On Saint Patrick’s Day — just a bit of a silly holiday really but after ascertaining that all four of us have a lot of Irish ancestry I decided to honor that — I took down Darina Allen’s cookbook from my cookbook shelf and made her recipes for winter beef stew and soda biscuits (a version of soda bread but formed into biscuits). For myself I made a green cabbage stir-fry with white beans and also served stir-fried asparagus. For dessert, a recipe for an “Irish apple cake“. The youngest among us especially loved the biscuits with a bit of honey or strawberry jam, prompting me to consider making a more scone-like version of them the next time. For of course there will be a next time.
I’ve been trying to write something all weekend regarding the current situation of life — for us, for pretty much everyone else on the globe — but it’s hard. Here in Northern California we were issued “shelter in place” orders earlier in the week, meaning; stay at home mostly, unless you need to get food or go to the doctor (or, you know, work if you are someone who is essential to keeping our society running). Going to the coast or for a hike/run/walk: fine, just stay away from others not in your immediate household. This has now been expanded to encompass the entire state and other states are following along. Maybe somewhere where you are, too.
I’m sure we’re all feeling similarly — worried, wondering how much to panic, missing the relative normalcy of everyday life we were going about just a few weeks ago. Hoping we can get the supplies we want to get at the stores (should we even go to the store?!), etc. While this is a new experience for me, there are facets that do feel similar to our experiences living abroad (minus a looming health threat). Seeing empty shelves, keeping extra non-perishables at home, not having a lot of freedom of movement — yes, I have been there! And while it does inevitably take a toll on the psyche you can learn to adjust your mindset and manage the challenges. On the bright side, these restrictions are meant to be temporary and women can still drive …!
I’ve been reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books to Sierra; interestingly, we have just begun “The Long Winter,” which details an extremely harsh winter of deprivation endured by the Ingalls family on the Dakota prairies. The family, as well as others, were reduced to burning hay for heat and fuel while blizzards raged relentlessly for months. Trains couldn’t get through and food was running out. People were mostly housebound, attempting to curb the monotony with books, music and chores. From this century, from our modern perspective even while going through a worldwide health and lifestyle crisis, it is sobering and also inspiring to read about the underlying instinct for survival and the drive to triumph over the toughest of challenges. These are not easy times, and times before have not been easy either. We will make it through.
So if you can, and have the inclination, maybe you can get into the kitchen a bit more. I’m trying to make a sourdough starter for the first time in a few years (using spelt flour); now that we are housebound we have more time to bake bread from a starter and it’s a fun exercise for the girls to observe the daily fermentation process. We typically cook most meals at home from scratch so it’s not a huge stretch to continue doing so but I know it can be difficult if you’re not used to it. Be easy on yourself, take advantage of canned beans and pasta and put meals together using simple ingredients with as many vegetables as you can. Eat a lot of fruit too, if possible. Not only will this help keep your immune system strong and balanced, you’ll feel like you’re truly taking care of yourself. Of course, cake during this time is also necessary and welcome. To that end, I am going to bake a simple butter cake for S’s half-birthday (tomorrow!) topped with chocolate buttercream. Be well, friends.
Note: you can use buttermilk for the milk if you can get it; my store was out.
Makes 10-12 biscuits.
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 3/4 cups 2% milk mixed with two teaspoons of fresh lemon juice (let sit for 15 minutes before using)
Oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in the milk a little at a time. Mix well to combine. Dough will be sticky. Turn out onto a well-floured surface and roll out to be about 1/2-inch thick. Cut into biscuits using a biscuit cutter or cup. Place in the oven and bake about 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from oven and serve warm. Biscuits are best the day they are made.