Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Comfort Food for Thought

As it turns out, believe it or not, having three small children – two of whom are on summer vacation and one who is a newborn – greatly eats into my blogging time. Who would have thought? So, here I am with this long list of potential posts and things keep happening so the list keeps growing. I need to make some of these things priorities – like is it tortillas or vanilla extract that wins? Cookies or the garden? Perhaps a recap of the killer Indian I had out at a place called Le Terrace Exotique?

First things first I guess. I did make those tortillas from The Homesick Texan. They were fine. Actually, they were good. It’s just that it is so incredibly messy and time consuming to make flour tortillas and in the end they just never turn out quite perfectly. They always turn out good – it’s flat bread, best eaten hot with salted butter – but I am increasingly feeling like it’s not exactly worth the effort. Here is what I believe to be my tortilla truth – until I can find out how to make a flour (or whole wheat) tortilla that identically mimics Central Market tortillas I will not have found my tortilla Zen. Is this a challenge or am I giving up? Not sure.

 Now, on to the vanilla extract – success! I made these cookies this week (only without the chocolate chips). This vanilla extract smells perfectly and my cookies were a hit at home and with the few people on whom I forced them. Our nanny was the only one not impressed – when I offer her sweets she laughs and says, “I am not child.” I’m not sure what this means and I have decided not to investigate further – we’re only seven weeks into our relationship and I sense a discussion of her culinary tastes would only result in me being more confused…and with three kids I can’t spare the brain cells. Anyway, the extract looks to be the correct color and we didn’t get sick so I think I can totally file this under recipes.

You know, I have one more thing to say about the tortillas. We actually really enjoyed eating them and had a perfectly wonderful dinner of roasted veggie and black bean tacos with fresh avocado and pico de gallo. Although allotted one, we opted not to do a consumables shipment this tour and instead just packed the few consumables we purchased into our HHE. We bought things like ketchup and soy sauce and tahini, but not a ton of any of them. The only thing we brought a two years’ supply of? Black beans. Black bean tacos are our ultimate comfort food and that night we ate them – with gusto, our boys asking for seconds and then thirds. No complaints…and I ordered a bunch of corn masa to start on making corn tortillas because (1) I think that will be easier and (2) that’s what you need for fish tacos. 

Standards – such a funny thing. From post to post we learn to live with inconveniences and without the things we most love. And yet, the reality of this is that at each new door we are presented with opportunities to alter our standards and seek out something a bit different. I guess I like to think we get better at it. Could it be that less than perfect tortillas are the yang to the yin of my vanilla extract? Or maybe we just get better at problem solving….which I can only take to mean that I need an inside connection to the Central Market bakery and their secret tortilla files. Anyone?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Vanilla Extract

I am a person of projects. I need them. They keep me moving along. My mental list of projects is long…which is really a good thing since some of my projects are probably kind of lame…or un-doable…and it might be best to never get to them (like that children’s book I wrote about 10 years ago only to discover that it already existed, ha-ha).

The list. My list of “Things to Do While in Madagascar” ranges from sewing more, to reading more, to beginning a daily meditation practice to, of course, cooking and baking. I’ve been doing my best with the baking and cooking. I committed to borrowing a baking tray from our sponsors and began experimenting with flours within our first two weeks here so I could keep up with my pizza making. The baking tray couldn’t replace my pizza stones, but it did a more than passable job I think. And, compared to Santo Domingo, the flour here (albeit in rather small bags) is fantastic. That’s the French influence I’m sure – the bread here is delish!

This past week we got our HHE so I’m now loaded down with all of my pizza making supplies and tons of other great baking and cooking utensils. We’ve unpacked all of our kitchen gear and the boys’ toys…everything else is still sitting in boxes while I set about the joys of cooking….and the children (at least the two oldest) are entertained.

I’m rambling here. Anyway, the first thing on my list was to bake some cookies. But, imagine my surprise when I headed on over to ShopRite, our local supermarket, and only found the most imitation of imitation vanilla extracts…in fact, they didn’t even try to call it vanilla extract, they just opted for “Essence of Vanilla”….which I think might also exist on the perfume aisle of CVS…next to Electric Youth.

For those of you who are not aware – Madagascar is the land of vanilla. But, to my surprise, vanilla (the type that is grown here and in the other islands of the Indian Ocean) is really from Mexico! I highly recommend a quick read of the Wikipedia article on vanilla – super interesting. So, there I was, standing in the supermarket and thinking, “What!?” When I got home I called my sponsor – “What’s up with the vanilla extract? Am I looking in the wrong place?” She said she had only seen the Essence of Vanilla. But, then she saved me – “You know, you can just put some vanilla beans in a bottle of vodka, right?” No, no – I did not know that. Definitely one of those moments when you question what other, everyday things you don’t know.

Project Number One! Vanilla Extract! Today I picked up the cheapest little bottle of vodka I could find and a big hunk of vanilla beans. I got 50 grams for about 4 dollars (that’s like 20 vanilla beans). I looked vanilla beans up on Amazon and 10 beans will set you back about $13. Needless to say, much, much cheaper directly from the source. I used this website as my guide. Only when I got to the end did I realize you have to wait three whole months to have the extract! But, Cooks Illustrated (yes, yes my favorite) says it only takes one week. I vote one week until cookies or these Wheat Thins that I saw posted on Pinterest (my new addiction).

So there you have it – what is going to turn out to likely be a two-year supply of vanilla extract is brewing away in my cupboard behind a giant bag of Malagasy pink rice.

Project Number Two? I am still, after all this time not satisfied with how my flour tortillas are turning out. Tomorrow I’m trying this recipe from the Homesick Texan.

Are you curious about the rest of the project list? ‘Cause, you know me making food in Madagascar has got to be super interesting to y’all, right?

Well, just in case, here’s a preview:

 • learn to make cheese (major development on that front – found pasteurized fresh milk today!),
 • find good fish and make beer-battered fish tacos (I have this super Canadian totally cheering me on about the tacos…I feel like it’s a challenge),
• plant tomato seeds…and attempt to have tomatoes as an end result,
• figure out something to do with Ball jars….lots of Ball jars which I bought, on a complete and total whim, before we packed out.