Made by (Another) Hand

Craft brew and cart burrito

Craft brew and cart burrito

As much as I love to make stuff, there are (many) times when it is best for me to leave the handmade up to other hands.  Take Mexican food, one of my absolute favorites, and yet despite copious amounts of trial and authentic ingredients, mine never comes close to that of my favorite burrito stand.  Never.  This cart sits in a parking lot across the street from a busy truck stop and it is some of the best food I’ve ever eaten.  The owner makes everything from scratch and you can taste the difference.   Our idea of a big splurge is taking our growler for our a fill at our local brewery followed by a trip to the Mexican cart — both handmade with skill and care by another hand.  And, a note about food carts:  they are one of the easiest ways for a cook to open up a restaurant, being so much more affordable than a brick-and-mortar place.  Most of the best food I’ve ever eaten has come from a food truck.  Visit these and support local cooks.   You will be amazed at what crafty cooks are able to create in small spaces.

Middle Eastern handmade flatbread

Middle Eastern handmade flatbread

In addition to food carts, I love to shop at small ethnic markets.  You never know what kind of new-to-you ingredients you will find inside and I’ve found both the quality and price of food to be less than at conventional super stores.  Also, I really don’t like shopping at giant, fluorescent-lit stores with aisles of food all wrapped up in packages.  I prefer small, simple stores without hundreds of cereal varieties and chips overwhelming my senses.  Often you find fresh homemade food, too amongst the cans and bottles of ethnic markets.  Yesterday while venturing out in the nearby city,  I smelled something awesome and then I saw people walking out of a market with bags of baked goods.  I stopped in and got the last two pieces of flatbread made hours before.  I also got a couple pieces of baklava which I quickly ate on my way home, thus no photograph.  From the queso fresco and tortillas of our Mexican market, to the flash fried tofu we always cart back from the Asian supermarket in Portland, to this newly discovered pita palace, you will find people crafting incredible food by hand when you step away from the conventional supermarket.

 

Handwoven piece found at an antique store

Handwoven piece found at an antique store

And now from the fresh food of markets and carts to the old antique store,  what I love about perusing the piles of stuff in antique stores is again how much of what is there was made by hand.  As opposed to our current shops where everything is wrapped in plastic and cardboard and smells more toxic than new, antique shops are full of stuff that has already been used.  There is history and there is a lot of craft.  I love admiring the old handmade quilts, all of the carved furniture, the pottery and knowing that these things have and will continue to be useful.  Recently I found this amazing woven piece at an antique shop.  If you think that knitting or quilting is time consuming, try weaving!  This piece is obviously handmade and required hours of work.  Right now it is draped at the edge of the bed, but I think it would be great hung on a wall, that is as soon as I can create a means to hang it without the risk of creating a snag.  I am not a weaver, but I truly appreciate the time that some unknown person took to make this.  And I’m glad that I give this piece another life in another space.

Handmade crafts are not gone, there is no need to lament its disappearance in our age of mass production.  There are handmade things everywhere, you just need to look elsewhere and not the big box stores.  By choosing to support the handmade in life,  you’ll get more than just some thing, you’ll support craftspeople.

Avocados and Tahini!

My new favorite thing!  Pass me the pita bread.

My new favorite thing! Pass me the pita bread.

Two of my favorite things to always have in the kitchen are avocados and tahini, but honestly, the thought never occurred to me to combine them.  Lo and behold, an authentic Lebanese recipe to use both as a condiment.  According to the cookbook Lebanese Cooking,  the recipe is called Avocado Bi Tahini, but has variations and names around the Middle East.  I frequent Middle Eastern restaurants of all varieties and have never seen an avocado based recipe on the menu, but according to the cookbook author, this is a standard sauce regionally.  Here’s to hoping that this combination gains traction stateside!

The recipe is so basic and simple, yet so rich with flavor.  In a bowl, mash 2 garlic cloves with salt to taste.  Then mash in two ripe avocados with a little lemon juice until all lumps are gone.  Add in more lemon juice, 5 Tbsp of tahini and 1 tsp. of ground cumin.  Add crushed peppers on top if preferred.  Serve!

I made this as an alternative sauce for falafel and tabouli (from pre-mixed boxes — sometimes you have to skimp on making everything from scratch).  I  think this would be great as a spread for a wrap sandwich with veggies and feta.  Or, this would make a great veggie dip.  The possibilities are endless!