I’m writing this post to you today on the porch of my mom’s lakefront cabin in upstate, New York. In the past few years, this spot has come to mean summer to me. Sure, I’ve made many wonderful summer memories that dated far before my mom started coming here, but these days I feel like summer really starts on the porch here. Time slows. The daily itinerary involves morning coffee, porch-reading, dock-reading, and discussion of what to do for dinner. That’s basically it. Sometimes this is punctuated by a swim or a run or a soft-serve ice cream cone. Or a long walk down the road. A most welcome change of pace from what our daily itinerary has looked like in Seattle recently (work, work, work, eat, work). Now we’ve arrived happily to the land of lingering.
You may recall last summer I wrote about the cabin here in Lake George. This year we’re staying for just a touch longer and hoping to allow ourselves to truly enjoy a little vacation. Before we left I cleaned out the fridge and discovered two neat little pints of strawberries I hadn’t gotten a chance to slice up yet. Now before we move on, I should also mention that I’ve developed a recent obsession with the ginger biscuits at Cafe Besalu in Seattle. They’re round, light and fluffy as air and have just a hint of ginger. Last time I was there I chatted with the owner about the biscuits, hoping to learn a bit about what flour they use. It became clear pretty quickly that that information would not be available to me. He said that he milled his own flour. End of story, apparently. I poked and prodded to no avail. O.k., I’d move on to the question of buttermilk vs. cream: surely these were cream biscuits given their texture, yes? The world may never know. So here I was a few nights before we were to leave town, continuing to obsess over these biscuits, staring at the strawberries on hand, and deciding that I’d give it a go. A summery version of Besalu’s biscuits with local strawberries and cream. Lots of cream.
I found just the perfect place to start on Molly’s blog: a cream biscuit by the wonderful Marion Cunningham, a breakfast legend. I just adore her and keep telling myself I should bake all the way through The Breakfast Book; as you’ve probably gathered, there just hasn’t been time for that sort of thing lately. But, my friends, there’s time for these biscuits. They’re quick! And so simple! And light and wonderful and a good excuse to use up extra cream and strawberries.
I will say these didn’t rise quite as much as I would’ve loved and I don’t think that’s so much a symptom of the recipe as it is that I over-kneaded them. The one and only thing the owner of Cafe Besalu did tell me was that their ginger biscuits are so light you have to be careful not to overwork them. Verrrry gentle, he said. I think I could’ve been gentler. I urge you to be gentle. Because these didn’t get as big of a rise as I’d expected and because I cut them into squares, I think a more appropriate name for this recipe is a Biscuit Bar. A Strawberry and Cream Biscuit Bar. Still light. Still fluffy. Just a touch flatter than a classic biscuit, but full of fresh berries, sprinkled with sugar, and laced with lots of fresh cream.
I hope you have a wonderful week and a most restful mid-week holiday. While I’m here at the lake, I’m going to be working on some recipe testing for the cookbook , and I also have a few other things in mind:
Reading: Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, re-reading some Laurie Colwin, and dipping into Richard Ford’s newest. Also one of the most recent issues of The New Yorker apparently has a great long piece on Ben Stiller that’s supposed to be pretty insightful. In case you’re wondering what Sam’s reading on the dock: Homer’s Odyssey. It makes me smile every time I look over at him in a sea of women and fashion magazines.
Eating: I have so many recipes I wanted to try while here, but I’m keeping realistic goals considering I do want this to feel like vacation — not to mention the only place to shop for groceries is Walmart which I’ve succesfully avoided so far. But I will absolutely make a blueberry pie. It’s time to make a blueberry pie. I’m also hoping Sam will make his famous-in-my-world pancakes.
Drinking: Gin & Tonics. And Negronis, of course.
Listening: Design Matters Podcasts with Debbie Millman. Sam introduced me to these and while they’re technically more design-focused, the folks interviewed are fascinating and I think the conversation applies to any creative craft or inclination. Surprisingly, Alec Baldwin’s podcast, Here’s the Thing, isn’t half bad, either.
Playing: A new-to-us dice game that I imagine old ladies really dig: Farkel. It’s pretty amazing — do you all know this game?! My mom’s friends picked it up at the small local library here, and it’s been our late-night entertainment for the past few nights. We’re going to track one down to bring back to Seattle with us.
Marion Cunningham calls for 1 – 1 1/2 cups cream in her recipe; I used 1 cup here and they turned out just fine. That being said, if your mixture feels too dry and crumbly, drizzle in a little more cream to bring it all together. If you don’t have pastry flours at home, reach for all-purpose flour before reaching for a regular whole-wheat flour which will yield too dense of a biscuit on its own. Cunningham recommends kneading for one minute — I’d just give it a few turns next time — 20 seconds or so.
Adapted from: Marion Cunningham’s The Breakfast Book (via Molly Wizenberg)
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (If you don’t have parchment, leave it as it is, ungreased. The parchment is just for easy cleanup.)
Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar in a mixing bowl, and stir to combine. Slowly add the cream and stir briefly just until the dough comes together. You can do this by hand if you’re comfortable or with a simple wooden spoon. Gather the dough together; If it feels shaggy or too dry, slowly add more cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, just until the dough comes together.
In a small bowl, dredge the strawberries with the 2 tablespoons of the remaining flour to coat.
Place the dough on a lightly floured board and knead for 20 seconds or so — you don’t want to overwork the dough. Pat the dough into a large square about ½ inch thick. On one side of the square, lay the strawberries out onto the dough. Fold one side of the square over the top of the berries to meet the other side of the square, creating a little pouch for the berries. Essentially, the berries are now nestled inbetween two layers of biscuit dough.
Working quickly, press the dough down to 1/2 inch thickness once again. Don’t worry about squishing the berries –the flour will absorb some of that liquid and if you work quickly to re-flatten your square, they’ll bake up just fine.
Cut into 12 squares. Brush the tops of each with the melted butter so that all sides are coated. Sprinkle the tops with sugar. Place the biscuits 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)