Biscuits

IMG_20171008_083800.jpgLast night, with my hands mushing through cheese-grated butter and fresh-from-the-fridge buttermilk, it struck me that this simple food — the biscuit — represents so much more than its basic ingredients. For at least a year, I’ve pondered what it means to gather at the table — a pastor I follow through his blogs, John Pavlovitz,¬†recently published a book¬†on the ideas around how we can grow our tables; while I’ve yet to read it, I have a pretty good idea of what the “table” of contents will reveal. I myself, think the table starts somewhere between flour and butter (constants of many cultures).

There are just about as many ways to make a biscuit as there are biscuit bakers. I favor self-rising flour because then I have no need to add a leavening agent — the rise is built into this favorite flour and it saves me about five seconds on the clock. Purists would most certainly scoff at my short-circuiting of more tried and true methods. Then there are the biscuit makers that rely on the “eye-ball” or “pinch” methods; others yet vary the type of butter (salted or not, sweet creme or not) — while others yet differ on their view of the buttermilk requirement. Complete die-hard kitchen gurus will favor a certain flour over another; I veer to King Arthur mostly due to the fact that it is readily available and harder to get organic flours in bulk in my current location. I rely on the closest clean drinking glass to shape my biscuits, but someone out there must be buying their biscuit cutters at Williams Sonoma (a set runs $16.95), otherwise WS wouldn’t be selling these. I cover my aged cookie sheet with parchment, followed by a quick bake on a high-temp; others speak with reverence of their 50 year-old cast iron skillet.

All of these factors aside, after about 10 or 15 minutes — you will be able to pull hot biscuits from the oven. Many routes, many flavor subtleties, one general result — simple, baked goodness. Adorn it with a crown of fresh jam or drizzled honey, maybe an egg and cheese and what do you have? Still a biscuit.

When we as neighbors stop making biscuits and seeing each ingredient for its beauty and value to the biscuit, it is not so different than when we stop joining together at the table. When we forget the flour, butter, leavening agents — these are common ingredients used around the globe. What happens to our communities and our hearts? Fracture. We are no longer building together, we are isolated; isolation, that particularly heinous form of torture. Why would we inflict this upon ourselves and others?

Several weeks ago, on a cloudless yet temperate day, my family waited patiently in line at the St. James Armenian Food Festival — waiting for the delights that send wafting scents over a several block radius. Folding chairs, long tables and plenty of hosts covered the church lawn — and of course the lines that snakes into the neighborhood. Aromatics combined with char summoned guests like ourselves from the crowded sidewalks, encouraging everyone to pick-up the pace — no one wants to be last in line and miss out on the homemade kataif created with loving exactness by parishioners.

When you take a seat at one of these utilitarian tables, a sea of colorful and exuberant faces greets your gaze — all gathered together to savor the richness of flavors that is at once exotic, but after a moment on the pallet familiar and comforting — almost as if the message in the kataif seems into your pores through your taste buds. My own daughter’s first solid food was hummus – so her young receptors knows well botht the adventure and calm that spun chickpeas and warm pita can elicit.

Here, there is peace — many routes, many faces, many ingredients. The table here is the result of the quest, the respite our hearts seek in a disparate world that each day feels more rife with contempt. maye we all back a biscuit with a friend — learn their ways, their use of butter and flour and maybe even chickpeas — then sit together, at the table to savor.

Labor Day

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It’s a rare Labor Day in the South when temperatures dip to less than roasting with that slight hint of fall in the air that drives you to throw open all the windows. Several things are certain once you do this — the incessant and steady squeaky hum of cicadas, the near and far train whistles and as daylight falls, barn owls calling out to their nighttime friends. When I was younger, I relished my nighttime drives as I escaped the radiant heat of the DC blacktop to head further South to the part-time comforts of Richmond. Sunroof open, ponytail, tank-top, a trunk full of laundry and a bottle of gin. I’d arrive at my sanctuary — my bff’s house — who has a way of making any house feel like a home; a skill I’ve yet to achieve. But that was all years ago now; now that I’ve lived here full-time, I’ve learned a few things that I only glimpsed the surface of during those languid drives and weekends. The South is all about perspective — it’s just as much beauty as ugly, or just as much ugly as beauty — and what either beauty or ugly belies, regardless of perspective — is pain. And it is applied equally to both human inhabitants and nature in this environment. Growing up in the West, we learn many words to describe both the gradations of rain and the many shades of grey during our nine-month slumber, or respite from the sun. Here, the rain falls as if God has emptied a fleet of frigate-sized buckets at once — it pounds the red clay soil to smithereens because it simply cannot absorb the force — quickly morphing into flooded streets and swollen rivers. There is no youth-restoring mist; scarred soil, symbolic of tortured souls — this punishing climate seeps into the ages, pores, roots and hearts leaving in its wake broken life.

Headed North

 

Blurry yellow buttercups, blue-green grass of early fall against white painted fence rails — all a blur as #96 picks up speed on its path north. Out of the South. A short pit-stop in Ashland, Hanover County, then our screech metal hubs begin their halting glide again. Antebellum white columns dot the county landscape; grand porches, slightly lowing swings, the occasional mare and rusty oil tanks. I know the stops by-heart on this run: Ashland, Fredericksburg, Quantico, Alexandria, DC for an engine change, New Carollton, BWI, Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia — and then the City. The rail line out of the South is where past meets present — this week, no exception — the rumble of the diesel engine sways this line; the change-over to an electric engine in DC, symbolic. Sculptured lawns of Richmond give-way as a train saunters north through the Kudzu versus Virginia Creeper vine battles — a vain attempt on both parts to overtake or stake claim — which will win? Rail unites while it divides, bringing life and death together — human, nature, community, beauty. Our hopes rest on the rails — and maybe it delivers what we yearn for it to do — connect the disparity that is everyday life. Today #96 is ahead of schedule — but we must wait for our spot on the DC dock; what we gained on our trek thus far, we now lose to other forces. Tomorrow, without doubt, #85 headed south will surely be an hour late. For now, dirty windows offer a blurred moment — to study, to gaze, to float.

Crickets in the Morning

This is the post excerpt.

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When you wake up to crickets in the morning, you know two things: rain is imminent and it is going to be pressure cooker hot by 10 am. Your home thermometer may read 72F, but your body will soon say, “I cannot move another inch…” because you know that soupy humidity paralysis will creep into every brick pore to infiltrate your home. There will be that momentary relief when the rain starts — you and your people will run outside to frolic. But once those ploppy, quarter-sized drops pick-up speed, the gutters will begin to spew back what they’ve just ingested. The it begins — the steam starts rising from the drenched pavement to meet the drops still falling from the sky — meeting somewhere around your knees. Steam and rain — the warm cloud you can touch. Refuge from this coolish swelter — that feverish feeling where you’re both hot and cold is to run back inside and sit — under the fan, AC on — until you need a sweater again.