Pita Bread

I spend a lot of time talking about how I don't bake.   Part of it is my disinterest in most sweets (can we have french fries for dessert instead?) and the other part is the precision and the measuring.  I like to cook by smell.   And yet, I made pita bread.

This was part of this weekend's big time falafel dinner - a series of recipes on my blog Saturday's Mouse.

I read through maybe 20 pita bread recipes to get here, and many said that you can't really make pita at home and that the traditional way required an oven hotter than home ovens were capable of getting.  I figured if it didn't work, I'd have some sort of flatbread that would be just fine, and if it REALLY didn't work, I had tortillas in the fridge.   Spoiler alert - it totally worked.

I pretty much used a recipe this time - this recipe here at The Fresh Loaf.  This is more than "inspired by" or "based on" this recipe - this is how I made it.  New bread, yo, I'm gonna follow something.

A couple of the recipes put me off by asking for 3 hours of rise time.  I don't have three hours.  So I planned to make this one that requires 90 minutes - but things got in the way and I actually gave it closer to 2 and a half hours to rise.  I guess I have three hours after all.

I started with the yeast proofing in the some warm water.  I pulled 1/4 cup of water from the total needed for the recipe, and let my yeast sit in there until it bubbled a bit.  I put the flour in the mixer (you can do this by hand).  I used 1/2 white and 1/2 whole wheat.  The worry with using all whole wheat is that your breads can get tough.

I added the salt

and olive oil

and honey

and finally the water, including my proofed yeast.

I stirred it with a spatula

until it came together like it started to want to be a dough.

And then I got to mixing.

Ten minutes by hand, or ten minutes in the mixer set on 1.  When it was all one thing, it was ready.

I shaped it into a ball,

and put it in a bowl that I had coated in olive oil, and gave it a few tosses in that oil.

I dampened a towel with warm water and wrapped the bowl in that, and then stashed it in my china cabinet.  When I'm letting dough rise I either go for the china cabinet method, or if I have the heat on, I put it in the basement near the boiler.   No heat, so china cabinet is fairly warm.

The recipe calls for 90 minutes of rise-time, but I got distracted by the rest of life and came back to it after a little more than two hours.   It had more than doubled in size.

This is a good time to get to pre-heating.  I was worried my oven wouldn't get hot enough, but with about 20 minutes advance prep at 500 it was just fine.  I preheated a baking sheet as well - many recipes recommend a pizza stone, and I bet that'd be great, but I don't have one.

I tore it the dough into eight pieces, and rolled each one into a ball like this

and then flat with the rolling pin.  I wasn't good about keeping them round - but I'd recommend putting some effort into that.  Roll horizontally, turn the dough 90 degrees, roll horizonally, turn the dough 90 degrees, etc.

Once it was flattened, I ...ok, I got off track. I let them sit all shaped and ready for a while, and when I put them into the oven they got all droopy and misshapen and they came out unpoofed.  This made a fairly tasty flatbread, but was not at all a pita.

Sous Chef Brian (my husband) to the rescue.  He floured the cutting board quite a bit, re-rolled them out into perfect discs and they went in.  I guess the added flour really helped (or maybe the perfect shape).

Look how poofy!  And totally hollow inside.  Here's one in action!

I froze the leftovers and they defrosted as good as new, so I'm definitely going to make some extra of these next time to keep around.

I'm not going to post the step-by-step recipe, because I used exactly the ingredients from someone else's - go to The Fresh Loaf for the details.

This recipe is cross-posted at Saturday’s Mouse, where I’m working on making food out of food.

Buying in Bulk

Have you ever noticed the absurd amount of plastic and cardboard you return home with after a trip to the grocery store?  And it's not just food, it's everywhere.  Thousands of products are over packaged which is bad for our environment and a waste of resources.

The solution to over packaging for my family is buying in bulk (and I don't mean going to Sam's Club!).  We have dozens of mason jars and fill them with nuts, oatmeal, rice, popcorn, lentils, granola, coffee, sugar, salt, etc. and display them on a bookshelf in our dining room.  It's easy to see what we have to eat, usually means we are consuming unprocessed foods and it doesn't break the bank.  There are a few stores we use to stock up on these food items, including Essene Market and WholeFoods.  You just have to be sure to find a friendly cashier to mark the tare weight on your containers before you fill them (we have the weight memorized by now).  

In addition to food, we buy our cleaning products in bulk from Big Green Earth Store on 10th and South Street.  We are partial to the Sun & Earth products they carry (the company is based in King of Prussia) which are excellent at removing grease and the best part is that they are non-toxic and biodegradable.  We purchase the hand soap, dish liquid, floor cleaner, all-purpose cleaner, and laundry detergent.  They all smell like citrus and really work, unlike some other eco-friendly products, ahem.  You can bring your empty containers and have them filled up and they also have a program where you can pre-pay for a large quantity and come back as needed.

My hope for South Philly Food Co-op is that we will not only support local food sources but also choose to sell products from companies who make it a point to package their products responsibly.  And maybe install our very own bulk bins!

Upcoming Volunteer Opportunties... including TOMORROW

Volunteer opportunities such as the ones below are great ways to get to know more about the co-op, spread the word about it, get to know committee members and generally help to get the co-op started. These are very fun, low pressure activities that basically entail talking to people and telling them why a food co-op is such a good idea. No one is thrown out there on their own the first time to volunteer and volunteering does not obligate anyone to future events... though we could always use more folks on our committees! Tomorrow: Spring Cleanup The 4th annual Philly Spring Cleanup is tomorrow and the co-op thought that it would be a good time to get out into the neighborhoods to talk to Spring Clean up participants. While we would love to hit every civic association and neighborhood group throughout South Philadelphia we just don’t have the manpower to do that, so some of our Outreach Committee members have reached out to a few groups where they live and have received the okay from civic associations to hang out and have folks fill out surveys and just generally be around to answer any questions. The plan: hand out surveys and talk to people. There will probably be some handing out of trash bags, rakes, recycling bins too. Email southphillyfoodcoop (at) or respond as a comment to this blog post if you are interested in helping out at either of the opportunities listed below. We will gave a third, and possibly a fourth, location somewhere on the west side of Broad Street but those details are still being ironed out. LoMo - Partner with Julie, Outreach Committee member. Meet at 9am at South Philly High (2101 South Broad Street). Please let us know if you are interested in helping Julie out. Newbold Neighbors - Partner with Rachel, Outreach Committee member. Meet at 9:30 @ Ultimo (15th & Mifflin). Please let us know if you’re interested in helping Rachel out. ---------------------------------------------- April 30: Flavors of The Avenue East Passyunk Avenue will be bursting with flavor on the last Saturday of this month and we want to take advantage of that energy. From 12pm to 5pm we will have a table on East Passyunk somewhere between Dickinson and Morris and will be handing out brochures, asking people to fill out surveys and just generally talking up the foodie goodness of the Co-op. If you're interested in partnering up with Outreach Committee members Dan and Kat for all or part of the time, contact us at southphillyfoodcoop (at) We could use people at 11:30 to help set up. Dan and Kat will gladly give you the quick orientation on answering the most frequently asked questions. This event is rain or shine and if it rains we'll have a tent because our other event that day has a scheduled rain date. ---------------------------------------------- April 30: LoMo Spring Market and Community Fair (Rain date: May 7) Dozens of tables will be set up on Broad Street between Snyder Avenue & Jackson Street. Event goes from 9:00 am – 3:00 pm. We should be covered with set-up but anyone who wants to help out can meet us at 8:30 to help out. Let us know how many hours you can help out by emailing southphillyfoodcoop (at) or responding in the comments below. You'll be partnering up with committee members Julie (9am - 11am), Stephanie (11am - 1pm) or Cassie and Rachel (1pm - 3pm). We could also use volunteers to help with the planning process and have input into what we're going to do at this event. This will be a good opportunity to incorporate some family fun into the event. Last year we did a bake sale which was mildly successful mostly because we had a really terrific salesman helping us unload the table at the end of the day! We want to come up with an idea to attract people to the table. ---------------------------------------------- May 7: PEP Annual Plant Sale Looking for one or two more volunteers to help out at the PEP Annual Plant Sale on Saturday, May 7. It runs from 10am - 6pm at their office at 1200 South Broad Street. We can split it into 2 or 3 shifts of a few hours each. Partner up with committee member Rachel. This is an especially good volunteer activity for people who live west of Broad Street and want to help with our outreach efforts in that area. --------------------------------- Also, please note, we are going to try to hold a volunteer training session prior to these later events to give any prospective volunteers and idea of how to talk about the co-op. If you can't make that (time and place TBD), don't worry about it. One of our committee members will be at each event to answer any questions.

Why He's Fasting

Mark Bittman, the New York Times columnist and author of the seemingly ubiquitous, How To Cook Everything, is spending the week fasting to call attention to the cuts to food assistance programs currently churning through the House. In the name of measly deficit reduction the bills in front of Congress would make deep cuts to numerous programs that feed the hungriest amongst us.
I stopped eating on Monday and joined around 4,000 other people in a fast to call attention to Congressional budget proposals that would make huge cuts in programs for the poor and hungry. By doing so, I surprised myself; after all, I eat for a living. But the decision was easy after I spoke last week with David Beckmann, a reverend who is this year’s World Food Prize laureate. Our conversation turned, as so many about food do these days, to the poor. Who are — once again — under attack, this time in the House budget bill, H.R. 1. The budget proposes cuts in the WIC program (which supports women, infants and children), in international food and health aid (18 million people would be immediately cut off from a much-needed food stream, and 4 million would lose access to malaria medicine) and in programs that aid farmers in underdeveloped countries. Food stamps are also being attacked, in the twisted “Welfare Reform 2011” bill. (There are other egregious maneuvers in H.R. 1, but I’m sticking to those related to food.)
While I applaud Mark's goals and use of his national platform to call attention to food security and availability issues, there are also more concrete things we can do in the short term to help. If you want to do something more, make a donation to one of Philadelphia's food banks, such as Philabundance, and help immediately feed people who are hungry. A major focus for many of us at the Co-op is improving access to high quality food in our area. Rest assured, we will be accepting food stamps and WIC at our eventual store. Though it applies to everything contributors to this blog write, it should be expressly stated that any opinions below are solely those of the author and DO NOT reflect any policies, rules, or decisions made the South Philly Food Co-op’s steering, legal/finance, or outreach committees.

Thyme and Onion Wheat Crackers

Crackers have been a hot topic around my house lately. My favorite whole wheat cracker seems to have been discontinued, and I've seen a variety of recipes in the past few months, but I barely bake, and I certainly don't make crackers - right? Well it turns out they're fairly easy to make.

I like a cracker that is robust enough to be eaten independently, but not so much that it might clash with my hummus or the ridiculous feta-spinach spread I've been into lately, or whatever other application I might want to use it for. This cracker does that. I also want a cracker to be made of real food - this cracker does that too.

It's based on a number of recipes that have floated by lately, plus enough savory flavor to stand on its own, with some extra wholesome mixed in.

This is where I started: whole wheat flour, bread flour, wheat germ, flax seed, onion powder, black pepper, honey, thyme, salt and olive oil.

I got the dry goods together (everything above except olive oil and honey). I preheated the oven to 375.

And mixed in the wet. I put a cup of warm water in a bowl and mixed the honey into that, then added the olive oil and merged it with the dry goods.

I mixed it by hand, just until it came together, split it in half, and rolled it out onto parchment paper. Many recipes I've seen call for running the dough through a pasta press. I don't have one, but I can totally see why you might want to use one. I got it to a pretty consistent 1/6th of an inch thickness, but if you can go thinner, you'll notice the improvement. I cut it into crackers (something like 3/4 inch squares, mostly) with a pizza cutter. The really rough edges got recycled into the second batch.

I made fork-pricks in the tops and sprinkled on some additional sea salt.

And moved the parchment to a baking sheet. The crackers went into the oven for about 30 minutes, rotating halfway and with some fairly obsessive checking in the last 10 minutes. The crackers around the edge of the pan browned around the edges more quickly than those in the center, so they were pulled out at about 22 minutes. The crackers are done when they're crispy all over and just starting to turn golden on top. Timing will vary based on the thickness of the crackers.

These should keep for a few days in a sealed container. I happened to have a good bit of frozen thyme on hand from last year's CSA haul, but these would be good with a number of different flavors - garlic, rosemary, sesame seeds, etc.

Thyme and Onion Wheat Crackers

  • 1 cup bread flour

  • 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour

  • 1/4 cup flaxseed

  • 1/4 cup wheat germ

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons onion powder

  • 1 teaspoon sea salt (plus some for sprinkling on top)

  • 3 tablespoons fresh or frozen thyme

  • 1/2 tablespoon black pepper

  • 1 teaspoon honey

  • 1/3 cup olive oil

  • 1 cup warm water

Preheat the oven to 375.

Mix the dry ingredients (the first eight) together. Dissolve the honey in the warm water, and add that and the olive oil to the dry ingredients. Mix with a fork then with your hands until just combined. Divide the dough in half.

Roll half the dough out on a sheet of parchment to an even thickness, aiming for less than 1/6 of an inch. Cut into 3/4 inch squares with a pizza cutter, and dot the tops with a fork. Sprinkle on additional sea salt.

Bake 10 minutes and rotate the pan. Bake another 10 minutes and check the edges - remove any crackers that are already done (crispy and golden). Keep an eye on them for another 10 or as long as it takes until the middle crackers are crispy.

This recipe is cross-posted at Saturday's Mouse, where I'm working on making food out of food.

Meet a Committee Member: David Woo

On which committee do you serve?

I am on Steering.

What do you do for a living?

I am an Historic Site Tour Guide and all around Raconteur.

How did you get involved with the food co-op?

I am the current President of the Board of Directors at Weavers Way Food Cooperative in Mt. Airy. I want to see a larger cooperative presence here in the Philadelphia area. Over a couple of years ago I accompanied our General Manager, Glenn Bergman to an informational meeting in South Philadelphia to present and talk about how to start a Food Cooperative and many people attended. That effort grew into a group that just didn't move forward (but the Food For All Collective sprung out of this) and stopped meeting.

I then finally got onto Facebook and saw a note from a good friend, Alison Fritz who's old garlic press (she'd gotten at Weavers Way) broke and she wanted a new one from Weavers Way but wasn't a member any longer. Her appeal to a current member to get one for her struck me because Weavers Way modified our structure to allow non-members to shop but Alison hadn't known that.

After connecting and updating Alison about the changes at Weavers Way I also filled her in on the efforts from the previous South Philly group and soon we traded information, contacts and ideas. That first meeting at SPOAC in April 2010 was presented by Weavers Way Board Directors Bob Noble and Stu Katz and was attended by over 60 committed South Philadelphians. The South Philly Food Co-op adventure began.

Why do you want a food co-op in South Philly?

I want people in South Philly to be able to access high quality food from a community owned market and strengthen the Cooperative movement in all of Philadelphia. In the end, all cooperatives benefit from a successful South Philly Food Co-op and more people can share in this economic model of cooperation.

Why should people join a food co-op?

I think the main benefit is going to be the resulting responsiveness this cooperative can offer the community and the subsequent "pulling" of the entire food market sector on "main street" toward the more sustainable practices already practiced by food co-ops today. You owe it to yourself to investigate and learn more about the democratic, cooperative movement. This cooperative can be a model for food stores to follow, bringing better food and health to more people in South Philly.

I think of a cooperative as a large partnership, everyone involved has a part ownership of the business and the goal is to benefit these owners and the community at large. If there is profit at the end of the year it would be shared based on patronage (the more you buy, the bigger your share) and not who owned more of the company. Each owner is limited to how much equity they can invest distributing power throughout the ownership and not concentrating it with a few wealthy parties.

In the end, more economic power is retained in the neighborhood with no profit going to some corporate HQ thousands of miles away. A store that is responsive to shoppers because they are owners and the reason the store is opened in the first place, not to make money for shareholders.

What is your favorite meal to cook and why?

I like simple rice and beans, because one can use a little imagination to create entrees, side dishes, soups from a very basic start. The waiting for dried beans to soak helps me to remember that sometimes you just have to wait for some process to do it's thing before you can move onto the next step. We all need reminders now and then.

Hot soup while you test your soil in Northern Liberties

On today there's a story about a cool, temporary combination art/science/food project going on Northern Liberties - the Soil Kitchen. For once this isn't a story about yet another gastropub coming up with a new way of doing grilled cheese. The Soil Kitchen is an art installation - put together by the group Futurefarmers - that gives people a place to bring soil samples from their garden to be tested by representatives of the EPA. While you wait, you can feast on some hot soup made with fresh, local ingredients (presumably from soil that has already been tested as safe). So go get tested so your conscience can rest easy when you're going around the neighborhood giving away your tomatoes. Soil Kitchen 2nd and Girard April 1-6, 11 AM - 6 PM

Ayurvedic Cooking: Demystifying Spices

Join us Sunday, April 24 from 6:00pm - 8:00pm at Philly Community Wellness (1241 Carpenter Street) for a fun evening with Shruthi Bajaj discovering key spices used in Ayurvedic Indian dishes. Together, we will discuss the nature of essential spices, what spices are best for specific constitutions, and different preparation methods such as frying, dry roasting, and making a masala. The event will also include a written questionnaire to determine your Ayurvedic constitution, tips for mindful eating, and a hands-on cooking demonstration using fresh Springtime ingredients. You can see more at Shruthi's website, Cardamom Kitchen. Suggested donation to cover the cost of food is $5. Please direct questions and RSVPs to our Facebook page or to

Friday Food Fight - High stakes cheesesteaks

Saw this South Philly Review item on Grub Street and couldn't help but feel conflicted. On the one hand, I was basically raised on the steak-like product peddled by the "Reading-based frozen steak maker" (I'm going to avoid using names here since one company seems especially fond of using "the Google" to track down their detractors). For the first 12 or 13 years of my life I thought that was a what a cheesesteak was. It took me a few years after that to prefer the real thing. So there's a little nostalgia at play. On the other hand, the defendant is a local eatery and the Co-op is all about supporting our neighboring businesses. Plus there's a little bit of a "stick-it-to-the-man" thing going on here if they are able to fend off this lawsuit. And I can't help but have a little sympathy for the company whose low-budget tv ads on Comcast Sportsnet have given me so many minutes of enjoyment. On the third hand, it's not like we're talking about Brown v. Board of Education here. Anyway, just thought you might get a kick out of the latest installment of the ongoing cheesesteak wars. Remember: a nice grilled portobello mushroom sandwich never evokes such ire. Though it applies to everything contributors to this blog write, it should be expressly stated that any opinions below are solely those of the author and DO NOT reflect any policies, rules, or decisions made the South Philly Food Co-op’s steering, legal/finance, or outreach committees.

Danger at the front end of the food chain

You may wonder what Marcellus Shale gas drilling in northern and central Pennsylvania has to do with a start-up co-op in South Philadelphia. One of the goals often cited by supporters of the co-op is to have a place to buy foods that are sustainably raised and don't travel a long distance to get to their plates. Put a pin in South Philly and draw a circle out from there with a radius of 150-200 miles and you cover a lot of farmland that is in proximity to natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania. And so far, the news about the environmental effects of that drilling haven't been all that great. (But who could have predicted that taking large amounts of chemical laden water and shooting it at very high pressure into the ground to break up parts of the earth would possibly have negative consequences?) The effects on groundwater and what that could mean for farmland and our capacity to... um... grow stuff are still far from fully understood. If you want to learn more, Clean Water Action is showing the film "Split Estate" at the Charles Santore branch of the Free Library (932 S. 7th Street) on Wednesday, March 30 at 6pm. The film will be followed by a discussion. Promotional material for the event says:
The award-winning documentary Split Estate takes a riveting look at a David vs. Goliath confrontation unfolding in communities throughout the U.S. The film maps a tragedy in the making as citizens in the path of a new domestic drilling boom struggle against the erosion of their civil liberties, their communities and their health.
And the effects of this kind of activity has a funny terrifying way of not just affecting one specific area. RSVP to the event at 215-545-0250 or cmeehan(at)cleanwater(dot)org.