The first time I went to Cyprus I was a rising fourth year student at the University of Virginia, 21 years old and on a summer internship. Naturally, summer college internship on a Mediterranean island directly equates to open-air clubs, beach parties and plenty of dancing with newfound international friends. I shared an apartment with Kate, a fellow college student from Wales. Our apartment was old, dingy and smelly, but the location was supreme: in the center of town, within walking distance to beaches and bars. Kate and I had a daily routine that went something like this: wake up in the morning by 8ish and walk to work for the day. Let me preface this: working for the day in the summertime in the Med meant only until 2 PM, at which point offices would close for lunch and a siesta. Many offices did not reopen for the day. Ours did not. This workweek schedule has since changed. People now work typical “Western hours” from 9 AM – 5 or 6 PM year-round. Many workers complain. Over time, I assume they will get used to this relatively new schedule and it will become part of their norm, as it is part of ours – which a large part of me says it simply sucks.
Kate and I would return home for lunch, then off to the beaches, where I would inevitably nap on the sunbeds. From the late afternoon, the day was ours. In the evening we would venture to one of our favorite hangouts, meet friends, and then off to a late night disco or club. My favorite part of the night was walking to our apartment through the windy, small stone paths that lined the old city quarters at 2 AM (don’t judge: we were 20). The streets were quiet, save for an occasional “hoot” from an owl in a tall palm tree. Nearby our apartment, we would pass a neighborhood bakery starting its morning baking. In the summer, temperatures oftentimes soar to 100+ F in Cyprus. Bakers found it best to bake late in the cool night air, windows open. The scent of the fresh bread baking, sweet and aromatic, wafting through. As I write this post, my tongue still salivates from the memory.
Kate and I would often stop, stare into the window at the pudgy men, covered with flour and beads of sweat from the hot ovens. After a while, the bakers got to know us (there weren’t too many American/British co-eds passing nightly). They gave us loaves of hot, fresh bread every night – the first batch of the day. And so my love for fresh bread began. Free of preservatives, these loaves should be eaten within two days or they go stale. Within a day of going stale, bread grew moldy and should be thrown out. It was never a problem for us: we generally gobbled half the loaf before bed; and the second half for lunch the following day with tomatoes, cucumbers and feta.
Fast-forward years later; I stand in line at a Subway in my business suit. I am a consultant and a travel warrior. The neon sign blinking overhead: fresh bread baked daily. I order a turkey and Swiss on whole wheat. Hold the mayo. I smile smugly at the guy behind me who ordered his sandwich on white. Aren’t I a healthy snob? I forget this is all processed junk. My options were limited; and I choose whatever is *slightly* the healthier option. Jared can have as many subs for life as he wants; I don’t buy it.
The bread that we buy in the US lasts for weeks! It is obviously for corporate profit margins. The bread gets made on a factory belt somewhere in the Midwest, gets bagged and shipped. By the time they hit the shelves in our local grocery store, manufacturers do not want the bread to have already gone bad. Bread manufacturers can dress it up by adding seeds or some processed wheat flour. It’s not the same. If it has a shelf-life of over a week, then there are preservatives and trans-fats in that loaf which our bodies are not designed to eliminate effectively. http://www.livestrong.com/article/314019-the-side-effects-of-calcium-propionate/ Don’t get fooled with brownish-colored sliced bread that reads “whole wheat” across the label!
For optimal family health, I only allow the following three things in my home:
- Buy from a local baker. Similar to the bakeries in Cyprus, they are typically made daily and free of preservatives (but you should ask each bakery directly to be certain). Buy your favorite loaf and freeze if not consumed within a day or two.
- I am a HUGE fan of 100% whole wheat pita bread. This goes directly back to my Middle Eastern roots. In my home, whole wheat pita is our go-to for everyday use. I use it to make sandwiches for kids’ lunches. I make grilled feta cheese sandwiches with them (pan-seared or in a panini press). I open up the pitas and toast them until brown and use them as crackers when we eat hummus (homemade, naturally. I will share a recipe on my easy, peasy hummus soon).
*Remember*: Choose ONLY 100% whole wheat pita for extra fiber. Rule of thumb: the browner, the better (ahem, says the brown girl). Look for actual small kernels of wheat, not just a label that says “whole wheat.” My favorite personal brands of 100% whole wheat pita:
- Trader Joe’s Whole Wheat or Apocryphal Pita Bread
- Joseph’s 100% Stone Ground Whole Wheat Pita Bread
I buy bags and bags of these pita bread and freeze them.
- Make your own bread! I know, I know. Who has time? It’s actually quite easy, and I don’t even own a bread maker. This is also the most cost effective of all the options out there. Below is a simple and awesome Olive Bread recipe I learned while living in the Mediterranean. I used to make this Olive Bread before play-dates on Saturday mornings. It would be a great snack for moms and children alike. Rustic, fragrant, and homemade. I looked like I slaved over it, but, truth be told, it took no more than 20 minutes of actual prep time.
Authentic Homemade Olive Bread (perfect for us goddesses). Milk and egg free for any allergies out there. This recipe was kindly borrowed from my good friend and fellow goddess, Nafiya.
- 4 cups of flour (I choose whole wheat)
- 1 packet yeast (follow directions on packet)
- ½ cup Luke warm water
- 4 Tablespoons of olive oil
- Teaspoon of salt
- 1/3 cup pitted and sliced black olives
- ½ bunch of washed, sliced cilantro (optional)
- 3 stalks of washed, sliced scallions (optional)
In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt.
- Make the yeast per directions on box (many yeast packages differ. The one I use combines one package of yeast with one cup warm water).
- Add the yeast mixture to the flour and salt. Start folding the flour mixture into one another.
- Add drops of luke-warm water until the consistency is doughy (think Play-doh, soft and pliable).
- Add olive oil and continue to fold
- Add olives, cilantro and scallions. *Note: cilantro and scallions are completely optional. However I find it adds beautiful color and fragrant taste to cooked bread. Give it a try. You (and hopefully your picky kids) will love it. Fold into the bread mixture.
- In the large bowl, drape your bread mixture with a clean, dry towel and allow the yeast to do its alchemic magic. Let it sit for at least 20 minutes to rise.
- Preheat oven to 350 F / 180 C.
- Once risen, place your bread in a slightly oiled oven-proof dish and bake for 40 minutes until golden brown.
Your Olive Bread does not need to look rounded and perfectly smooth. In fact, I have noticed my friends and guests prefer it when it has the knotted, uneven look of authentic rustic bread.
That’s it! Enjoy your Olive Bread! And PLEASE – forego the store-bought bread that lasts for weeks and weeks! Let me know if you have tried this recipe. Next time I make it, I will provide pictures.
Do you have another brand of 100% whole wheat pita that I overlooked? Please share!
Discover your Inner Aphrodite . . .