A Sweet Reminder to Move a Little Slower

When my back was turned (probably getting more coffee), Husband turned the rest of my breakfast cinnamon roll into a little snail! We chatted fondly about a snail I kept as a pet in college – he didn’t do much but when you put spinach in his cage, he ever-so-slowly pounced on it. I am looking at a few days of slightly less work and commitments than I have had since school began, and I’m looking forward to taking a deep breath and “thinking snail” instead of being so frantic. Also, cinnamon rolls are delicious; if you have a good recipe for making them from scratch, Husband and I will be delighted. I’ve been trying to eat reasonable portions so these small, store-bought rolls were good; my homemade ones tend to mushroom and become cinnamon loaves.

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1. S’s Biscuit Recipe (repost)

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Here is the very first article I posted on Recipe in a Bottle, unrevised; I’m intrigued to know if it sounds different from when I first posted it. Feel free to explore early recipes here on the blog where I was finding my footing!

Last night, I had a chicken and biscuit dinner meal. My father-in-law ordered the same dish at the restaurant, and when it arrived, he commented quietly to himself, “a biscuit instead of a bun, that’s a good idea.”

I personally tend to side with anyone who thinks a biscuit instead of anything else is a good thing. I am a fiend for a good biscuit.

A friend of mine grew up in the South watching her mother make biscuits – I visited their home when I was particularly worn down from a crazy job and she made biscuits for me. There was probably something else to the meal, but what I remember is that she didn’t measure anything, didn’t need to, just knew when she’d sifted enough flour in and when the dough was setting up right. It was more like magic than cooking, though to be fair I thought pretty much any dish that turns out consistently good is magical. I planned to take two of the biscuits home for later but I honestly ate them in the car on my way back to the crazy job.

This magical aspect extends to a lot of the recipes I received: some of them had such directions as “Mix first 6 ingredients. Add second 3. Pour last ingredient on top.” Fancy cooking with crazy whisking techniques these were not. In the case of S’s biscuits, there were no directions at all. I knew from the RSVP card that “S’s biscuit recipe is forthcoming,” which was of course intriguing, but even after I received S’s present (an enormous white bowl with a flat bottom, circular biscuit cutters, a pack of Southern biscuit flour, a pastry cutter), I still wasn’t sure about this all-important recipe. So I texted S, intrigued.  He told me the recipe on the back of the biscuit flour is best. He said to use butter and buttermilk, or yogurt if not buttermilk was available. He gave me advice on flour (use Southern flours, self-rising if at all possible. He also told me that the large flat bottom bowl is big enough to make the dough and cut the biscuits right in it – no messy countertops!

Biscuit making sounded like a pleasure with these instructions and tools. My past experience trying to make biscuits was mostly while living in Spain, where most bread is the bubbly, crusty-outside, soft-inside variety. Such bread tasted divine with tomato and olive oil and a tiny bit of salt, but it did make me crave bread that felt like it was only a whisper away from being made entirely of butter. I wanted layers, and melty fluff. What I got, when I made biscuits, was definitely buttery, but never quite measured up. Internet recipes didn’t treat me well, and maybe I was not particularly precise.

It was, however, a pleasure to be precise when making S’s recipe. For one thing, it was simple: I didn’t have buttermilk and I knew I would never use the extra, so I used honey-flavored greek yogurt, a staple in my house. I figured I’d end up sweetening the biscuits, which in this case ended up being delightful. The pastry cutter is a tool that I never wanted to own because it’s so hard to clean, but in the end, I loved it because it does what no other tool does well: gets butter down to pea-sized chunks without kneading or just melting the butter. My hands didn’t even touch the dough until after it was already starting to shape up well. I then pressed the dough into every corner of the flat bottom bowl, and sure enough, the bowl was big enough. Instead of shaping little hamburger-looking balls, I got to slice into them with circular steel, which made the dough yield in a really wonderful, springy way, and made them look like actual biscuits. I baked them up without letting them rise, which was probably an issue, but I didn’t care.

Afterwards, they were what I wanted – I still smoothed them over with more butter and Husband slathered honey on, but we ate the whole batch while watching some superhero movie on a Saturday morning. S was a little stunned when I texted him about half an hour after his original instructions to say the biscuits were delicious. Obviously I will have to try them again and actually let them rise, but it was amazing how much the right tools made cooking a pleasure: I understood now why S always gave me long lectures about the utility of certain cooking tools and ingredients. He was a precise person and I was a kitchen dervish, but I could try on that hat for a recipe or two, if it yielded that kind of carb-and-fat perfection.

Sustainability and Healthy Substitutes: Well, buying ingredients I know I won’t use up is wasteful, so in this case, my substitute served as my sustainability. I don’t think yogurt is inherently better than buttermilk, but given that the greek yogurt we use has a ton of protein in it, I’m sure that packed a little more umph in there alongside the flour… and the butter… Nah, no sustainability or health subs for this one. Just expediency, which is fairly essential with biscuits.

(Pictures will accompany future entries, but this one will have to be a mystery; there is no photographic evidence of the immediately-scarfed batch).

Southern Biscuit (trademarked) Biscuit Recipe

Makes about 12 biscuits

  • 2 cups Southern Biscuit Self-Rising Flour
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar, optional
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening, butter, or lard
  • 2/3 to 3/4 cup milk or buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter, optional topping
  1. Heat oven to 450 degrees F
  2. Measure flour into bowl. Stir in sugar if desired. Cut in shortening using a pastry cutter, two knives, or your fingertips until clumps are the size of peas.
  3. Add milk or buttermilk and stir just until flour is moistened. For a wetter dough, add additional milk.
  4. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Roll to 1/2-inch thickness.
  5. Cut biscuits using a floured 2-inch biscuit cutter. For softer biscuits, place biscuits on baking sheet so they touch.
  6. Bake for 10 to 14 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and brush with melted butter if desired.

Breaks from Cooking, and My Favorite blog

One of the times I’m my most silent is when I’m sitting in front of a fire, looking at the flames and maybe listening to others chatter, but just being there myself. It’s a time when I’m not doing much: no cooking, no cleaning, no working, no commuting. The fire puts my mind into an in-between state, where I’m neither trying to move on to another activity nor recovering from the last one. These moments give me the rare chance to think about my big-picture life, not just what’s next.

One of the blogs that inspires me most is zenhabits.net – it’s run by a man named Leo Babauta and his insight on how we create habits for ourselves is usually uncomfortably familiar. He recently posted about having a flexible mind, and I felt how much the past month or so has made my mind inflexible. I want so badly for things to go correctly, I’ve allowed myself to fall into a rut of disappointment and annoyance whenever they don’t. Whereas I should be able to try something new and laugh at the resulting mess, I too often spiral into thinking that I’m a terrible cook or writer or teacher, just because I cannot do it well the first time. His blog does something that I think much good writing should do: it should make people feel understood and give them a way to move forward.

I have noticed that while I still post recipes, pictures of food, and memories of food with family and friends, I’m also posting more and more things about life habits – they are so important to me. As an adult, I don’t have teachers imposing deadlines and parents imposing goals, but I still want to see myself as a growing, changing person who is capable of better skills, better habits. One thing, for example, is that I have gotten lazy about eating salads, and they are so easy to tack on to another meal and get more greens into one’s diet. I’m trying to do that more for the upcoming month of October. Another is to make sure I take pictures both when I’m cooking and when Husband cooks, because both of us have great food to contribute to this blog. Small goals, small changes to my occasionally-inflexible mind, but hopefully they will have long-lasting impacts.

Who Taught You What Good Produce Looks Like?

Like many people, I grew up shopping for vegetables with my mother. She was the one who taught me what too much give in a tomato meant, how to choose my cucumbers, and whether the lettuce was starting to wilt. I watched her do it and learned from her; from a pile of veggies, she could always select the ones that would be good long enough to eat at home that week.

It’s hard to compare my produce with that of the grocery store, though. Especially this late in the season, I pick anything that isn’t ruptured, covered in molds or scars, or full of worms. My tomatoes and squash have little imperfections, and are sometimes covered in cobwebs from where insects tried to make their homes in the vines. I wash them, trim off the spots of disease or damage, and cook them till they are all alike. The home-grown flavor is the same whether the original tomato had a big spot I had to cut away.

These days, I’ve noticed more than the beautiful produce at the grocery store – certainly, if I’m going to buy an avocado I’m going to pore over the pile before I select, but I also notice half-price lettuce that needs to be eaten, or the piles of older potatoes that have been marked down so they’ll sell fast. I’m starting to see the marginal foods as beautiful too, because the truth is that the worst spots can be cut away and we don’t waste the rest of the food connected to those spots. My mother’s knowledge still guides me to keep myself from eating things that will make me sick, and I’m sure most people reading this are also grateful to someone in their life for guiding them toward foods that will help and not harm them, but more and more, I find myself drawn to use creatively that which would be unappetizing to others.

 

Flexible Food Techniques and Cooking While Camping

I think part of why people like camping is that it pushes you to the edge of what you find comfortable – you don’t quite have all the things you are accustomed to, even if you are camping at a campground with running water and lots of convenience. I know Husband loves this experience. For me, it’s an opportunity for a different set of taste sensations, and definitely for different ways to cook food.

We bring a portable grill with us when camping, and did so this weekend, but Husband has a favorite method for boiling water: campfire-style. He builds up a strong fire, places two thick, similar-sized logs across the fire pit as a “grate,” and balances a pot of water such that the handle is out of the flames but the water is directly in the heat of the fire. This makes me nervous, because if the logs burn through before the water boils, a big pot of hot water splashes down into the flames, creating steam and splashes and ruining the fire that everyone is sitting around and enjoying. In the best case scenario (which happened twice this weekend: once for green beans and once for coffee water!), the water boils, Husband removes it from the flames, and the logs later crack and fall into the fire pit, neat and tidy.

We also learned to live without a variety of cooking oils – because the only thing Husband packed was olive oil, that’s what we had to drizzle on our toast and to cook our eggs. It was not a problem, and if anything I discovered a new tasty treat. It’s also helpful that usually, I’m hungrier on camping trips than other times: just to get to the bathroom required a 15 minute walk, so I’m just much more active in general. It sure makes food taste good when you have to come up with work-arounds based on the food you have, and based on the heat sources you have, to be able to make do!

The Comeback Kids of the September Garden

I really thought that getting 20ish pounds of tomatoes out of the garden by late August was wonderful – I was excited to have tried canning and to have harvested and processed 6 butternut squash. We’d had a decent crop of potatoes and basil, and we’d harvested one bell pepper and a tiny pile of carrots.

September, thus, has been a bit of an unexpected bounty – I just cut the three squash in the squash tree down, and there are two little bitty ones still growing. The tomatoes didn’t let up at all and even expanded; I’m having to actively trim them just to keep them inside the garden box; we’re probably nearing 30 pounds total for the year. The bell pepper finally has multiple blooms and a few germinated, tiny peppers growing, and the transplanted basil seems to finally be making a comeback.

Interestingly enough, we have a few new potato feelers growing around. They look like nothing much, so I would be totally unsurprised if we pull them up and there’s nothing there, but I’m holding out for first frost and pulling them up at that point – maybe we’ll have a few more of the delicate little 1-inch potatoes we ate up a month and a half ago.

I thought about trying to replant lettuces for the cooler season, but I think I’m all gardened out for this season – it’s been so wonderful that the chance to add some cooler weather crops didn’t appeal, and thank goodness: we’ve yet to hit consistent cool weather, and first frost might be only 6 weeks away! Next year, one of my goals is to more intentionally get 3 plantings in – salad greens as early as I can, summer crops in early june, and a crop of late-season veggies. For now though, I’m content to trim back my tomatoes, speak kindly to the tiny peppers, and pull basil for every pasta dish I can come up with.

Smoked Gouda Tomato Soup

One thing my grandmother-in-law, J, loves to do is go all out on dinner. However, one evening when she got home and Husband and I were already sitting in her kitchen, she gave us a weary look and said, “what do you think about making tomato soup and grilled cheese and sitting on the porch?” It was the most wonderful, comforting idea.

I wanted to recapture that day with my soup for the soup-and-bread potluck. I chose this recipe to start from: http://www.thedreamingfoodie.com/2015/02/25/smoked-gouda-tomato-soup/ The description is great and there are pictures and clear instructions, but it’s also a simple soup as a jumping off point. I was at the point where I needed to off-load a large quantity of tomatoes again, so whereas a normal process would have included only a can opener, I spent a few minutes cutting away bad spots, thawing a half a bag of frozen tomatoes, and pulling a can from the basement. I mostly left the skins on, but wonder of wonders, when you thaw frozen tomatoes, the skins slide off like a dream, so I took the time to remove those at least; I think it helped with the overall consistency, even though my soup was definitely stringier than the average tomato soup.

Husband loves spice, and I was so busy with gingerbread and crusty peasant bread and the other soup I was making that I told him he could spice up the tomato soup if it was bland to him. Silly, silly cook, I am. The soup did turn out good, but fiery – his love for red pepper flakes shone through above the tasty garden tomato fullness and the italian spicing I had originally started with. We did still have enough basil to add some fresh leaves, so overall it worked.

With so many people bringing such ample quantities of soup, it is no wonder that we ended up with lots of leftover tomato; I finished it off at lunch with crusts of bread to help me through the spiciness. It isn’t quite like an evening on the back porch with J, but it still makes me smile.