Discover more from The Well Writer
The Octopus bakes biscuits and offers encouragement
because everything's better with biscuits
Preliminaries: I'll be offering a Conscious Dance Exploration class this Tuesday at 12:30pm EST in the studio at Unwindings in Kalamazoo.
For about thirty minutes, you'll let your body move however it wants to move in response to the music. A great, low-key way to get back in your body and find freedom.
Only $10, no registration required--just drop in.
Contact me with any questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope you can join us!
I think about food a lot. Partly because I'm member of the family whose ultimately responsible for meals and having enough to eat in the house. I have two kids, my 18yo son who I refer to here as "Geminus," and "Juno," my 16yo daughter. They're both competent and fearless cooks. Juno is currently in a puff pastry phase, so the household enjoying danishes and pain au chocolat currently (heavenly!). They're on the cusp of being able to be self-sufficient, and if you were to ask them, they'd say that they definitely ARE self-sufficient (Juno would have said that from the age of 2 onward, honestly). But the daily-ness, as Mary Engelbreit would say, of balanced meals are still a bit beyond them, and there are a few other things going on that make it beneficial for me to make sure they're both eating well. And so I think of food, and meals, and how we eat.
I'm also both a nutritionist and a science geek, so I'm fascinated by how food communicates environmental conditions to our bodies and prompts physical responses, as well as how the entire process of digestion and assimilation and metabolism is so much more complicated than we usually think.
And I'm an American woman, living in the twenty-first century, with decades of exposure to the prevailing puritanical and moral ideas about how and what we eat--diet culture and the very limited ideas of what constitutes a healthy and attractive body, female or otherwise.
Also, I love to eat. LOVE to eat. I would eat all day long, preferably while reading a book, if it were a physical possibility. The sensuousness of eating--flavors and textures, scents and mouthfeel, and not least, the satisfaction (and security) of a full stomach... Food is one of my favorite things in the world.
So, I'll be adding in writing about food and recipes and memories. Personally, I love reading books--of almost any genre--that include recipes. After all, who doesn't need more recipes?
Biscuits, because of the need to cut in the butter plus way they get tough so quickly, seem like something complicated. Much easier, much more reliable, to pop open a tube and be done with it.
Except the flavor of homemade biscuits are SO MUCH BETTER than the tube kind. And the texture is entirely different. Far, far better. I forget that, sometimes. And then I knuckle down and just make some biscuits from scratch and remember that--oh yes--they're delicious, easy, and fast. They can be cut out and on the baking sheet by the time the oven is up to temp.
My mom would make biscuits--usually this recipe--as part of several different meals. Most notably, of course, was strawberry shortcake: split open a steaming hot biscuit and put it in the bottom of a bowl, pour over a couple ladlefuls of strawberries that you've previously cut up and drenched with sugar, and then top with a dollop of soft whipped cream.
I also remember chicken and biscuits: dredge chicken pieces in seasoned flour, then fry on both sides in hot butter until the surface is browned. Bake in the oven until done (an hour? maybe less?) and the chicken is falling apart. Set aside the chicken and make a milk gravy of the pan drippings (a little extra butter if necessary and some extra flour all stirred together over medium heat until well combined, then slowly whisk in some milk. The gravy will thicken as it comes to a boil. Taste for seasonings--adding a little Better than Bouillon paste if necessary.) Serve the chicken along side split biscuits and pour gravy generously over both.
Finally, biscuits and sausage gravy. This one's similar to chicken and biscuits--fry up some breakfast sausage (not Italian), breaking it up into crumbles. When it's completely cooked, sprinkle a few tablespoons of flour into the pan, stirring to combine it well with both the sausage and the rendered fat. Again, whisk in milk (or cream, if you want) to make a thick gravy. Add some black pepper and serve over the biscuits (or over hash browns, or over corned beef hash, or an omlet, or toast...).
(based on a recipe in The Joy of Cooking by Irma and Marion Rombauer--my family's traditional, go-to cookbook)
Makes about a dozen biscuits, if they're cut small. The original recipe claims you can stretch it to two dozen, but I tend to make bigger and thicker biscuits than they do. When I cut them to be more generously sized, like my mom did, I end up with about eight.
Preheat oven to 450F.
Combine in a large bowl:
1 3/4 cup flour (a 1:1 gluten-free or other replacement mix is fine, but straight-up coconut or almond flour will probably not work as well without some reconfiguration)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (I use Morton's--other brands might be more or less salty, oddly enough)
1 tablespoon baking powder (check to see that you're using aluminum-free powder because eww)
If you're going to use the biscuits for something sweet, like shortcake, add a tablespoon or two of sugar as well.
4 tablespoons (half a stick) cold butter (or shortening, or butter-alternative, depending on what you need), sliced thinly
Cut the butter into the flour mix with a pastry cutter, or two knives, or blitz the whole thing in a food processor. (The pastry cutter is quite easy with less cleanup than the processor--always a good thing.) Keep mashing the butter in until it's fairly well incorporated. The mix will end up looking a bit like oatmeal.
Mix in 3/4 cup milk (or nut milk, or water, depending on your needs and what's in the house), gently. The dough will begin to hold together in shreds.
Turn the whole thing out onto a lightly floured surface and knead together very, very gently. Just enough until it's basically a ball of dough. The Rombauers say eight to ten turns, but I find that half that is sufficient. The whole goal is to not overwork the dough because then you'll end up with tough biscuits.
Delicately pat the dough out into an approximate circle, "until the dough has the desired thickness." Thicker dough will give you fewer, higher biscuits. Thinner dough will result in flatter biscuits, but more of them. I usually aim for about a half to three-quarters of an inch, but don't fuss about it too much.
Cut out the biscuits with a biscuit cutter, or drinking glass, or if you're like me and can't find your biscuit cutter anywhere, the small end of a metal canning funnel.
Place the cut biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet lined with parchment paper (pre-cut parchment sheets are one of the better inventions in the world).
You'll have vaguely triangular bits left over (which are delightfully fizzy, from the baking powder, if you enjoy nibbling on dough...). Depending on what you feel like doing, you can just plop these on the baking sheet as-is, as treats and nibbles later. Alternately, if you want as many finished biscuits as possible, you can gently and carefully combine them to make a new dough ball, gently pat it out and cut it into a few more biscuits. These biscuits are usually a bit tougher than the originals, depending on how much you've worked the dough.
If you don't enjoy or are intimidated by the process of kneading and cutting out biscuits--and it took me a few years to work up to it--you can use an entire cup of milk instead of 3/4 cup, which gives a looser, amost batter-like dough. Once you've stirred in the milk, you can just plop scoops of the batter-dough onto your parchment paper and bake them directly.
Once all the dough has been dealt with, brush the tops with a little milk or beaten egg if you'd like. This will make them shinier and prettier at the end. Sometimes I don't bother if it feels like just one more step.
Bake until lightly browned. I have a horror of overbaked anything, so I pull them out as soon as possible. Usually that's about ten to twelve minutes. But thicker biscuits, or a desire for more browning, will require a bit more time. Don't just set a timer and wander off--pay attention the first few times you make them so that they don't get overcooked.
Remove to a cooling rack. Refrain from devouring them all while they're still warm, with butter and jam. Or honey. Or nutella.
It will take longer to read the instructions than it will to prepare the biscuits. Really. Try it at least once, instead of the tube. Homemade biscuits are delicious.