Wednesday, April 29, 2009

And then we made tortillas

Sometimes all it takes is a slight shift in perspective.

I have a good friend named Pete, who I see now maybe twice, three times a year if I'm lucky. Pete spends his summer working trails up in Denali, and he's responsible for a lot of what I know about the Northwest, and for a lot of why I care.

A couple weeks ago, Pete came over for one last dinner before he left again for Alaska. We planned to make burritos, and I asked him if he could pick up some tortillas on his way over. He replied, why don't we make some? It can't be that hard.

And so we did. It might have been the best burrito I've ever had (thanks, Pete). I'll never buy the packaged ones again.


2 c. unsifted flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 c. water or more as needed
1 tsp. salt
1/4 c. shortening

Combine flour, salt, baking powder. Cut shortening into dry ingredients until it resembles coarse corn meal. Gradually add water, working it into flour until stiff. Let dough rest 5-10 minutes. Divide into 6-8 balls. Roll out on floured surface to 1/16-inch thick, about 6-7 inches diameter. On greased grill on medium-high, cook about 1 minute each side. It is important to immediately place cooked tortilla on warm plate and cover securely to prevent drying out.

What else can I do in my own kitchen that I hadn't thought of before?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Refrigerator Soup: A Framework

My father did most of the cooking in our family. I don't think he liked to, much, but he did. Simple meals: pasta and cauliflower, potatoes and broccoli. There were usually leftovers. And every other week or so, he'd toss them all into a pot and improvise. Refrigerator soup.

Having grown up poor, my father did not like to see food go to waste. Without complaint, he'd lunch on the stale bread and moldy cheese the rest of us would just as soon have discarded. In fact, my parents rarely threw anything away. The drawers in the kitchen overflowed with plastic bags - rinsed and dried again and again - and used twist-ties, refolded aluminum foil, plastic yogurt tubs, fraying dishtowels, paper grocery bags. Glass jars, egg cartons, rags, milk bottles. The basement concealed even more.

I still tease my mother for saving (for years) not one, but two, toasters for when "I moved into my first apartment."

Most people in the U.S. of A. do not live like this. They haven't had to. But the recession continues to take its toll, and I, despite my own unemployed uncertainty, maintain this optimism: that we, as a country, will take stock of our wastefulness and return to a frugal and ingenious way of life. That we will really reduce, reuse, and recycle, but also re-patch, repair, and repeat.

My kitchen, in the drafty 1913 farmhouse I rent, shelters a health plastic bag collection, several shelves of plastic tubs, a cup of rubber bands. A bouquet of canvas grocery bags hangs from the doorknob. The compost bucket grows crusty with each morning's coffee grounds. In the backyard, 50 onion bulbs snake greenly skyward, and the peas have begun to germinate.

They say change begins at home, but even more, I think change begins in the kitchen, with what we eat, and how we prepare it. I hope to explore here how the meals I cook, provide the rough framing - the bones - for living the life I want to live.