Categories
Food

Why in the World is the Whole World Baking?

When I wrote my last post about the magic dough, I certainly wasn’t anticipating the current epidemic. You know, the global baking epidemic?

I don’t know about you, but my social media feeds are full of homemade chocolate-chip cookies, lemon bars, and carrot cakes. Dutch ovens stuffed with loaves of no-knead bread abound. People are whipping up impressive-looking cinnamon buns and drool-worthy biscuits – and my co-worker’s daughter even made churros.

My own frying pan was crowded with cinnamon-raisin English muffins last Sunday, filling my flat with a magical scent. Caramelized onion and artichoke heart pizza with a magic-dough crust made for several savoury meals.

Thanks to the global pandemic, home baking has exploded among the quarantined, the self-isolating, and both veteran and newbie remote workers. People are keeping their kids busy with sprinkles, while others knead out their stresses.

What is it about baking that’s so comforting in the Weird Times (officially so named by my team at work) that we’re all living through? There is clearly something comforting about baked goods that you’ve made from scratch. It reminds us of normalcy and past celebrations, it warms our bellies, and our hearts. It reminds us how lucky some of us are to be safe in our homes, able to create something delicious out of a few ingredients.

Over the last 2 days I’ve tried to buy flour at 3 different grocery stores. Sold out. Ordinarily, there’s never a run on flour — even during peak pie season! Or autumn, when you start thinking about bread and soup. Seriously, I just wanna make some pasta, bread and cookies, people. Stop hoarding stuff you won’t use.

My Friend Charlotte

On the downside, hoarding flour – as with toilet paper – is definitely a faux-pandemic-pas. Please be kind to your fellow bakers, and leave some for the rest of your neighbours!

Have you noticed unusual baking activity in your part of the world? I’m interested in hearing about it.

Remote cookie-baking with current and former co-workers (and their kids)
Categories
Food

The Magic Dough

What if I told you there’s a homemade bread dough you can put together in minutes, with only a handful of ingredients, and no rise time?

Gina (Skinnytaste) Homolka’s formula first caught my eye when she first published it as something called “Easy Bagel Recipe.” As a staunch defender of the Montreal bagel, I immediately doubted whether this concoction would resemble anything remotely like a bagel, but still I was intrigued enough to go out and buy some Greek yogurt so I could give it a try.

I was right – the result was nothing like a bagel, but it was inarguably yummy, and definitely easy!

I’ve continued to make the recipe, skipping the step of shaping them into tubes (really, why bother?), and instead rounding out the blobs of dough and baking them as rolls. I put the same dough to use for pizza – parbaking for about 10 minutes before topping – and even empanadas, stuffed with a mixture of veggies, chicken, and spices.

Honestly, this recipe has never turned out badly, no matter what I’ve done to it. Give it a try and see what you can come up with!

Skinnytaste’s Versatile Greek Yogurt Dough Recipe

  • Servings: 4 (or more) rolls, 2 pizzas, or 4 empanadas
  • Print

A simple dough for rolls, pizza, empanadas, or pseudo-bagels


1 cup (5 oz) unbleached all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or a bit less table salt)
1 cup Greek yogurt (0% fat)
Optional toppings: beaten egg, egg white, or olive oil; poppy or sesame seeds

  • Preheat oven to 375F.
  • Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium mixing bowl.
  • With a fork, mix in yogurt.
  • Use your hands to finish blending in the yogurt and make a sticky dough. Knead about 15 times.
  • For rolls: Flour your hands, divide dough into four pieces, and shape into balls. (If you want mini-rolls, split it into 6 or more pieces instead.) Place on a greased baking sheet, or one lined with parchment paper. Optional: brush with egg or oil, sprinkle with seeds of your choice. Bake for 25 min.
  • For pizza: Roll out dough as thinly as possible and place on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet or pizza pan. Brush with olive oil. Parbake for about 10 minutes, then add toppings and bake for about 20 more minutes, or until toppings are golden and cheese bubbling. I usually increase the oven temperature to about 450F for the final bake. You can also finish it off with a quick broil. (Skinnytaste also has grilled and breakfast pizza variations.)
  • For empanadas: Roll out dough and cut out circles. Fill half of each circle with your empanada mixture. I like leftover chicken or turkey, onions, peppers, mozzarella, and some spices like cumin and chili powder. Brush edges of discs with egg and flip half over the ingredients, squeezing edges to seal well. Bake for about 25 min. (Gina has more empanada ideas.)


The soup in the photo above is a variation of this minestrone recipe from Chowhound.

Categories
Food Travel

Pasar Ubud

When I was planning a sabbatical trip to Southeast Asia, I looked around to see if there might be any photography-related excursions along my route. I stumbled across a morning market photo tour in Ubud, Bali, that sounded intriguing. As it turned out, not only did the person offering these tours run them on a donation basis – with money going toward local animal charities – Mark Chaves is also a WordPress developer with a site hosted on WordPress.com! It seemed meant to be, so I signed up for a tour and hoped for clear weather.

When Mark asked ahead of time what kind of photography I’d like to focus on, I mentioned that I’d like to get better at street photography, but tend to feel shy about taking photos of people. He said this was a common problem, and that he’d compile some tips in a blog post. Within a few weeks he made good on his promise, and I found the post about how to approach “making” photos in public places extremely helpful, even inspiring: Strangers Are Friends We Haven’t Met Yet. I vowed to put into practice what I learned.

♦ ♦ ♦

It was my last day in Bali and I met Mark at 7am outside the bustling Pasar Ubud. While I’m far from a morning person, I knew it would be worth it!

Mark seemed to intimately know every nook and cranny of the market, pointing out details and interactions I never would have noticed on my own. He encouraged me to take lots of photos quickly, which helped me avoid overthinking and capture more spontaneous shots. He knew many of the regulars working the market, and made people smile when he asked if it was OK for me to take photos. We even stopped to greet some of the resident stray dogs and feed them the treats he’d brought along in a small plastic container.

Mark feeds a local stray dog

I’m so glad Google led me to Mark’s site that fateful day. It was a memorable experience, and I love the photos that resulted.

Categories
Food Personal

Meeting Anthony Bourdain

It took me a couple of weeks after the sad news of Anthony Bourdain’s death to remember that I’d met him once. After it hit me, the details started coming back slowly. He was in Montreal to do a Q&A for his latest book at the time, No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach. The event took place at the gorgeous old Corona Theatre in Little Burgundy, and I went with a foodie friend I’ve since lost touch with. Bourdain started the evening by recounting a misadventure he’d had on arrival at the airport, where the car that was sent to fetch him wasn’t properly licensed for airport pickups, and the driver got a ticket while he was in the back seat. From what I recall, he didn’t seem angry, rather just a little annoyed by the delay caused by our arcane permit regulations.

While I don’t tend to fawn over celebrities and can be quite shy in these sorts of situations, I’d brought my copy of No Reservations and forced myself to stand in line for him to sign it, thinking that – as a huge fan of his work – I’d regret it later if I didn’t. When I got to the front of the line I empathized with his airport snafu. “That doesn’t sound like a nice welcome to Montreal,” I said. “Sorry about that.” (As a Canadian it was my duty to apologize, even though it wasn’t my fault.) He chatted with me a bit in a friendly, down-to-earth way, scrawled his name in my book, and that was that.

Last month when I was at the cavernous Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, I roamed the food-writing section out of habit, looking at what was new. There was a gap where Bourdain’s books used to be. “All of Anthony Bourdain’s books are presently sold out,” the handwritten note read. “We miss Anthony Bourdain.” Indeed.

Categories
Food Travel

Myanmar Markets and Meals

I’ve finally dived back into the photos from my trip to Myanmar and Thailand last fall. In this post, I’ll be focussing on the food and markets of Myanmar.

Mandalay

We arrived in Mandalay via Bangkok, and the second-largest city in Myanmar gave me my first taste of Burmese food. It was here that I first noticed a beautiful quality to the light, and here that I first tried Myanmar’s famous tea-leaf salad. Verdict: unique.

Bagan

On the boat from Mandalay to Bagan, we happened to run into another Canadian. I asked what she’d be doing in Bagan, and she told me about a cooking class she’d arranged via Facebook. It was called Pennywort Cooking Class, and May, the owner/chef/teacher puts part of the proceeds toward a community library run out of her house. I was intrigued. Since my travelling companion Alex and I had some upcoming free time, we decided to look into the cooking class.

Am I ever glad we ended up doing this. Accompanying May to her local (tourist-free) market and then walking over to her home to cook up a feast with all the fresh ingredients we’d just bought was a highlight of the entire trip. The meal was full of herbs and vegetables I’d never tried before, including tamarind leaves, wing beans, pennywort, and custard apples.

The Market

The Class

The Library at May’s House

When I asked if the library had opening hours, May said that technically it did, but she’s never turned anyone away no matter when they showed up.

Inle Lake

A unique set of communities live on this lake in Myanmar’s Shan State, in stilted houses only accessible by boat. We had the opportunity to take another cooking class here, but this time in very different, more formal context: a resort chef guided us through making some local dishes, including delicious chunks of shan tofu – made from split-pea and chickpea flours, instead of soy.

Later on during our stay, we visited Thaung To market, part of Inle Lake’s rotating five-day market system. We arrived early since it closed at 9am, and I spotted no other tourists. What an incredible experience. Apart from all the cellphones, I felt like I’d gone back in time. I forced myself to take photos of people — which I’m usually too shy to do — and I’m glad I did.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with two more things I ate in Myanmar: one I’d love to have again, and one that I did not enjoy. I’ll let you guess which is which.