Thursday, May 24, 2012

kitchen theater

The following article first appeared in the Daily News Record on May 23, 2012.


I recently spent one entire rainy day alternating between reading to the kids, showing them educational videos, and trying to snooze on the sofa.

I had a good reason for being plumb tuckered out. The week before, my son and I had been cast in a play about an Anabaptist family living in the Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War. My son had gotten the part of a Union soldier and I had been cast as Edith, one of the family’s grown daughters. While I was thoroughly enjoying myself, the late nights and the stress of memorizing my lines and learning to wear a corset were taking their toll. Thus, the lazy day.

But right around 4 o’clock, I forced myself to rally. Rehearsals started at 6:30. We needed to hustle to get the house cleaned and supper on the table before then.

I put my younger daughter to washing the lunch dishes. I told the boys to blitz the downstairs. I assigned my older daughter to making biscuits. In the middle of it all while I sauteed the onions for our soup, I started practicing my lines.

In one of the scenes, Edith, who is known for her dreams and premonitions, tells her husband about her nightmare, which foreshadows the terror to come.

“My throat was burning,” I croaked, clutching at my neck, overdramatizing for memorization’s sake, “and all I could think of was water.”

The daughter on her stool, washing dishes, turned sideways so she could better see me and jumped into the part of my husband. “Edie...” she interjected. 

The boys had all but ceased their straightening up to watch my theatrics.

“And then up in the rocks I found a trickle of pure, clear water,” I said. I recounted how the trickle turned to a torrent. “It tore at my fingers and overflowed, gushing, soaking me, streaming down,” I cried, gasping, my shoulders heaving. “I couldn’t breathe!”

When I reached the end of the dream, the kids begged for a repeat performance.

“That’s enough for now,” I said. “My throat’s sore. We need to get these biscuits in the oven.”

My older daughter mused dreamily as she stirred the cream into the flour and lard, “You help your mama make biscuits in the play, and I’m helping you here.” Was she imagining our kitchen to be a stage set?

“That’s true,” I said. “But we never eat the stage biscuits. Besides, they’re probably hard as rocks from all the handling.”

We had no problem eating our biscuits. Even though I made a double batch, only one was left over. I ate it the next night, split and stuffed with ham, on my way home from rehearsal.

Adapted from Bernard Clayton’s Complete Book of Small Breads by Bernard Clayton Jr.

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup lard
3/4 cup cream, half-and-half, or milk
cornmeal, for sprinkling

Measure the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Cut in the lard with a fork. Gently stir in the cream.

Dump the shaggy dough on to a floured surface and knead once or twice. Press the dough into a rough circle about 1/3-inch thick. Cut the biscuits with a biscuit cutter (or a drinking glass), dipping it into flour between cuts to prevent sticking. Repeat until all the dough has been used. But be gentle—extra handling yields a tougher biscuit.

Place the biscuits on a lightly greased, cornmeal-sprinkled baking sheet. Bake at 450 degrees for 10-12 minutes until golden brown and sky high.

For more information about the play “Jordan’s Stormy Banks” by Liz Beachy Hansen, visit www.