I know what you’re thinking.
Not in a creepy, this-girl-reads-minds sort of way, but I do know that you read the title of this article and imagined some hippy-dippy, bushman-browed, naturopathic vegan writing it. I assure you that description does not apply to me in the least.
Let’s set a few things straight: I eat meat. I do not eat meat from sources that treat their animals cruelly or pump them up with hormones and other nasties. I eat plants. I enjoy a good roasted root plant most. I love wheat and all the products that we can source from it with minimal processing, and the same goes for dairy and sugar. To summarize: my diet consists mainly of naturally sourced ingredients that are unrefined and minimally processed.
Sounds simple enough, right? Eat what nature provides for us and you’re golden.
But I didn’t always eat, or even think, this way.
Just over a year ago, I wasn’t happy with where my life was going. I couldn’t get a job in my field, I was lonely and depressed, and I supplemented my unhappiness with food. I tried to curb the dissatisfaction I had for my life with processed foods, fancy cream sauces, and refined sugar. I also baked just as much as I ate out.
Baking has always been a way for me to destress. I know it sounds weird, but creaming together butter and sugar calms me. Frosting and decorating a cake, while it can get a little frustrating with my perfectionism, brings me joy when I see the finished product. As a way to combat my depression, I chose to start a baking blog.
Using castor sugar, vegetable oil, and all-purpose flour as my tools, I created and developed recipes that not only baked up well and looked beautiful, but they tasted like bakery confections. I was elated with how well I was progressing in such a short amount of time. But while I was happy with my baking and blogging, I grew unhappy with my overall health. I have a slow metabolism as it is, so you can imagine what happened as I continued to eat everything I made. I was tired all of the time, I was irritable, and I was gaining weight. I knew something had to change – I was either going to have to quit baking or figure out some way to incorporate less manufactured ingredients and eat healthier.
About six or so months into blogging, I started researching alternative ingredients. I was living in Australia at the time, and I noticed that the chefs, café owners, and restaurants in general favoured naturally sourced food. The farm-to-table concept, which is slowly making its way into North America, has been thriving in Australia for a few years now, and I was very interested in transferring that philosophy to my own blog. Animals and the environment are important to me, and I wanted to be sure I was using ingredients that were sustainable, fair-trade, and most of all natural. I was tired of eating things I knew were full of chemicals and unnecessary additives.
I began experimenting with different sugars and flours that were more comparable to their natural form. Ingredients like raw cane sugar, honey, whole wheat flour, and buckwheat flour are closer to sugar cane and grain than their commercial counterparts of refined sugar and all-purpose flour. I nixed food colouring and synthetics all together, because who needs coloured dyes when you have beetroot, berries, carrot juice, and edible flowers? Nature provides us with so wide a range of colours that there was never any need to develop artificial colouring. I can make a cookie glaze just as pink by using blood orange juice as I can with red no. 3. And you know what? It tastes loads better!
At the end of 2015, my blog transformed from just another baking blog into a natural baking blog. While baking with unconventional ingredients can get tricky at times (and often result in flops akin to Hagrid’s rock cakes), it’s mighty satisfying when things go right. I know what I create in the kitchen now is better for me, those I love, the environment, and the other creatures with whom we share this planet. As science and our way of thinking about food develops and changes, I think it’s important that we do the same. While it may be more convenient on a Monday morning to snag a chocolate croissant from the bakery on your way to work, it will end up hurting you in the future.
I’m not going to pretend that I eat naturally all the time, because I don’t. I have a weakness for M&M’s, movie theatre popcorn, and Sour Patch Kids. My diet is 90-10. I cook and bake with natural, sustainable, and unprocessed ingredients 90 percent of the time, and the other 10 percent I let fly. I like to say that my blog follows this attitude as well. There are certain processed ingredients that I haven’t been able to find natural alternatives for yet, so I continue to use them in limited quantities until I find replacements.
If you’re interested in how you can make little changes toward baking or eating more naturally, I will be posting a Natural Baking 101 series on my blog starting February 7th, 2016. In this series, I intend to expose the processes, additives, and chemicals that are used to create commercial bakery ingredients, and I will offer natural alternatives to these ingredients. Each episode in the series is extensively researched and annotated with primary sources – be assured that I’ve done my homework!
My hope is that through my blog I can show people that you don’t need hydrogenated oils, bleached flours, and synthetic colourings to create a decadent cake or chewy chocolate chip cookies. The same things you can buy at a bakery you can make from natural ingredients, which not only taste better but are also better for you and your health.
Stock photos from Unsplash.com + Foodiesfeed.com