do you feel sexy?


23 Sep

no make-up challenge

This post is part of the No Make-Up Week challenge hosted by blogger Rabbit Write. The challenge is also being co-hosted by No More Dirty Looks (you might remember that I took part in their Summer Hair Challenge a few weeks back).

The report Beauty at any Cost put out by the YWCA shows that U.S. women spent an average of $100/month on cosmetics and beauty products. I ran a quick calculation to find that at only 1% interest  that kind of monthly cosmetic spending would accrue to $23,000 in only 10 years. Think of all the things you could do with that!

But $100/month is what many women spend because they are too embarrassed to leave the house without makeup on and keep extra make-up in their handbags in case of emergencies (I like to keep things like matches and safety pins, but that’s neither here nor there). We’re embarrassed by our own faces? It’s kind of shameful, no? I mean, your face truly is who you are.

The idea behind the challenge to stand up to the ridiculous beauty standard of covering our faces with make-up, to provide a good example to young teen pre-teen girls, and maybe to realize that we have more to offer the world than just a perfect face.


This is me without make-up:

I took this picture as I was leaving the house for work this morning. I want to make some sort of an excuse about how I look a little pale from the natural lighting (is that even possible?) and that the dark circles under my eyes are from waking up a little later than normal after snoozing the alarm one to many times and convincing myself that it was Saturday. But no. This is how I look at least 5 days a week. Bare faced. Oh, and there’s nothing in my hair here either.

I wear make-up maybe once or twice a week. Usually just on the weekends. When I do wear it, I feel like I’m a 5 year old playing with her mother’s make-up, because to me it’s just a game. I like to experiment with colours and techniques and pretend I’m a make-up artist. I try to re-create the smokey eyes I see in magazines, or the bright red Dita Von Teese lips (but never together, I don’t want to look like a zombie clown). It can be really fun. I like do other people’s make-up too. My sister always ask me to do her make-up for her because I am, apparently, skilled at making her look stunning. She calls my handi-work “the Magic”. I should have been a make-up artist.

But, I never put make-up on because I feel like I have to. Sure, I use concealer here and there when I want to cover up a particularly hideous pimple, but I don’t feel the need to “put on my face” before walking out the door. I kinda like the face that I’m always wearing, thank you very much.

Anyway, if you’re the type of person who feels naked without make-up, this particular challenge might be all that more difficult for you. But try it! You just might like it.

Don’t forget to check out the first installment in my Flour Girl series: All About Enzymes

22 Sep

Flour Girl: All About Enzymes

I’m starting a new weekly series on bread baking called Flour Girl!

As you know, I’m all about baking my own bread at home. I love how different types of dough feel different in your hands. I love kneading dough. I love taking basic bread formulas and getting creative.

Most of all, I love how such few ingredients (flour, water, yeast, and salt) can turn into something so scrumptious that people will be pining for more!

Stop for a second and think about that. I’ll wait while you ponder.

While you think of your favourite breads.

And how they look, feel, and taste.

Basic bread is primarily flour. Have you ever eaten a spoonful of flour? Please don’t. It’s pretty disgusting.

So how is it that a loaf of bread looks so good and tastes so awesome? Enzymes.


That’s a lot of chemistry!

The short answer is that enzymes present in the flour and yeast degrade starches and protein chains to release sugars, which are responsible for flavour and colour in the final product, and are necessary for fermentation, which leavens dough and imparts even more flavour.

Let’s delve deeper shall we?

Step one: When we bake bread we start with water, salt (for flavour enhancement), flour, and yeast. Flour has naturally occurring enzymes called amylase that is activated by the addition of water. Basically the amylase attacks the starch in the flour and breaks it down into sugars (maltose and sucrose).

Step two: So things are starting to get tastier. But the yeast needs to ferment if we want the dough to rise and maltose and sucrose just won’t cut it. We need glucose for fermentation! Luckily yeast also has natural enzymes to help with the breakdown– maltase and invertase— and, you guessed it, these enzymes break down the maltose and sucrose to give us. . .wait for it. . . glucose! Now things are starting to get exciting.

Step three: We wait. “Proofing” the dough (ie. letting it rise) allows it to just relax and chill out while the yeast eats up the glucose we’ve created from our flour, water, yeast, salt combination. Once the yeast is full from it’s glucose feast, it poops out carbon dioxide and ethanol gases which can’t escape, so the dough rises. The glucose not only allows fermentation to take place, but it also imparts flavour into the dough and gives the crust it’s characteristic warm, brown hue.

. . . but wait, there’s MORE! Protease is another enzyme that’s found in dough.  It essentially breaks down the protein strands that are developed by kneading (more on that next week). Wait, what? We develop protein strands and then the protease just tears them apart? Not to worry, protease activity isn’t destroying everything. It breaks down just enough protein to make the dough soft and workable. Huh, how ’bout that?

Next week I will tackle how bread rises! Stay tuned!

20 Sep

advanced yoga review

In the middle of August I ordered a Yoga CD online from Bryan Kest. Advanced Power Yoga. It finally came in last week. On Sunday I laid out my yoga mat, lit a candle, and started my practice.

My first reaction was, Did I accidentally order an Adam Sandler CD? Honestly, Bryan is Adam Sandler’s voice double. It didn’t help when he said things like “Oh yeah, it’s like making love to your own body” or “Just work off all those built up crustaceans” or “Friggin’ Awesome”. I could have sworn I was listening to some sort of Adam Sandler parody album.

After several chuckles I finally started settling in to the fact that this is, indeed, a legitimate routine. And a GOOD one at that.

The routine is 90 minutes long and on 2 CDs. A picture book also comes with the CD which is good for people who may not be familiar with verbal cues for all the asanas.  Bryan`s descriptions of where every part of your your body should be placed and how every part of your body should feel in the pose are so detailed that seeing it visually isn’t even necessary.

What I love about the routine is that Bryan is constantly reminding you to breathe (“…breath still flowing free”), and encouraging you to reach your potential in every pose (…push to your edge“). His cues kept me so focussed on my breath that I can`t even remember a moment during the entire 90minutes that I caught myself holding it. It was pretty amazing.

The asanas are challenging but it is not the most physically difficult routine that I have ever done. It really is a perfect balance of physical strength and mental clarity.

Yoga teaches us to have acceptance of our capabilities and respect for our bodies. Bryan really drives home that point by encouraging yogis to release their competitiveness and self-judgment and to embrace the practice of yoga as a dedication of  love and compassion for ourselves. And that is a beautiful thing.

15 Sep

the beach

Before this summer if you would have asked me to go to the beach I’d probably say, “Nah”.

I know, I know, I’ve touched on this subject before.

I mean, what is there to do at the beach anyway? All people do is lay there with sand in their ass-crack getting sunburned while they read some sort of trashy romance novel or shallow magazine.

I’d much prefer cuddling up in a blanket and reading an award winning novel by candle light with a robust glass of red wine.

For starters, I don’t like the sun all that much. Don’t get me wrong, I love sunny days, but usually I spend them covered in sunscreen and ducking for shade under a tree rather than lying topless on my stomach soaking in the melanoma and wrinkles rays.

When I come home from the beach or beach volleyball I hate the dirty feeling I have of sand all over me. It drives me crazy. When I undress I marvel at how sand seems to be everywhere on my body. How did it get there?

And then there’s the fact that you don’t really do anything at the beach now do you? I spend my time there thinking about all the things I could be getting done at home. I could be baking bread right now, or weightlifting, or even cleaning!

But something changed in me this summer. First, I suggested that we have my birthday party at the beach. I was getting tired of hosting pool parties (something I’ve done for most of my birthdays since my childhood home has a rockin’ pool) and I thought it was pretty fitting considering it was, after all, my Bikini Birthday.

You can eat cake on the beach! mmmmm….

Then, a few weeks ago I suggested that Matt and I go back to Cedar Beach on a date one gorgeous Sunday afternoon. “But what are we going to do there? You’re going to be bored,” Matt insisted, but I was craving the sand and the lakeside breezes. We had a deep conversation, snacked, read some serious material, and cursed the fact that we forgot to bring a corkscrew for the bottle of Kriek we packed.

You can read good stuff on the beach!
Yes, that’s my copy of
TAR SANDS; Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent.

When a friend suggested that we go to the beach at Point Pelee this past weekend I was, surprisingly, very excited. So excited that when we got there I sprinted barefoot along the beach as far as I could to release my energy and immerse myself in the environment. I found myself doing yoga asanas in the sand and even accomplished my first ever headstand! Everything about the beach on Sunday was perfect.

You can sprint down the beach and chase away seagulls!

This summer has converted me into a beach lover.

You can love the beach!

I love the breezes off the lake and how fresh the air feels on your face and body.

I love sand. The way it swallows your feet as you walk through it and hugs your body as you lie in it.

I love enjoying the outdoors with good company. Everyone relaxes in their own way and does their own thing, but they do it together.

I’m secretly hoping to get at least one more afternoon at the beach before the cold weather really sets in.

09 Sep

sprints pt. II

So my post on my new barefoot runners generated a lot of comments. There seems to be a lot of controversy on whether or not running barefoot is really better. I personally don’t advocate one school of thought or another. In spite of the fact that I’m starting to get into barefoot running I wouldn’t call myself a champion for the movement. I just think that it’s supplemental to a well rounded running programme — a way to build strength in my feet and transition to a mid-foot strike.

So for your benefit I decided to do a little write-up about everything that I’ve been reading about barefoot running:

The Concept:

Due to the elevation of the heel caused by cushioned running shoes, shod runners naturally contact the ground with their heel first and with greater force. This strike encourages your feet to land in front of your body and the force of impact moves up through the heel, to your knees, hips,  and back. Additionally, the cushioning and stability control of running shoes weaken the foot and ankles which no longer have to do the work that the running shoes now do.

When running barefoot (or with minimalist footwear) the runner naturally has a shorter stride and strikes the ground closer to the front of the foot. Consequently the impact is absorbed by the foot  and the foot experiences briefer contact with the ground, hence the feeling of floating.


Some Points of Interest:

  • Most evidence that barefoot running is better appears to be anecdotal. There’s no concrete proof that it’s better for you, but at the same time there’s no concrete proof that wearing running shoes prevents injuries.
  • The benefit of barefoot running comes from the way that the foot hits the ground, but one need not run barefoot in order to change their foot strike. With training, a fore-foot or midfoot strike can be achieved in shoes as well (my husband does this naturally in shoes).
  • When barefoot training, you have to take baby steps (figuratively). You can’t try to be a champion and run 3.25miles on your first time out otherwise you might wake up 2 days later with calf muscle aches so terrible that you’re unable to walk. Trust me.
    • Start by walking barefoot around the house.
    • Then start walking barefoot 100m down your sidewalk or street or any other hard surface.
    • Then start running barefoot instead, carrying your shoes with you in case you feel pain.
    • From there, start to increase your barefoot running distance by about 10% per week, stopping if you experience pain.
  • An estimated 70% of runners experience injury
  • The recent popularity of the sport has changed the demographic of the typical runner– it’s not just for the lightweight, athletic, and efficient. For example, the average marathon time has increased by almost 80 minutes in the past 20 years. These days, everyone’s running, and that’s a great thing! But this points to a flaw in the common defense made by barefoot runners that in spite of vast improvements in shoe technology the percentages of runners injured has not improved. It is difficult to compare the injury rates from past to present due to the change in the running population.
  • In one of the few studies to capture foot strike positions among elite runners in action, researchers at the 2004 Sapporo International Half Marathon in Japan photographed 283 runners about midway through the race. Seventy-five percent of the racers were landing on their heels. Another 24 percent landed at about mid-foot, meaning near the arch of their shoe. Only four of the 283 runners landed on their forefeet, and they weren’t the four fastest. (NY Times)
  • Barefoot running requires more calf muscle strength and Achilles tendon stretching

FAQs about my Vibram Sprints

Does it create pressure on your joints to run on such a hard surface with no cushion?

I usually walk around barefoot at home and the flats I wear out have minimal support (like sanuk sidewalk surfers) so the barefoot shoes felt pretty natural. There definitely isn’t any support there and that’s the idea. It’s supposed to strengthen your feet, ankles, and calves.
I don’t know if I would want to stand around in them all day though. I remember being a cashier in my teens and getting lower back pain after working a long shift and wearing shoes with little support.I didn’t notice any joint pain while I was running with the barefoot shoes. Muscle pain, though? Yes. My calves are killing me.

How much did they cost?

They cost me $80 for the shoes. I also bought a pair of toe socks (which I haven’t tried out yet) for $15. That’s US dollars too, so they’re a bit pricier than I usually spend for runners (I love the Adidas outlet at Windsor Crossing to buy my sneaks).

And what’s on the bottom? Plastic? Rubber?

They’re actually rubber at the bottom. It definitely feels like your feet are directly on the ground– there is really no support. You still feel things under your feet like twigs and pebbles but they don’t hurt as much as they would if you had nothing on your feet.

If you have any more questions about the Vibrams just shoot me an e-mail. I’ll try to answer you back if I can, or I’ll wait until I have more experience with them and keep you posted!

See part 1 of my review of barefoot running here.

Info Sources:
08 Sep


See part 2 of my review of barefoot running here.

I cringe at the thought of running with a midfoot strike. Just the idea sends a shooting pain up my shin.

When I was 10 years old and running cross country for my grade school team I never thought twice about how my foot hit the ground. My primary concern was finishing 2K without vomiting. Our coaches weren’t anything more than supervisors; they rarely gave tips on how to improve our speed or endurance or relieve the inevitable boredom that resulted from running in circles for 20 minutes. The only piece of advice I remember receiving was a harsh command from an intimidating teacher:

Samantha! DON’T run on the balls of your feet, you’ll get shin splints!

I was simultaneously confused and terrified. I run on the balls of my feet? Really? How was I supposed to run? (apparently heel-toe… this was clarified later) What are shin splints? Am I going to need to wear leg braces like Forrest Gump?

So in spite of having run pain-free with a midfoot strike for my whole brief life, I had an instantaneous running overhaul and became a heel striker from that moment on. I remember it taking some getting used to. I would actually repeat to myself “heel-toe, heel-toe” with every stride just so I would remember. And now, 15 years later, heel striking comes naturally and midfoot striking still sounds painful.

So how surprising that I actually purchased these this weekend:

Yes ladies and gentlemen, my first pair of barefoot running shoes. Vibram Sprints.

I have been wanting to try these for quite a while now to get into the whole barefoot running movement. I had tried to actually run barefoot in my neighbourhood this spring but all the twigs and sharp pebbles drove me crazy so I never did it again. These shoes (can I call them that?) protect my feet  with a thin rubber sole but they still feel like I’m wearing nothing on my feet. It’s liberating.

I took them for a walk on the weekend to get used to the feel of them, and last night I set out on my first run with them.

I started out running fast but I always do that with the excitement of a new pair of runners. Eventually I set a sustainable pace and kept it pretty consistent for the whole 3.25 miles. Here were my thoughts on the run:

Mile 1: These things are pretty sweet! They’re light and I feel like I’m not “pounding the pavement” but really almost floating over it.

Mile 1.5: Hmmm. . . I’m really aware of my calf muscles right now.

Mile 2: Am I getting a blister on my left bunion?

Mile 2.5: Yup, definitely getting a blister. God my calves are sore. This sucks.

Mile 3: Yeah, I’m sprinting! Look at me go! I must be running 10mph right now.

Mile 3.25: I’m pretty pooped from that final sprint, but man did I make some good time today!

Not too shabby! 30seconds better than the same run last week.

Verdict: Awesome.

In spite of the fact that I have a very minor blister and that my calf muscles are still killing me today, I really enjoyed my run in the Vibrams. I was naturally hitting the ground with my midfoot and grasping on with my toes (a lot like this illustration from the Globe and Mail). To hit the ground with my heel would have been awkward and slightly painful. I plan to wear these for a couple of runs a week and alternate with my normal running shoes to get into the groove of the barefoot running thing.

Have you tried barefoot running or do you think it’s just a fad?

See part 2 of my review of barefoot running here.

06 Sep

faces of beauty

Check out my lovely mug today on Faces of Beauty here.

Faces of Beauty is a great blog that was established as a celebration of the unique beauty of each an every person. You should all check it out and submit your own picture! I think it fits very well with my own Bikini Confidence Series about strengthening your relationship with yourself.

Do you know that you are beautiful just the way you are?