Bread is not fast. Invariably someone will point this out when I talk about baking classes for hungry kids. The ingredients are simple and readily available on almost any budget: flour and water, salt and yeast. Even the yeast is optional when bread is naturally leavened like the sourdough baguettes we love on weekend nights around here. But bread requires time. And in today’s world time often seems like the costliest ingredient. You have to mix those few ingredients and then let them rest. This is the critical “autolyse” during which the flour absorbs the water. Then a bit of salt gets added and more time is required for kneading. Since both hands are required the baker can’t do anything but knead and think about the the dough transforming in her hands. It’s a time to think about the the people that will eat the bread, too, and about the ways they might be nourished and transformed by the meal. Then the dough rests again. The dough is much better if the baker lets it rest for a while and then folds it gently to develop the gluten. And it’s made better still if she does this several times over the course of the afternoon. That means staying close to the bowl of dough, watching its temperature and feeling the texture change. Rest. Rise. Shape. Wait. More time. More attention. Bread is more than the sum of its simple ingredients, it is a gift of time. A gift of self. There are faster ways to get people fed, but few send the same message. A loaf of bread made by hand says something powerful. To break that bread and hand it to someone to eat is to hand them a bit of yourself. It means you cared enough to spend a day thinking about them, that you were willing to spend some time on them, that you want them to be well fed on the journey. And when you bake bread with someone, and break bread with someone, you build a relationship that can only come with time. Those relationships are as nourishing as the bread itself. So yes, we could teach kids to make a faster meal, and in fact we often do, but the weeks when we bake bread together are the weeks that feel special. Time may be a costly ingredient these days, but it’s also the one that changes things.
All of the money raised by Little Flour bake sales and classes supports baking classes for food insecure kids in St. Louis. Originally, most of these classes took place on Friday afternoons at the Drop In Center funded by Epworth Children and Family Services. Today that program has expanded well beyond my original baking program, and you might find me baking and teaching in any number of schools around St. Louis as a baking instructor for Operation Food Search’s nutrition education program. Whole grain baking classes are my favorite, with King Arthur Flour’s Kid’s Learn Bake & Share Blueberry Muffin recipe and my own pizza recipe competing in popularity!
But the Drop-In Center always holds a special place in my heart. The Center is located in the Normandy School District where thirty percent of kids are functionally homeless and many are “food insecure,” which means they live in households that lack the means to get enough nutritious food on a regular basis and as a result they struggle with hunger. In this environment it is critical to feed kids, and to feed them well. “Hot Food Friday,” as the program has been lovingly nicknamed by the kids, makes sure that everyone who walks in the door gets a hot, nutritious meal. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, protein. Its all there, and that meal matters, especially on a Friday afternoon when some kids will have even more limited access to food over the weekend. But the program is not just about feeding kids, its about empowering kids to feed themselves and their community-and to do it well. We don’t just feed kids, we teach them about nutrition and cooking and making good decisions about how to nourish themselves as they grow into self sustaining adults. Kids in our cooking classes make the meals for the larger community at the Drop In Center and get to share in the joy of cooking for someone else who is hungry.
One young chef at the Drop In Center told me that the part of the class he loves the most is watching the looks on the faces of the other kids when they see what we made for lunch that day. I’ve heard kids say the same thing over and over again in every environment. There is joy in eating but also in feeding, in being a part of a community and sharing what you’ve made with your own hands. That’s why I think sharing is the final and most important step of baking, no matter where I am teaching!
Light splashed this morning
on the shell pink anemones
swaying on their tall stems;
down blue spiked veronica
light flowing in rivulets
over the humps of the honeybees;
this morning I saw light kiss
the silk of the roses
in their second flowering,
my late bloomers
flushed with their brandy.
A curious gladness shook me…
I can scarcely wait till tomorrow,
when a new life begins for me,
as it does each day,
as it does each day.
This time of year with it’s gorgeous produce and late blooming flowers seems full of possibility, like a new school notebook full of empty pages waiting for words to come to life. Around here, summer has been full of new learning about bread and bakeries and the people that make them special. I can’t wait to share some of that learning this fall with new classes, new recipes and new ways to help more people eat well in our community. There are new Flour Boxes sitting on the counter just waiting to be filled, a stack of new recipes to explore, and lots of kids around town excited about baking for themselves and others. So enjoy these last golden days of summer, and check back soon to see what’s blooming. I can scarcely wait until tomorrow..
July flour baskets are filled with sourdough baguettes, whole grain seeded baguettes, oatmeal raisin bread for breakfast toast and sandwich rolls made just like the bread we are making in our Kids Baking for Good classes this month. We’ve already discovered they make the best BLT sandwiches ever, so hit the farmer’s market for your bacon and tomatoes and enjoy! Happy summer everyone!!
Wow! We’ve been overwhelmed by the support we’ve received since the Little Flour concept took root earlier this spring, and by how many of you have asked to buy our bread and support our work with hungry kids in St. Louis. All that support has led to a couple logistical questions that we need to answer. For those of you asking to buy our bread online, or asking if you can buy it in any local stores, the answer is regrettably no. At least not in this chapter of life. Little Flour is a “cottage food production operation” in Missouri which means we only bake cookies, cakes, bread (especially bread!), pastries, pies, and other “non potentially hazardous” (who’d want those anyway?!?) food items that we sell ourselves. We bake them right here in our own home kitchen, which is thoroughly inspected for cleanliness by our lead baker’s mother and mother-in-law before placing their breakfast toast orders each month, but is not inspected by the actual health department. As a result, according to Missouri law, we can’t ship to you or open our own storefront no matter how much we appreciate your requests! And that’s actually ok with us. Tempting and flattering as the offers to sell more bread have been, our primary goal was never to sell more bread. We’re all about feeding kids around here. And our capacity is limited. The bread we sell locally is very small batch and sold entirely like an old school bake sale. Our supporters pick up their bread face-to-face on Friday afternoons, maybe share a beverage and a bit of conversation in the process, and write their checks directly to the local non-profits we support. We do an occassional pop-up bake sale around town to raise money for these organizations working to end hunger, especially hunger among youth and kids, and you can follow us on Instagram (@littleflourmicrobakery) if you’d like to know where to find us. Funds raised are earmarked by the agencies to buy ingredients for our baking classes and to make healthy baked goods on site for kids that are hungry in our city. If we spent too much time and oven capacity making bread to sell, we’d have no capacity left to feed the kids we set out to serve. The good news is that anyone who loves to bake can do the same thing in their own neighborhood, and we certainly hope that you’ll give it a try. We’ll keep sharing our stories and recipes and would love to hear from you about the people you’re baking for in your community too!
We are so thrilled to have the support of King Arthur Flour for a series of summer baking classes at our drop-in center for food insecure youth. The Learn Bake Share program was designed to teach kids to bake and also to share. Normally kids learn to bake bread at school and then take home a bag of great ingredients and a recipe book courtesy of King Arthur Flour. At home they bake two loaves of bread, one to share with their family and another to share with a local agency working to meet the needs of food insecure families in the community. In our case, we will be teaching the baking class at the center and baking the bread there as well. The kids will eat the fresh bread right out of the oven the afternoon of the class, but will also bake enough to provide the bread for the community meal on Friday afternoon. Kids baking for kids! The Bake for Good Kids Bread Recipe is healthy and fool proof! We’re making a batch in our kitchen today to make sure we have all our supplies in order, and it smells warm and delicious already. Stay tuned for details on the classes and recipes, but we wanted to say thanks to our friends at King Arthur for the donation of flour, yeast, books and equipment and also to our Little Flour supporters for donating additional kitchen supplies (and all the meat and cheese to turn that bread into sandwiches on Friday!) to get the program launched this summer!
Update: If you would like to make the bread at home or for kids in your neighborhood, here is the recipe…
Little Flour is a quirky midwestern microbakery. That means we aren’t trying to bake a lot of bread for a lot of people. We’re just doing our own small thing with a lot of love. Breakfast toast. Cookies that don’t come from a box. Sourdough baguettes fresh from the oven on Friday night. Breads and sweets that make people healthy and happy. We offer “Flour Baskets” filled with a week’s worth of toasting bread and baguettes and treats to our subscribers on Friday afternoons. We bake for drop in centers and shelters where people are hungry not just for good homemade bread, but also for the hope and joy that bread can bring when shared around a table. We bake occassionally as a “pop-up” fundraiser for those organizations working to end hunger in our little corner of the world. We teach bread baking and basic cooking skills to a lot of the folks we meet along the way, and wherever possible adovocate on behalf of the hungry and those who seek to feed them well. This site is a place for our supporters to find out what we are baking for our pop-up bake sales and Flour Baskets. And it is a response to requests that we share some of our recipes so they can be recreated at home and shared by others. Along the way we might talk about what inspires us. It’s a love of cooking to be sure. And eating. But it’s mostly about feeding. Feeding the people gathered around our own tables and around tables throughout our community. If you stumbled upon us from another neighborhoood, welcome. We hope something you find here might inspire you to bake a little extra this week and share it with someone near you.
Update 9/8/15: The subscription list for the 2015-2016 season is now full, but please stay in touch for information on pop-up bake sales! Thanks to our loyal subscribers for funding a full school year of baking classes for hungry kids!
We are so pleased to be baking cookies with our local Cooking Matters class this week. Hurray for all the kids graduating from cooking class! Cooking Matters is a great way for kids to learn how to cook and eat healthy meals at home. Their cookies looked awfully good too, and were so yummy it was hard to get a picture before they were all gone. It was easy to get distracted from photography while watching the kids. It turns out that kids who may not always get enough to eat can teach some real lessons on sharing. Cookie distribution was taken very seriously during this class. There were two cookies per kid, and they were gobbled up as soon as they were declared cool enough for little hands to touch. But there were three extra cookies. Three cookies for a dozen kids. This was a serious dilemma and the options presented were fascinating. The cookies could be quartered and divided evenly (good math skills at work!) but crumbling was going to be an issue and this option was not popular. The kid who discovered the extras on the baking tray briefly suggested a finders keepers approach but was pretty easily persuaded by the others that it would not be a fair solution. After a pause, one little girl perked up and declared that there were three volunteer helpers there and that we could each have a cookie. We helpers were all flattered but did not want to take their last three cookies. We declined, but the idea of gifting the cookies had taken hold and the spirits of the group of second graders soared as they debated the best recipients for their efforts. A younger sibling, a hard working mom, and an obviously adored after school caregiver were the lucky winners of those cookies, but those of us working with the kids may have gotten the best gift of all-a reminder of why we do what we do. It’s fun to cook, but it’s even more fun to feed someone. And as always, that is the best lesson of all.
We are so excited to be baking the weekend baguettes for a bake sale at our favorite wine and cheese shop this weekend! Proceeds fund our baking classes for food insecure youth, so happy hour is even happier this week! Thanks to all our great supporters for making it possible.
We are busy baking this week! Flour baskets will include the traditional Little Flour Friday Baguettes plus whole grain seeded loaves for weekend toasting, perfect with a smashed avocado and poached egg! We are also including individual snacking bags of our toasted coconut and dark chocolate chunk cookies for snacking and sharing…stay tuned for a recipe and information about another bake sale + baking class opportunity!