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“You can cook for one. A fried egg and toast, a potato with cottage cheese, a single artichoke, steamed. Baking, on the other hand? I don’t care how big your sweet tooth is, you can’t eat all those cookies alone. You bake to share.
Baking means you have more than enough: more flour, more butter, more eggs, to make more cake than you need for just you. It means you have something to give away. Baking is an act of generosity and thereby an act of freedom, since to be generous is to be free from the smallness of thinking only of yourself.
Illness had made me dwell unnaturally on my own body and mind. I wanted to be generous again.”
— Jessica Fechtor, Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home
The above quote is only one of the many little gems I want to tuck away with me after reading Jessica Fechtor’s Stir, a new book written by the author of the blog Sweet Amandine. This lovely food memoir arrived at my doorstep just last Tuesday but it was so enjoyable I had it finished by Thursday night.
Inside, Jess recounts her experience having a brain aneurysm, undergoing multiple procedures and surgeries (including months in a helmet with a chunk of her head gone), recovering and, in the process, finding food to be the thing that anchors her and helps her heal.
There’s much to love about this story—first off, the writing, in which Jess shows her skill with fresh, effortless sentences that make you think; the plot, which follows a 20-something graduate student who’s happily married and thinking about having kids one minute, then holed up in a hospital room the next; and the author, who Sweet Amandine blog readers won’t be surprised to hear is consistently gracious in the ways she writes about and describes every person and experience.
It’s been a long time since I enjoyed a food memoir so much, where I found myself hunting down extra minutes to turn a page or two more and where I was sad when the last page came.
I finished Stir feeling more thankful for this working body of mine, with an enlarged perspective about the medical unknowns people experience and with a greater appreciation for the constant of the kitchen, always there, waiting for us to return.
Simple Buttermilk Biscuits
Makes 12 to 14 biscuits
I should start by apologizing to Jess for the gross liberties that I took with this recipe, but then I’d only really be saying I was sorry—because, in truth, even with a multigrain twist, these biscuits still turned out golden, savory and, oddly when eaten with roast chicken, almost like that really good breading you want to keep nibbling on from your fried chicken meal.
Here, I used a combination of (white and whole-grain) einkorn flour, rye flour and corn flour to make up the 3 cups or 375 grams of flour because that’s what I had lurking away in the freezer, and the results were on point. Jess’s version just uses all-purpose flour, so by all means go with the flour you have on hand too.
She notes that it’s an adaptation from a recipe originally from Dot’s Diner in Boulder, Colorado, as printed for a reader named Kimberly McClain in the October 2000 Bon Appetit. Maybe everybody has their favorite kind of biscuit—I usually tend towards the tall, fluffy and almost cakey version we used in this tomato cobbler —but these are a great kind to have in your back pocket, too.
3 cups (375 grams) all-purpose flour (or see headnote)
2 tablespoons coconut sugar (or regular sugar)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks, 170 grams) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup cold buttermilk (or a blend of kefir and milk, which is what I used)
Preheat the oven to 425F degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or, if you’re out, don’t worry about it, as the biscuits have a lot of butter in them and shouldn’t stick).
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Add the cubed butter and either cut it in with a pastry cutter or use your fingers to break it up throughout.
Make a well in the center of the mixture and pour in the buttermilk. Stir together and/or use your clean hands to just get everything to come together, not worrying too much about every last bit of flour being incorporated.
Place tightly packed 1/4-cup mounds of dough on your prepared baking sheet, leaving an inch or two between biscuits. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until golden brown on top.
Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home officially released June 23rd, 2015. Special thanks to Jess and Avery/Penguin Books for sending us an advance copy!
About Shanna Mallon
Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home, Houzz.com, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.