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!
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.
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.
- 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.