Cycling through peanut butter

For a touring cyclist there can be no better energy food than peanut butter. Actually it’s just excellent food period. Already one of my favourite things to eat, it became my number one food of choice on the road. Being vegan, sampling a lot of local ‘delicacies’ was out the window, so as I moved further south, seeking out supplies of my favourite essential foodstuff became a bit of a mission, one that fortuitously led to discoveries in every country.

What’s there not to like? It goes with just about anything, sweet or savoury. My first few weeks in the USA were easy. Oh, how I look back fondly on those idyllic times, stopping mid-afternoon at a local natural food store for some organic, additive-free, peanut butter. If I was lucky, I could even grind the peanuts myself. Such luxury…

Back home in Vancouver I happily make a peanut butter sandwich with avocado and Marmite (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it…). Lacking the special Marmite magic on my travels, I kept to my favourite accompaniment – bananas. Even in Peru, my love affair with peanut butter was still going strong. Who needs variety when you’ve got peanut butter.

I didn’t expect to become so dependent on it, but as I realised I might be able to find supplies throughout Mexico I made a point of searching for it – high and low. I migrated from bread (Bimbo!) to fresh, often delicious tortillas, but I needed some quality toppings and fillings. Beans (with jalapenos)? Avocado and tomatoes (with jalapenos)? Both great options, but I needed that delicious, sweet taste and energy from the peanut butter and it’s conjoined twin, bananas (you can’t separate these things).

It became a bit of a game to try and hunt out peanut butter in each country I passed through. If I found a good source I’d buy extra – just in case there wasn’t any across the next border. However I lucked out every time, with only one – and a very minor one considering my alternatives – snag: Skippy, Jif and their ilk.

Like I said, I try to eat peanut butter as it should be. And that means peanuts. End of. No sugar, no palm oil, no hydrogenated oil, no random other ‘natural’ ingredients. I’ll allow a little salt. If it’s organic, so much the better. From Mexico southwards it was a different story. But needs must, so I wasn’t complaining. I learned to embrace Big Peanut Butter. It definitely spread better. Large jars of Skippy and Jif were stuffed into my panniers. Occasionally I’d see a ‘local’ brand, which really meant some country-specific peanut butter brand owned by the usual suspects. One was called Peter Pan. On very rare and heavenly days I found authentic, 100% peanut butter, such as from cafe Al-Natur in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. And it came crunchy.

Was it expensive? For me, touring on a tight budget, absolutely. I could destroy my daily food allowance on just a single jar. But it was worth it. If I found one country to be on the cheaper side, I’d stock up. I could have bought jam for a fraction of the price, but it’s nowhere near the same. My $6 indulgence. The funny thing was trying to compare prices in each country. Most places it worked out roughly similar, $5-$6 or thereabouts. Gringo prices for gringo food. Panama had pretty good prices and Colombia seemed to be the most expensive. But by then I didn’t care. I was well in for the long haul and even while I wasn’t cycling at that point, it was just too good. I almost brought some home.

Bimbo: Mexico’s breadmaker mafia

If you were reading this blog a few months ago, you’ll know about the fun I had trying to escape the tentacles of the Franz breadmaker mafia. Luckily Franz is a regional player, albeit with a lot more reach than I bargained for.

However, for bread in Mexico there’s just no getting away from Bimbo (pronounced Beem-bo). I can’t fathom the reasons for the name, but obviously it’s not the same in Spanish. The cuddly bear mascot reminded me of Mr Stay-Puft from Ghostbusters, and it’s an appropriate comparison given the size of the Bimbo company. Occasionally when I feel like a change from tortillas I check out the Bimbo offerings.

A breadmaker mafia this size clearly has far-reaching tentacles and Bimbo are huge. Grupo Bimbo turns out to be one of the biggest food manufacturers in the world (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grupo_Bimbo). They’re only the 4th largest food company in the world behind Unilever, Kraft and Nestle and were the world’s largest bread manufacturer in 2010. Stick that up your pipe and smoke it, Franz! So there’s no getting away from them (except in San Cristobal where I found a number of great independent bakeries).

I really know nothing more about Bimbo’s ethics – though I guess it operates in much the same way as any other huge multinational – but the bread I’ve found so far is vegan friendly. No random milk ingredients or sneaky dairy has been added (though plenty of other ‘un-natural’ ingredients are thrown in there), but I do get to ingest a wide range of interesting-sounding chemicals that are typical within modern bread that never goes stale.

The other fun thing is seeing all the Bimbo bread vans careering around the towns and villages. I think this is where Postman Pat came after the Royal Mail gave him his P45 all those years ago.

Edna Ruth Byler and 65 years of Ten Thousand Villages

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I named my bike Edna. The inspiration for the name came from Edna Ruth Byler, generally regarded as the founder of the modern Fair Trade movement. Well, 1st October was the 65th anniversary of Ten Thousand Villages, the current organisation that was founded upon Edna’s earlier work.

http://youtu.be/Vi1rMmDhWHI

Less well known is that she had some skill in the kitchen, if her cookbook and baking classes are anything to go by.One of her master recipes below is an inspiration at annual MCC relief sales. Edna’s famous recipe can be found on page 65 of the More-With-Less Cookbook.

October is Fair Trade Month (in the USA) so if you can, make a little extra effort and try to find a Fair Trade product to buy instead of your usual purchases. I can virtually guarantee it won’t be as hard as you think!

http://www.tenthousandvillages.ca/cgi-bin/category.cgi?type=store&item=pageZAAAG13&template=fullpage-en&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=65th+Newsletter+English&utm_content=65th+Newsletter+English+CID_b828d41e6a00db86dffb3d1ebc36868d&utm_source=Email+Marketing+Software&utm_term=Edna+Ruth+Bylers+Baked+Goods+Recipe

You can find out more by following the link above, and if you’re impatient to get started on her recipe, here are some instructions. I’m pretty sure Edna wasn’t vegan but these can easily be improved (sorry, I mean adapted) to cater for vegan tastes.

It’s Fair Trade Month in the USA and there are a number of events this month in Vancouver, culminating with Halloween so be sure to buy your Fair Trade chocolate this month!

http://fairtrade.ca/

http://fairtradeusa.org/

RECIPES (note that Edna is clearly from the ‘old school’ – who has a deep fryer or uses shortening these days!?)

Produces 100 doughnuts or rolls.

Preheat an oven to 400º or deep fryer to 375º, depending on recipe

Dissolve:
3 pkg. dry yeast in
1 c. lukewarm water

Mix in large bowl: 1 qt. scalded milk
2 c. mashed potatoes (no milk added)
1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. margarine
1 c. sugar

Let cool to lukewarm, then add:
yeast mixture
6 c. flour

Let stand until mixture foams up (about 20 minutes)

Add:
2 eggs, beaten
1 T. salt
11-12 c. additional flour

A little more flour may be needed, but dough should be soft. Turn out on floured board and knead until satiny. Let raise in warm place until doubled in bulk.

Doughnuts: Roll out dough, cut doughnuts, place on trays and let raise until not quite double. Fry in hot shortening (375º). When drained and while still hot dip in glaze mixture. Insert a stick through holes and let a number of doughnuts drain over glaze bowl until next ones are ready to do.

Glaze
Combine:
1 lb. powdered sugar
1 T. margarine
1 t. vanilla
dash of mace
enough rich milk to make thin icing 

Cinnamon buns: Prepare a mixture of butter and margarine and a mixture of sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Roll a piece of dough to about 18×9″. Spread dough with butter mixture and sprinkle on some of the sugar mixture. Roll up the dough as for a jelly roll. Cut 1 ½” chunks and place in greased pans, pressing down lightly on each chunk. Cover and let rise in warm place until nearly double in size. Bake at 400º for 15-20 minutes or until browned. These may be iced with doughnut glaze as soon as they are taken from the oven.

Sticky buns: Handle dough same as for cinnamon buns, except make a mixture of brown and white sugar, cinnamon, and a little white corn syrup and water. Spread in bottom of heavily greased pans with nuts, if desired, before putting in rolls. Immediately after baking, invert pans over trays and let syrup run down before removing pans.

Dinner rolls: Shape dough as desired, place on greased pans, and bake at 400º starting on a lower rack and changing to upper rack about halfway through for 15 minutes of baking time. Brush tops lightly with butter to remove any floury appearance.

Coffee cake: A good way to use all the leftover bits of dough – put dough in greased pan, dab or punch holes in it, and spread leftover sugar, syrup, or butter mixtures over. Let raise and bake as for cinnamon buns. 

To freeze: Let baked goods cool. Wrap or place in large plastic bags freeze the same day.

Franz Breadmaker Mafia has many tentacles

After my traumatic experiences with Franz bread in Washington, I thought I might be free from it’s shackles in Oregon. Not so lucky. Seems like their mafiosi are well-established in northern Oregon. I did manage to find some ‘french-style’ sourdough which at least meant I didn’t need to buy their bagels again. Let’s hope for some bread freedom further south…

The Washington ‘Franz’ Breadmaker Mafia

Travelling as a vegan presents its own unique challenges. I’ve had many people wonder (as well as myself) how I will cope with the non-vegan Latin American world. We shall see.

I didn’t quite expect to have problems as I meandered through Washington. Less choice, certainly, but real difficulty? Surely not…and being mostly rural, each town typically had little choice of grocery store and it seems even less choice for the company who makes your bread. I encountered ‘Franz’ for the first time.

Quick ingredient check…oh, milk products. I see. Next. Ah, same. Right, next one then…ok this is getting silly. And lo and behold pretty much every single loaf contained milk products or eggs. I often wonder why particular ingredients are in certain products and this was no exception. In every loaf?? Not one without…? Well, after a lot of hunting and not a few stares from the shelf stacker waiting patiently while I scrutinised his wares I did find some Franz bagels that did not contain milk products. Yay! They’re vegan friendly! But check out what else they contain.. Any chemists out there who can explain the need for all those ‘tasty’ extras..???

You’d think that just a little more choice would be available in these parts, but perhaps they’re in cahoots with the Washington dairy association or some other such friendly corporate lobby group..

Franz Plain Bagels. Warning: Does not contain dairy
Franz Plain Bagels. But here's what they do contain...

Things didn’t quite get to the point where it was a matter of loaf and death: