Anita and her family lived next door to the first home my husband and I ever owned, in a quaint San Francisco neighborhood. I knew from the start we would get along -- she brought over a plate of homemade Greek butter cookies to welcome us.
Over the next few years, Anita, her husband, and her teenaged son became good friends, helping us with babysitting, driving me to the doctor when my toddler was injured and I was too shaky to get behind the wheel, and inviting us over for many dinners with their extended family of relatives and close friends.
From her, I learned about parenting, about Greek traditions, and about how to fight to win after a disgruntled neighbor threatened to destroy our close-knit neighborhood association by suing everyone she disagreed with. But that’s another story for another day.
What really made the day-to-day so great, and why I still think of Anita as the best neighbor I’ve ever had, is that she introduced me to the joys of cooperative cooking, or dinner swaps. She’d call me in the morning, telling me she planned on baking a ham that day or letting me know she was whipping up a tray of spanakopita. I’d make the vegetables and a salad. Come dinner time, we’d swap platters and dinner was done. When you’re a working parent with small kids, having a delicious meal without going through an enormous effort is a huge deal.
We'd also split the bounty from our visits to the local farmer’s market, which took turns visiting on the weekends. And when she baked, I knew my cookie jar would be full – and it would prompt me to return the favor my baking the cookies and cakes that came easily to me.
I thought about Anita recently as I was listening to NPR on the drive to work last week and heard Chris Kimball, host of America’s Test Kitchen, talk about the foods we should make at home rather than buy at a store. His list of foods, easy to make and more cost-effective when homemade, include graham crackers, instant-aged balsamic vinegar, and coconut-milk whipped cream (dairy free).
My first thought was, ‘Who the heck has time to make all that stuff?’ But then I thought about my years living next door to Anita. We would have divided and conquered, with her baking the graham crackers and me whipping up the coconut-milk cream so our families could both enjoy a homemade and easy dessert.
This is the kind of sharing economy I can get behind (like carpools, the original ride share system.) I realized, since moving away from Anita and dealing with a bigger job that leaves me even less time at home, that I haven’t synced up with any of my current neighbors on sharing food adventures.
And that’s a shame, because I have a completely fabulous recipe for olive oil crackers. They’re quick and easy to make and taste so much better than the expensive gourmet ones you’ll find in stores. It takes less than half an hour to whip up a batch that can easily feed eight people (more if there are kids in the mix).
I encourage you to try it out – but only after you find a neighbor or friend willing to make hummus or some other spread. That way you can share the load. -- Connie Guglielmo
Easy Olive Oil Cracker Bread
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh chopped rosemary
1 ¾ cup unbleached white flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt (I use sea salt)
½ cup water
1. Mix olive oil with rosemary. Let sit for 30 minutes or more so the oil is infused with flavor from the herb.
2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
3. Put flour in a bowl and add the baking powder and salt. Then make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the water and olive oil. Mix, knead and form into a ball.
4. Break the ball up into 4 smaller balls.
5. Roll out each ball into a thin sheet. How thin? Well, this is a matter of opinion. I don’t like my crackers super thin because I think they get too brittle and break up into dust when you bite into them. But if you make them too thick, then your crackers can be gummy. So do a test on the first one -- roll it out to the thinness of flat bread, bake it and see what happens. Then you can adjust for the next cracker.
6. Place the rolled out dough onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment. If you have a baking stone, place the parchment right on the stone. Bake for about 6 to 8 minutes. Baking time will depend on your oven and how crispy you want the cracker. Again, do a test with that first dough ball and see how it goes.
* Note: Once you get the gist of making the cracker bread, try substituting the chopped roasted garlic for the rosemary. The key, as I note above, is to put the garlic in the olive oil and let it sit for a while before you mix your dough. Trust me, it just tastes better that way.
July 31, 2014
Missed our last issue? Here you go:
A *Third* Helping of No-Calorie Comfort Food for the Brain
If you liked this story, you might also like:
Confessions of a Tomato Snob
Hot Bread in 30 Minutes. No Fuss. No Fooling.
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1. Get Out of That Helicopter. In “Cancel that Violin Class,” The Economist argues that middle-class and affluent parents shouldn’t stress so much about their kids’ safety or their odds of getting into Harvard. Intelligence is largely in the genes, they claim, and kids are far safer today than in the 1950s, when they were much more likely to be roaming unsupervised. If The Economist’s slightly scolding tone doesn't exactly help you mellow out, perhaps some research from Ellen Galinsky, cited in the article, will do the trick: She asked 1,000 kids what they would most like to change about their parents’ schedules, and few kids wanted more face time with Mom and Dad. Instead, “the top wish was for mom and dad to be less tired and stressed.”
2. Her Letter From a Birmingham Jail. Another, more pointed take on parenting comes this week from Michel Martin, a correspondent for NPR and host of “Tell Me More.” In “What I’ve Left Unsaid: On Balancing Career and Family as a Woman of Color,” published in the National Journal, Martin notes that the conversation about “having it all” has largely centered around privileged white women. That ignores the unique obstacles faced by women of color. Martin first writes of the nanny who, after a promising phone interview, called back to find out what race her potential employer was, saying she wouldn’t work for a black family. Martin then shows how discrepancies in income, wealth, and the response of law enforcement when childcare arrangements break down work to handicap women of color. She closes by commenting on the term “Check your privilege,” popular on some campuses: “I don't want my white female colleagues to "check" their privilege. I want them to use it -- their networks, their assets, their relationships --to form a united front with women of color, and to help improve things for all of us.” In a radio interview, Martin described the piece as her Letter From A Birmingham Jail -- a missive aimed at the well-intentioned who somehow, still didn't get it.
3. Dude! Fist bumps are the most sanitary greeting, according to a new study from Aberystwyth University in Wales. Volunteers dipped gloved hands in e-coli bacteria and then shook hands, high-fived and fist bumped. The fist bumps transferred 90 percent less bacteria than handshakes, partly due to the briefness of the encounter and partly due to the size of the contact area. The study, published Monday in the American Journal of Infection Control, concluded that, "for sake of improving public health we encourage further adoption of the fist bump as a simple, free and more hygienic alternative to the handshake."
Picture of Michel Martin by Chet Susslin