Monday, May 15, 2017

Cultivating my garden

Overgrowth of poppies has made it hard to walk up the stairs, but I can't bring myself to tear them out. 
I’d kicked my Twitter addiction and was back to appreciating the tangible world around me, but then came last week. There I was puttering around the yard one afternoon, happily planting lavender, nice middle-aged lady having a nice middle-aged lady day, when I glanced at my phone, shrieked, sat down in the dirt, and that was all she wrote for gardening. 

Trump is so much worse than I thought he’d be — and I thought he’d be terrible.

But since I have nothing original or interesting to add to the national conversation, I’ll tell you how to make injera. 
They aren't supposed to look quite like that, but they tasted great.
Injera is the soft, super-sour Ethiopian flatbread that resembles a giant pancake and is used to scoop up whatever meats and stews are served at an Ethiopian meal. It’s delicious. Something about the sourness piques your appetite, makes you want to eat more and more and more which is the last thing I need, but that’s beside the point. It was a longstanding goal of mine to make injera at home and my various attempts had all ended in tears. Most injera recipes in books and on the internet simply do not work. Period.

Which is why a few Saturdays ago I found myself in an Ethiopian cooking class trying to fry onions in a pot without any oil. One of the odd features of Ethiopian cuisine, at least Ethiopian cuisine as taught in this class, is that you add oil after you’ve cooked the onions. I’m not sure why. The teacher certainly didn’t enlighten us. It was a strange class. To start with, it was held in a vast hangar-like warehouse in the dark reaches of which people seemed to be soldering metal and repairing cars. The teacher was a petite Ethiopian woman with minimal English who had no printed recipes to distribute and seemed curiously grudging about sharing information. She assigned each of us a work station stocked with rudimentary foodstuffs and we proceeded to prepare unnamed legume-based stews according to haphazard verbal instructions. You had to guess what the ingredients were — was that red powder paprika? Cayenne? Berbere? I still don’t know. She’d wander by periodically to tell you that now it was time to chop the onion or add the salt or turn off the hotplate, and then a few minutes later she’d wander back and reproach you because whatever you’d done was wrong. I have no idea what we made and couldn’t begin to replicate any of it. 

Except the injera. I was there to learn to make injera and I learned to make injera.

If you’ve never wanted to make injera, you should stop reading because you will fall asleep. If you’ve  always wanted to make injera, the following formula worked perfectly at the warehouse and adequately — though not perfectly — a week later in my own kitchen.  You will need to track down two special flours — dagussa and zengada — and you will need some sourdough starter. I had thought injera was always made from teff flour, but our teacher used dagussa and zengada, which she told us were varieties of “finger millet” flour, but that may not be correct. I can’t confirm. (I find something very creepy about the term “finger millet.”)

Once you have your flours and starter this is what you do: 

In a bowl, combine 1 part dagussa, 1 part zengada, and 2 parts all-purpose flour. Add some starter. We didn’t measure in the class, but at home, to four cups mixed flour I added about 1/2 cup starter. Now add enough warm water to make a thin, creamy batter. Mix well. Cover the bowl and let it sit for three or four days on your counter. It will bubble and begin to smell intensely sour.

When you’re ready to cook, heat up the closest thing you have to a non-stick skillet. In class, the teacher used a dedicated round electric skillet to cook the injera, but a cast-iron pan worked well for me. When your skillet is really hot, pour some batter into it, swirl it around to completely coat the pan as you would a crepe. Pop on a lid. After a few minutes, lift the lid and if the injera is cooked (not wet on top, but not desiccated — you’re aiming for tender, pliable, spongy), remove the bread from the pan and make another injera. Proceed until all the injera are cooked and serve with Ethiopian entrees like this, which worked well.

They were not enthusiastic. 
The flavor of my injera was lovely. The texture, not. It was somewhat rough and leathery, and it never rose, never achieved that little “lift” of proper injera. I briefly considered trying to go for perfect, fluffy, spongy injera like you get in restaurants, but decided that there were other things I’d rather do with my free time. I was satisfied with my imperfect, tasty injera and crossed Project Injera off my list.

A few things I’ve done rather than perfecting injera that you might enjoy as well:

*Watched Srugim. Sweet, droll Israeli TV series about the romantic travails of young, religious Jews whose courtship rituals are no less rigid than those of Elizabeth and Darcy. Window into a world I know nothing about. Charming and fascinating. (Amazon Prime.)

*Watched Obit. Documentary about obituary writers at the New York Times. It’s funny! Also informative and actually rather uplifting. Trust me, you’ll be glad you saw it.


*Worked a lot in the garden, which is good for the head, hell on the hands. Wear gloves.  

I love these little guys.

31 comments:

  1. Your family photo (and the caption) made me cry with laughter. I must try the injera. Thank you for your blog, which I have been reading for years. A new post is always an event. You never fail to entertain and inspire.

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    1. Thanks! I wish I could give you a perfect recipe for injera.

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  2. Your injera story made me laugh a lot. We have a lot of Eritreans in my church and they are always making injera and himbasha. I'm not crazy about injera but the himbasha I adore, so I learned to make it -- but from a book. I'm sure it is easier than injera. It would be an experience to learn Ethiopian cooking from Ethiopians!

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    1. Wow, himbasha looks really good! I'd never heard of it. Now I have to put it on the list.

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  3. Two things:
    1. I thought Trump might be ok, but am now thoroughly embarrassed to have ever thought that.
    2. I've always wanted to make injera, but am now even more convinced that I should leave it to the restaurants. :)

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    1. Hi Anonymous,
      It is refreshing that you admit that! More people need to. It is OK, we are all wrong sometimes, now let's get our act together.

      Jennifer, the injera just magically doesn't stick?

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    2. Hi Anonymous & Eve,
      I agree, no need to be embarrassed, a lot of people thought Trump might be ok -- and Paul Ryan still does. I hoped he'd be ok. And the injera magically doesn't stick. I don't know how. It just doesn't.

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  4. I still want perfect fluffy injera! I suspect restaurants catering to Westerners may use part/mostly wheat flour, do you suppose?

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    1. I don't know, probably they do use wheat flour. At restaurants it's always a lot paler than the injera I made.

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  5. I dunno, Jennifer, I think Trump is making America great again. This morning I spent an hour on the phone calling my elected officials and some others that were not my elected officials who needed a piece of my snowflake libtard mind, and when I got through with that, I wrote postcards. Then I spent another hour sending and answering get out the vote text messages for a seat I'm trying to help flip in Georgia. This evening I attended my Indivisble group's monthly meeting. We had a formal reading aloud of the United States Constitution, complete with a Juilliard student playing snippets of Bach on her violin between the articles and lovely wine and cheese to nibble. I was Article 1, section 8.13. Civic engagement, baby!

    As I was reading this post I was thinking about a woman who commented here that she was very happy that Trump had won and that we should take heart because all would be well. I wonder if she still thinks that, now that Trump has fired the director of the FBI for investigating him and is blurting out our national security secrets to the Russians. My analyst tells me he's in the early stages of Alzheimer's, and now the media is saying it too.
    I have become Rainman of late. "Twenty minutes to Maddow."

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    1. Your civic engagement has been incredible -- and makes me a bit sheepish. I did the ACLU meeting, the Women's March, made one phone call, sent a little money and then quit doing anything at all.
      I think your analyst is right.
      Nothing depresses me more than the stories about Trump voters who still think he's just awesome.

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  6. Oh, and one more thing: Saturday's contra dance was cancelled so I did something I almost never do and went to a movie, which i highly recommend if you enjoyed Srugim: The Wedding Plan by Rama Burshtein.

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    1. I SAW IT! On a plane. I knew nothing about it and I really enjoyed it. The lead actress has a role in Srugim. Have you seen Srugim?

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    2. I haven't! I will check it out, thanks. And have you seen her first movie, Fill the Void? Just utterly gorgeous.

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  7. I love Ethiopian food EXCEPT for the injera. No texture, sour taste: what's not to hate?
    But thank you for the photo and for coming back to blogging.

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    1. Do you eat the Ethiopian food with a fork?

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  8. I knew it would be bad, but the cartoon like badness and fear of nuclear destruction were a surprise. I, too, desire to make injera at home. Though, why, when I live in NYC and can go to an Ethiopian restaurant? Still, I desire and know believe it is possible. I cling to your posts during this time.

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    1. Stick with the restaurants. It's really not worth it, especially if the injera is slightly disappointing. Plus, you have to make the Ethiopian dishes and you can never match the number and variety you get at a restaurant.

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  9. I hear you... I knew it would be bad... just not this bad. The garden is tremendously good for the soul during these dark times. Thanks for the post.

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  10. Thank you for the post. "...seemed curiously grudging about sharing information" I have been in similar cooking, and painting, classes. Great post!

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  11. I don't have any overwhelming urge to make injera, which I like, mostly because I do not have room for any more weird ingredients in my kitchen. I knew Trump would be terrible, but clearly we all lacked sufficient imagination. That photo slayed me -- thanks for posting all this stuff.

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    1. I know what you mean about the weird ingredients. I feel the same. I need to use up what I already have.

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  12. I wish you would keep after the injera and then share what you do with the rest of us. It appears to me that trump was correct when he said during the campaign that he could pull out a gun and kill someone, and no one would do anything. Whatever he does, we just recoil and shake our heads. Please keep posting. It helps me.

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    1. I thought it was funny that some members of Congress have said Comey should have brought Trump's improper request to their attention earlier. Like they would have done something? Of course not. So much has been brought to their attention and they do NOTHING.

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  13. I have never had injera but think I would like it as I like sour stuff and bready things. Your garden makes me so happy thinking of happy days there. Yes I am still around reading your posts. xxoo

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    1. The garden's lovely, Pat. The apple tree still going strong, the camellias blooming, the incense cedar towering. I do miss the bottle brush.

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  14. Both Santa Rosa and Oakland have large Eritrean communities. I like injera, and yes, wheat flour is sometimes added. The other Eritrean food I've had has been very so-so. Kind of like mediocre curries.

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  15. I've read your posts in the wrong order. So I don't know how relevant my post will be here. I'm hoping to make one comment for this and your more recent post.
    I'm for the road trip around the great lakes, but I want him out. So clearly that won't work for me.
    My happy home has tanked since January. And I'm not even an AMERICAN and have no say. Except to complain about the crazy next door. But I was offered a trip to Maui in January. Only had to pay airfare, and that was a benefit so basically cost me nothing. Anyhooo...I flew, I saw, I liked ...I came home two days before inauguration. My stupid ass husband is a Trump supporter only in the fact that it annoys the crap out of me I'm sure. So when I returned home on the Sunday morning before inauguration day I was already more than annoyed at our Canadian news featuring 24/7 trump crap, and a husband enjoying himself. On Monday at noon there was a news feature about a horrible trial that I was waiting for 2 years to come to court. So to get away from the news media obcession (bad spelling) I escaped to go to watch a murderer for 3 weeks. And then I came back to reality of Trump, when another small vaca came up for Niagara Falls in the winter. I ingratiated myself in my daughters trip to get away by offering to babysit in Niagara with the kiddies. Then again....came home to more Trump nonsense. When is this moron going to get impeached anyway. This waiting is driving my on more vacations. Here I am again this time for a month of garden planning for my daughter who inadvertantly got a job out of the blue with 2 kids under 3. And still he's not impeached. The only reason I'm staying away from home is that these trips I take, I don't get to watch Rachel Maddow. So some sanity is avail for my brain. But I'm going home Wednesday.....to more of the same. Your guys are making me nuts. Impeach the moron so we can all go back to normal. For gods sake.
    On another note....I'm in a condo...a small one at that. And I'm LOOOVING IT. I hardly ever need to drive, I'm a downtownie...at my age. I walk most everywhere, I can't believe how great it is. Downsizing is the greatest invention EVER. The only lousy part is the building excercise workout menace is right next door. I mean it's the next door from my apartment door. The only time I actuualy venture in is when my gkids come to visit. They love the equipment. I supervise that's about all I do in there. And the odd time I want a good pic of a sunrise. That's all THAT room is good for really.

    I'd like to think that I would seriously stop my parent from acting out his crazy fantasies if It ever came to that. His family enables him because they're all in the bubble with him. They're all NUTS and opportunists. I've got a bet going for impeachment by years end. But I seriously think I will lose cause Republicans will do ANYTHING it takes to keep him in power. A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G.
    and democracy as we know it will be going down the shitter with them.
    Sorry for the length. But I'm on vaca with a head cold from hell and in a room by myself to keep my germs to myself.

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