After three years of neglect our garden is finally starting to take shape. With an ongoing drought, maintaining out lawn seemed like an outrageous excess and we slowly let it die away. Aside from incompatible weather, our dog destroyed the drip irrigation system, ripped out plants and gleefully dug holes in every corner. Last winter we began the slow and arduous process of reclaiming our yard Robinson Crusoe style. We hauled bails of soil, lugged railway lumber on a skateboard contraption and moved boulders with homemade wooden levers.
We still plan on putting a new lawn in but it will be much smaller. Instead, the vegetable and herb garden will be expanded considerably using seasonal and drought tolerant plants. The biggest change however is putting in a gray water recycling pool thanks to our neighbors, Amir and Tamar, amba loving experts on eco-friendly living. They built a comprehensive system to siphon the gray water into a large pool in their backyard which Amir camouflaged with water plants. It’s a heck of a lot of work but if we can reduce our water usage without turning the yard into a cactus display that’s motivation enough for me. We’ve already dug a Jacuzzi sized hole in the back of the house, a step in the right direction, and will be pestering Amir with questions on how to proceed.
Meanwhile, I’ve started planting seedlings- mainly herbs, as well as tomatoes and peppers, flowers and a set of jasmine vines. Hopefully in the coming months (or years, who knows), we will connect our modest potager garden to the new and improved irrigation system. Our neighbors (the other ones who believe deciduous trees are a nuisance) can still look smugly into our side, but eventually we’ll have a pretty little place.
In the upcoming months I’ll be using a lot more herbs in my everyday cooking such as the following focaccia recipe. It is my contribution to the Bread Baking Society established by Shulie of Food Wanderings, Lora of Cake Duchess and Marnely of Cooking with Books.
This is an Italian version of the Arab maneesh (or perhaps an Arab version of focaccia), flat brad topped with za’atar mix, popular at roadway stands and bakeries in Israel and the Middle East. It is also known as manqoushe in Lebanon. Here I used both fresh (Majorana syriaca) and dried za’atar.
4 cups of high gluten bread flour
2 teaspoons dry yeast
1 ¾ cups water
1 teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons za’atar mix
A handful of fresh za’atar leaves
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
In a mixer equipped with a hook attachment add the flour and 1 ½ cups of water. Begin mixing on low until the dough comes together in a shaggy mess. Let rest for 10-20 minutes (this is the autolyze stage which allows the flour to hydrate more efficiently, expanding the gluten and reducing kneading time). Add the salt and if necessary the rest of the water (each batch of flour absorbs differently). Knead until the dough is smooth, pliant and slightly damp. To test take a small piece of dough and stretch it between the fingers. If a “window” is formed, the dough is ready. Coat the dough with a thin layer of olive oil and cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm place until the dough has doubled (this takes about two hours).
Preheat the oven to 240⁰C (460⁰F). Remove the dough from bowl and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Flatten out the dough with the palms of your hands to form a large rectangle, about 1 ½ cm thick. Add extra flour if the dough is too sticky but don’t overdo it as this might toughen the bread. Coat the top with olive oil, decorate with the za’atar spice and fresh za’atar leaves. Sprinkle with a bit of sea salt. When the dough has doubled (it should take much less time) dimple the surface of the bread with your fingertips. Place in the oven for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to cooling rack. Serve with extra za’atar and tomato salad. That’s what we had for dinner.
For more information on Za’atar: Za’atar by any other name… would smell as sweet (one of my first posts three years ago)
Update: I’ve joined Instagram , another addictive social media tool, but lots more fun. I’ll be posting pictures of my garden, wild edibles, food, street scenes and anything else that catches my eye. I’m foodbridge there too.