When I was a teenager, I could sit on my bed for hours with a stack of fashion magazines and a bottle of fizzy water. I didn’t do it everyday. I was far too busy on most days dividing my time between angst and working after school. But, on the days when time permitted, it was my quiet respite from the world. I think back to those afternoons and feel warm and wonderful with memory. It’s funny to think about, really. Those weren’t life-changing afternoons, but they were important. Those tiny moments stolen whenever possible are life’s greatest indulgences. But certainly things change. I can no longer imagine being confined to my bedroom for hours without being terribly stricken with illness. I also don’t have a single subscription to a fashion magazine although I might change that as soon as I finish this post. I still do enjoy copious amounts of fizzy water, sitting still, and reading. On those rare evenings when everything works out perfectly, I might find myself on the couch in the early evening with a cup of the good stuff and a stack of fresh cookbooks.
A good cookbook can reel me in just like a good novel. It’s just as addictive, I find. But it’s not the rough cut pages, gorgeous typeface, and mouthwatering photos, over which I fawn. Those elements are wonderfully seductive, but they are merely the icing on the cake. All too often, such things are distractions. You peel away the icing and find little substance beneath. Every now and then, however, I find a true gem on my hands. That’s what I found in Good to the Grain. This book is a lovely tome of baking written in a truly generous manner. Boyce shares much about her world and the tools of her trade. She does so matter-of-factly without flowery writing or fluff. And, although the book is bursting with imperfectly gorgeous food photography, it’s the recipes and helpful discussions that are the real deal here. This is a concise manual of baking written by a mother who, in the quest to feed her wee ones healthy foods, developed a groundbreaking collection of whole grain baking recipes. I was riveted and not the least bit disappointed.
Good to the Grain fell into my lap at just the perfect moment. I returned to my house from a week’s vacation. When I walked in the front door, I found the house freezing cold and a bit damp. The air was sort of stale and my eyes immediately darted to the couch and the hardened bits of banana smeared into eternity by grubby little paws. But none of it mattered. It felt enormously good to set down the suitcase and walk across the threshold. And Maeve, who was just about to earn an oscar for the most dramatic fit in her lifetime, suddenly clambered to get out of my arms. In a flash, she was across the floor sorting through her toy bin chalk full of rediscovered treasures. I knew in an instant I needed to cook a decent meal. Only then would I truly feel grounded in my home. Vacation meals are wonderful and fun, but they don’t stack up to a decent home-cooked meal. Nor does a house feel like home when it doesn’t smell like food. So, within a couple hours, things were underway and the wee one was napping peacefully. It all felt smooth and easy. I roasted a chicken and some potatoes to perfection. We finished it off with fresh broccoli from the market. And all went swimmingly until I set out the various components of the meal before Maeve. Nary a bite did she eat. In fact, most of the meal went flying in all directions. The few timid bites she ventured were ejected instantaneously. I failed. It’s not uncommon for me, but last night it hurt. I thought we were all on the same page, but I was mistaken. There was broccoli in my hair.
My daughter currently lives on a diet of bread and fruit alone. I sometimes wonder if this is sufficient. I wonder if one can live on this little and varied diet. On the other hand, I figure she will let me know when she’s darn hungry. I’m fairly certain of this. And, in the meantime, I will do my very very best to make certain her diet of fruit and bread consists of the very finest fruit and bread there is to be had. Thank goodness for this book. This morning we made cheddar biscuits and they didn’t disappoint. The recipe, as all of the recipes in the book, was easy to follow and flawless. The biscuits are savory with a delicious peppery bite. They a touch flakey, but not too flakey. They’re the perfect to-go snack for a toddler on the run. Maeve ran about with biscuit in hand and I didn’t find myself running behind her with broom in mine. If that isn’t the measure of good toddler fare, I don’t know what is. Oh, yes, and the whole grains are wonderful too.
Make these today. Serve them with soup. Serve them with a perfectly poached egg and fresh chives. Just serve them. Battles with food are tiring. Perhaps it’s best to work within the limitations provided by the wee palate at hand.
1 cup Kamut Flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, frozen
2 cups grated sharp white cheddar, about 1/3 pound
1 cup finely grated Parmesan
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup crème fraîche
2 tablespoons buttermilk
Freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Rub two baking sheets with butter. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl, pouring back into the bowl any bits of grain or other ingredients that may remain in the sifter.
Using the large holes on a box grater, grate the frozen butter over the dry ingredients. Add the Cheddar and the Parmesan and stir until evenly combined.
In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and crème fraîche . Add the mixture to the bowl with the dry ingredients, butter and cheeses. Use a spoon or your hands to stir the dough together. As it combines, the dough will have clumps of wet dough next to many smaller, crumblier pieces.
Scrape the dough onto a floured work surface and knead it until it roughly comes together, making sure not to overwork the dough, about three kneads. Flour the surface again and use your hands to pat the dough until it’s 1 inch thick.
Using a 2 1/2-inch round cutter (or drinking glass), press straight down through the dough. Twist the cutter and lift it up, moving the biscuit to the buttered baking sheet, leaving a 2-inch space between the biscuits.
Continue to cut out circles, gathering the scraps and pressing them together to make more biscuits.
Brush the top of each biscuit with buttermilk and sprinkle with a few grinds of black pepper. Bake the biscuits for 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until the biscuits are golden brown. The biscuits are best eaten warm from the oven but will keep in an airtight container for 2 days.