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The Slow Slide (+ Buttermilk Biscuits)

Yesterday (Sunday) morning I woke up early and slipped down to the kitchen to make breakfast. These days 7a is not as early as once it was, but it’s still relatively early for a weekend and once a certain someone had her own bekkie it was time to tend to the adults. We had grand plans to go to the corniche with the running stroller thing and so needed some decent fortification before embarking upon our much-coveted bit of exercise.

Into the oven went four buttermilk biscuits from a batch I’d made earlier in the week (freezing about a half-dozen I knew we couldn’t eat during the first round), into a bowl went four eggs I scrambled with a little cheddar cheese (yes — it is possible to get cheddar cheese at the Marjane. There was much rejoicing in all the land when I discovered that fact, almost as much rejoicing as when Sierra did a nine-hour stretch of sleep a few weeks ago.). While the biscuits browned I softened some butter and took out the honey container and put the coffee grounds in the french press. We sat down to a very American breakfast, the comfort of which cannot be understated when one finds herself living in North Africa seemingly out of the blue.

Of course it’s not really ‘out of the blue’, but even when you know something is going to occur for well over a year in advance that doesn’t necessarily make the doing of it any less surreal. Tonight marks three weeks that Sierra and I have been here, with a good three-plus years to go, and I still forget that this is what I am doing now, that it’s not just temporary, that I won’t be going back to my life in San Francisco in a few months to get those delectable sea salted chocolate chip cookies at the Mill, sesame bagels deliciously laden with cream cheese and avocado at that place near Lupe’s en route to taking the girlies to the Panhandle for a walk, soy lattes in our hands, ‘super’ bean and rice burritos from Green Chili kitchen with brown rice, please, all the winter citrus I can stand at the Fillmore farmers’ market, sweet potatoes and kale and bok choy at nearly any grocery store in the vicinity, or a strong, hot coffee at Matching Half.

In lieu of all that we went out for lunch on Boxing Day seule, and I had a vegetarian ‘Croque Madame’ (OK-ish), some fancy pastries, and a middling coffee. Next week I go back to work part-time and will have more options in terms of lunch, adult interaction, and scenery. Hopefully this will help. After all it’s not like I have so much free time to bemoan my fate but oh, I do miss the redwood trees and easily accessible parks — the Atlantic Ocean thankfully being a sort of semi-substitute.

As is usual when I feel slightly out of my element, I cook. I cook for necessity first and stability second and third is just for fun and because I like to have a bit of cake in the fridge at all times (another reason to make a concerted effort to log my miles). Years ago when I spent about a month in Norway along the southern coast we made a huge vegetarian Thanksgiving feast as a sort of thank-you for the people with whom we were staying; I remember cooking and cooking perhaps too much (a true example of American excess, they were probably slightly horrified by it all) but it helped to ground me when much felt unfamiliar. Same goes in this situation. Plus – we do have to eat. And there are absolutely no places to get a burrito around here, my standard California fall-back when I don’t feel like cooking dinner. So.

Despite the sunny, warmer days we’ve been experiencing — with some rain here and there — the nights are cool and crisp. I had turnips in the fridge last Monday so made a pot of silky turnip soup (recipe soon) and a batch of buttermilk biscuits to accompany it. Buttermilk — leben — is easily accessible here and it is traditional buttermilk, which is not often found in the States. There are actually quite a lot of fermented dairy products here; recently I bought something called raib thinking it was buttermilk and in fact it performed quite well in the chocolate cake I baked but it is more of a yogurt drink than buttermilk. I will have to explore more of these in future. The yogurt I’ve had so far is also fantastic.

Anyway — these buttermilk biscuits. Simple, quick to prepare and bake, they are perfect as an accompaniment to soup or stew or, my personal favorite, as part of a breakfast spread. The next time I make up a batch I think I’ll serve them in a breakfast sandwich with a fried egg (I’m on a mission to find organic/free range eggs and I firmly believe it’s possible to locate these) and a slice of that cheddar cheese. If I get motivated maybe I’ll even make some vegetarian gravy and we’ll have biscuits and gravy (grits, too? Why not?) with our weekend coffees. And I’ll admit there has been a lot of coffee lately.

It’s been a slow slide up to the new year, which suddenly occurs in – gulp – two days. 2013 was a bit of a doozy of a year, filled to the brim with lots of life-changing events, and my sole hope is for a peaceful and mellow 2014, with as many trips to the States sprinkled in there as we can manage. In a year (less!) my book will be out in the world, and I would be lying if I said I am not pins-and-needles excited to hold it in my hands. In a year my girl will be well over a year old (!) and will bring us new and unfathomable daily adventures. In a year, I hope to have some new and viable cookery ideas to put forth. In a year, I hope my French is better. In a year … who knows what else?

Wishing you a happy slide into 2014 and much happiness in the days to come.

[print_this]Buttermilk Biscuits, adapted from smittenkitchen.com

I swapped in some whole wheat pastry flour for the all-purpose because that’s sort of what I do but otherwise made this recipe as I found it. It’s a good basic biscuit recipe: not fancy, but who wants a fancy biscuit? Reliably good, this one does the trick.

9-12 biscuits

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
9 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400 °F and cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk flours, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda in large, wide bowl. Using fingertips or a pastry blender, work butter into dry ingredients until the mixture resembles a coarse meal, Add buttermilk and stir until large, craggy clumps form. Knead mixture briefly until it just holds together.

To form biscuit rounds: Transfer dough to floured counter and pat out until 1/2 to 3/4-inch thick. Using a round cutter press straight down — twisting produces less layered sides — and transfer rounds to prepared sheet, spacing two inches apart. (Note: I just cut out squares for my biscuits as I like to keep things simple.)


To drop biscuits: Drop 1/4-cup spoonfuls onto baking sheet, spacing two inches apart.

Both methods: Bake until biscuits are golden brown on top, about 12 to 15 minutes. Cool slightly, then serve warm, with butter, honey and/or jam. [/print_this]


  1. Laban/leben in North Africa is basically just buttermilk, ie it’s the byproduct of acidified and churned raw milk. Ra’ib is fermented milk (historically it was just milk left out for a couple days until it fermented, though I think industrially produced versions add acid to quicken fermentation). They are very similar and both work well in baking, though ra’ib is a bit thicker than leben.

    Some people make a breakfast porridge with leftover couscous, ra’ib/leben, cinnamon, and honey.

  2. hey nicole,

    i’ve been following your posts about your move with interest and empathy – i moved from new york city to bombay 5+ years ago and felt many of the same things you did, only i was never able to articulate them as clearly at the time. so congratulations for that – having the ability to write about your situation as it’s happening. it’s not easy. and many of the issues, like shoddy internet, never really get resolved (or, haven’t as of yet for me!) also, congratulations on becoming a mom! i became a mom just 5 months ago :)
    i wanted to ask you how your gingerbread with honey instead of molasses turned out? i’ve been on a (futile) search for molasses since i’ve lived here basically and while i brought one bottle back from my last trip to the states i don’t want to use a whole cup of it (because then i won’t have any left!) to make gingerbread. so please let me know how yours was with honey. i’ve contemplated using jaggery, which is, i think, raw sugar, sugar with the molasses still on it – but still not sure, because it doesn’t have that lovely bitterness of molasses. it’s more sweet. please let me know how yours was!

  3. These look so tasty! I will have to whip up a batch. I have made something like this before, not with the buttermilk, but with chives. You might try the chives :) Happy New Year!

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