My Love Affair with Whole Grains

This post is something of a love letter to whole grains, which I totally cannot get enough of. I realize I just ended a sentence with a preposition, but it was worth it, wasn’t it? Up until a few years ago, I didn’t really know so much about whole grains, and I definitely didn’t eat them too often. But then, slowly, I started to discover them here and there. I made barley risotto. My husband brought home wheat berries for a winter soup. And, perhaps, most importantly of all, I was introduced to quinoa, which is now the foundation of my weeknight go-to dinner and is also probably the one food I could not live without. (Again, not good grammar there, but perhaps it can be forgiven, spoken as it was in a burst of passion).

I like eating healthy food because it makes me feel good, but even more so because I love the way it tastes. Grains have lots of texture, and that is key for me. I can never get enough of the soft nutty crunch of quinoa or the toothy shell of a wheat berry. Since I realized these things, I’ve been trying to learn more about whole grains and explore them more. This reminds me so much of my discovery of leeks back when I was in high school (the experience that inspired one of my very first blog posts ever), and basically, I feel like a kid in a candy store. Spelt flour? Amaranth? Kamut berries? Bring it on! One of the most wonderful things about being alive is that we’re always learning, and that goes double in the kitchen. It fills my heart with glee that there is always a new ingredient to try, a new technique to learn. (A few side notes: I got the idea of shooting the grains on brown paper from the awesome Joy the Baker, and I am also totally impressed with how I inadvertently created the shape of North America in quinoa. Magic!)

A few great resources are serving as my guide into this territory. One of them is Heidi Swanson’s wonderful book Super Natural Every Day, where I got the recipe for my new favorite breakfast, lemon millet muffins. Her blog, 101 Cookbooks, is always an inspiration. Her first book, Super Natural Cooking, gives a really helpful guide to the grains and to setting up a pantry. I also just discovered the blog My New Roots, which is a lovely resource and always a fun read. Finally, I’m hoping to get Lorna Sass’ book Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way, which looks amazing, and Maria Speck’s Ancient Grains for Modern Meals.

But I would be remiss if I did not also discuss this little gem from the halcyon days of my youth. You see, way back in the day, when I was a still in high school, I used to earn my money for old Beatles records and tie-dye dresses by working at Wild Oats Market. Although I didn’t know what half the stuff in the store was, I *loved* it. I worked with such great people, I was always learning new things, and, best of all, they let me attach my plastic Dracula figurine to my cash register and write in my journal when I didn’t have any customers in my line. Oh my goodness, those were the days. I am so beyond sad that Wild Oats is now defunct because they had the most amazing bulk section I have ever seen. Sigh. Youth is wasted on the young! Although back then I didn’t know the first thing about cooking and subsisted mostly on black bean burgers and baked potatoes, I thought this whole bulk thing was really cool. It represented this idea to me of cooking with relatively inexpensive things that were basically natural and good for you, things that could provide a blank canvas for exploration of new flavors and combinations. And apparently, I bought this little 25-cent booklet so I could learn more about it.

Fast forward almost fifteen years (gulp), and I am so glad I managed to hold onto this little book through all my moves and peregrinations. Because it is awesome. Wild Oats had such a gleefully earnest and slightly dorky vibe that no other grocery store chain can match. Please note the whimsical layout, the bright colors, the “bulk adventure,” and, my favorite, the instructions on “how to bulk boogie.” I rest my case.

This little book is divided into sections, like beans, grains, and pastas, and all kinds of info, cooking times, and recipes are included. What response does this evoke in me? “Let’s try them all!” (See also, kid in a candy store).

Whole Foods, the giant that swallowed Wild Oats, also has their own bulk guide, which I picked up a few weeks ago. I am not complaining, since I’m grateful to have a place to buy these things at all, but their book is definitely lacking in pizzazz and is more limited in selection. Still, I shan’t thumb my nose at a place that lets me have all I want of almond flour and teff.

So, all this is to say, be on the lookout for some grain-based experimentation coming your way! And also probably the love letters to my other two mainstays: beans and greens. And cheese! We can’t forget cheese. If any of you cook or bake with whole grains, I’d love to hear what your favorite recipes are! Happy exploring!

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