Keeping it simple

WHILE WE ARE ALL LOOKING FORWARD to greeting 2021 — and saying goodbye to 2020, I am more in favor than ever of keeping life simple and enjoying what little pleasures we can find in these difficult days.

On New Year’s Eve, I will probably make a small onion pie in honor of my family tradition. I wrote about it here.

But if I decide not to make it, that will be okay too.

I have some pizza dough in the refrigerator and I believe pizza goes very well with a glass of bubbly. Last evening I put some pesto on a small round of dough, with both mozzarella and feta cheese atop. I was too lazy to make a salad so I just topped the pizza with steamed baby greens and a drizzle of olive oil. It was so delicious I just might make it again!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is pizzagreen.jpg

WORTH A SECOND LOOK:A New Year of Simple Pleasures”

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Coffee break (sometimes with cookies)

cookiesJuly7

TODAY I THOUGHT I’d just add a page from my Pandemic Journal (a daily personal journal of life in the pandemic, which I’ve been keeping since late February). This page, from July 7 and 8, is a departure from other pages as it’s a recipe — not my own, but Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for “two thick, chewy oatmeal raisin chocolate chip mega-cookies.” I like the smallness and ease of the recipe combined with a not-overwhelming amount that it makes.

One (or two) of these cookies is just right for our coffee break, something we instituted at the beginning of the stay-at-home order in mid-March. Steve was really missing his afternoon sojourns to the coffee shop, so we just started making coffee (or tea) at home two or three afternoons a week, sometimes with a treat and sometimes not. Sometimes it’s more like what my parents called a “coffee party” but more often it’s just a coffee break. We might read an actual physical newspaper if we have one, or just chat for 15 minutes and then go back to our own projects.

Anyway, coffee break or not, sometimes one just needs a cookie. And in this case, it’s a really big one!

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Kitchen flowers

kitchenflowers

Tulips and sourdough bread dough

AS I’VE BEEN ADJUSTING to this Coronavirus period, I’ve been thinking that in such a harsh time (however long it lasts) that you should be extra kind to yourself (and to others, of course).

I’ve spent a lot of time in the kitchen these days, which is usually a big improvement over spending too much time on the computer screen (which I also do). Often it’s satisfying to be making good food for Steve and me (and sometimes our neighbor, Billie) or to see the wonder of flour, water and salt transform into a crusty tender loaf of sourdough.

But I confess, I don’t always love it. Sometimes it seems like I am here in the kitchen all the time, in an endless rotation of making yogurt and granola, baking bread, peeling and parboiling broccoli and stirring polenta. It can be a slog. (Steve is not much for cooking, though he does a lot of the clean up.)

That’s where flowers come in (and curbside pickup take-out from your local eateries, which I also recommend.)

frittataflowers

“Baby bouquets” and spinach-feta-red pepper frittata

FLOWERS ARE ESSENTIAL for me lately, and they have staked their claim to the kitchen. I have a small galley kitchen with very limited counter space, so everything has to justify its place (seasonal fruit is always welcome, however). I wasn’t in the habit of flowers on the kitchen counter before. But now I am. I sometimes pick wild ones on the trail and I often buy them from Dona Flora Herbs at my farmers’ market, which makes me feel good twice — I can support a local business and have a beautiful little bunch of flowers to see me through both good times and slog-times in the kitchen!

polentaflowers

Sweet peas and a polenta bake (polenta layered with cheese, sauce and sauteed zucchini)

 

 

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To nourish and sustain us…

Closed

THE WORLD HAS CHANGED PROFOUNDLY since I wrote the last post in January with advice from an Italian grandmother about cooking vegetables.  Here in Washington state–where restaurants and coffee shops and even some bakeries have been closed for several weeks–the pandemic has also affected our kitchens, our cupboards and many of our habits surrounding food.

Before I say anything about that, though, I must say that my thoughts and worries are with all the people suffering and dying from the virus and with all those who care for them, at their own risks.  I’ve been obsessively reading stories from the four online news sources that we subscribe to, as well as the stories that my friends send me, and frankly, it’s been hard to concentrate on writing a post or much of anything else recently.

Plus I’ve been wondering — in such disturbing times, is it too shallow and irrelevant to write about food?

And yet, food is essential, as we know, and our practices and habits around food can contribute to our physical and emotional health — or just the opposite. But you’ve probably read enough elsewhere of food advice and pantry recipes, so I decided to simply write a personal account of my experiences and thoughts about food in these recent weeks of the coronavirus.

Steve and I are both old enough (70+) to be in the extra-cautious category, and suddenly, as the Covid-19 reality set in, we realized that we could not continue to go to the grocery store whenever we wanted or even be able to find everything we wanted when we did go. We had been in Southern California when the virus first hit the U.S., and our home state of Washington. We returned home to Washington on March 8 — before the governor closed all schools in the state and banned large gatherings.

But as we drove home, listening to the frightening news on NPR, we decided we had to change our ingrained habits. No more going out to restaurants or coffee shops. No casual trips to the grocery store. There’s a perfectly fine grocery store just half a mile from my house, and I often walk there (or I used to do so) several times a week to pick up this or that.  No more of that. Every shopping trip now had to be considered a possible exposure to Covid-19.

Before we sequestered ourselves, and switched to mainly grocery delivery,  we allowed ourselves one time — the day after we returned home — to stock up on what we thought we’d need for two or three weeks to come. I worried that by now some of the grocery shelves would be empty. In the days before our “Big Shop” sometimes I was unable to sleep until I’d written down one more item on a Post-it or yellow legal pad or back of an envelope. This was crazy.

At our neighborhood grocery and Trader Joe’s we  loaded our cart with basics like olive oil and bags of flour, walnuts, rice and beans, lentils, pasta, milk and cheese and butter. We tossed in canned tomatoes, mini-ravioli, frozen corn, raspberries and blueberries. Fresh fruit that could keep awhile, mainly oranges and mandarins, but also a pineapple. Onions, garlic, carrots, potatoes and sweet potatoes. Fresh green vegetables (broccoli, green beans) that I could parboil right after I got home, as I wrote about in the last post.  And condiments: olives, roasted red peppers, salsa and artichoke hearts. Treats of course: a few bags of organic corn chips, some chocolate bars, a bottle of wine…

Emptyshelf

The pasta supply was nearly emptied (forget about toilet paper and hand sanitizer!) Now even dried beans and flour are almost impossible to find.

Pantry2Pantry1

We filled the shelves and some of the floor space in our closet-sized pantry, packed the refrigerator and freezer (oh, for a stand-alone freezer!). I had stocked, but not stockpiled or overstocked. This wasn’t a survivalist’s year-long supply, but rather enough food for about two weeks, and all of it food that we regularly ate.

Polenta with white beans and roasted red peppers, Parmigiano and broccoli

LATER, especially as the fresh vegetables dwindled, I was especially glad that I’d remembered to get some of the all-important condiments. A jar of roasted red peppers could stay in the cupboard until needed; then, chopped or sliced, those red peppers could brighten up a dish or add interest to a grilled cheese sandwich (I’d almost forgotten how good a grilled cheese sandwich could be!). Olives, marinated or canned artichoke hearts, pickles and pickled vegetables, a chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano, capers — these condiments, along with herbs and spices and perhaps a few jars of sauces, added so much to the staples, especially when fresh vegetables were running low.

Still — the staples are vital, and for me the top of the list is bread.  I felt especially ready for this aspect of food preparation since I’ve been baking bread for most of my life.

Beautiful bread

BAKING BREAD, it turned out, was one of the few activities I could concentrate on in this anxious and disturbing time. My son (an incredibly dedicated home baker) had given me some lively sourdough starter he’d made years before, and I was literally keeping it alive by feeding and replenishing it. From the time I’d feed the starter for the batch of dough–which I stretched and folded, shaped into a loaf and proofed overnight–to when I pulled the fragrant loaf out of the oven some 36 to 48 hours later, the whole process gave me a deep satisfaction, a connection to the good fundamentals of life.

But then I discovered something which stopped me cold: Flour— any kind of regular wheat flour (all-purpose, bread flour, whole wheat flour) — was disappearing from the shelves! My daughter, also an avid and wonderful home baker, told me she could not find it in several stores in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I checked sites online — King Arthur, Amazon, Fred Meyer, Safeway: NO wheat flour.

I texted my son in Berkeley. He’d recently recovered from a frightening experience with Covid-19 symptoms. We transmitted flour-deprivation anxiety and suggestions through email and text. My son suggested that I could try to buy some from a bakery or a restaurant supply store (he regularly buys 50-pound bags of flour from such a store). My daughter, who has her own grain mill, decided to order a 25-pound bag of white winter wheat berries from Palouse Brand.

If I was really up against it, my son said, he could send me five pounds of flour through the mail.

I was not at that point — and to be honest, I still had enough to last me a couple weeks, especially with Passover (no flour use) around the corner. But I suddenly understood (and resented) panic buying. I realized a lot of people were using the time at home to experiment with baking or for “baking-therapy” …. but come on:  Could they be really be using that much flour to leave the shelves bare??  I had a sneaking suspicion that there was a lot of stockpiling going on. And for the first time, I too felt suddenly panicked, about food.

breadflourJPG

THEN SOMETHING WONDERFUL and unexpected happened. A friend and neighbor who had heard about my flour-worries left a nearly full bag of King Arthur bread flour at my doorstep. This act of kindness made me so happy and immediately calmed my anxiety.

As I made my next loaf of bread, I thought of the ways that our friends and family and neighbors were watching out for each other. My son was willing to mail flour to me; my neighbor contributed her supply to calm my nerves. I was bringing minestrone soup and cinnamon rolls to my terrific 90-year old neighbor, and she had bought a rice cooker for me so that we could all share in freshly cooked nutritious brown rice. My family and friends kept up a conversation about what we were eating and sent photos of our latest creations to each other on e-mail. And with an increasing awareness that so many people now are in need of food, we were inspired to donate to food banks and hunger relief organizations like Northwest Harvest.

Of course food is essential to nourish and sustain our physical and emotional health, but it can also bridge the isolation of social distancing, helping us to nourish and sustain our relationships.  And that, too, is essential.

Cinnamonloaf

 

 

 

 

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Advice from an Italian grandmother

greens, nonna

A LONG TIME AGO (decades, actually), the Italian grandma or nonna of my then-husband, Rick, gave me some cooking advice that I have never forgotten. So now it’s time to pass it on to you.

After you come home with your fresh vegetables from the store or market, she said, be sure to parboil them soon after (preferably the same day) so they stay green and crisp. This just means, have a good quantity of boiling salted water (don’t be sparing with the salt) and put your vegetables in just until they are crisp-tender. It’s helpful to have a bowl of ice water close by so you can plunge in the veggies before they get too soft. Then drain the water and store the vegetables in a bowl or container in the refrigerator, ready to use and eat.

The method makes vegetables last longer than uncooked ones in your fridge, so there’s less waste — no cutting off brown or rotten parts. When it’s time to eat them, you can just heat them up very quickly any way you like. Don’t overcook. Rick’s nonna liked to saute the parboiled broccoli in olive oil with some garlic and cayenne pepper.

I confess I have followed this advice only haphazardly over the years, but in the last year, after I decided to really commit to this practice, my parboil record really improved (hmmm, I’ve never used the phrase “parboil record” before).

As a great benefit, the vegetables look so inviting, that I’m sure I eat more of them. I like both the broccoli and the green beans, whether hot or cold, simply dressed with  lemon juice and salt.

It’s a great tip from a wise nonna. Now all you have to do is follow it.

For more on Rick’s nonna’s cooking advice see “Meatballs of Love,” (published in Salon 20 years ago!)

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To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness….

So begins, “To Autumn” which John Keats wrote in 1819. It was published in 1820, the year before he died at age 25 of tuberculosis. Here is the first stanza (you can read the entire poem here).

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cell

Autumn: the season to harvest apples, Italian plums, Bosc pears, juicy Concord grapes. Fruits filled “with ripeness to the core.” The season to make an apple pie or a torte with Italian plums, or to simply take the time to enjoy a cluster of grapes or a perfectly ripened pear.  Just because it’s the season.

For this style of plum torte or cake, make a simple yeast dough with unbleached flour, yeast and water, enriched with egg and a little oil and a bit of sugar or honey if you like. After the first rising, roll out to fit your pan; butter the pan and fit in the dough. Let it rise again for about half an hour.

Cut the plums in quarters, mix them with a tablespoon of sugar, a couple teaspoons of flour and some cinnamon to taste; then, arrange the plum pieces in a sunflower pattern. Sprinkle the top with streusel. Bake at 350 or 375 degrees till the dough is golden, and the plums are juicy and turning a wonderful rose-gold color.

In German it’s called Zwetchgenkuchen. Hard to say, easy to eat. Very nice with a cup of coffee or tea on an afternoon in autumn.

For another post on Zwetchgenkuchen, click here.

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Spring supper (or breakfast)–with asparagus

IT WAS NEARLY DINNER TIME and I had just decided what to have. Asparagus with baked or fried eggs, a few roasted potatoes and some buttered toast. That sounded about perfect, as I had just bought some nice asparagus the day before.

asparagus in jar

My daughter taught me you could put asparagus in a glass or jar with cold water and it would keep really well. And in the meantime, it looks good too.

Asparagus and eggs seems like a natural combination. Nutritionists go back and forth about whether eggs are good for you or not. But in any case, one egg won’t kill you. I remembered that I once wrote a blog post about this dish, so I looked it up. Yes, it’s funny that I had to consult my own blog — but when you think about it, it’s just like consulting all those little recipe cards I’ve kept over the years.

The original inspiration for the dish came from something I’d read that had baked eggs on top of steamed asparagus. I never did find the recipe I was looking for, (though I later saw a similar recipe for asparagus with eggs that was called “Asparagus Milanese.”) — but I ended up making a variation with roasted potatoes and asparagus.

Here’s how it went: I cut up a few Yukon Gold potatoes and half an onion, tossed them in a tablespoon or two of olive oil and some salt and pepper and put them on a cookie sheet in the oven (400 degrees) to roast……

After about 15 minutes or so (20?) I tossed some asparagus on top of the potatoes (I also drizzled a little oil over them, and sprinkled on some salt) and then, after those were mostly done — the timing so far doesn’t need to be really precise–I cracked open an egg and carefully let it sink over the asparagus (if I’d had the asparagus a little flatter, the egg might have looked even better.) The original recipe called for one egg for each person, by the way.  I just kept checking to see if the egg was as done as I like it, the yolk still a little runny (but not so much. It’s hard to order an egg like this in a cafe, by the way. You have to say “over medium — plus a little more). A guideline for the eggs is somewhere between 8 and 12 minutes.

In the last minute or so, I sprinkled on just a tiny bit of  grated cheese. Parmeggiano, Romano, pecorino or sharp cheddar — any of these would do.  Or skip it.

asparagus and eggs

In the original post,  I baked the eggs, but this time I didn’t feel like waiting and checking the oven so often, so I opted to simply fry them in the pan, while I melted a bit of Parmeggiano over the asparagus in the oven.

I had some nice bread to make toast with this tonight, but in my original post I was more ambitious and made biscuits. You might have noticed that I have a lot of posts about biscuits, but just in case you’d like that recipe again and don’t want to search for it, I’ll keep it here as well. Happy asparagus season to you all.

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Years ago I wrote about biscuits in an essay called “Still Living with a Biscuit State of Mind.”  (published in Christian Science Monitor). That essay still applies, except I now dispense with the two knives and just use my fingers to “cut,” or more precisely, rub the butter into the flour….

And here’s that biscuit recipe once again:

Biscuits

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons cold butter, cut in four pieces
  • 3/4 cup cold buttermilk

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Mix the flour, salt, baking powder and soda together in a bowl and cut or rub in the butter until it’s in little pieces. Stir in the buttermilk with a fork until the mixture comes together as a moist, but not sticky dough.

Turn onto a floured board and knead just a couple times (you never want to overwork a baking powder/soda dough). Roll out the dough about 3/4″ thick with a rolling pin (or a wine bottle if you don’t have a rolling pin), cut into biscuit shapes with a biscuit cutter or the rim of a glass dipped in flour. You’ll have 10 to 12 biscuits or so. Any leftover dough can be just formed by hand into a little patty (or you can make them all this way).

Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for about 10 minutes, or till they’re golden. The time will vary depending on the size of your biscuit cutter. Serve hot.

Tip: I like to roll out the dough, then fold it in half and roll again. This makes it so the biscuits break open neatly in the middle when you want to put on some butter, jam, honey, etc.

This is my favorite biscuit cutter, which I’ve had for about 100 years. Well, at least 25.

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Edible, tangible memories of Passover

 Matzoh, unleavened bread, is eaten in place of bread during Passover to remind us that Hebrew slaves fled Egypt so quickly that their bread did not have time to rise.

Passover is a holiday full of symbolic foods to help recall the story of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt. It’s a favorite holiday of most Jews, including secular ones, for its meaningful ritual and celebration of spring, life and freedom.  When I think that people have celebrated this holiday in this way for more than 2,000 years, it never fails to move me.

During the seder, a ritual meal, the story of the Exodus is retold using special foods on the seder plate as edible reminders. One of those foods is charoset (you don’t pronounce the “c” but it makes the “h” more guttural), a mixture of apples, nuts, wine and cinnamon that is said to represent the mortar the Hebrew slaves used in building structures for their taskmasters in ancient Egypt.

There are actually many varieties of charoset made around the world, some with sugar or honey, some with dates or other dried fruit, some cooked for a long time and some that look a lot more like mortar than my family’s version.

Ours is simple: Just mince apples and walnuts, add some sweet wine (yes, Manischewitz is traditional) and cinnamon.

Making the charoset this morning, I used this old-fashioned nut chopper with a spring, which I use only once a year. Actually there are two choppers, and I think the other, a double handled curving affair works better for the apples, I think. I inherited both from my mother.

Usually, I try to avoid cluttering my kitchen with things I use so seldom, but the nut choppers definitely get a pass. They are tangible reminders of my childhood, when my mother always gave me the pleasurable assignment of chopping the apples and nuts for charoset, using the special nut choppers and a wooden bowl.

How many apples and nuts, how much wine and cinnamon? There is no recipe; just do whatever seems right.

Memories flooded back as I chopped the sweet apples and walnuts with the springy nut chopper, and remembered all the things my parents did to prepare for Passover, as well as all the things they kept that we would use only once a year during the holiday.  Two complete sets of dishes (as they kept kosher and needed separate dishes for the holiday), two sets of silverware, pots and pans — we hauled all of these up from the basement in  a series of orchestrated loads, while my parents taped up the cabinets holding the usual dishes, pots and pans so they would be clearly off limits.

Anything from the rest of the year that had to be used during Passover was “kashered,” a ritual that captured our rapt attention on the night before the holiday. A giant pot, containing the items covered in water, was set in the middle of the kitchen floor, while my father heated a large stone on the kitchen burner until it turned blazing red. Then, handling it with tongs, he dropped it into the water. Sitting at a safe distance on the stairway steps, we watched with fascination as the water erupted into a furiously bubbling boil.

This was my favorite of the Passover plates, with an image of apple pickers!

I think my mother might have gotten these dishes with A & P Grocery store coupons. I used to like to try to count all the apples in the picture before or after eating.

Though I love bread and baked goods (as anyone who has read this blog knows) I enjoy the restrictions of Passover too–and all the edible and tangible memories it brings with it.

For a sweet treat–since one can’t make the usual pies, cakes and cookies–sometimes I make meringues, adding grated orange zest to the recipe below. I also often love making a chocolate nut torte, with no flour — a cake with a great history, which I’ve written about here.

MatzoCrunch

And this year, I am bringing a fruit salad and some non-traditional but very popular matzo-toffee-crunch (click the link for a recipe) for dessert to Seder at a friend’s home.

Whatever you decide to make for Passover, it’s best not to get too stressed about a holiday that celebrates freedom. And I always try to find some calm and quiet moments to contemplate the Passover apple plate, and see if I can count all the apples…..

Note: This post was originally published in 2011 and edited and added to in 2018

Nut-and-chocolate-studded meringues
Makes about 25-30 — you can cut recipe in half if you like

  • 4 egg whites, room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans, walnuts or hazelnuts
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into tiny cubes (or use chocolate chips)

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees and lay a sheet of parchment paper (or aluminum foil) atop a cookie sheet, and lightly flour with matzo meal.

  1. Whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar until they form soft peaks; then add 1/2 cup of sugar, beating until whites are very shiny and gradually adding the rest of the sugar in two batches.
  2. Fold in the nuts and the chocolate (and if you like, some grated orange rind), and spoon the mixture in mounds on the baking sheet, using about one tablespoon for each meringue. If you like, place a pecan or other nut half on top of each one (I didn’t do that).
  3. Bake for 30 minutes; then reduce the oven to 250 degrees and bake another 30 minutes until firm and dry and easy to remove. Cool and store in an airtight container. If meringues become sticky, you can re-crisp them in a 200 degree oven for 30 minutes.

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Spring is still soup season

THE OTHER DAY IT WAS SO BLUSTERY AND COLD that I decided soup was in order. A nice between-season soup is the leek-potato one, and you can add fresh parsley or other greens to it just before serving to give it a fresher spring flavor. I found that I’d written a blog about it years ago, and it sounded good enough to recycle. It reminded me to sweat those leeks (awful as it sounds)! And though I was lacking stock or broth of any kind, I just used water and it was still just fine. With some bread or popovers, and perhaps a salad — I’d call it a meal fit for the season.

Fresh leeks are a glorious, yet humble, sign of spring. A few years ago, when I was visiting Cathy in California, a neighbor brought over a big bagful of freshly picked leeks, and I set to work on some leek-potato soup.

Most of this work took place around the sink, as leeks like to hold on to dirt in their layers, so they demand a lot of cleaning.  Basically, you cut off the dark green leaves and the root-y bottoms, then run the rest (the white and light green parts) under running water, making sure you clean between the layers. (Alternatively, sometimes  you can find trimmed, cleaned leeks in your grocery store.)

If the leeks are very fat, slice them vertically before cutting your horizontal slices.

I had never been quite happy with the texture of leeks in the soup I’ve made previously, so this time I consulted Cathy’s cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen, and these experts supplied the ultimate tip: sweat the leeks.

It’s not the most attractive term, but basically it means that you saute the slices of leeks in some oil or butter (use your judgement for how much) and then put a lid on top for 15 minutes or so. The leeks continue to cook in their own moisture, and they will become meltingly soft and intense.

Now all you need to do is to add some vegetable or chicken broth, a bay leaf and perhaps some thyme, salt and pepper, and a few potatoes — red or white or Yukon gold — cleaned and cut into about 1/2-inch dice. You can leave the skins on if you like. Cook till the potatoes are soft, then smash some of them against the side of the pot to thicken the soup.

It’s nice left chunky like this, with pieces of potato and leek in your soup bowl, or you can blend some or all of it for a silkier texture. Some minced parsley or other greens, and a dusting of Parmesan, is good just before serving.

I found this advertisement in a store flier. Were the mushrooms leaking out of the strudel?

Do not confuse a leek with a leak. If in doubt, please contact me for proofreading advice.

 

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Filed under fall, Praise for other cooks, soup, spring, supper time, Uncategorized, vegetables, winter

Back to the biscuit state of mind

Everything biscuits 2

THE KITCHEN AT OUR little one-month rental is woefully inadequate. There’s hardly room for any supplies and only the most basic cooking equipment is provided. Yet, I’m not complaining. Who can complain about being near the beach in Southern California in February?

There are farmers’ markets every week here — in the winter!– and that makes it easy to keep things simple (which is always my inclination anyway). Fresh vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, chard, turnips, potatoes, lettuce, radishes…) roasted, steamed or in a salad can accompany a rotisserie chicken, pasta or rice. Dessert is often a delectable orange or some sweet-tart mandarins.

When it comes to baking, the tiny kitchen is trickier — and I have cooked and baked in tiny kitchens before (think 16-foot travel trailer) but never one this inefficient and poorly supplied. Bread-baking was out, but I didn’t want to entirely give up on quick breads like scones and biscuits. And anyway, I like the challenge of finding work-arounds for what’s missing, the satisfaction of making do, as generations before me have done!

cutting biscuits

For biscuits this Sunday morning, I was glad that I’d already stocked some all-purpose flour, baking powder and baking soda, salt and butter. I was missing buttermilk, but I stirred plain yogurt and milk together to make an approximation of buttermilk (one can also use milk with a little lemon juice). I used a coffee cup for my cup measure, and a regular teaspoon to approximately measure the soda, baking powder and salt. I cut the butter into the flour mixture with my fingers, added the yogurt-milk mixture and–because I wanted to make “Everything biscuits,” some of Trader Joe’s “Everything but the bagel” mix (a mixture of sesame, poppy, dried onion, garlic and salt). I rolled out the dough using an empty bottle, cut it into rounds with a small drinking glass.

I lacked the pastry brush to brush a little milk on top so the seeds would stick to the biscuits, so I once again used my fingers.

Everything biscuits

The oven took a little adjustment, as I had no idea how accurate it was, but miraculously, after 10 minutes of baking, I had the cutest little tasty biscuits to accompany the fruit and yogurt and the Sunday paper.

SO OFTEN PEOPLE THINK they can’t do something unless they have all the right equipment — and so often that’s not true. I came to realize how little one really needed when I was a migrant fruit picker, living in a 16-foot trailer, learning from people who were used to making do. (“Still living with a biscuit state of mind” is an essay I wrote years ago on that very topic.)

Still, even though these biscuits didn’t require so much equipment, making them made me really appreciate all I did need and have: a large bowl, a functioning oven, a baking sheet, and–most essential and amazing–my two working hands.

Biscuits

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons cold butter, cut in four pieces
  • 3/4 cup cold buttermilk
  • optional: for Everything Biscuits: a tablespoon or so of a mix of sesame and poppy seeds, dehydrated onion and garlic –Trader Joe’s or your own

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Mix the flour, salt, baking powder and soda together in a bowl and cut or rub in the butter until it’s in little pieces the size of peas. Stir in the buttermilk with a fork until the mixture comes together as a moist, but not sticky dough.

Turn onto a floured board and knead just a couple times (you never want to overwork a baking powder/soda dough). Roll out the dough about 3/4″ thick with a rolling pin (or a wine bottle if you don’t have a rolling pin), cut into biscuit shapes with a biscuit cutter or the rim of a glass dipped in flour. You’ll have 10 to 12 biscuits or so depending on the size. Any leftover dough can be just formed by hand into a little patty (or you can make them all this way).

For Everything Biscuits, brush biscuits with milk and sprinkle the seed mixture on top

Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for about 10 minutes (check sooner if your biscuits are small), or till they’re golden. Serve hot.

Tip: I like to roll out the dough, then fold it in half and roll again. This makes it so the biscuits break open neatly in the middle when you want to put on some butter, jam, honey, etc.

 

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