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Crackers, Dips, Kindness

A little over two years ago I received the tin you see above in the mail. It came from Ivy Manning, a fellow-food writer who lives in Portland. I must have mentioned to her that I was feeling ill, because she decided to send me a care package. By the time it arrived I was flat out sick and miserable. It was such a lovely boost to receive this kind gesture in the mail. I was so touched.

The tin was filled with crackers—Japanese rice crackers that Ivy was working on for a cookbook. I was amazed. I like crackers. I like Japanese rice crackers, and yet it had never occurred to me to make my own. Which is funny, because I bake bread on a regular basis.

Crackers, it turns out, is far easier than bread. I know this because I’ve just read Ivy’s new cookbook, Crackers & Dips. It’s a delicious walk through cracker culture, and makes a point I really agree on: why pay so much money for something that is little more than flour, salt, and water? Ounce for ounce, crackers are ridiculously expensive, and they don’t have to be.

Another reason to make your own crackers: what you make is so much better than what you can buy. I’ve had homemade cheese crackers a few times at dinner parties with friends (I have cook-happy friends) and the flavor always blows me away. They are so much better than what comes in a box. They also don’t contain weird chemical preservatives.

The final thing: crackers are fun to make, and so much easier than you think. If you don’t believe me you can watch this video of Ivy making roasted hazelnut crackers. As she says, crackers are just as easy as cookies. You’ll be impressed when you see how simple it is.

The final enticement to homemade crackers, at least for me, is the chance to customize. Ivy puts rosemary in her graham crackers, za’atar on her pita chips, and can raise or lower the salt or sweet level on anything she makes. As someone who likes to play with flavors, and likes things (even sweet things) on the salty side, I love this.

The book is charming, with whimsical photography from Jen Altman, who is a favorite of mine (you might know her Polaroid book, Instant Love). Ivy is an excellent recipe writer (yes, there are bad ones). This is her third book, she writes regularly for The Oregonian and other publications, and she teaches cooking, so she knows how to explain things in ways that are not intimidating.

I was lucky enough to attend Ivy’s book launch in Portland last month (hosted at a cheese and wine bar, how perfect). I got to sample so many of the crackers and dips from this book (the spicy red lentil dip on pita chips is a favorite, as are the paper-thin semolina crackers). I was leaving for Seattle that night and Ivy sent me home with a bag of leftover crackers that disappeared far too soon.

So I am going to be making more of my own crackers from here on out. I’ve only tried once before—these olive oil crackers from 101 Cookbooks—but I do really enjoy being able to tweak the flavors (hello, control freak Sally here). Not to mention, people are so impressed when they hear you made your own crackers.

If you don’t feel like you have time for cracker making, Ivy has included some easy short cuts. Za’atar-dusted Pita Chips are a quickie, as are Garlic-Pumpernickel Bagel Chips and Crispy Wonton Triangles. All these recipes have you using pre-made ingredients (pitas, bagels, wonton wrappers) and customizing them as you like. There are also some sweet recipes, along with the dips (can you say Molten Black Bean and Chorizo dip? Yum).

There are going to be a lot more crackers in my future. I can tell already.

And Seattle, you are in for a treat, because Ivy is going to be in town this weekend, sharing crackers and cooking tips at The Book Larder on Sunday. See you there?

Have you ever made your own crackers? Are you tempted to do so?

—Tara

Crackers & Dips with Ivy Manning
June 2, from 11am to noon
The Book Larder
4252 Fremont Ave N
Seattle WA, 98103

Read more about Crackers & Dips on Ivy’s site.