It’s Official: I’m a Freakin’ Genius

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I’ve been declared a freakin’ genius. All because of a humble biscuit.

After almost 22 years of marriage, my Darling finally agreed with what I’ve been telling her all along: I’m a genius.  Not just “a” genius.  A “freakin'” genius.  She even made it Facebook official, so it must be true.  Imagine my surprise.  And it came about through the most unlikely of events.  But first I need to take you back a few weeks.

“Why don’t you make some homemade biscuits?” she asked on that fateful Saturday morning last month.

I was shocked to hear those words.  So shocked that I narrowly avoided blurting out “Who are you?  And what have you done with my wife?”

Bread in our household is a touchy subject.  Me, I’m pretty non-judgmental.  So long as it’s made with flour and some sort of liquid, I’m likely to think it’s just great.  The Bouncing Baby Boy is a little more picky, but he’s also pretty tolerant.  My Darling, on the other hand, is a discerning bread connoisseur.  Over the years, we’ve discovered a few types that she likes.  But only a few.  And never anything like my mom’s biscuits, which were perfect for soaking up a pat of melted butter and great jam-delivery devices but not really what I would call “light and airy.”  In fact, biscuits are so far outside my skills, I haven’t really even tried to make them in years.  As I recall, all of my little family turned up their noses at the last batch.  Come to think of it, the local wildlife wouldn’t eat them out of the compost pile, either.  Under the circumstances, you can understand my confusion.

“Ummm, okaaay,” I said.  “Really?  Me make biscuits?”

“Sure,” she smiled.

I panicked.

Fortunately, my niece happened to be home from college.  She came into the kitchen and started making toast instead.  Feeling like I’d dodged a rogue asteroid, I mumbled something like “Why don’t we just have toast today?  And I’ll find a good recipe for another time.”

So I did.  I scoured the internet and our cookbooks looking for a good, simple recipe.  You would be absolutely amazed at how complicated some people can make a simple breakfast quick bread.  If any of my ancestors had ever been told it would take an hour or more to make biscuits, they’d STILL be laughing.  I settled for rolling my eyes, snorting in derision, and moving on to the next page.

Finally, though, I came across Paula Deen’s fireplace biscuits.  They looked promising.  Simple and quick, my only concern was figuring out how long to bake them and at what temperature since our oven is notoriously lacking in hot coals.  Trial and error is sometimes my friend, but for this I wanted a day when I was the only taste-testing victim in the house.

Then I got distracted, and that’s where I left it.

Fast forward a couple of weeks.  Sam and I were home alone and he wanted biscuits.  Since there weren’t any store-bought packages in the fridge, I asked if he would be okay with me trying out a new recipe.  Poor kid must have been desperate because he agreed to be my guinea pig in figuring out how to do this.

That first batch weren’t too bad.  A little dense and somewhat crumbly for my taste, but not too bad.  I did figure out that 350° is NOT the same as “hot coals” when they took 25 minutes to cook and never browned.  But he pronounced them edible, and I breathed a sigh of relief.  In fact, he issued a directive that I was never again to buy the boxed biscuits at the grocery.  I tried to share one of my creations with Mary Anne when she got home from work, but sadly, unlike our child, she was not in the mood for my culinary experiments.  Ah well.

Then today, after hitting the Downtown Farmer’s Market in the pouring rain, we had breakfast with friends at Rudy’s.  There were, as usual, great company, delicious food, wonderful conversation, and a bottomless coffee cup.  All my favorites.  In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I forgot to order Sam’s breakfast to take home.  Oops.

Luckily, he was cool with biscuits and sausage for lunch.  And he asked for the homemade variety.  Apparently “never again” in his world really did mean “do not feed me brand-name biscuits in future.”  So I set to work, taking the opportunity to make a couple of tweaks to Paula’s recipe.  When they came out of the oven, I realized that it really did take no more time to make them by hand.  It turns out, the oven takes about 15 minutes to come up to temperature.  And it takes about 15 minutes to mix up the dough, cut the biscuits, and drop them on the cooking stone.  There is absolutely no time saved by using Pillsbury.  Instead, you do save a lot of preservatives and other unhealthy additives.  It’s a win-win.

While he was eating lunch, I took the beagle out for his midday walk.  When I came back, my Darling was sitting at the table happily munching one of the biscuits.  Yes, I said “happily.”  She had even posted a photo and update to Facebook.  I was more than a little surprised.  Amazed even.  And very, very pleased.

So, without further ado, here’s how I like to make biscuits these days.

Ingredients

  • 1 stick (8 tbsp) butter
  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp raw sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup whole milk

Directions

Drop butter in the freezer for a half hour or so.  It’s even better if you have time to freeze it solid, although this is not absolutely necessary.  While the butter is chilling, preheat the oven to 425°-450°F.

In a mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients and mix well.  Working quickly, cut butter into the mixture (I use a grater or a pair of knives), then finish mixing it with your fingers. You don’t want the butter to melt before the biscuits go into the oven. It should be crumbly and look like wet sand.

Add milk and mix until dough forms.  If you want to mix with your hand, add milk in stages.  You should end up with a relatively smooth dough that is not sticky.  On a lightly floured surface, roll or press dough to 1/2 inch thick (more or less) and cut biscuits.  Use a biscuit cutter or a small cup.  Try not to overwork the dough at this point.

Toss biscuits in the oven for 12-15 minutes or until they are as brown as you like them. Brushing the tops with melted butter might help them to develop good color.  That’s my next experiment.

Remove from oven, slather with yet more butter and homemade jelly/jam/preserves.

Bon appétit!

When I Realized I Love Growing Green Beans

Awesome garden

One of our raised beds.

I love growing green beans.

This year, our garden looks awesome. I’m really proud of it. In the past few weeks, I’ve been sharing lots of pictures on social media. To be honest, I’ve posted more photos of lettuce than I did of our son at graduation. But then the lettuce haven’t argued as I attempted to document their important milestones. No, they just grow themselves silly, as if they are encouraging me to break out the camera and photograph every bloom. (They don’t have to ask twice!)

After today’s rain, the garden was looking especially pretty. So once again, I took a few photos. This time, I featured the bush green beans. This is the first time I’ve ever planted green beans. Since, I don’t can them, I haven’t found it necessary to grow them. Instead, I rely upon on my sister to provide us green beans each year for Christmas. If she never gives me anything else, as long as there are quarts of her home-grown, home-canned green beans under the tree, I’ll be a happy woman. But I digress….

D. Landruth Seed Company is the oldest seed company in America.

D. Landruth Seed Company is the oldest seed company in America. They feature heirloom varieties.

This year, I decided to plant a package of D. Landruth Seed Company’s bush green beans. On a warm Saturday in March, I eagerly ripped open the seed packet, removing the top 1/2 inch. Sweet Katie (our niece’s friend who we’ve adopted into the family) was spending the afternoon with us. She mapped out how far apart the seeds needed to be and proceeded to plant. A couple weeks later when I was telling my sister that I had decided to plant green beans, she asked what type did we plant? I pulled out the seed packet (with its missing top 1/2 inch) only to discover that the seed genus was missing. Landruth produces beautiful seed packets, utilizing their archives of plant illustrations. On the back, they detail the history of the species. Some of their seeds originated in the 17th century. The detailed growing and care information is available on their website. So I couldn’t answer her question. I could see that I had bush beans, but I couldn’t tell her if they were Blue Lakes or Kentucky Wonders.

Why is that important to know? Because in my family, feuds have been started over varieties of green beans. When my great-aunt started growing Blue Lakes, there was anarchy from her older sister, my grandmother. Snide comments were made at holiday tables about the lack of beans in the green beans. Tsks were uttered over sparkling quart jars fresh from the pressure cooker. Snorts of disgust were echoed across well-tended garden rows. Blue Lakes were not Kentucky Wonders, the much valued pole bean that ruled my grandmother’s vegetable garden. I remember one year when my mother merely suggested planting Blue Lakes because they are stringless. That wasn’t about to be tolerated.

For most, Blue Lakes are considered the benchmark of green beans because they have dark green cylindrical and, most importantly, stringless pods. But that stringless pod contains tiny bean seeds. I happen to think they are boring. I mean, when I eat green beans, I want to eat a well-balanced bite of pod and seed. I don’t want mostly pods. Besides, aren’t green beans best when they have a few loose shellies in them? Have you ever seen Blue Lakes shellies?

I didn’t think so.

Kentucky Wonders first appeared in seed catalogs in 1850. They are the classic pole bean. All across the south, whenever you see massive pole structures shaped like tee pees, that gardener is growing a hearty variety of Kentucky Wonders.  Kentucky Wonders are a prolific brown-seeded beans with oval, thick, gently curved pods.

Oh there have been many advances in seed development since my childhood, and I rather doubt my grandmother could tell the difference between the two these days. But she’d never budge on which tasted better or produced a better harvest. GMO seed or not, Ferry Morse Kentucky Wonders would still be her choice.

A green bean is born

A bush green bean is born.

So all spring, I have pondered about those green beans. Did I have Blue Lakes or Kentucky Wonders or perhaps (yikes!) some other variety? I tried not to fret too much about it because, while I didn’t know what kind they were, they were beautiful! A few days after we planted them, like a well-rehearsed chorus line, all the beans broke thru the ground and began reaching for the sun. I was delighted and thus began photographing them.

Today when I got home from work, I went to check on the garden. Like I said previously, it had rained and the kale were reaching out, waving for me to come brag on them. That’s when I noticed that my “bush beans” had sprouted tendrils like pole beans. Just days earlier, I had questioned my sister about trellising the green beans because they were creating vines, not bushes. She laughed at my question and assured me that bush beans were grown in mounds. All would be well.

Tendrils

Tendrils from the green beans have found the cucumber trellis.

Not exactly! A few of the “bushes” had found a trellis to grab onto. The problem was that their chosen trellis was designated for cucumbers which are already going to be over-crowded. I posted a photo of young tendrils wrapping themselves around the cucumber trellis. Then I tagged my sister and said, “Do I break out another trellis? Because I am not sacrificing the cucumbers!”

That’s when she sent me into a tail spin.

“First of all, I don’t see any green beans,” she said. “I see lettuce, radishes, and cucumbers. Need to do something about the bugs on the bottom left. Don’t want other bugs moving in.”

“Bugs? In my garden? Hardly!”

I told her that she was not seeing bugs. Instead she was seeing leaves in the compost. There weren’t any predatory bugs taking over.

Then I begin to worry. I enlarged the photo on my camera so that I could see the fine details. There was something there. But if it were bugs, they looked awfully big. I hadn’t notice them when I was taking pictures. Bugs that big would eat everything overnight. I began to fret about the army of hungry bugs marching into the radishes. But it was already dark and there was 10 minutes left of WWE Smackdown. Randy Orton was schooling Cody Rhodes. If I went out to the garden now, Sam would never forgive me. He looks forward to Friday night wrestling all week. It’s our one time when we, as a family, sit down to watch TV and cheer the superstars of the WWE. I’m still surprised I actually enjoy it. But when we’re watching wrestling, Sam is a different kid. He laughs, cheers, and analyzes the story lines and character motives. He’s engaging and the sour-mouthed teenager has disappeared. It’s my time to spend with my kid and we connect. So I waited and tried not to appear impatient as time after time Orton failed to get the count out.

Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I put my shoes on and grabbed a flashlight.

“I’ve got to check the garden.”

My Beloved looked at me like I was crazy.

“You know that it’s dark outside, right?”

“We own flashlights. Are you coming? Right now there could be a garrison of bugs chewing their way thru everything!”

“I’ll get my shoes,” he said.

He could tell that I meant business.

Night Gardening

Concerned a garrison of hungry predator bugs were about to march thru the lettuce, I decided to go check.

I went straight for the plant featured in the photo. There weren’t any bugs, just  a tiny slug on a kale leaf. I picked it off and then dug under the lettuce. Again, no bugs. Well not a bug worth complaining about. After all, there are some bugs that are supposed to be in your garden. So what had she seen? Finally, I stood up and refocused the light. Glistening with dew were pebbles scattered around into the compost. Could they be the bugs? When my Beloved arrived on the scene, I asked him.

“Yep. There is your garrison. Next time you empty one of the patio containers in the compost pile, remember to sift out the pebbles you used in the bottom for drainage.”

Then he stomped back to the house, and I wished my precious garden good night. Sleep well my precious babies. I’ll see you again in the morning.