Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sweet Potato-Rosemary Biscuits for Year's End

Friends, this is one of those "just made it up, haven't tested it multiple times, but want to write it down before I forget what I did" recipes (so proceed with caution). Most sweet potato biscuit recipes I've seen call for blending the sweet potato until smooth with milk and adding it to replace some of the liquid. In this take, I mash it up and cut it in with the fat, yielding little specks of discernible sweet potato. I also (always) favor buttermilk over sweet milk, so I tanged it up a bit, and then threw in some rosemary for good measure--since I love rosemary with sweet potato and also love it with ham.

My dad's family gathers every New Year's Eve to play poker and bingo, chat, catch up, y-a-w-n the closer it gets to midnight, eat, and--finally--stand at 12 to hold hands and sing Auld Lang Syne.

It's potluck. This year we have lots of Petit Jean ham left over from the farm lunch earlier today, so we're taking the rest of it down to Aunt Judy and Uncle Booger's. I whipped up these little biscuits to sandwich the ham bits with some sweet mustard. Enjoy!

Sweet Potato-Rosemary Biscuits

Stir together:

3 c. flour
1 T. baking powder
3/4 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 T. sugar

Cut in:

8 T. cold, unsalted butter
1 sweet potato (baked, cooled completely, and peeled), mashed
1 1/2 t. finely chopped rosemary

Stir in:

1 1/2 c. buttermilk (start with less, add just enough to make a wet, shaggy dough)

Turn dough onto heavily floured board (it will be quite wet). Pat into rectangle (with floured hands), about 1 1/2 inch thick. Cut into 2 inch squares. Place on buttered baking sheet (don't crowd, but they can touch lightly) and bake at 400 degrees until a rich, golden brown.

Serve hot with butter or cold with sweet mustard and thin slices of salty ham.

Makes approximately 2 dozen.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

My table has rooms.

In the background, away from the light: the mailroom and the packing/unpacking room.
In the middle: the vestibule (keys, purse) and the gift wrapping room.
In the foreground, in the light: the vanitas room (practical, ego, my self to the world) and the gravitas room (spiritual, intellectual, the world to my self and back again).

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The table.

I have ordered a table.

I was at a gathering Thursday night with a similar one, and when I walked in, I exclaimed about it. It's the table I'd been searching for--the one that was expansive enough, and showed itself off without adorning paints and turns and knobs. It looked like the tree it came from, just an adaptation, really, of "tree" and forest--a flat plane now, around which to sit and eat and talk...horizontal and not vertical, but still tree-ish, still harboring nests (all of us clamoring birds, mouths open to take in food and cheep, cheep, cheep our stories).

I have ordered a table, because it's not enough to have a surface to put food on. One must lean on it, chin cradled in palm supported by crooked elbow, ear cocked toward friends.

It will be big and sturdy. The man who is making it uses reclaimed Douglas Fir, and he warns of imperfections (oh, please, let there be many. Let there be nails from house boards or holes from worms, or gouges from a Downy Woodpecker).

It seemed urgent this week, this need for a real table. I think it was the way the sunshine (finally) and apple tree flowers and ripe rhubarb (after such a long winter) bumped up against the death of my friend, Kim Ricketts (who will never sit at this table, the person who would love it as much as I, who would know what it meant).

It's been one year since I moved into this house. She's the first person who saw it (Neighbor! We're neighbors! I must bring you cake!), and the books she brought me last month when I had a cold are still lying on the piano bench, because that's how fast time goes.

And one must have a table, because there are so many stories yet to tell, and plates of cake to share, and books to discuss, and friends to greet, who--like birds--light on your shoulder for such a short time, and hop excitedly, cheeping in a squeaky voice, and then fly away before you can tell them that you love them.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Living well is the best revenge.

Two things:

1. I know I never returned to the placeholder post, that repository of memories (which had just happened, and weren't then, but are now) I had rushed to write as I was leaving Arkansas a few weeks ago.

2. My house got broken into in the interim.

No, three:

3. I spent a Sunday thinking about writing in a workshop with Crescent Dragonwagon.

What #3 taught me about #1 is that growing up in the South was formative for everything but my scholarly writing. It's the filter through which all impressions seep, regardless of my distance in time and place from my childhood. Every exercise we did in the workshop pulled up words, pictures, people, practices, feelings, fragrances, and textures...both actual ones and the texture of lived moments...from a relatively compressed period of my life.

What #1 taught me about #3 is that Crescent, for me, and unfairly perhaps, is more than a writer, teacher, and cookbook author. She is fixed in my mind as the former owner of Dairy Hollow House in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. It was the first restaurant that brought together my rural Southern culinary roots and the elevation of local ingredients into visual and gustatory experiences. Things were never the same.

And what #2 taught me about #3 is that a writing practice can be felled with one brief whack of fate. I answered the phone on March 14th to hear my landlady telling me that there had been a break-in. I raced home and found my house turned up side down. In real terms, there was little damage, I didn't lose too much stuff, and I have renter's insurance. But the things that were taken--laptops and camera equipment, primarily--were my touchstones. Someone walked off with my tools for documenting, with snippets of drafts, with notes of ideas, with pictures of trips and people. They took them. And there's something so jarring about knowing that I will never have my memory jogged by looking at that scrap of a note, this placeholder for something I wanted to write.  Whatever was there is gone.

This is really about guilt over procrastination, isn't it?

Maybe. But it's also about those moments that represent breaks from complacency. After the tornado in 1998, I was like a house afire. I traveled, learned things, started voice lessons...I was in a happy panic to do all those things that the tornado had shown me could be blown away without warning.

I wish I could promise myself that having my "recorders" taken would urge me to write and publish and craft and finish. No languishing, no waiting. Daily practice, making time, all that.

But truth is, I know it won't. I have a career and friends and family. I am busy almost all of the time, mostly doing things I love. I'm going back to Arkansas very soon, where I will stack up some more impressions and the backlog of things I want to write will grow, even before I've written about my last trip.

And really, is that so bad? To walk around all the time bursting with stories?

All the thieves got was plastic and metal.

I kept my full heart.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Some write, some cut wood.

This little post is a placeholder for all the posts I want to write about last weekend in Arkansas. There's the one about Jimmy and how he "reads" the world, since he can't really read. There's the one about the phrase "to put out a washing"--which my Dad uses when he puts a load of clothes in the washer. And the one in which I plan out my future cabin. And Eliot's ashes. And Vivian, hoarder of pick-up trucks. And the non-cooks at the checkout line at the Clinton Wal-Mart. And breakfast with John and Jerry. And my inability to remember streets in Memphis, although I lived there. And why driving on back roads across Arkansas requires a different clock than driving on the streets of Seattle.

And why I've changed the name of my blog to SouthWard. Which is what I am, no matter where I reside.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

On the loss of mystery.

I don't want a dissected menu.

Every source listed, the names of the farms, the growing method, the driver of the truck from farm to table.

I know all the reasons it's good to provide that information to diners, but I don't want it. I want to trust a chef to source ethically, and then be utterly surprised by my meal.

I don't want to see pictures of restaurant food before I go there. When I first got my iPhone, I was taken by the ability to make a picture of a beautiful meal and send it to a friend in real time. But even that was about a desire to share an experience with an absent friend, or to record a moment with a loved one, or even a way of responding to something lovely--not so much a cold documentation or a collected badge or a notched culinary bedpost.

Maybe it's the constant noise: the blogs, the tweets, the yelpers, the foursquares. But I can't think of the last time I went into a new restaurant and was seduced by the experience itself: no pre-knowledge, no wonderment about dishes as they appeared, no anticipation building as a chef and his or her team crafted behind closed doors. No slow closing of the eyes as I finally saw and smelled and felt and tasted something and thought:

"this. I did not expect this."

I miss mystery.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year's Day recipes, 2011 (Angel Biscuits, Sweet Potato Cake, Cheddar-Sausage-Chile Cornbread)

This was the first part of the note I sent: 
Friends, it's a must. In the South (and in the Southern Diaspora), one eats black-eyes peas and greens on New Year's Day. The many peas signal prosperity; the greens signal wealth. I choose to think of both categories as figurative, since God knows we are not in professions that rake in literal riches, eh?

At any rate, New Year's Day also means a ham from Petit Jean Meats in Arkansas, one of which is on its way to me. I will be throwing it in the oven on January 1, making some peas and greens, baking some angel biscuits, and whatnot. I'd hate to eat alone. 
It was a good day, this first day of the new year. In spite of the unexplained smoke pouring into my house instead of up the chimney (a conundrum, since I've had many fires in the fireplace), necessitating a last-minute moratorium on crackling fires, and defying my house's space limitations, we packed about 20 hungry souls in on a sunny, cold day in Seattle. 

The menu:

Cheddar-Cayenne Crispies
Oysters Casino (courtesy of Patrick)
Regal Ransom (a bourbon cocktail, courtesy of Marc)
Arkansas Caviar (courtesy of Leslie, who may have ascribed it to a different state)
Petit Jean Ham
Cheddar-Sausage-Chile Cornbread
Black-eyed Peas
Collard and Red Cabbage Slaw
Angel Biscuits
Sweet Potato Cake
Bourbon Balls (courtesy of Kim)
Homemade Chocolate Doughnuts (courtesy of Jeanne)
Chocolate Chunk Cookies (courtesy of Kairu)
And drinks and sweets aplenty (courtesy of all)

There were requests for a couple of recipes, so here they are:

Angel Biscuits (so-called, because of the addition of yeast. Get it? They rise).

5 c. flour
1/8 c. sugar
1 T. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1 c. cold butter, cut into cubes (plus more for brushing tops of biscuits)
1 pkg. yeast
4 T. warm water
2 c. buttermilk, at room temperature

Sift dry ingredients together. Cut in butter until it resembles small peas (confession: I do this in a large food processor, and then turn out into a large bowl before continuing). Dissolve and proof yeast in warm water. Add it and buttermilk to the bowl. Fold until just combined. It will still be a wet mess, but you just want to mix until there are no piles of dry flour. Turn into a large zipper type plastic bag and refrigerate over night. Next day: Roll out on a floured surface until between 1/2 and 3/4 inch thick. Cut with a biscuit cutter, gathering and re-using scraps until all the dough is used. Place biscuits on sheet pans or cookie sheets. Let them come to room temperature (they will just start to rise). Just before baking, brush liberally with melted butter. Bake at 375 degrees until golden brown. The beauty of these biscuits is that they HAVE to be made up the night before--clearing the morning for things other than mixing bowls! Also, the addition of yeast and sugar gives them a flavor and texture that is between a biscuit and a roll. So they can be dressed up for dinner, enjoyed for breakfast, or re-heated to good effect. Makes +/- 3 dozen, depending on the size of your biscuit cutter.

Sweet Potato Cake

I found a version of this recipe in an old cookbook in my uncle's cabin in Arkansas. I tweaked it a bit (which is to say that I didn't write it down and hoped I remembered it more or less correctly), and was VERY happy with the result. This is a perfect cake to serve with tea or coffee in the afternoon: not too gooey or sweet, very fragrant and moist. 

1 1/2 c. canola oil
2 c. sugar
4 egg yolks
4 T. hot water
2 1/2 c. flour (I used White Lily; use AP otherwise)
1 T. baking powder
3/4 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. freshly ground nutmeg (fresh is crucial)
1 1/2 c. grated raw sweet potato
1 c. chopped pecans
1 t. vanilla paste (extract will do)
4 stiffly beaten egg whites

Combine oil, sugar, egg yolks, and hot water in the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment. Beat until homogenous and fluffy. Sift together dry ingredients and add slowly to wet mixture while the mixer is on low, scraping down sides occasionally. Stir in sweet potato, pecans, and vanilla. Remove bowl and fold egg whites into batter, taking care not to completely deflate the whites. Bake in a greased and floured bundt or tube pan at 325 degrees for approximately 75 minutes, or until a toothpick tests clean. Let cake cool in pan for 10 minutes before inverting onto a cooling rack. I don't think this cake needs one thing--I suppose you could dress it up with some whipped cream, but it's really lovely on its own.

Cheddar-Sausage-Chile Cornbread (Gluten-Free)

Admission: I made this recipe gluten-free only because I was expecting gluten-intolerant guests. I replaced the wheat flour with rice flour, and I LOVED it. I will make it this way from now on, since the rice flour really lightened the texture considerably.

1 1/2 lbs. southern style pork breakfast sausage
1 onion, chopped
1 can diced roasted green chilis, drained
3 cobs of corn, scraped to include all the juice (use a can of creamed corn if no fresh corn)
12 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (do not use pre-shredded)
2 c. finely ground WHITE cornmeal (Sigh. Use yellow if you must.)
1 c. rice flour
1 1/2 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
3 eggs, beaten
1 3/4 c. buttermilk
1/4 c. canola oil
1 t. freshly ground black pepper 

Brown sausage, breaking it up as you stir it. Remove with slotted spoon into large mixing bowl. Add onion to grease in skillet, cooking until soft but not yet brown. Add to sausage using slotted spoon. When cool, add chilis, corn, and cheese. Set aside. In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients. Beat together eggs, buttermilk, oil, and pepper. Pour over dry ingredients and whisk well (bonus: rice flour has no gluten, so beat with impunity!!!). Add to sausage mixture and mix well. Pour into greased shallow baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 50-55 minutes, or until golden brown and set in the middle.