My friend Mary Lynn is always sharing these wonderful little stories about how food is so much more than just sustenance, just nutrition for the body. You may recall the post from a while back on her banana bread story. She also tells this touching tale about a woman—quite old and sadly in a nursing home—who was inexplicably failing after living a vigorous and healthy life on her family’s small farm well into her 90’s.
Apparently, this woman had been diagnosed with some sort of “condition” like high blood pressure or a heart issue, and the physicians who saw residents at institution where she now lived had put her on a strict diet to keep her alive—no salt, no fat, no food she grew up with. Yet she continued to fail a little more each day. She was quite unhappy.
So one day a new doctor arrived, and, unlike the busy staff physicians who regularly saw her, he actually sat down to have a chat with this once-vibrant, but now depressed, little old lady:
“I hear you’re not feeling well,” he said.
“They won’t let me have my biscuits,” she replied, her eyes closed and a pout on her lips. “I love my morning biscuits, but they say I can’t have them anymore.”
“Well, they are trying to make sure your diet is healthy,” he replied. “They mean well.”
“Oh, I know,” she sighed, opening her eyes and giving him a look of exasperation. “They tell me it’s for my own good. But what good is it if I’m miserable? I have eaten biscuits for breakfast every morning since I was a girl, and I can’t say I think it made me sick. I just want a little biscuit with my coffee,” she said, with tears welling.”
So they talked on a bit and then a bit more about her childhood and her family and her life, while the attending nurse impatiently tapped her foot.
At some point the doctor looked up from his notes, smiled at the little old lady and said, “Okay, I’ll get you your biscuits.” He looked up at the now-incensed nurse: “Can you arrange for this lady to have her morning biscuits?”
“No, Doctor. She’s not allowed. It’s on her chart.”
“Here,” he said taking the clipboard from the nurse’s hand, “I’ll fix that.” And he scribbled down new orders for biscuits—two every morning with coffee and cream. Then he looked up at the lady, whose eyes had brightened and who was starting to smile. “Do you like butter on your biscuits?” he asked.
“Oh yes and jam—my grandmother always had strawberry jam for biscuits!”
“Well we’ll make sure your biscuits come with butter and strawberry jam, won’t we?” he said handing the board back to the nurse, who grabbed it away from him and stomped off.
He looked back at his now-beaming patient. “Biscuits tomorrow, okay? Try to get better, won’t you?”
“I feel better already,” she said. And she was, and she continued to improve on two biscuits a day with butter and strawberry jam.
So why am I telling you this story? Well, I’m about to give you my favorite buttermilk biscuit recipe for starters…one that includes fresh lavender and rosemary from my herb garden. But more importantly, I think we should all pay attention to how food affects our lives—our ecosystem by the way it’s grown, our bodies by how clean and real it is, and our souls by the way food creates memories, and care and joy. Maybe it was not really the biscuits at all that improved this little old lady’s life; maybe it was a doctor who actually took an interest and invested time in his patient. We will never know. But we can replicate the prescription. So isn’t it time you baked a batch of biscuits and served them with butter and jam and kindness for the people you love? It’s just what the doctor ordered.
- Two cups all-purpose flour (King Arthur organic is a must for me.)
- Two teaspoons baking powder
- One-half teaspoon baking soda
- One-half teaspoon fine sea salt
- Two tablespoons each fresh lavender and rosemary leaves, washed, dried and minced
- Four tablespoons unsalted butter
- Two tablespoons Coconut Spread (As always, I highly recommend Earth Balance Organic Coconut Spread
- Three-quarters cup whole buttermilk (which is hard to find, so go with low fat if you must but be sure it is a reputable organic brand such as Organic Valley or Kalona .)
- To begin, cut your butter and coconut spread into little pieces and freeze for about 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and minced herbs. (It helps if the flour is cold.)
- Using a pastry blender, cut the very cold butter and coconut spread chunks into the flour mixture. Work quickly, incorporating the butter, coconut spread and flour until you have most of the mixture resembling breadcrumbs but with some larger pea-size pieces also remaining. This uneven texture gives you a flaky quality, like pie dough, and helps the biscuits stay light. Do not allow any of the butter or coconut spread to begin to melt or become pasty.
- Add the cold buttermilk all at once and toss it from the edges of your bowl to the center with a rubber spatula.
- With floured hands, gather the dough into the ball and work gently against the sides of the bowl just until you can form a ball and the dough can be handled on a pastry board. Maybe turning and pressing five to 10 times.
- Once the dough is on the well-floured pastry board, gently shape it into a basic square and roll out a bit to create an even thickness. Try not to overwork. Use your pastry board scraper to cut the biscuits into 10 to 12 pieces. How you do this can vary—you can use a round biscuit cutter, which makes pretty biscuits, but I like the squares because there is no waste.
- Carefully place the cut biscuits on the prepared baking sheet. If you want really browned tops, brush with a bit of heavy cream. Place in the center of the oven. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, rotating halfway through.
- Allow the biscuits to cool slightly, but these are great served warm with—what else—butter and strawberry jam.
You can get creative with your biscuits as you gain experience. Add a bit of honey for sweetness or finely grated cheese for rich flavor. Experiment with different herbs, like chives and sage. Be brave!
Lavender in the kitchen…
I actually use quite a bit of lavender in my cooking. I’ve made Lavender Lemonade and shared it on the blog a few summers ago. I also like lavender in cookies—biscotti and shortbread, especially. And lavender makes a great unexpected taste in ice creams and sorbets. It is one of the required ingredients in the famous Herbs De Provence mixture.
I grow three kinds of lavender in my garden: French, English (which is used in the biscuit recipe above) and munstead—a new one for me this year but a cousin to the familiar English lavender. I use mostly traditional English lavender in cooking. The leaves contain all the flavor and perfume; the flowers are just for showing off and garnishing your dishes.
French lavender has feathery, sliver-green leaves that make it a favorite in fresh flower arrangements in my house. It has a lovely smell, but is milder in scent and flavor than English.
And don’t you just love my engraved Alaska Cutter and board bowl! A gift from my friend Deb this past Christmas, it is a treasured and very useful kitchen tool.
Wellness comes in many forms. Sometimes it means someone is listening and wants to hear your story. Sometimes wellness comes when we are told stories and allowed to share experiences. Sometimes wellness is the gift of a biscuit with butter and strawberry jam. What is wellness for you and how do you share it?