Masa harina biscuits

Masa harina biscuit

Masa harina biscuit

I found a little scrap of paper from Isaac’s homework folder that said, “Mr. Hartwell snapped the shade open.” And I decided to write a story about it as a sort of exercise, because I’ve been thinking too much lately about what I’m writing. So I didn’t think about this at all!! Mr. Hartwell snapped the shade open. This was something he was good at, a skill he’d perfected as a child. If you snapped it too fast, it came unhinged, it went round and round, fast and loose, and you couldn’t pull it down again to make it stay. If you went too slowly, it only half-rose, and remained limp and bobbing halfway, neither up nor down. The sudden shock of sunlight set him back a step, and he stood blinking and reeling as if hit by an actual wave of something strong and warm. He realized how long it had been since he’d left the house. The days added up, they piled up into a dusty mass in some dark corner, and he never noticed until he snapped the blind open. He thought about opening the window but he couldn’t tell how warm it would be. He thought about going outside. “How skinny the leash, how thin the arms that hold me.” This sentence had been in his head all night, he stopped now to wonder what it might mean, as he stood in the blinking sunshine. Of course no arms had held him in a while, but he didn’t want to think about that. Who would want to think about that? He thought about dogs, and how they don’t know they’re on a leash. They never know. They’ll walk around a telephone pole or a parking meter and when they get stuck they’ll stare up at you with an expectant wagging smile, wondering why you’ve stopped them. Maybe this meant something, maybe it didn’t. He’d been busy, writing. He’d been writing his essays, his diatribes, and when you’ve been writing you become accustomed to wondering about meaning. When he left the house he found that the world hadn’t changed as much as you might expect, and he headed to the park, although he knew it would be full of people. He had a sentence in his head, and it made him think of the park. “If you have a field far away in the air, but you’ve glued the boys’ feet behind you, and you’re waving to them to sit on the flowered air, beneath the rising from mounds. And we don’t know…” Where had he read that? He couldn’t remember. The bench was only a little damp, so he sat down. Only when the prickling cool water seeped through his trousers did he realize how warm the day, how bright the sunshine, and the park was teeming with people. All of the voices yelling for attention, laughing and calling, lost or joyful or indignant, were like the words going round and round and round in his head asking him to put them in order. Someday the world would know all that he thought and wrote about, he had no doubt about that. He used to send his writings out, he used to submit them, but he didn’t any more. It didn’t matter, he didn’t need to. Someday the world would know. A child sat next to him on the bench, and next to the child sat a young woman. His nanny, probably. She was reading a book, and the boy was filthy. Green crusty nose, smears of chocolate on his chin, jam matted in his hair. He stared at Mr. Hartwell, and his eyes were luminous green, with a glow in the center, they seemed so clean and clear that Mr. Hartwell felt very confused, and though he needed to leave he also felt that he couldn’t, and he wondered if the boy was trying to hypnotize him. He half stood, and remained crouched and foolish, limp and bobbing, neither up nor down. The nanny noticed him for the first time, and she looked scared, and she grabbed for the boy’s hand to take him up the path. But the boy wound his arms around Mr. Hartwell’s arm, and he could feel even through his jacket how strong they were. The nanny pulled the child free, and it was as though she’d released a stuck balloon. The boy took off in one crazy floating jagged movement and he was gone. Mr. Hartwell looked down at his jacket, the golden wool tweed was smeared with jam and chocolate and glistening with snot. It almost formed a pattern, he almost felt that he could read it. But he didn’t know. He didn’t know. When Mr. Hartwell went home he pulled the blinds down, but they snapped up again and scared him. He left them but he couldn’t write so he lay in bed with the blankets pulled up around his face, shivering in the warmth of the day. He fell asleep and dreamed about falling from a great height, but he wasn’t scared.

Masa Harina biscuit

Masa Harina biscuit

I’d almost forgotten about masa harina! These are a little like corn muffins, but they’re made like biscuits and they have masa harina instead of corn meal. I made them in a muffin-top sort of a tin, with wide flat holes, because I wanted them to be skinny and crispy. But you could make them in a normal muffin tin. They’re a little sweet, a little savory, and very easy to make. Nice with soup or stew.

Here’s Tom Waits with Falling Down.

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Railway buns

Railway buns

Railway buns

We’re declaring January “Mrs Beeton month,” here at The Ordinary. We’ve been poring over her Everyday Cookery (and, incidentally, pouring over it as well! Clio and I conspired to spill a whole glass of juice over the brittle pages!) We’re particularly immersed in the cakes, buns, biscuits and pastries sections – just the thing to get us through the dreary, damp, chilly, grey, drizzly, delightful winter days. There’s a comforting consistency to the recipes…page after page of nearly the exact same ingredients in nearly the exact same proportions. Flour, fat, leavening, a bit of sugar, milk, maybe an egg. Baked, steamed, dropped, girdled, glazed. And since it says “every day” cookery, we’ve been dutifully trying something new, every single day. When I saw a recipe for “railway buns,” I fell in love right away. Railway buns! What a beautiful thought. In a rare editorial comment, Mrs Beeton tells us that “These make good sandwiches for a journey.” Of course they do! Some little bit of warmth and comfort in your pocket as you set out for your adventures!!

So your Sunday collaborative playlist is on the subject of being on a journey. Not traveling songs, exactly, but songs about that moment that you realize that you’re far from home. Maybe you’re on a train or at a station or in a motel room, in between places, and it hits you like a ton of bricks just how many miles from your home you are. How strange and different everything feels. You miss home, and can’t remember why you came out here in the first place. Are you going back, or are you traveling on? Or do you sit on a bench and take a railway bun out of your pocket to take a minute and think the situation over.

railway-biscuitsI must admit that I mis-translated this recipe, but they turned out delicious anyway. I added about half the flour that I was supposed to. So that when Mrs. Beeton said I should roll out the dough and cut it into squares, I cried, “Mrs. Beeton, you’ve steered me wrong – I can’t roll out something this soft!!” Well, it turns out it was my mistake, but it worked out well. I dropped the batter onto a baking sheet, which is my preferred lazy way to go anyway. The buns were probably a little flatter than they were meant to be, but so so good. Everybody loved them. They’re quite similar to (American) biscuits, so I made them again with baking soda and baking powder instead of yeast, just as an experiment, and they turned out tasty. Softer and richer than your average biscuit, and just the thing fresh out of the oven for yet another chilly January day. And I think they, too, would make nice sandwiches for a journey.

Here’s our far from home playlist. As ever, I’ve made it collaborative so feel free to add any song you like. It’s shaping up to be a wonderful playlist for a drizzly Sunday, hunkered down with some railway biscuits in a nest of blankets!!
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