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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Nailing The Homemade Tortilla


When there's nothing in the pantry, a quick batch of tortillas can make a meal. A can of lousy beans transmorphs into a delicious filling when encased by a tortilla. Tortillas are cheap, but they're even cheaper when you make them at home. A cup of flour makes 6 tortillas, so were talking a few pennies on the tortilla. I had tried several times to make tortillas in the past, and though they were acceptable(ish), manifesting all the aforementioned powers, they quickly became hard and dried out discs resembling a stale cracker (bleck). But today I made delicious tortillas that were flexible and supple discs of soft chewy dough... and now hours latter while writing this post, they are still flexible supple discs of soft chewy dough - yes! There were three things missing from my original attempts. They were all revealed to me in this recipe from The Fresh Loaf that worked for me. Enjoy!

Lard

Yes, lard. Please pause before you write it off. It's a great cooking ingredient that is still used today by many bakers! It improves texture, and adds a great deal in flavor as well.

Milk

Use milk as your wetting agent. Milk actually softens dough through some chemical process that I'm too lazy to look up right now. But it's true.

Kneading

Kneed the dough thoroughly to develop gluten. This will help with that awesome chewy texture.

Now we can make burritos out of our home made tortillas, instead of just tacos. I'm anticipating breakfast burritos in my near future, if we don't eat all of them before the morning!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Garden Planning

Still tucked in, waiting for spring.
After a nearly snowless winter, it's been spring-like and sunny here for the past few days. That has me itching to get out in the garden--we've purchased our seeds, and I've been working on our garden plan. This year we'll have about twice as much growing room, thanks to our neighbor and garden "manager". He's been gardening in our rowhouse's yard for over a decade, and he's nice enough to share some space with others in the building.

This year we succumbed to a few impulse buys while perusing the amazing selection of Seed Savers Exchange seeds: 


Strawberry Spinach. This is a salad green that also produces fruit?!? Sign me up.


Rat-tailed Radish. A radish variety cultivated for the seed pods, not the roots. Supposed to be good raw or pickled. I've never met a radish I didn't like. Yum!


I'm also going to expand my hot pepper obsession by trying a few varieties from seed. I picked varieties I haven't seen available in starts around here: Pasilla (the dried pod is used for mole) and pepperoncini, to make my greek salad obsession more homegrown.


Now that we've been through a season with our CSA, we have a sense of what we can rely on them to grow. We'll be passing on the heirloom tomatoes, bok choy, beets and carrots this year, since we had more than we knew what to do with in our farm share. Instead, we'll be growing roma tomatoes for canning, more green beans, and parsnips--all things we felt a little short on last year.


We'll also be growing a little differently this year. We're aiming for a Ruth Stout-inspired heavy mulch, no till approach. The garden has been snuggled up under a few inches of hay all winter, and we plan to simply push it aside to plant when the time comes. If you're not familiar with Ruth Stout, you should be. I leave you with this: 


Monday, February 20, 2012

Locally Grown Tropicals

Every aspiring locavore has her hangups. Foods native to far-away lands and warmer climes that you just can't pass up at the grocery store. I can't tell you how jealous I am of urban farmers in California, blessed with citrus trees and artichokes. Green with envy, I tell you.

What's a girl to do? Grow them inside, of course! The (perhaps vain) hope is that some day my lemons, tea, and other tropical treats, will be part of my 100' diet right along with the kale and tomatoes. Here you see my meyer lemon and dwarf banana, along with a very productive thai hot pepper and some scraggly rosemary that we transplanted from our CSA farm.

With most of these plants, I'll have to wait years before I see any fruit, if ever. 'Til then, it's quite a challenge to keep them thriving. Well, if we're being honest, it's a challenge just to keep them alive, especially in the dark winter months. A lot of these plants are rather finicky, and since I'm notorious for killing even the "thrives on abuse" variety of houseplant, it's a miracle I haven't lost any of these exotic friends. But hey, I like a challenge.


The first year I had the lemon tree, it flowered profusely and produced two teeny tiny lemons. They were the most amazing thing I ever tasted. I had hoped to see some flowers on my meyer lemon tree again this winter. Instead, it's spent the last few months regrowing the leaves it lost when I brought it inside in the fall. It might have been transplant shock, or stress from the hasty transition inside. 

My tea plant is looking great--don't let the browning leaves fool you. When I got it, it was a tiny stick with no branches. It's supposed to be a shrub, so I've been practicing my pruning skills and encouraging the plant to put out new branches. Here you can see new leaves unfurling where I cut it back. It seems to really love a good haircut.


And the dwarf banana, looking a little more dwarf than it should. This variety supposedly fruits when it's about three feet tall--we're looking at about a foot of growth right now. I almost killed this one several times this winter, until some research revealed that bananas actually prefer a sandy potting mix, the same that you would use for cactus. I had it in regular potting soil, and it became clear that I had been making a classic rookie mistake--over-watering. I re-potted the banana, rescuing it from certain death at the hands of root rot.


This crazy plant is a pitaya vine, or dragon fruit. It's a night-blooming orchid cactus--a vining cactus that grows on trees and produces the most amazing dinner plate sized blossoms at night. These plants grew all over the place in the Nicaraguan town I spent a summer in, and I have fond memories of seeing these flowers caught in my flashlight's beam. The fruit is equally incredible. Delicious pink alien looking things.

It took me almost 10 years to find a place selling the plants stateside--it turns out you can get them from Logee's, which is only a few hours from here. This plant has grown from about 1.5 feet tall to nearly 6 feet in the year that I've had it--talk about fast-growing! As you can see, I'm struggling to contain it. Supposedly, it will start to flower and produce fruit once the plant weighs about 10 pounds. I have no idea how I'm supposed to know how much it weighs...

Some people turn into crazy cat ladies as they get older. I aspire to be the crazy plant lady--surrounded by an ever-growing collection of bizarre tropical fruit plants. I'd say I'm well on my way. I just hope that by then I'll at least have figured out how to get them to fruit.