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Recipe: Buttermilk Biscuits, Pumpkin-Honey and Plain

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What with all the canning I’ve been doing lately, it may not surprise y’all to know that I’ve been on a mission to master biscuit-making this month. But the actual impetus wasn’t my own canned goods – oh, no. It was two jars of cocoa butter from an incredible bakery in Reykjavik. It’s called Sandholt, and if ever you’re in Iceland, you’ve got to check them out. Possibly better pain au chocolat than we had in Paris, though nothing will ever top the wild strawberry tartlet we got at Pierre Herme. Every day, our breakfasts consisted of a pain au chocolat, purchased at Sandholt and eaten while walking around the city. Pain au chocolat on the way to the 871 exhibit. Pain au chocolat before a browse through record albums at Skifan. And then eventually mildly stale evening pain au chocolat for me, beset by insomnia, thanks to the midnight sun that seemed able to creep through even the sturdiest blackout curtains. I formed a quick bond to the place and, disappointed to be leaving it behind so quickly, I bought two jars of cocoa butter to bring home. At that point we still had 17 days of travel to go, but nevertheless I got those jars safely through three nations and brought them home. I think that calls for a biscuit, don’t you?

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I’ve tried other biscuit recipes before and the results were always very… northern. My family is by and large Tenneessean and I grew up eating proper biscuits every summer, and thus, biscuits that taste like an English scone just do not rock me. Enter Beth Kirby and her biscuit recipes. I went back and forth, reading through both the original buttermilk biscuit recipe and the newer pumpkin-honey variation. I studied them. I tried out the various options suggested in the articles and in the comments. I baked several batches. Some I shared with my spouse. One batch I failed at sharing with anyone (as I once told a coworker, you don’t get an ass like this eating salads). And two batches I made for my parents.

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Those were the really rewarding batches – both pumpkin-honey and plain biscuits, wrapped in a linen tea towel to keep warm, and three spreads on the counter, including one of the Icelandic butters, a banana cocoa butter that is epic on the pumpkin-honey biscuits, truly. Everyone standing in my kitchen eating them and acting like I was some sort of magician. Much better than furtively eating them alone while I photograph some apples, though let’s face it, any day you get to eat a biscuit is a good day.

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If you’re feeling any fear at all about making these, I would urge you to give them a shot. They’re magically delicious and wonderful to share with others. My notes below are full of my own kind of elaboration, but also give Beth’s recipes a read-through for a different take, and you’ll be empowered to make incredible magic biscuits yourself. Never forget, I am here for you in the comments section if you have questions or concerns. Sometime soon I want to talk about fear and the ways in which it makes small things seem impossible. For now, though, let’s all make biscuits.

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Buttermilk Biscuits, Plain or Pumpkin Honey

Adapted from Beth Kirby, both on Local Milk and Food52

Yields 8-10 smaller biscuits or 4 mammoth biscuits (that may attack your face; don’t say I didn’t warn you)

Ingredients (for plain biscuits):
– 250 grams or 2 cups flour (cake flour or all-purpose flour)
– 1 Tbsp baking powder
– 1 tsp kosher salt
– 230 grams or 1 scant cup buttermilk
– 4 Tbsp butter (half a stick)

Ingredients (for pumpkin honey biscuits):
– 250 grams or 2 cups flour
– 1 Tbsp baking powder
– 1 tsp kosher salt
– 1/2 a cup (120 grams) plus 1/4 cup (60 grams) buttermilk (you likely will not use the 1/4 cup; you’re merely holding it in reserve in case your dough seems dry)
– 4 Tbsp butter (half a stick)
– 1/3 cup pumpkin purée
– 6 tablespoons honey
– 2 tsp cinnamon
– 1 tsp ground ginger
– A pinch of ground cloves

Preheat your oven to 425 whenever it suits you. I always do it during the second rest period so my kitchen stays cool in the meantime.

Mix the dry ingredients together so everything is evenly distributed.

Next, cut in the butter. I have developed a technique for this, but I don’t say it’s necessary or even universally helpful – it just works for me. I cut the butter into two (very cold) chunks and then cut it in with a pastry blender until I’ve got nice pea-sized chunks of butter distributed throughout my dough. You can also cut the butter in with your hands or two knives, or really anything that works for you. I have a pastry blender from my days of overzealously acquiring kitchen goods, and I like the way it feels, so I use it.

Once you’ve got your butter cut in, mix in your remaining wet ingredients. For the plain biscuits, that’ll be just the buttermilk. For the pumpkin variation, you’re going to take the first 1/2 cup of buttermilk as well as the pumpkin puree and the honey, and blend them all together using a fork in a separate bowl. Once they’re blended together, add them to the butter and dry ingredients.

The dough will be wet and will come together pretty quickly. Once it does, let it sit for 20 minutes. Letting it sit isn’t strictly necessary, but I find that when I do it, I get higher biscuits.

After it’s had its rest (or not – baker’s discretion), transfer it to a floured surface and shape it into a rectangle about an inch and a half thick with your hands. It does tend to stick, so make sure there’s an even but thin coating of flour over everything that will touch it, including your hands. Fold the dough rectangle like you would fold a letter to fit into a business envelope – the top third comes down onto the middle third, then down again onto the bottom third. Rotate the dough 90 degrees, re-flouring your surface if it needs it, and press it out again to about an inch and a half thick. You want to be really gentle with it – by folding it, you’re creating the layers you want in the finished biscuit, so as you work, visualize yourself NOT crushing all the nice layers you’re making. I use my hands because I hate rolling pins and I feel like I have the most control with my hands, but you can use a rolling pin here too. Just be gentle, whichever course you take. Once you’ve rolled it out, fold it in half, rotate it 90 degrees, roll it out again to an inch and a half thick, then fold it in half again, rotate it 90 degrees again, and roll it out again to an inch and a half thick. Your fold-and-roll sequence will basically be once like a letter, then twice in half.

Once you’ve rolled it out for the last time, let it sit another 20 minutes. Again, you don’t have to do this, but I find my biscuits rise higher when I do.

After the second resting period, cut your rectangle into smaller rectangles with a well-floured kitchen knife. You can, if you have it, also use a biscuit cutter to get perfectly round biscuits, but I actually prefer the aesthetic of the square biscuit, and besides, square biscuits do not involve re-rolling your dough to use every last bit of it. You can get flour to adhere to your kitchen knife by first sticking a little extra dough to the edge, or you can just keep re-flouring it as you slice. Be sure to cut straight up and down and avoid twisting, which will seal the sides of your biscuits. I usually form my dough so it’s a rectangle, cut once down the center of the long part, and then slice off individual biscuits from the two big resulting logs of dough. I aim for biscuits that are about two to three inches in size – depending on my dough, sometimes they’re more square and sometimes they’re rectangular. Either way they will be fine. You can control your yield here based on the square size you cut. Want mammoth face-eating biscuits? Cut 4-6. Want smaller biscuits to feed a bigger group? Cut 8-10.

After you cut them, pick each biscuit up, flip it over and place it upside down on a baking sheet. Place the biscuits very close to each other – almost, but not quite touching.

Now let’s talk baking time. This will vary based on two factors – your oven and your biscuits. Since we’re cutting squares here, you may find they cook faster or slower than mine did based on how you cut them and how many you got. My oven runs cold, so generally I start by putting 15 minutes on my oven timer and then checking the biscuits for done-ness every couple of minutes after that. You’re looking for a nice, golden biscuit top. In my oven, the large biscuits generally take about 20 minutes to cook, while the smaller biscuits are usually done around 17-18 minutes. I also sometimes vary the cooking time based on who I’m cooking for – some of my family like their biscuits softer than others. Bottom line, start at a bake time of around 15 minutes (maybe a minute or two less if you know your oven runs hot) and then keep an eye on them.

After they’re done, let them cool (if you can stand it) or burn your fingers by eating them right away (the latter is more my style).

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Recipe: Daily Granola

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So, last time I posted, I mentioned granola. I love granola for breakfast these days; I make a low-sugar version, so it’s reasonably healthy, and I can pour myself a small bowl of it and snack on it all morning. It’s just as good at 11:00 when I realize I forgot to finish eating it as it was at 8:00 when I scooped it out of its container. Can’t say that about yogurt! (Sad but true; ask me how I know.)

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This recipe is adapted from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook, one of the only cookbooks we own that we actually cook out of frequently. There’s just something about it that really speaks to both of us. I’ve made some minor changes to her recipe here, but the true genius of this recipe is the replacement of sugar with maple syrup, leading to a less sickly sweet batch that’s just perfect for breakfast. I actually don’t have much of a sweet tooth, especially not first thing in the morning.

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Ingredients:

3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/4 cup toasted wheat germ
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/2 cup maple syrup (Note: if you’re just shy of the 1/2 cup of maple syrup, you can add about 1/8 cup of honey instead to bring it up to level. I wouldn’t go so far as to add 1/4 cup honey; the mixture should still be mostly maple syrup. This is just something you can do if you’re running low. No need to measure the honey you’re adding precisely, just pour what syrup you’ve got into your measuring cup, add honey to bring the total amount up to 1/2 cup, and stir to incorporate.)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 egg white
Dried fruit to taste, if desired. Perelman uses 1.5 cups of dried cherries; when I make this for my husband, I add the cherries, but for myself am happier with just the grains.

The how-to:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees and get a baking sheet ready. For some of you this will involve just setting the thing on the counter. For me it usually involves lining it with parchment paper so I don’t feel like I ought to wash the baking sheet when I’m done.

Combine all the ingredients but the egg white and the fruit (if you’re using it) in a nice, big bowl. Stir them all together to get an even distribution of ingredients.

In a small bowl (or, hell, your pyrex measuring cup, which is what I always do) whisk the egg white until frothy. The egg white is the protein that binds your clumps of granola together and gives you big clumps in your finished product. While we’re on the subject, if any of you have tried vegan substitutes for the egg as a granola binder, I’m all ears – this is so close to being a vegan-friendly recipe that I would love to take it all the way with a protein substitute for the egg.

Pour the frothy egg white into the granola mixture and stir to distribute it throughout. Be careful to get an even distribution.

Pour the mixture out onto your baking sheet and spread it out into an even layer. Pop it in the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet in the oven 180 degrees and continue to bake it for another 20-25 minutes. This step depends, of course, on how hot your oven runs. Mine is always a little cold so I tend to need the full baking time. If you’re not sure how long it will need, you can check on it at the 20 minute mark – when done it should be browned evenly throughout and should feel dry.

Remove it from the oven and let it cool – you can put it on a cooling rack, but you can also forget about it entirely and leave it on top of the oven overnight while you conduct a massive Netflix marathon with your spouse, which is more my style. Once it’s cool, transfer it into a storage container and mix in the fruit, if you’re using it.

I’ve noshed on the same batch out of an airtight bag for a month, but do note that it’s only intended to last two weeks, so it does get a bit stale. If you’d like, you can freeze it for longer-term storage.

Adapted from a recipe by Deb Perelman, in her Smitten Kitchen cookbook.


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Setting intentions

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Yesterday I decided that if I used this tiny individual pie as a photo prop before I ate it, it would somehow become healthy to have pie for breakfast. Except, of course, that my breakfast was actually two spoonfuls of granola, eaten before a phone interview at 9am, after which I spent several hours sunk into a photography groove before I realized I was hungry and should eat something, and, well, it was right there in the fridge. Thus: pie at noon that feels like a breakfast, and also some pie photography. I wasn’t actually planning on writing this post, but I’ve been doing some meditative work this week on addressing how my rabbit brain interferes with my ability to get things done – and I’ve had rather a breakthrough that I wanted to share with you all.

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On Tuesday we got up early. Or rather, he got up early and then spent fifteen minutes talking me into getting out of bed. I’m not a morning person. It used to be slightly easier because I hated our bedding – no joke, I had an obscene nickname for our comforter and swore at it constantly – it was an awful blanket. The worst possible thing to snuggle up under on a bad day or a rainy night. But for my birthday, with one of his first paychecks from his new job, he got me a whole sheet set from Anthropologie, and now? It is on. Or rather, it is off. I don’t ever like to get out of bed these days; it is simply too comfortable in there, especially with a notebook to hand and a book on the bedside table. But on Tuesday I marshaled my willpower and crawled forth and we went to vote together. We walked over to our polling place and voted, and then he deposited me at my local coffee shop and caught the train to work. I staggered around the coffee shop for a while taking photos for an upcoming guest post I’m writing, and then the barista called me over to lick the mixing spoon from my latte, all coated with nutella. She is a genius and this is one of my new favorite parts of getting coffee – licking the mixing spoon. I settled down all bleary eyed with my caffeine and dug into what is becoming my favorite morning ritual – otherwise known as that thing I came here to tell you about – intention setting.

at the coffeeshop after voting

There’s a lot of buzz in my head these days. I’m a high octane person and I always have been. In college I took three languages simultaneously – Japanese, Ancient Greek, and Latin – while working four part-time jobs. As a sysadmin, I routinely worked on four systems at the same time. Now, as a free agent, there are so many things I want to do on any given day that I find it very difficult to focus on anything. I finally realized this was happening last week, and to combat it, I’ve cleared conscious space in the mornings to sit with my journal. I daydream a bit first, and then I look at my energy level that day and my commitments, and I assess what I can reasonably get done in the space of one day. I survey my open projects and I listen to my gut; emotionally, spiritually, what do I want to work on? What am I feeling called to do? And I make a list that sums up the results of my self-exploration. It’s a kind of deep current listening.

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In our day to day lives, I think many of us get pretty far away from asking our bodies what feels right, what feels good, but it’s a powerful tool if you develop the knack of knowing what’s just a surface-level immediate-gratification feel-good impulse, and what is really going to bring you a sense of deep-seated joy. Each individual action isn’t profound – hell, today the thing I got the most deep-seated joy from was burning a lemon verbena candle – but the act of asking yourself and answering yourself is deeply profound. And to sit with your sense of self for a while and explore what’s fair and right to ask of your body, mind and heart in a given day’s space… well, it’s a really beautiful way of being gentle with yourself. I don’t ask what I need to get done first, though that has been a part of my calculations each day – I never feel deep-seated joy unloading the dishwasher – but doing those little chores feels much less oppressive somehow when I’ve put them in the proper balance. Sometimes I’ll also wait to do those “have to” chores until I’m stuck on something I really want to do, which is also a neat trick; at least for me, the sense that I’ve gotten something annoying done helps me develop forward momentum and power that I can then use in my creative work. And having the day thought out and recorded helps me make the most effective use of that momentum.

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As a result, this week has been a powerhouse of sewing and cooking activity and so many exciting things; hopefully I’ll be able to share some of these activities soon. Until then, a very peaceful weekend to you all!


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On the Road: Eating and Shopping in NYC

Sewn turtle at Purl Soho

Sewn turtle at Purl Soho

I had a quiet week last week settling back in after my weekend in the city. It’s such a lovely time of year to be in New York, and it was great to be in the city with friends, checking out some places I hadn’t been to before.

Pumpkins and squash at the Greenmarket

Pumpkins and squash at the Greenmarket

I was particularly thrilled to be able to stop by the Greenmarket (this one, to be specific). I really adore the Dupont Circle farmer’s market here in DC, but it was fun to check out what the Greenmarket had to offer. Almost too much wonderful produce to be believed! I almost bought delicas, but fortunately stopped before I committed myself to spending a day walking around with several pounds of squash in my handbag. I did find maple sugar in one of the booths, so now I’m equipped to make apple maple butter in the coming weeks.

Goods for sale at Brooklyn Flea

Goods for sale at Brooklyn Flea

We also got to check out Brooklyn Flea, which I’ve been curious about for a while, especially after being underwhelmed by District Flea at home. We swung by the Fort Greene location on Saturday morning to shop and, in my case, snack. Memo to Brooklyn Sodaworks: DC location? Please? I brought home a bottle of their Apple & Ginger soda and my husband and I are addicted. We had a pleasant morning browsing the stalls, and I enjoyed myself, but to be honest, I can’t imagine heading out to Brooklyn again just for the flea.

If only it were possible to take this dresser home on the Amtrak

If only it were possible to take this dresser home on the Amtrak

Also new to me this trip was Candle 79. I’m not a vegetarian and hadn’t heard of Candle 79 before Veronica suggested we stop in, but my friend Camille is a vegan life coach and thanks to her influence, I’ve found myself shifting my dietary choices a little bit lately. For instance, I switched from cow’s milk to almond milk in my coffees, and get this, I’m finding that coffee is easier to digest sans dairy. And though this is hardly vegan of me, I usually get vegetarian patties for my cheeseburgers now; again, I find my body just responds better when I don’t eat meat. I was excited to try a haute cuisine vegan meal at Candle and ended up ordering a raw meal – no heating or cooking the food. I was blown away at how good the food was and how good my body felt after eating it. I’ve been telling people that the food went past good to transformative; I can’t imagine anyone not being interested in vegan food after eating the meal we had. My goal in the coming months is to incorporate more raw and vegan cooking into my daily routine, just for kicks.

Inspirational beet photo? I felt like it was too tacky to take photos at Candle 79

Inspirational Greenmarket beet photo? I felt like it was too tacky to take photos at Candle 79, so no photos of our amazing meal

And on pretty much the opposite end of the spectrum, we checked out Eric Kayser – the best pastries I’ve had anywhere since leaving Paris – and ABC Carpet & Home, another of Veronica’s suggestions that I absolutely fell in love with. Let’s face it, the woman is good to travel with, she knows some killer spots. ABC is hardly an affordable place to shop, so I gave myself a one-item limit and found the most amazing spoons. I bought a pair with bowls shaped like seed pods.

Spoons from ABC Home & Carpet

Spoons from ABC Home & Carpet

Veronica and Jennifer left New York a few hours before I did, and left to my own devices, I finally got to cross a shop in New York off my travel bucket list: Kinokuniya. Kinokuniya is one of the big bookstores in Japan, and when I lived in Hokkaido I went every chance I got, but in the past nine years I’ve never made it to the American locations. Absolute bliss. When people hear “Japanese bookstore” they tend to think anime – and while you can indeed get manga here, that’s not my thing. Japanese craft books are my thing. I’ve got several Japanese knitting stitch dictionaries; you do have to be careful which one you buy, as some of them aren’t that different from their American counterparts, but if you search you can find some with really unusual patterns. At knitting shops they tend to be quite pricey, but Kinokuniya’s prices seemed to hover around $30.

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I skipped the knitting stitch dictionaries this week in favor of sewing books, both stitch dictionaries and project books. This beaded embroidery stitch dictionary blew my mind – the photographic instructions are super clear, so no need to translate from the Japanese, and the ideas are beautiful. Really delicate and subtle. I can’t wait to apply some of these to my projects from my class at Snow Farm.

Detail from beaded stitch dictionary

Detail from beaded stitch dictionary

And then there’s this; the instructions are substantially less clear, at least to me, but come on, how could I not buy it?

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Then, though I knew I should be done, somehow this jumped into my hands and refused to jump back out:

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It’s full of projects for sewing accessories, including several needle books, which seemed totally apropos given the needle book round-up I’m working on for you all. This one in particular called out to me:

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I’m going to explore incorporating some of these ideas into my tutorial.

The only bad part? Adding the new books to the books I got at McNally Jackson and hauling the whole thing to Penn Station on foot. If there’s one thing this weekend taught me, it’s that I really need to work harder on my nerve glides and stretches. Some of the problems I did physical therapy for earlier in the year are recurring, including the problems I was having with my hamstrings; this translates into some ferocious pain that runs through my whole lower body if I walk too much, from tight nerve clusters in my low back to my knees and on down to my feet. I had stopped doing a lot of the exercises and it’s clear to me now that I was not ready to stop. Thankfully, I was able to largely substitute my herbal remedies for Advil once I got home and rehabbed from the trip 100% ibuprofen-free, which is a huge milestone and a source of great joy for me. I’ll share more herbal remedy tips with you all in an upcoming post, but in the meantime, I really can’t recommend Holly’s book enough; do check it out if you’re at all interested!