My Tortillas Are Like Snowflakes

tortillas.jpg I am a control freak.

I think most good chefs are.  Leaving things to chance is how you get in trouble in the kitchen- so I’m an avid organizer, chronic double checker and maniacal listmaker.

But food is funny about control.  I am not a machine that orders chemically processed and manipulated items into submission.

The best ingredients we all cook with are fluid, not static. They come from the land, sky, soil and sea. As much as we understand the science behind nature, it’s important to remember its unpredictability.

And that, your honor, is the case for the defense.

circlegraph.gifPerfect food presentation is my Achilles heel. I fantasize about serving scrumptious morsels of food that no one wants to touch – let alone eat- because they are just so beautiful. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen with my inner critic (I call her Martha, for pretty obvious reasons) telling me I’m not good enough.

She barks orders –“Cleaner lines!  Rounder curves! Swirlier swirls!” She compares me to other talented chefs and I always lose.  She points to the clock and I’m always behind. She distracts me with my failure, I lose focus, and burn or cut myself – only proving her point further.

But then I remember – these ingredients, these parts of nature, these incredible components that could thrill your taste buds without any manipulation – have bad days too. These components are what nourish us every day, so to strip them of their imperfection is pointless. I am a unique, whimsical, surprising and exciting person. As soon as I realized that my food was too, I told Martha to get the fuck out of my kitchen. It’s all a work in progress. Sometimes it’s beautiful and sometimes it’s hilarious. It’s never ugly – because it’s always delicious. I love to play and food always lets me.

tortilla-woman-300x154.jpgMy tortillas are always hysterical because, no matter how much I try to channel the plump Mexican women rolling perfectly circular tortillas every single time, mine are never round- or the same twice. I beat myself up (with Martha screaming in my head “Roll from the center!” and “More flour on your work surface!”) until I put one in my mouth.

Then I remember it just doesn’t matter.

Texas Flour Tortillas

(adapted from The Border Cookbook by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison)

Two cups of all-purpose flour
(can make them whole wheat by substituting one
cup of whole-wheat flour for white flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of vegetable oil
3/4 cups of warm milk

Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and oil. Slowly add the warm milk. Stir until a loose, sticky ball is formed. Knead for two minutes on a floured surface. Dough should be firm and soft.

Place dough in a bowl and cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap for 20 minutes.

After the dough has rested, break off eight sections, roll them into balls in your hands, place on a plate (make sure they aren’t touching) and then cover balls with damp cloth or plastic wrap for 10 minutes. (It’s very important to let the dough rest, otherwise it will be like elastic and won’t roll out to a proper thickness and shape.)

After dough has rested again, one at a time place a dough ball on a floured surface, pat it out into a four-inch circle, and then roll with a rolling pin from the center until it’s thin and about eight inches in diameter. Don’t over work the dough, or it’ll be stiff. Keep rolled-out tortillas covered until ready to cook.

Heat a dry skillet for a few minutes and cook, one at a time,  about thirty seconds on each side. It should start to puff a bit when it’s done.

Keep cooked tortillas covered wrapped in a napkin until ready to eat.

Can be reheated in a dry iron skillet, over your gas-burner flame or in the oven wrapped in foil.

Makes eight tortillas.


Alison Wonderland Tucker is a chef and caterer who lives and works in New York City. She writes about her love of food and life as a chef on her blog A Wonderland of Words.