I’ll be honest: I haven’t been much in the mood to cook this week. The food budget is a little tight as we plan for a busy weekend in the city and for some bigger events and travel opportunities later this year, so I’m trying my hardest to be frugal and not buy anything new to stock the kitchen until I’ve worked through some of the leftovers from last week’s late-night binges. This includes, but is not limited to, five-minute hummus, the dark-meat remain of a roasted chicken, a nub of French bread (finished for breakfast, finally), some old-ass rice, AND two full quart containers of chicken barbecue and red bean-sausage stew in the freezer. In conclusion, I do not need to buy food.
I seem to run into this problem (if you want to call it that) a couple of times a month. I have a lot of ingredients in my fridge, but not necessarily enough to cobble together into a meal. Last night I ate cold chicken thigh meat with salt and forkfuls of cold, two-day-old couscous, followed by a few spoonfuls of crunchy peanut butter that I dipped shamelessly into bittersweet chocolate chips. I couldn’t even be bothered to warm anything up (my loathing of reheated chicken notwithstanding). Even if I wanted to budget the money for groceries, I just don’t feel like cooking.
That said, I like to have at least one new project or experiment to work on every week. This week, I decided, it would be pita, the impetus being the half-full container of hummus lingering in the fridge and the sad-looking bag of pita chip crumbs in the cupboard. I was too cheap to go out and buy pita, so…hell, I’ll make my own! (he said at 5:30 in the morning, lacing up his shoes for the gym)
On the surface, homemade pita doesn’t look all that intimidating. It comes together more or less as any bread does: giving the yeast a little snack of flour and sugar, then adding more flour, and some salt and oil until a shaggy dough forms and letting it rise for a while. Thing is, I’m not great with yeasted breads. I do OK with the crusty French bread recipe that I now make on a weekly basis, but really it never goes quite the way it’s supposed to. And I always add more flour. Always. Maybe my kitchen is just super moist…I don’t know. But my bread dough is always distinctly wet when I follow the recipe exactly. I added about three-quarters of a cup more flour to the pita recipe to get the shaggy dough I needed. I also forgot the olive oil until step four, when it had already risen once. For the record, this didn’t seem to make much of a difference, but more on that later.
While the dough was rising I did my ironing, keeping a close eye on the clock so I could preheat the oven and time it with when the dough should be rolled out. This is where the sticking point comes in…quite literally, as it happens. I hate working with a rolling pin. I’ve done it exactly two times, both with pretty lousy results. You see, you have these rather wet little balls of dough (perhaps more so because I had added the oil late and it wasn’t quite incorporated—they were really slick) and an allegedly “nonstick” rolling pin doesn’t really seem to give a shit when it comes to that. The first one turned out way too big and oddly shaped; it didn’t puff up in the oven at all. The second one was much smaller, but it also didn’t puff. At least it was circular-ish. On it went through half a dozen more tries, peeling sticky flat pita dough off the rolling pin, in some cases bundling it up again into a ball and starting over (probably a terrible idea), in some cases sticking to the apparently not-floury-enough countertop and THEN the container of flour fell off the very small countertop and scattered flour all over the floor. That’s when the thunderstorm hit and rain started pouring in my wide open bedroom windows, so I didn’t have time to clean up the flour before I made little white footprints all over the house, running around and closing the windows. But at this point what did it matter?
Anyway. I finished the pitas, and by the end felt like I was maybe getting the hang of rolling them out, though they turned out to be much smaller than the eight inches I was led to believe they would be. Few—if any—of them are circular. But whatever, they’re edible. I tried one with the hummus and it wasn’t bad. Maybe a little overdone.
I promise, I’ll try again. I’m not really disheartened but it wasn’t the painless process I was hoping for. Baking seldom is. (Who does this on a Tuesday??) I can now make killer brownies without even checking the recipe, and my chocolate cake never fails. But bread is another mountain to conquer, and I’ve barely crossed the threshold.