Wednesday, March 30, 2011

BEST THING I'VE LEARNED IN AWHILE: PIZZA DOUGH


I thank Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (best Christmas present 2010) for most of my recent recipe favorites.  This one I can now make half asleep.  It's invaluable because its so flexible, cheap, and kid-friendly.   If I throw together the dough in the morning I can stick it in the fridge for 5 or 8 hours to slow its rising, take it out, and have it ready in 1/2 an hour to load into the oven. Sometimes I split the dough in half with Alice and let her make her own small pizza while I make a small salt and herb white pizza (olive oil + fresh rosemary + sea salt).

Alice  can also make the dough. We do it with a wooden spoon and then our hands. Why wash a food processor?  Actually, we don't have a food processor.  Ditto for a pizza pan or stone.  We just make a large oval pizza on our cookie sheet. When we split the dough, Alice uses a 9" metal cake pan and I use the cookie sheet. You can pretty much use anything.

Note: You cook pizza at the hottest setting your stove has.  

Mix in a bowl:  3 cups all purpose flour, 2 tsp. instant yeast, 2 tsp. salt. Add 2 T. olive oil and one cup water. Stir with wooden spoon until it starts to come together, then start using your hands until you make a smooth ball. If it's too dry add a little more oil or a little more water.

Pour a bit more oil into the bowl and sit the dough on it. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise until it doubles in size. This takes an hour or more. Once it's risen, push it down again and reshape into a ball or two balls and let rise again for 20 minutes. Then press dough flat with hands or roller or booze bottle.  You can do this on a "floured surface" but why make a mess? I just do it directly on the cookie sheet which I oil a little first.

Note:  Try never to rip dough.  If it gets hard to handle, let it rest for five minutes before stretching again.

Cover with tomato sauce and toppings. It's best to pre-cook the toppings. Fewer toppings are better (so says Mark B.).  Bake in hot hot oven until crust starts to brown.

Note: I don't particularly like that I'm using all white flour, but after experimenting with various amounts of whole wheat, I've decided it tastes best just plain white and I make up for the wholesomeness with the toppings -- but I'm not done experimenting.    

My next kitchen gadget will definitely be a pizza cutter.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

TWO SHORT ENCOURAGING FOODIE VIDEOS

Two videos came to my attention this week. The first one made me smile and give a tweet, but when I realized Alice was watching it over and over again gleaning tons of the info and starting to sing it, I was more impressed. Not sure the Stonyfield folks were aiming at a 13 year old audience, but bet they'll be thrilled to have it.

A marvelous short video arrived in my Facebook feed about how to build a permaculture garden and why.  Many students from UMass Amherst participated and it's well worth watching to see how they're creating the garden from a lawn without killing the lawn with herbicides or digging it up.  I've used this technique in New Hampshire. Definitely works. I'm really looking forward to the next installment of the video which will show them planting.  Enjoy!
If you're interested in learning more about this type of gardening, check out Edible Forest Gardens.  (It has nothing to do with forests as they're usually defined.)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

ROBBED IN THE NAME OF CONVENIENCE

These days I live in Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico.  People here and all over Mexico still eat a lot of home cooking.  There are always vendors in the streets and markets selling real food like tacos, tamales, meaty soups, corn on the cob, fresh squeezed juices, etc.  At two o'clock schools let out and many many businesses close for the main meal of the day which is enjoyed from two until four.  People go home for this meal if they can.  This is one of my favorite things about Mexico.  It has nothing to do with convenience.

I was born in 1955.  My grandparents were German immigrants in Queens who had vegetable gardens in their yards.  We went to one of their houses for the Sunday meal almost every weekend.   Other relatives were always there too.  My grandmas wore aprons and made us say grace.  That's what Mexico is like every day for many families in my neighborhood.

When I was 8 we started to move around the country for my Dad's job.  Most nights my mom cooked dinner, but wherever we lived we always had a favorite pizza place and a favorite Chinese place for take-outs, plus my dad made a good salary and liked to take us out to restaurants.  This was a treat for my mother because for her making the meal was work.   You know what I think about that?  I think my mom was bamboozled.

Cooking is not work.  Cooking is art.  Cooking is an expression of our humanity.  But somehow after WWII, a generation bought into the idea that cooking wasn't cool... that it wasn't modern... that it kept them from doing something more important.  Cooking became inconvenient.  Convenience became a big deal.  What's so great about convenience... what does it even mean?    I think it means missing out on sensual experiences that can be meditative, that add something beautiful to a day.

Take preparation of the simplest foods, for example carrots.  Carrots are a rather exciting color.  They feel smooth and cool to the touch.  They're basically long and pointy, but some have interesting variations.  It feels good to chop something that's a little hard.  It makes you think about the knife you're using.    Using a knife puts you in contact with about a zillion past generations of your ancestors and people all over the world.  That connection feels good deep inside.   When you cut up carrots you can pop a piece in your mouth.  mmm.  How did we give up all that pleasant experience for buying and ripping open a plastic bag of stubby little generic looking "baby" carrots which are sometimes slimey?  Convenience.  

Then there's the buying part.  Think how it feels to walk down the center aisles of grocery stores between boxes and jars and cans yelling at you with a million words -- a lot of them long and unintelligible.  It's unpleasant and exhausting.  Now think about the produce section where the food is piled artistically and you get to touch it and smell it and bag as much as you want.  Lovely!

I think my mother's generation was robbed, and consequently she robbed me.  I'm not saying she didn't teach me how to buy a good cantaloupe or that corn in season was a blessing.   But she also taught me one onion + one green pepper + a lb. of chopped chuck + Campbell's tomato soup  served over egg noodles = American spaghetti.  A lot of the food education she dispensed had to do with which brands were best (Hellmans for mayo, Sara Lee for chocolate cake)  and shortcuts -- how to make something that sounded hard but was really simple because it used some premixed ingredients.  The premise was that the actual making of the food was something to be shortened or avoided.  It's taken me to my fifties to realize how wrong headed that training was, how all those saved steps are sensual and fun and make me feel good.

San Juan Mercado, Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico
I am worried about Mexico though.  These days there are more and more large grocery stores including Walmarts, Costcos, and Sam's Clubs with all the same boxed stuff we have in the states.  These are shopped by the growing Mexican middle class who seem hellbent on making every mistake US consumers have ever made.

There is a fresh food market four blocks away from my house that's open every day -- the San Juan Mercado.  It's the size of two city blocks and has a few hundred independent sellers of meats, fish, produce, cheeses, herbs, and loads of miscellaneous stuff.  I go almost every day.  I come home and spread my colorful haul out on the table:  bananas and oranges and mangos and broccoli and zuchini and chicken breasts and blackberries.  Nothing has a box or a jar.  It makes a luscious display.   I can't believe other people in my neighborhood would rather drive to a supermarket.   I guess they are the first generation able to do so and it must feel the same as it did to my mom -- modern and convenient.   Good grief.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

FARM SUBSIDIES, SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE, AND SOME HOPE

I've been so riveted these days by goings on in Wisconsin, Michigan, and other states regarding rights, activism,  and budgets that I've gotten behind on my foodie research.  Ironically though,  many of the states which have been taken over by governors hellbent on striping workers' rights and also on selling their states to corporations are FARM STATES.   To understand farm states and also the federal budget one must get a handle on the topic of Farm Subsidies.  Read below Mark Bittman's outstanding article on the topic.  He did another on Sustainable Agriculture recently that's also a must read.  And if you're feeling depressed about citizens losing their rights, you'll be encouraged when you read about a town in Maine that has passed an ordinance to exempt small farms and home kitchens from federal and state licensing.

Don't End Agricultural Subsidies, Fix Them  Mark Bittman
Agricultural subsidies have helped bring us high-fructose corn syrup, factory farming, fast food, a two-soda-a-day habit and its accompanying obesity, the near-demise of family farms, monoculture and a host of other ills.

Yet — like so many government programs — what subsidies need is not the ax, but reform that moves them forward. Imagine support designed to encourage a resurgence of small- and medium-size farms producing not corn syrup and animal-feed but food we can touch, see, buy and eat — like apples and carrots — while diminishing handouts to agribusiness and its political cronies.
Farm subsidies were created in an attempt to ameliorate the effects of the Great Depression, which makes it ironic that in an era when more Americans are suffering financially than at any time since, these subsidies are mostly going to those who need them least. (Read whole article.)

Sustainable Agriculture Can Feed the World? Mark Bittman

The oldest and most common dig against organic agriculture is that it cannot feed the world’s citizens; this, however, is a supposition, not a fact. And industrial agriculture isn’t working perfectly, either: the global food price index is at a record high, and our agricultural system is wreaking havoc with the health not only of humans but of the earth. There are around a billion undernourished people; we can also thank the current system for the billion who are overweight or obese.
Yet there is good news: increasing numbers of scientists, policy panels and experts (not hippies!) are suggesting that agricultural practices pretty close to organic — perhaps best called “sustainable” — can feed more poor people sooner, begin to repair the damage caused by industrial production and, in the long term, become the norm. (Read whole artitcle)

Maine Town Passes Landmark Local Food Ordinance 
SEDGWICK, MAINE – On Saturday, March 5, residents of a small coastal town in Maine voted unanimously to adopt the Local Food and Self-Governance Ordinance, setting a precedent for other towns looking to preserve small-scale farming and food processing. Sedgwick, located on the Blue Hill Peninsula in Western Hancock County, became the first town in Maine, and perhaps the nation, to exempt direct farm sales from state and federal licensing and inspection. The ordinance also exempts foods made in the home kitchen, similar to the Michigan Cottage Food Law passed last year, but without caps on gross sales or restrictions on types of exempt foods. (Read whole article)