Biscuit, Biscuit, and Biscuit

I was reviving my refrigerator micro-pets, aka waking up the kefir and the sourdough which usually languishes in the back of the fridge. Twice-daily feeding of the critters makes for a fair amount of excess sourdough. There’s only so much bread you can bake, and it usually takes all day, which is inconvenient – so what to do with the stuff? I could just dump it in the compost, I suppose – and I’ve done just that, too. But it’s wasteful, so really a last-ditch thing to do (haha, see what I did there? Last ditch, ditching the sourdough. I’m so funny).

Also, due to one thing and another, I was feeling in need of something very basic, old-fashioned to do, something nourishing, something non-electronic.  Sourdough baking fits the bill.

And I’ve got all this lovely fresh strawberry jam from yesterday – what to put it on? Biscuits, methinks! So I booted up Google (yes, I’m aware of the irony this creates with the preceding paragraph), and found a nice recipe for sourdough biscuits.


They’re really just ordinary baking powder biscuits with sourdough by way of liquid and some baking soda added, but the sourdough does give it a nice tang. Feeling retro-nostalgic (i.e. longing for a past that I never experienced, when everything was simple and children frolicked in meadows while birdies tweeted in trees instead of people on the internet), I got out the cast iron and baked the biscuits in the 12-inch Lodge skillet. Which, incidentally, worked extremely well; I’ll definitely use the cast iron for baking pans again.

But while the biscuits were merrily baking away, I got to thinking about the word “biscuit”, and how it means something completely different in different countries.

First (or, actually, last – but we’ll get to that in a moment) there is the American meaning, which is the sense I’m using it here, in my trusty Lodge cast iron. American biscuits are medium-sized little soft baking powder cakes or buns – about 3″ across, 1 1/2″ thick, not very sweet, and always, always eaten as fresh as possible, preferrably still hot. They’re a lovely accompaniment to stew or soup, and yes, quite nice with butter and fresh strawberry jam.

Then there’s the English biscuit – what Americans call a cookie. If I’m not mistaken, an English biscuit is most commonly crispy, with a nice crunch to it, suitable for dipping in cups of tea. Also delicious.

Marguerite Patten, Step by Step Cookery, 1973

And then there’s the German Biskuit (pronounced bis-quit), which is the same as the French biscuit (bis-quee). It’s what English-speaking people would call sponge cake – a soft, light cake batter with lots of eggs, made by separating egg yolks and whites, whipping the whites to stiff peaks, and very carefully folding everything together. It’s the basis for many of the amazing cream cakes and tortes Europe is famous for (a proper Black Forest Cake, for example, is usually a chocolate Biskuit with cherry filling, kirsch, and whipped cream – none of that fake pastry cream concoction American supermarkets deign to call by that name).

Dr. Oetker, Backen macht Freude, 1987

Now, my guess is that the journey of the word meaning actually went in reverse order from the one I have here – from Latin to French, thence to England, then with the Pilgrim Fathers to the New World where savoury sourdough biscuits were easier to produce in the campfire dutch oven than tea-dipping shortbread fingers. But that’s entirely uneducated guesswork on my part; don’t go quoting me in papers on the history of food.


Incidentally, there’s also the word “bisque” or “biscuit firing” that potters do – the first firing of the pots after they’ve dried; it’s followed by the glaze or glost firing. “Biscuit” literally means “twice-baked”, so it’s far more apt here than in cooking. Potters also sometimes use biscuits, or cookies, in the kiln – flat discs of unglazed clay to prop smaller items up during glaze firing so if the glaze runs the item doesn’t get glued to the kiln shelf. But I think in that case, the “biscuit” refers to the shape of the thing, not it’s twice-baked aspect. The same goes for a biscuit joint in carpentry, where a small round disc is glued into a slot, holding two adjoining pieces together.

And now the timer on my stove tells me that my cast-iron-baked sourdough bread is ready to come out of the oven, so I’ll leave off my biscuitual musings and see to my loaves.

Life, the Universe, and Biscuits. Pass one over here, please – I don’t care what kind.



Beauty and the Book

quill and qwerty

I had a gift card for the local bookstore that I’d been saving for something special. And I went shopping today and spent it: The Beauty and the Beast, the full novel-length version by Mme de Villeneuve (in the 1858 translation by J. R. Planché), with amazing and fancy illustrations (some of them pop-ups) by MinaLima. It only just came out a couple of weeks ago. Now I finally have my own copy of the Villeneuve version!

View original post

Jill of All Trades


Way back, when I first started blogging, I took a blogging course. If you want readers, the teacher said, make your blog be about something. Have a focus! But I didn’t. Because I can’t.

There are lots of blogs that are about one thing, and one thing only. I have friends who write about sewing or knitting. There’s several blogs I follow that are all about fairy tales (like this, or this one). Writers, of course, have blogs about writing. There are great blogs about food (incredible numbers of them! reams of them! mountains of them!). Or Jane Austen. Or photography. Or Norfolk in the 18th century.

To be honest, I feel a bit inferior to those bloggers, if not a bit jealous of them. They’re serious about what they’re doing. They have lots of followers. They know their stuff; their blogs are interesting. But mine… Well, there’s food. And fairy tales. And photos. And Austen, and writing, and pottery and soap-making and history and gardening and cats and herbology and musings on mental health; and then the occasional interlude with a small stuffed bear (he’s been there from the very beginning).

Chive vinegar I made yesterday

Stick with one thing? I’m sorry, I can’t. Never have been able to. No, I don’t have ADHD (Squirrel!) – more like CCS, Chronic Curiosity Syndrome. There are just too many interesting topics out there for me to restrain myself to just one. I’ll get bitten by an interest bug, and then I’m utterly passionate about it for a while – and then I lose interest, and move on to something else.

Some fifteen years ago, I was crazy about fish – as in, aquaria, not the kind you cook. I’d haunt the pet shops, drooling over the nice setups with the 30-gallon tanks and live plants. A few years before that, it was heirloom sewing and embroidery – hand-stitching clothes with no sewing machine whatsoever (I made some tiny little night gowns for my new baby, and a couple of rag dolls). Cooking. Quilting. Bread making. Soaping. Painting (both walls and pictures – the latter in watercolour, oil, acrylic, pastels…). English history. Calligraphy. Jewellery making. Dollhouses. Furniture building. Art history. Guitar (and recorder, percussion, harmonica; even a tiny bit of piano and pan flute…). Growing herbs, and using them for food and medicine. Been there, done that, all of it; and plenty others besides.

Very Small Ink People Crop
“Very Small Ink People”, 2011. Ink & Watercolour, 8×10″.

I am, indeed, a Jill of All Trades. But you know the rest of that saying, don’t you? Jack of all trades, master of none. That’s because Jack never sticks with anything long enough to get really good at it.

That’s me – there’s a lot of things that I know how to do or know something about, but it’s all at the level of a first-year apprentice. I play guitar quite well, but nobody would come to hear me in concert. I can paint, but no one is beating on my door begging me for another piece to add to their collection. I’m a darn good cook, even if I say so myself, but I’m not about to open a restaurant. I can make pottery dishes, but they’re none of them exactly the same size or shape, or else great one-off pieces of art. I’m a mine of trivia on history and Jane Austen and fairy tales and herb lore and folk customs, but I’m not going to write books on any of those topics.

Well, maybe not books – but I can write blog posts. Snippets of any and all of these things. That’s why this blog is called “amo vitam” – “I love life”. Some of everything. Jack of all trades, master of none.

Actually, I do have a Master’s degree. But guess what it’s in? I’m a Master of Arts, in Integrated Studies. I got a degree in not making up my mind; I’m a Master of Some-of-Everything-Please. Jill of All Trades, Mistress of Mixed Pickles.

And so that’s what this blog is, too: a great big crock of mixed pickles. (Hmm, crock. Sauerkraut. I want a Sauerkraut crock, one of those straight-sided buff stoneware ones, for making and storing homemade Kraut like they did in the Old Country. I should make myself one. Let’s see… Oh! Oops, sorry, where were we? Right, blog. Mixed pickles.) Yes, I know that it won’t make my blog one of those go-to ones for expert information; that it won’t be one of those sites that people quote in academic papers. And you know what? I think I’m okay with that.

Life, the Universe, and Everything. It’s always been about that.

Steve and some patriotic flowers.


The Issue With Rumpelstiltskin

quill and qwerty


I have a heck of a time typing “Rumpelstiltskin” – the “ltsk” combo in the middle is really hard to get, as no other word I can think of has that sound sequence in English. For some reason, the German “Rumpelstilzchen” flows much easier from the fingers.

However, that’s not the main issue with this fairy tale. The real problem, I decided on re-reading it yesterday, is that the beautiful miller’s daughter (that’s the beautiful daughter of the miller, not the daughter of the beautiful miller – there’s English grammatical ambiguity for you) is screwed coming and going.

I used to like “Rumpelstilzchen” when I was a child. It has an ending that I always found quite satisfying: The nasty manipulative gnome is found out, and in his fury at being thwarted he tears himself in half. Happily Ever After, The End. It never occurred to me that…

View original post 928 more words