Homemade Buttermilk and Buttermilk Biscuits

So what do you do with all that milk anyway? We’re just in the beginning stages of establishing our dairy here at the farm – our processing room is fully functional, but our milk machines lay dormant in the garage, the milk parlor just an outline on sketchbook paper. In the meantime, we’re all scrambling to use up the milk before it turns.

So what do you do with all that milk? You make buttermilk, a whole bunch of buttermilk. It’s incredibly easy: heat the milk to 86 degrees, stir in the culture, and let sit at 72 degrees for 12 to 24 hours.

With buttermilk you have a baker’s dream. Think buttermilk cookies, buttermilk scones, buttermilk muffins… And of course, buttermilk cake. 

This amazingly easy cake recipe is courtesy of the great Smitten Kitchen. It’s even simple enough to whip together after evening milking (think 11 PM, swollen hands, milky hair, etc.) and bake in our toaster oven, which is a true test of a recipe’s feasibility. Try substituting the raspberries for another of your favorite toppings like strawberries or chocolate chips.

Easily our favorite buttermilk recipe is Mark Bittman’s buttermilk biscuits. They’re perfect for greasy breakfast sandwiches, and yes, even sustainably-minded farmers eat fatty foods.

Buttermilk Biscuits from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

Ingredients

2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 to 5 tbsp. cold butter
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. buttermilk

Preparation

1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl or food processor. Cut the butter into bits and either pulse it in the food processor or, if you’re using a bowl, pick up the dry ingredients and rub them with the butter between your fingers and drop them again. All the butter should be thoroughly blended into the flour mixture before you proceed.
2. Pulse a couple of times or use a large spoon to stir in the buttermilk, just until the mixture forms a ball. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it 10 times, no more. If it is very sticky, add a little flour, but very little; it should still stick slightly to your hands.
3. Press the dough into a 3/4-inch thick rectangle and cut into 2-inch rounds with a biscuit cutter or glass. Put the rounds on an ungreased baking sheet. Gently reshape the leftover dough and cut again. Bake for 7 to 9 minutes, or until the biscuits are a beautiful golden brown. Serve within 15 minutes for them to be at their best.

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Lorraine, France – A Foodster’s Paradise


After three weeks of gallivanting through France, England, and Iceland (for about 15 hours), we’re finally working our way back into our daily grinds here in Brooklyn. We brought back plenty of French and English food-stuffs (a whole laundry basket’s worth), and perhaps we can trick our minds into thinking we’re still there.

The Lorraine region falls in the northeast quadrant of France, about 200 miles from Paris. Lorraine is a breathtaking area, not unlike New York State, with sprawling agricultural plains, lush mountain forests, and deep river valleys. Because Lorraine shares a boarder with Germany, its history and architecture carries a heavy German influence.

Landscape and aesthetics aside, the Lorraine region is a foodsters paradise. The area lays claim to the original recipes of some heavy-hitters in the food world, including quiche Lorraine, madeleines, and macarons. The natives of Lorraine are incredibly loyal to their Lorraine food heritage, and every town and city is sure to have a regional food specialty store bursting at the seams with Lorraine products from wine to jams to cheeses.

The city of Nancy in particular is famous for its bergamot and the original almond macaron. The Nancy macaron is a bit different from the colorful sandwich cookies that one usually associates with France. Tradition has it that two Nancy nuns created the cream-less Nancy macaron to fit their strict dietary habits. The result? A deeply honored chewy, almond-y cookie that is truly delicious. Despite the emphasis on the Nancy macaron, there was no shortage of the cream-filled cookies. Every patisserie carried the petite cookies in a heart-melting array of colors and flavors including lavender, pistachio, mirabelle, poppy (coquelicot), and lemon basil.

{Nancy macarons} {traditional macarons}

Another Lorraine specialty is the coveted mirabelle. The mirabelle is, quite simply, a tiny yellow plum, but its mysticism comes from the fact that about 80 percent of its global cultivation happens right in the Lorraine region. The season for fresh mirabelles is also unfortunately short, lasting for only about 2 weeks in August. As a result, the majority of the fruit is preserved as jams, wines, extracts, juices, soaps and the like, so the Lorraine natives can enjoy their sweet fruit year round. Of course I grabbed myself some mirabelle tea and extract, which I can’t wait to experiment with!

{fresh mirabelles, image courtesy of lonelilly.com}

A few other notable Lorraine goodies: local honey, outdoor markets, and of course, the Lorrainian’s love of backyard gardening.

{French beehives!} {honey, first of the season}


English Country Living

{the ladies}

Hiya, from England! The past two weeks have definitely been the more relaxed leg of our European journey; we’re doing much less of the whole-day sightseeing we did in France and instead more long strolls and bike rides through the English countryside. This is our  setting: sprawling fields scattered with sheep and cows; a converted cow barn which my family calls home; thatched roofs; pubs; and chickens. Four chickens, to be exact, who putter around my aunt’s garden squawking every so often to either 1. tell us she’s laid an egg, or 2. cry for help in fear of our family’s two black labs. Really the labs are harmless, and are actually a good line of defense against the ever so sly foxes that roam the area in search of an unsuspecting chicken.

{Meg, always a sweetie, mostly smelly}

Since we’re spending so much time just relaxing around the garden, I’ve made a significant dent in the first book on my “Books I Want to Read When I Actually Have Time to Read After Graduating College” – Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy.


Deep Economy is not exactly a beach-side page-turner. McKibben begins with the heard-it-all-before doomsday preaching about the imminent demise of man in his abuse of his environment, food system, economics, and fellow man. McKibben’s basic tenant: the developed Western world is based on hyper-individualism, where society promotes the furthering of the individual and the individual alone. Despite having more stuff and more “free-time,” members of the developed world are dissatisfied and unhappy in the deepest way imaginable. But it’s McKibben’s solutions that I find so valuable. He discusses the need for a return to localized economies, and a greater emphasis on community investment as opposed to the current fervor around individual investment and betterment, an idea that we all danced around in school but never really investigated. And the kicker? McKibben centers his argument around food. It’s a good read for anyone interested in another take on local food economies and communities.

On the lighter reading side, I’ve taken to flipping through my aunt’s old UK Country Living magazines. They’re my new guilty pleasure, perfect for a break from the more heavy stuff (because everyone needs to clear their minds once in a while). The magazine includes scenes from British country life, recipes, craft projects, floral guides, and just good ol’ country decorating aesthetics.

We’ll be home in three days time (after an overnight in Iceland on Thursday; they only get one hour of night this time of year!) In the meantime, we’ll keep eating classic English grub: meat pies & fish and chips (for Noah of course), jacket potatoes, cream teas, tea cakes, and room temperature bitter beer.


Bonjour, de France!

{le jardin}

The French are amazing me. Bonjour, de Chaligny, France! (I apologize for the quality of the picture; I won’t be able to upload any pictures off the Nikkon until we’re back in the States, so the iPod will have to do for now.) Chaligny (population, 3,000) lies near the Eastern coast of France, close to the boarder of Luxembourg. Most of the streets are narrow, the houses dating back to the late 1700s. To get here, Noah and I had to take a TGV train from Paris into Lorraine (yes, like the quiche), and then drive 40 minutes into the town of Chaligny. It was a whole day’s journey.

But we made it! I can’t help but feel a teeny bit like Julia Child. Although I lack the culinary goddess’s height and quirky personality, I’m reveling in the French cuisine and trying my darnednest (but for the most part, failing) to speak a language that I haven’t spoken since my one semester at NYU over two years ago. To add to my French love affair, one of our hosts just happens to be the most amazing chef in all of France (I’m sure of it), so we’ve been eating extremely well. The first night was a vegetable ratatouille, the second night was une fête (a party) which included 4 courses, 6 bottles of wine and champagne, espresso and Baileys, and last night was a French pasta called spaetzle. Speatzle is a pasta miracle, unlike anything we have in the states. I found a recipe on Smitten Kitchen, in case you’re interested. OH and the cheese. Roquefort, comté, Saint Agur just to name a few of the pre-dessert staples of our French meals.

One of the best things is rummaging through our host’s ancient French cookbooks. My favorite so far is Le Grand Livre de Recettes, which has entire chapters devoted to “Le Vin a Table” (wine pairings and pourings), “Pliages de Serviette” (decorative napkin folding), and “Les Decors” (cooking decorations). How French!

And les jardins. Our hosts have a beautiful, modest garden at the back of their house. Aside from the plethora of gorgeous and fragrant rose bushes, they have spinach, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, strawberries (which are ripe enough to eat off the vine!), chard, peppers, cucumbers, etc. Basically the whole staple vegetable gamut. Even more impressive, our hosts are the not exception. Almost every house that we’ve seen that has a yard has a section devoted to a substantial vegetable plot. Backyard farming is not a phenomenon here, as it is in the states, it’s just the French way.


Off To Europe, Be Right Back

{image courtesy of yaymicro.com}

We’re finally off! Tonight we’re headed to Paris via Reykjavik, Iceland. (We somehow avoided the near-catastrophe of Eyjafjallajokull.) But Paris is only a pit-stop on our three week journey; our final destination in France is the Western countryside where we intend to march around some nature, eat delicious food, and hopefully get to see some farmers and markets. I’ll try to eat a real French macaron for you. From there we fly from Luxemburg to London and then take a train to the English countryside where we’ll be spending time with my family and tending to their new flock of chickens, exploring some ancient churches (probably…those things are everywhere in England), and drinking room temperature beer. On that note, I should probably get packing. See you soon!


Putting Meat on the Legume Loyalist Table


{photo cred www.allposters.com}

This blog was built on vegetarianism. At my core, vegetarianism burns brightly and serves as a foundation for my passion for sustainable food issues. But some recent events and thought-inspiring conservations have compelled me to rethink my convictions. I never ever thought that I would say this but I’ve decided to rejoin my carnivorous peers: I, Stephanie Fisher, will eat meat.

So why would I, Stephanie Fisher the vegetarian, make such a strong statement in favor of what has been anathema to me for the past 5 or so years? You might recall when I attended a pig butchering demo a few months ago. I was so moved by the owners of the upstate pig farm The Piggery that I considered having a sizzling taste of the beast in front of me. Suddenly, supporting a local economy and sustainable family business trumped my personal and political ethics. A similar internal stirring hit me this past week as my food systems class visited a local butcher shop in the West Village. The field trip was part of our ‘carnivore nation’ section where we explored the historical and contemporary context of meat culture beyond the factory farm. On our reading list was a really great book on the rise of meat consumption in America – Roger Horowitz’s Putting Meat on the American Table.

Similarly as persuasive is Edible Manhattan‘s “Good Meat” issue. Eating ‘good meat’ can be an expression of sustainability and self-sufficiency: to eat good meat is to understand the origins of your food, to know what questions to ask of your butcher or farmer. Of course, deciding “what is good meat” is inevitably complex and includes considering: What animal did it come from? What was the animal fed? How was the animal raised? How far did the meat travel? Is it a local farm? Is it a local butcher? Are their farm/business practices sustainable and good for the planet and local community?

So once I’ve considered all of these questions, which I have the privilege of doing here in my urban context where the resources are readily available to me, I find that there is life for the carnivore beyond the factory farm.

ADDENDUM: April fools!


Harney and Sons in SOHO

FINALLY my favorite tea company has a shop that isn’t hours away into the countryside of upstate NY. Although I do love the pilgrimage-eque aspect of driving through the hills to Millerton, having Harney and Sons tea just a subway ride away is incredibly exciting. The new flagship store, which includes two complimentary tea tastings with each visit (the “tea of the moment” and a tea of your choice), a tea room with snacks, and tea accessories, is at 433 Broome Street between Broadway and Crosby street.

I went a little tea-crazy and bought two ounces of Bankok (green tea with lemongrass, vanilla, coconut and ginger) Paris (black tea with vanilla, caramel, and Bergamot), and the Valentine’s Blend (I’m not a Valentine’s fanatic, yeah I appreciate the novelty of homemade valentine-grams, but gosh black tea with chocolate and rosebuds? I couldn’t resist!). My favorite Harney and Sons tea is still by far Boston, a black tea blend with almond and cranberries. Andd good to know, NYU students get a 10% discount at the shop!

If you’re feeling at all adventurous with your baking lately, try out this recipe for Paris-tea infused buttercream icing inspired by one of the Harney sons.