Food for Thought. Thought for Food.

Here’s the thing about food.

For lunch, I had a fresh Cavatelli pasta with goat cheese, sauteed kale, and toasted almond slices.

For dinner, I scooped tuna fish out of a can with Ritz crackers.

And they were both good.

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This is the photo on the recipe. Mine was decidedly less photogenic.

I’m thinking a lot about food these days. The theater and art and work and projects have stopped. What I have instead is food. So all the tools I have for the creative work are coming down on the process of making food.

Much of what makes a good theater experience isn’t what is seen onstage. The show changes based on who you’re seeing it with, how your day went, whether you hit traffic on the way to the theater, how the show was advertised, whether you got a drink before you went in…

Art is context. And so is food.

I’ve eaten plenty of sourdough before. I’ve thought it was good. But I never thought it was miraculous. Until recently.

I, like so many others, grew my own starter to bake sourdough in quarantine. I had to look into options, pick a technique, compare notes with friends and family. I had to check in on my own little yeast culture in a jar and feed it like a pet. I spent four hours kneading and proving and flipping and proving and baking my loaf of sourdough. And only at the end of all those weeks, when I saw to my surprise that it had worked, did I embrace how cool homemade sourdough is. And I enjoyed the heck out of that bread.

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This was my firstborn sourdough baby. And she was truly beautiful.

Good food isn’t just excellent preparation. It’s connection. Sometimes the food is good because it’s fulfilling a specific nutritional need. Sometimes it’s providing nostalgic comfort. Sometimes it’s supplying a time intensive project. A way to provide for someone else. To spend time with friends. Sometimes it’s a surprising new way to get rid of that weird bag of vegetables from the back of your freezer. Good food changes you from what you experienced along the journey.

Food is just a story that you can eat. Goodnight.

Day 9: Are we having fun yet?

14 Skills for 14 Days a.k.a. Stay Home, Learn Skills.

I spent a significant portion of my morning sorting an entire jar of loose change to find out if there were any particularly rare coins in there.

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Look at this stuff. Isn’t it neat? Wouldn’t you think my collection’s complete?

I discovered that in fact, I have:

Isn’t learning fun?

I was planning on writing about puppets today, but instead, I’m writing about something else. Because after a week and a half of staring at the same three rooms, I’m ready to really mix it up. Break the mold. I mean, do something just absolutely WILD.

So I baked oatmeal raisin cookies.

And I’m not even going to talk about the recipe I used (plot twist – it’s the one on the quaker oats website). No, I’m going to talk about why I made them.

I have not left the house in a week and a half. There are things I love to eat that I’m starting to run low on. Tortilla chips. Fresh salad. Chamomile tea (I clearly live a wild life). But I have a LOT of oatmeal.

Here’s the thing about oatmeal.

It makes sense on paper. It is cheap. It stays good for ages. It’s a great part of a balanced diet. But I just don’t like it.

And because it makes sense on paper, I keep thinking it’s something I need. I’ll be in the grocery store, and think “oh, I haven’t bought oatmeal in a while. I probably need more.” And I’ll buy some. And I’ll get home, and reach up to put it in the cabinet to discover another container of oatmeal is already there, and it has been used exactly once since I bought it four months ago.

On top of that, oatmeal is on every single recommended supply list for if you’re looking at stocking up on groceries. In fact, these lists are stuffed full of items that look good on paper. None of the major lists address the fact that everything you’ve stocked up on for the month appears to be beige and bland. You know what should be on those lists? 32 oz. containers of red pepper flakes. Family size bags of cheetos. Cans of diced hatch green chiles. If you’re holed up inside for a very long time, make sure you also have ingredients that make you WANT to eat.

All that to say, I now have 3 separate containers of oatmeal, and I may very well retire before I finish eating them.

So I did what everyone always does whenever they need to put a dent in their supply of dense, beige, practical-on-paper food. I paired it with something that actually tastes good. Butter. Brown sugar. vanilla.

And we all know that raisins are in the recipe due to the same problems, right? Someone way down the line was like “man, I need to clear out the back of this cabinet. It’s jammed up with 4 mostly full containers of oats, and 17 individual serving size boxes of raisins.” And before you know it, oatmeal raisin cookies were invented. (I’m also convinced the dirty martini was only invented to give everyone a reason to use up that jar of olives in their fridge door.)

But you know what? Once you throw in all of the ingredients for a birthday cake, this healthy survival food isn’t so bad!

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Day 1: Baking Bread

14 Skills for 14 Days

Day 1 – Baking Bread

At the end of last week, I noticed that stores were starting to be sold out of ingredients for bread-making- instant yeast, bread flour, rye flours. They weren’t sold out of bread, mind you. Just the ingredients for baking it yourself.

So lets talk about baking bread.

At the heart of it, you really only need 4 ingredients. Flour. Salt. Yeast. and Water. This recipe that I’m working off of today also wants sugar and oil. But if you don’t have those, it’ll still work out.

If you like to deep dive into subjects, the book that really sparked my interest in this 4 ingredient approach to bread is 52 LoavesThe author William Alexander is a food writer and another serious fan of durational writing challenges. He writes about the process of baking a loaf of bread every week for a year to try to perfect his approach. Highly recommend.

But, here’s the quick and easy version we’re trying today. The proportions from the recipe are:

  • 1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
  • 2-1/4 cups warm water (110° to 115°)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar plus 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 6-1/4 to 6-3/4 cups bread flour

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I’m also adding some extra flavor, just for fun. I’m throwing in some Italian seasoning and parmesan cheese. Both of these containers are almost empty, so I’m gonna throw the whole thing in there. It seems like ?about? the right amount?

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As far as equipment, you’ll want a measuring cup, a large mixing bowl, a tea towel, and bread pans too. If you don’t have one of those, you can probably improvise.

(Fun fact – for measuring, 5  shot glasses is about 1 cup.)

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From the recipe “In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1/2 teaspoon sugar” (oh, you’ll need measuring spoons)  “in warm water; let stand until bubbles form on surface.” This process takes about as long as you’ll spend trying to combine the next ingredients.

The next steps are all the basic combining of ingredients.

  • “Whisk together remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, salt, and 3 cups flour.”
  • “Stir oil into yeast mixture; pour into flour mixture and beat until smooth.”
  • “Stir in enough remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, to form a soft dough.”

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“Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, 8-10 minutes.”

First off, you should thoroughly wash your hands before you knead the dough. But I somehow suspect you’re already hyper-thorough about handwashing this week.

Kneading. This is the best part of bread making when you’re stressed. Take that 5 pound ball of dough, throw it down on a surface, and just beat the crap out of it. I don’t really care what you do. Punch it, knead it, roll it, karate chop it. Keep the dough moving and cowering in terror for the full 8 minutes. It gets tiring. It feels rewarding.

“Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, 1-1/2 to 2 hours.”

I throw my dough back in the same bowl I just mixed it in. It rises better in a humid environment, so soak the tea towel in warm water, wring it out once, then drape it over the top of the bowl. For a warm place, I’ve put it under a heat lamp from a multisensory opera I made last fall. Mostly because I think it’s fun. You can also just put it on a sunny windowsill or leave it at room temperature. (The heat just speeds up the rising a little).

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Now wait for an hour and a half. Realize that this is a long time to wait. That you don’t usually spend this much time just waiting around. Enjoy it. Watch some dog videos. Watch some of The Great British Baking Show. This is nice.

Once the dough has doubled, “Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; divide dough in half. Shape each into a loaf. Place in 2 greased 9×5-in. loaf pans. Cover and let rise until doubled, 1 to 1-1/2 hours.” That’s right. Sucker punch the dough. Reinstate your position as alpha. Rip it in half and roll each half up into a smaller loaf. Set it in the pans. Soak your tea towel again, and put both pans back where they were.

Wait some more. Get back to those videos you were watching. You can get in one or two more episodes before the next step.

Once it’s risen again in the pans, you can slash the tops a couple times with a very sharp knife. (I use a clean X-acto knife). The slashes allow it to expand without exploding in weird ways, and the sharpness of the  knife means it releases as little of the built-up gases in the loaf as possible (this is what gives you nice, airy bread).

“Bake at 375° until golden brown and bread sounds hollow when tapped or has reached an internal temperature of 200°, 30-35 minutes.”

Bread likes a slightly humid environment. It makes the crust a little softer. If you don’t happen to have a professional grade steam injection oven (I certainly don’t), you can just slide a baking tray with some water in onto the shelf below the bread. Keep the over closed the whole time, and this will turn into steam as the loaves are baking.

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Pull them from the oven, and check out your handiwork. Is the bread perfect and warm and delicious and amazing? Good for you. Enjoy your handiwork.

Is the bread acceptable and maybe a little dense? Good for you. Maybe you can dip it in soup, and you can hardly even tell. Or with enough butter and jam, even mediocre bread can shine.

Is the bread a sad crumbling mess? Don’t worry! So is the rest of the world. The important thing is that you tried something new and tactile and fun. And you had something to do while sitting around inside.

More indoor adventures tomorrow.

 

14 Skills for 14 Days

14 Skills for 14 Days a.k.a. Stay Home, Learn Skills.

It has come to my attention that many people are suddenly looking for creative options for socially-distanced activities.

Not to brag, but between the ages of 10-15, I was pretty incredible at social distancing.

I had very few friends. I was homeschooled. I participated in solo sports like tumbling, trampolining, and rock climbing. My hobbies included hiking, learning circus skills from books, and reading science-fiction.

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A plethora of self-teaching books

And honestly, I got a LOT done. The skills I developed in that window have gotten me a foot in the door for a lot of professional artist gigs. And I’ve never gotten back to that level of self-taught productivity. Sure, I’ve had windows of social downtime that have led to picking up weird skill sets (learning jumpstyle dance in 2012, becoming a freelance audiobook narrator in 2016) but the years of my childhood where I got out of the house the least were the years that I picked up the most special skills.

Now, I’m not going to talk about *WHY* someone might be looking to spend a lot of time practicing new skills at home. That’s not my field of expertise. I’m not trained as a sociologist or epidemiologist. I cannot speak to the state of the world or best practices for personal health.

I’m trained as a writer and entertainer. And if people are looking for ways to stay occupied for 14 (or more) days at home, well BY GOLLY I’m going to give it to them.

For the next 14 days, I’m committing to staying in my house and practicing socially distanced creative skills. During this time, I’d like to share one skill a day that I have successfully taught myself. Some of them I’m good at. Some of them I’m bad at. But most importantly, all of them are fun challenges that YOU TOO CAN TRY FROM THE SAFETY OF YOUR OWN HOME.

The subjects I’ll be covering include:

  1. Monday, March 16th – Baking Bread
  2. Tuesday, March 17th – Juggling
  3. Wednesday, March 18th – Cartooning
  4. Thursday, March 19th – Unicycling
  5. Friday, March 20th – Stop-Motion Video
  6. Saturday, March 21st – Break dancing
  7. Sunday, March 22nd – Self-tape Monologues & Solo theater
  8. Monday, March 23rd – Building a catapult
  9. Tuesday, March 24th – Puppetry
  10. Wednesday, March 25th – Yo-yoing
  11. Thursday, March 26th – Headstands & handstands
  12. Friday, March 27th – Moonwalking
  13. Saturday, March 28th – Audiobook Narration
  14. Sunday, March 29th – Tabletop Theater

If anyone has a range of skills they’d like to spend two weeks sharing from home, I challenge them to create their own iteration of this. Let the games begin!

 

A Year of Kicking my Brain in the Face

This is it.  It has been one year since I embarked on my Finding the Framework challenge.  I would say that I had no idea what I was signing up for on Oct 1st, 2015.  But let’s be real.  I knew this would be a comprehensive and exhausting creative challenge.  I’ve pushed myself as hard this year as any year during my undergraduate career, pursuing projects that were well beyond my comfort zone.

While I feel that I could have gone further with many of these projects, I’ve come to terms with the fact that a year is still a finite length of time.  I’ve explored a wide range of avenues of artistic projects, and have ended up with a much clearer picture of where my strengths and interests lie than I had a year ago.

I’ll spend some time in the next few months synthesizing my experiences pursuing different artistic fields, but here at the 1 year mark, I’d like to briefly overview each category, and rate how successful I think each challenge was:

1. Write a novel – 8/10

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Last November, I completed a 50,000 word manuscript as part of National Novel Writing Month.  I’ve written similar projects before, and thoroughly enjoy the intensive one month writing project.  However, I know the draft has a number of plot holes and stylistic flaws.  I didn’t invest time in rewrites, and while I know I’ll be writing more prose fiction manuscripts, I don’t anticipate them reaching a professional level any time soon.

2. Write a full-length play – 10/10

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This is my jam.  Writing roadmaps for living, thinking people to play with and put into action in real time and space is a place where so many of my creative drives overlap.  I wrote a play Baikonur to complete thins challenge, which I’ve submitted to some workshops and am also revising on my own.  Buuut, just for good measure I also wrote the 50 minute show Outside the Lines, and the short plays Road Rage, Unknowingly Agnostic, Waiting for Kyle, Give Me the Chicken and a collection of monologues for both Caution: Not a Step and Find Your Backyard.

3. Perform in a play – 10/10

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I performed in a 2 week run of Deirdre of the Sorrows at the Dairy Arts Center, for 2 weeks of my solo show Outside the Lines in the Boulder International Fringe Festival, and in short runs of Find Your Backyard, Caution: Not a Step, and Five 5ths of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth.  I realized during Outside the Lines, though- I’m really not looking for a career as an actor.  I am capable of acting, and sometimes I enjoy it.  But performing night after night onstage in major roles takes a huge amount of energy from me, and I know it’s not something I could sustain for a routine work schedule.  I will continue to end up on stage, but realizing that stage acting is not going to be my primary artistic pursuit has really helped to hone down my focus for future projects.

4. Perform in a dance showcase – 6/10

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If I had world enough and time… This year started off well.  Back when I sat at my desk job, swimming in tens of dollars of expendable income, I could pay for aerial dance classes in my free evenings, and jazz dance classes during my lunch breaks.  And then I began to get more serious about my artistic pursuits.  The expendable income went away as I began sinking money into producing shows.  And the free evenings went away as I began designing costumes and teching shows.  And then the lunch breaks went away as I transitioned to freelance work.  And so the dance went away, and I was left rehearsing my movement pieces alone in apartment with no appropriate dance flooring.

But gosh darn it, I performed my dance piece anyways.  There was music, I moved around in a relatively coordinated manner, and people clapped at the end.  That’s all that matters, right?  Caution: Not a Step was honestly much better received at the Ft. Collins Fringe than I thought it would be, and this was definitely an activity that stretched my boundaries as an artist.

5. Produce a show – 10/10 

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Prior to this challenge, I had only officially produced 2 theatrical events outside of college- one staged reading, and a one-night only dinner theater show.  Now, in the past 6 months alone, I have produced a 30 minute dance theater showcase (Caution: Not a Step), a 50 minute play (Outside the Lines), a 75 minute variety show (Find Your Backyard), and a 10 minute act for a fundraiser (Give Me the Chicken).  Now that I’ve realized that I possess all the tools to make original live entertainment happen, I have a feeling the fun is only just beginning.

6. Produce a music album – 7/10

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To stick to the original challenge, yes, I teamed up with composer Nigel Deane to create a soundtrack for Outside the Lines.  And by that, I mean I threw some ideas and words at Nigel, and he came back with fully formed auditory masterpieces.  But hey, team effort, right?

But, in the world of audio production, this year I realized another major field where my various interests overlap.  Audiobook production.  I took a class on audiobook narration starting the first week of this challenge, and it caught my attention.  One year later, I’m finishing up the editing on my 10th audiobook title.  I had never even thought that it was a plausible freelance gig to pursue, but all it took was a little creative push and some support, and now I have a whole new avenue of creative projects.

7. Create a webcomic – 4/10

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I absolutely love comics.  I now also realize how much time, effort, and creative energy they take to routinely produce.  And patience, big time.  Technically, I did create a webcomic this year- Best Fiends.  However, I have only completed 5 strips, and haven’t developed any routines or patterns for consistent drawing and posting like I had hoped to.  But through my research and attempts, I have a much better understanding of the process of creating webcomics, and certainly have more practice than I did before this year.

8. Create a short film – 5/10

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I had really hoped to spend a week out in the sand dunes shooting a short post-apocalyptic comedy with actor friends from around the country.  I had kind of hoped to spend a weekend in an empty office building filming a comedic short about internships.  I had vaguely been interested in drawing strange cartoon hedgehogs on old brown paper packaging and animating them to music.  But then I got sucked into all my other projects and put all my resources into show producing.  So I ended up with some eclectic promotional videos instead, like this one.  and this one.

I hope to put together at least one more project from footage and ideas I got from this year.  But for the time being, you can also have a link to the Five 5ths of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth footage as consolation.

9. Display an artwork at a gallery – 2/10

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Yeah… about the whole “gallery” thing.  I’m not going to pretend that I can casually teach myself to be a successful visual artist from a couple of books and youtube videos.  I had kind of planned to just display an artwork in a nearby community arts collective on one of their open studio nights.  And then I stopped by one of their events and realized that a lot of their events were centered around talking through their experiences with mind-altering substances and sharing paintings of flowers resembling genitalia.  Thanks, Boulder.

Ironically, I now actually work part-time in a building with several galleries, and talk through art with paintings and have actually made a couple of sales.  I’m refining plans for a collection of sarcastic art jokes masquerading as a gallery, but I couldn’t rush through it enough to fit it within the official year of the project.  Stay tuned though!

10. Learn to make macarons – 8/10

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I am so glad I added this challenge on to the end of the list.  Honestly, I think this was the category that I had the most growth in.  I started at a skill level of absolute zero as far as macarons were concerned, with my first batch ending up as sticky, almond-flavored glop.  Now I have the process down to a relative habit, and can whip up a batch with little effort, complete with a custom maple-brown syrup filling.

On top of these official challenges, I have also ended up fully submerged in all the arts world related activities that falls between the lines of the categories I laid out.  It’s a little ridiculous how much things have changed.  At the start of the challenge, I was an assistant at a small publishing company who did performing arts on the side.  Now, I’m a freelance artist working for a number of the region’s big arts groups for a living.  In the past year, I have been paid to work as a costumer, carpenter, welder, props manager, stage manager, actor, producer, playwright, director, stagehand, lighting technician, sound engineer, projection designer, makeup artist, house manager, and box office manager.  I’ve taken some substantial risks, failed spectacularly a number of times, and racked up a huge pile of rejections.  But letting go and leaping into the unknown has led me to a crazy new life as a fully fledged member of the artistic community.  I still have a long way to go, but I really can say: I found the framework.

Reflections on Les Petits Macarons

Le Petit Macarons

As one of my process writing projects is macaron creation, it’s easy to understand how this book made my list.  Les Petits Macarons, by Kathryn Gordon and Anne E. McBride, is a beautiful book about a beautiful pastry.  Allow me to geek out over how well designed this book is.

The hardcover book is a perfect square, loosely bound to fall open easily in your hands and stay in the right place.  Inside, everything about the book leads you to find the right macaron flavors you need.  There are dozens of full-color pictures of macarons in process and of the finished products.  Clear changes in size, typography, and layout indicate the various shifts from one step or one recipe to the next.  On top of that, once the book starts dealing with individual flavors of macarons, even the colors on the page change to match the food.  The recipe for popcorn pastry cream filling has yellow headers printed on a toasted beige page, while the dark brown on light brown colors of the Cinammon Cappuccino filling guide your sight and your taste to the exact same place.

The book informs the reader on the full artistry of macaron creation, covering numerous forms of meringue creation based on preference.  The level of detail in steps, the precision required in the formation of the ideal macaron is elevated to the creation of a spell.  As my friend Michelle commented during the first attempt to bake macarons on this blog, a lot of the process feels like a Harry Potter potions class.  As the book described the proper way to extract flavor from a vanilla bean, I half expected it to recommend that I crush the bean with the flat side of a silver dagger to release the juices better than merely cutting it.

I have now explored the contents of this book, but the process has only begun.  Having figured out the basics of macaron creation, it is now time to stride forward into the more creative elements.  Flavor combinations, ingredient substitutions, and a world of culinary explorations await!

Reflections on Will Write For Food

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My experience as a food writer is extremely limited.  Before my macaron baking challenge, the only blogging I had done about food was a week-long challenge eating survival food while I was a college student.  I have read countless books about the general process of writing, but none about the specific process of food writing.  So I added this book to the list, and am extremely glad I did.

Will Write For Food by Dianne Jacob covers every subject an aspiring food writer might be interested in.  From recipe writing to restaurant reviewing to blogging- it’s all in there.  The book even delves into the process of writing query letters and proposals to get your book of food writing published.  It really caver the essentials of the craft of writing, any  writing, all through the lens of a passion for food.

I also like how almost every instructional book of creative careers that I’ve read for this project has pointed out “oh, by the way, it’s really, really incredibly hard to make a living doing this.”  Whether I’m trying to find work writing a review of a local diner, a play about communism, or a joke about that one guy who walks into a bar, I’ve been warned that it’s not going to be easy work.  Some go so far to say that if you have any you can stand to do for a career, do that.  But when all your options are equally difficult, the least you can do is try to have fun with them.

 

Macarons and Creative Content

I’m not going to do a New Years post.  It’s the most reflexive piece of content for any writer back from the holidays to create.  I fully support setting year-long goals and reflecting on the passage of time.  But my new year started October 1st, with the beginning of my Finding the Framework project.  My overly optimistic goals are my 10 challenges, of which I have completed 2 fully, and another 2 partially.

I will, however, write about things that happened over New Years.  I took nine days completely off- which was relatively easy to do with my desk job, and substantially harder to do with my own creative work.  I had to put my cartooning, audiobook narration, book reviewing, playwriting blogging, and costume designing on hold for a week and a half in order to actually rest during my one vacation for the next year.

During this time, I managed to bake the best round of macarons that I have made to date.  During my family’s New Years retreat, I was charged with coming up with the menu and entertainment for one of the nights of our stay.  Naturally, I took the opportunity to create another trial batch of macarons.  I finally baked them on parchment paper, which in addition to a more humid atmosphere helped them turn out much smoother and more intact than my previous batches.IMG_3466

I cobbled together an experimental filling out of ingredients on hand, and it turned out delicious:

Combine:

  • 1/2 stick of softened butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of half and half (or cream, if you have it)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup apricot preserves

Mix well and spread between macaron shells.  If the filling isn’t sufficiently viscous, add a thickener or chill it before use.

The macarons were then combined with the card game I designed for the occasion- a combination of Quiddler and Balderdash where players invent new words and create unique definitions in order to score points.

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My favorite new word of the night was

Autotriphyscope- Noun.  A device used to detect whether a car has lost one of its wheels.  Generally considered useless.

Creativity can never fully rest.

 

 

The Road to Better Macarons

As I continue to refine my macarons, I keep discovering new ways to improve.  I’ve found enough reliable recipes and ideas that I believe this is the last time I will use the basic instructions that I’ve been using as a control variable for my initial experiments.  I baked another batch of macarons today, getting the same results as my last batch- delicious standard macarons that are large and misshapen.

The only change I made was to use a nifty new device to separate the egg yolks while avoiding human error.

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The main development with today’s batch was in the filling.  For the first time, I created my own filling to put between two macarons.  I combined 3 tablespoons of butter with 3 tablespoons of brown sugar, a dash of cinnamon, and a teaspoon of maple syrup.  I melted the ingredients together, then cooled the filling for half an hour before spreading it onto the pastries.

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Oh. my. goodness. It made me want to cry.  I am now determined to put this mixture on everything- macarons, waffles, pancakes, tortillas, toast, popcorn, bacon.  EVERYTHING.

So.  The macarons were amazing, and I will continue to push for their improvement through 2016.  During my attempts to make the best macarons possible, each batch will experiment in at least one of the four areas that I can improve in:

  • Better technique
  • Better ingredients
  • Better equipment
  • Better recipes

Until next time!

There’s More Than One Way to Make Hummus

Method One- The Great Chickpea War
The Great Chickpea War

Method Two- if you prefer a more conflict-free variety of hummus:

  • 1 can (15 oz) chickpeas
  • 1.5 Tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1.5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 head of garlic, diced
  • a dash of salt
  • a dash of paprika

Mash the chickpeas with a fork, spoon, rolling pin, or potato masher. Add oil, then dice the garlic and mix it in.  Spice to taste.  Enjoy with pita chips, pretzels, or a garden salad.