Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cooking with Wood

I've been using the firehearth quite a bit for the past few weeks, and am finding that, as warned, I love it. Part of me loves it because I'm cheap and butane is very expensive here, and my gas range has been getting a lot less use. Wood is free; we live in the jungle.

Part of me loves it because it's a little bit of a challenge to learn to cook with wood. First, I have to figure out how to make a fire, and make it the heat I want. I'm learning things like sometimes the best way to make a fire a little bit cooler is to add another stick of wood. It's somewhat counterintuitive, but it works. I'm also learning to have a little bit of patience, which goes against my natural tendencies. I can't just twist a knob and make the stove hotter and make whatever I'm cooking get done faster. Instead, I have to fiddle with the fire to make it hotter or cooler, and then wait while the heat of the comal adjusts. This usually involves shuffling around whatever I happen to be cooking so that the stuff that should cook quicker is over a hotter part of the fire, and the stuff that should cook slower is over a cooler part. All of this works, but none of it is instantaneous. And, I'm learning that lots of stuff just cooks better over wood heat for some reason, and that even though I feel a little out of control and can't make the instant adjustments I want to make, the results are worth the wait.

I also like it for a few random reasons. For example, I almost always leave my tea kettle on the comal, so whenever I want a cup of tea, the water is already hot and I don't have to wait for it to boil. [I know, we're back at that patience issue.] I also love cooking scrambled eggs on it; they're almost creamy when they're cooked over the slow even heat. And, I like the smell of the woodsmoke. I think it makes me remember all the camping trips I've been on, throughout my life, where I always thought that food tasted better when you were camping because you were so hungry from being active all day. Now, I know that food really does taste better when cooked over a wood fire. And, while I sort of hate to admit it, I like to play with fire.

Speaking of wood fires, we're still working on the wood fired clay oven. We're using local clay, and adding it layer by layer, and it takes forever to dry and it cracks. Then we add another layer to the top, wait for it to crack and dry, and then add another. Julio tells me we're almost at the stage where we can test it out...and then I'll see what I like about baking in a wood fired clay oven as compared to my traditional oven!

I've been surprised how many people have stopped by just to see the firehearth. It's become a tourist attraction in itself. Even better, we had one of our native Belizean neighbors stop over to see what kind of rocks and clay we used, and to ask where we got the rocks and the white mal. Tom told him, and asked why he wanted to know. The answer: his wife now wants a firehearth just like mine!

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