The Friendship Bread Project: Can Baking Promote Unity In A Divided World?

Kristen Hartke wrote . . . . . . .

Chef Carla Hall had never heard of “friendship bread” before someone gave her a plastic zip-top bag full of a yeasty, mushy starter. As a young caterer just starting out, she got busy baking up a storm and was excited to tell her friend some days later about everything she had made.

Instead of being delighted, her friend just stared at her. “You used it all up?” she asked. “That’s not the point. You’re supposed to just use some of it, and then pass it on to someone else. That’s why it’s called friendship bread.”

Hall was mortified, saying now, “I broke the chain. I literally took her love and bashed it, like it was a one-night stand.”

Friendship bread — also known as Amish friendship bread — is the chain letter of baking. A simple starter of flour, sugar, milk, water and yeast is mixed together and then developed for 10 days at room temperature. The person who makes the starter, similar to a sweet version of a sourdough starter, keeps some to bake up a loaf of bread or other baked items, then they divide the rest to pass on to friends. If a little of the starter is kept, it can become the basis of a new batch of starter.

With families and friends finding themselves frequently on opposite sides of the political divide over the past year, is it possible for tasty treats, baked under the guise of friendship, to provide a respite from the conflict, and even become a source of healing?

Darien Gee thought so when she first heard of friendship bread in 2009. In fact, she became so enchanted with the idea that she used it as the basis for a novel — appropriately titled Friendship Bread (Random House, 2012) — the story of three strangers who connect over the bread, forging friendships while coping with personal demons.

“In communities where the starter is actively passed around, touching different households and very different lives, it reflects the commonality among us,” says Gee of why the friendship bread concept resonated with her. “We are doing this together, we are in this together. This starter exists because we are all playing a part in this process.”

Gee was initially introduced to friendship bread when her daughter came home one day with a bag of starter and some bread. “The story for the novel came to me while I was eating the bread. I had a first draft in five months and, along the way, I kept coming up with more friendship bread recipes to help tell the story.” In fact, the recipes became so popular after the book’s publication, Gee found it necessary to create a website devoted specifically to them, The Friendship Bread Kitchen, spawning hundreds of recipes, from biscotti to pretzels, three cookbooks, and over 77,000 subscribers.

The origins of friendship bread — and a similar version known as Herman friendship cake in Europe — have been the subject of some debate, as is the question of whether the recipe is actually Amish. Anne Byrn, who researched hundreds of historical recipes for her book American Cake (Rodale Books, 2016), remembers the friendship bread craze popping up in newspaper columns in the late 1980s, but thinks the recipe can be traced back much further.

“The concept behind it is really old,” she says, “and there are recipes for friendship cake, instead of friendship bread, that date back to the 1860s. Before the invention of baking powder in 1855, starters were made with wild yeast just gathered from the air, and they provided the leavening for cakes and breads.” Pioneer women traveling the Oregon Trail would have been feeding a starter as they traveled, and certainly would have shared it with each other along the way, she says.

Friendship cake was particularly popular in the 1930s, according to Byrn, when Depression-era homemakers were trying to be resourceful and plan ahead. The recipe that evolved into the cake-like friendship bread some 50 years later, however, took advantage of modern conveniences like dried yeast and even instant pudding.

It’s an evolution that can bring up bad memories for some, such as this comment in a 1990 thread: “Somebody gave me some of that stuff years ago but it was a totally different recipe that used a package of Jell-O vanilla pudding. The resulting bread was super sweet. Not to our liking but my MIL [mother-in-law] liked it. For a couple of weeks. And then she too got sick of it. And nobody wanted the damned starter.”

Indeed, the most common friendship bread recipe does include a packet of instant pudding with the other ingredients. It’s reviled by some, but Gee is among those who love it: The moist raisin-and-nut-studded result, liberally topped with cinnamon sugar, remains Gee’s favorite.

“It’s a ‘love it or hate it’ kind of thing,” says Gee. “The use of the instant pudding can be controversial, but I have to admit that, 250 recipes later, I still love the original.”

While detractors decry that the use of pudding mix is a sign that friendship Bread can’t possibly be Amish, Byrn isn’t so sure.

“A lot of Amish recipes begin with a pudding mix or a cake mix,” she says. “Just because it’s Amish doesn’t mean it’s made from scratch.”

Byrn also points to the 1989 PBS cooking show Amish Cooking from Quilt Country, hosted by the late cookbook author Marcia Adams, as a possible source for popularizing friendship bread again. Adams even included the recipe for the starter and the “chain letter” tradition in her cookbook, Heartland: The Best of the Old and the New from Midwest Kitchens (Clarkson Potter, 1991), writing:

“It is my observation that having this starter around is like getting married — it is a real commitment, and it is forever. And like that institution, it gets better with age.”

Emily Landsman hadn’t had much luck in the past with starters, saying, “Previously I’d been able to go for about a month and then they get funky.” But friendship bread was different. “This picked up right away, and I’ve been able to divide it and keep it alive.”

A frequent contributor and baker for the Jewish Food Experience, Landsman hadn’t heard of friendship bread until asked to give it a try, but now she’s hooked. “I like the fact that you’re supposed to share it,” she says. “I wound up giving [the starter] to my new boyfriend’s good friend’s wife, who is a baker. I knew I’d need her approval, so what better way to connect with her than through bread?”

Beginning with her own standard no-knead bread recipe as opposed to the instant-pudding recipe, Landsman has gone on to make two loaves, one with whole wheat and another with spelt flour, as well as a batch of sesame seeds knot rolls, in the first month. She’s even dehydrated the starter to make it easier to transport as a gift.

Gee thinks the starter is integral to the friendship bread experience. “We’ve become so independent and insular as families,” she says. “You can make any of these recipes without the starter but it wouldn’t be the same, because you wouldn’t have this element of sharing and passing it on. It keeps you connected to the community and other people, an approach to cooking and asking that we don’t have a lot of these days.”

Source: npr


6 Steps to a Healthier You

As one year ends and another begins, people often assess their habits and lifestyle, and consider changes that could improve their health.

But what, exactly, should you do?

Here are six steps you can take to enhance your well-being, according to doctors from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA):

1. Keep a personal health calendar.

“In our busy lives, we hardly pay attention to our health, and most health issues start with subtle symptoms that we fail to follow,” Dr. Aparna Sridhar said in a UCLA news release. She’s an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the university’s David Geffen School of Medicine.

“In fact, most patients with illness cannot pinpoint when symptoms started and if there was any association with life events,” Sridhar said. “By maintaining a health calendar and jotting down symptoms, medications and mood changes, patients will be able to identify abnormalities sooner and seek care.”

2. Eat more fruits and vegetables.

“A number of chronic diseases, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and stroke, have an identified association with diet,” UCLA dietitian Dana Hunnes said in the news release. She’s senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

“If each of us shifts to a more plant-based diet — filled with vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits and other produce — we can not only potentially lower our risk for these diseases, but we can also be healthier and potentially live longer,” Hunnes said. She noted that diets low in animal protein are also linked with greater longevity.

3. Cook at home rather than eat out.

“People who cook at home eat a healthier, more nutritionally dense diet,” said Erin Morse, chief clinical dietitian at UCLA Health. “With obesity escalating and contributing to other serious health issues — like diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure — cooking at home is a vastly underutilized tool patients can use to achieve their nutrition goals.”

Morse noted that the food served at restaurants usually has less fiber and a lot more salt, sugar, fat and processed carbohydrates than home-cooked meals.

4. Support healthy gut bacteria.

“For better health overall, you not only need to feed your own human cells, but you also need to feed all the microbes that live on you and inside you — including the gut microbiome,” Dr. Zhaoping Li, director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, said in the news release.

“The best foods for these microbes are plant-based foods and drinks,” she said.

5. Don’t underestimate the benefits of healthy lifestyle changes.

“Certain lifestyle choices are far more integral to your health than any doctor’s visit,” said Dr. John Mafi. He’s an assistant professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

“To promote general well-being, mom’s advice isn’t far off: Eat mostly fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains; get at least seven or eight hours of sleep per night; reduce your work stress; make time to exercise and get outdoors; and spend quality time with close friends and family,” Mafi said.

“The research behind each of these activities clearly demonstrates their benefits to your health,” he added.

6. Don’t neglect your sinus passages.

“Patients with allergies and sinus problems should be rinsing their sinuses regularly with saline, a surprisingly effective method for controlling symptoms that accomplishes several things,” said Dr. Marilene Wang. She’s a professor of head and neck surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine.

Rinsing clears particles and other irritants — like pollen and smog — from the nose and sinus passages, Wang said. This can help ease troubling symptoms, including congestion and swelling.

Rinsing the sinuses also thins the mucus and moisturizes the inside of the nose. Nasal membranes “can be very inflamed and sensitive from allergies and infections,” she said.

Most drug stores sell sinus rinse kits without a prescription.

Source: HealthDay

Today’s Comic

In Pictures: 2018 New Year Fireworks Around the World



Hong Kong



Kuala Lumpur




New York

Rio de Janeiro







Source : Bloomberg

A Field Guide to the Neat Freak

Amy Rosenberg wrote . . . . . . .

In the film As Good as It Gets, as soon as the character Melvin Udall enters his apartment, he pulls a bar of soap from his medicine cabinet (stacked with nothing but soap), rubs his hands under scalding water for a few seconds, drops the bar in the trash and grabs another and then another and another. He fears dirt and mess so much that he brings his own plastic silverware to the one restaurant he patronizes. And he has never allowed another human to step into his home.

Udall suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). But he has many kindred spirits—those who are not clinically diagnosable though they still inspire both admiration and scorn in their quest for cleanliness and order. Your roommate might arrange her shirts by color, or your husband might alphabetize all the books on the shelf. Such folks are neat freaks.

John Ratey, professor of psychiatry at Harvard University, says that hyper-concern about order could be a “shadow syndrome” of OCD, a mild and indistinct—perhaps even undetectable—expression of the more severe disorder. “OCD has to be at a level where it interferes with a person’s functioning, and neat freaks can often function well. “The fact is,” he jokes, “we used to just call them anal.”

According to Ellen McGrath, a clinical psychologist and president of the Bridge Coaching Institute in New York City, most neat freaks tend to have “hot spots”—extremely high standards for neatness in very particular areas. These trigger points spark feelings about childhood routines and can touch off relationship battles: The sock left on the floor suddenly holds all of a couple’s buried tensions. If neat freaks find their special terrain in disarray, they start overreacting and get angry. The problem, from their point of view, is that disorder signifies a lack of control—precisely what they fear. “‘Neat freak’ is another term for a control freak,” says McGrath. Neat freaks are often perfectionists in other areas of life, continually setting themselves up for frustration and disappointment.

If you’re a neat freak who wants to shed your fastidiousness, you can—even without a professional’s help, says McGrath. First, make an honest list of the costs and benefits of your ways, and have a family member or roommate also make a list for you, for comparison. Acknowledge how you may be distancing others with your zealous cleaning. Then promise to relinquish one neat demand each week for a month.

Varieties of the Species

The Fussy Groomer

He can’t run to the corner deli without ironing his shirt, polishing his shoes, clipping his nails and trimming his beard. For this fellow, control takes the form of extreme care with personal appearance. While some attention to one’s looks can increase confidence, such fanatical concern often leaves this put-together type painfully self-conscious and paralyzed by something as innocuous as a spot of spaghetti sauce.

The Germophobe

Germophobes lead a personal crusade against the bacteria, viruses, fungi and dirt that exist everywhere. They dread ATMs, computer keyboards, handrails, library books, babies, you name it. The terror can manifest itself in disruptive ways: obsessive hand-washing, for example, or an aversion to others’ touch (scientists debate whether there really is any reason to fear germs so much, but marketers of hand sanitizers receive great profits nonetheless).

The Nitpicking Nester

She swipes her shoes vigorously on the doormat even though she’s planning to remove them and still vacuums before doing anything else. A sense of peace washes over her as she aligns the pencils on her desk. This home sanitation expert, who may take her habits to the office, cannot handle clutter, confusion or the slightest surprise in her physical surroundings. She might become incensed with a loved one who fails to return an object to its proper place. She may even decide to live alone.

When Neat Freaks Move In

Peaceful cohabitation is possible, says Ratey, but only if the neat freak in the house is aware of his tendency toward excessive order and eases up on his judgments of those not so inclined. Understand he may be resistant to change, since his immaculate habits may have been reinforced over the years with high praise.

Once all parties concerned are ready to negotiate, says McGrath, write a list of problem areas. “Find out where the places of conflict are and make a plan for coping.” Then decide on a consequence for any violators of the compromises. “Maybe the one who makes the mess pays extra for a housecleaner.”

Full disclosure: My husband is a neat freak, and I am, let’s just say, not. We have reached a settlement on one issue—if I leave dishes in the kitchen sink, I have to clean the bathroom. For his part, he’s agreed to ignore the mess in my half of our home office.

Ratey points out that some people are quite content to shack up with neat freaks. “Partnering up with a neat freak is like having a built-in coach,” he says. “You get someone who helps you establish order or does it themselves.”

Get Neat-Freakier

Let Go

Get rid of half of your stuff, says Ariane Benefit, a professional organizer who runs an advice blog, As for sentimental cards and gifts, she insists: “You’re not disrespecting the giver by throwing it away later.”

Create Havens

Each of your possessions needs a designated place, says Benefit. If you’re not consistently putting things away, it may be that you don’t like its home: If your drawers are overstuffed, roll up your shirts so that you can see each one.

Just Do It

Messy people may have the same perfectionist tendencies as neat freaks, says Judith Kohlberg, author of Conquering Chronic Disorganization. They are paralyzed by the thought of not being able to do it all, and so they do nothing. Don’t wait for the perfect time to be organized, she says. Target a small area that you’re sure you can manage.

Make It Fun

Invite a friend over to keep you company while you de-clutter, Kohlberg suggests. Put on some music; even have a glass of wine.

Source: Psychology Today

Video: TED-Ed – Why Incompetent People Think They’re Amazing

How good are you with money? What about reading people’s emotions? How healthy are you, compared to other people you know? Knowing how our skills stack up against others is useful in many ways. But psychological research suggests that we’re not very good at evaluating ourselves accurately. In fact, we frequently overestimate our own abilities. David Dunning describes the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Watch video at You Tube (5:07 minutes) . . . .