(by Erin Roach)
Culinary skills are not always genetic. My grandmother was effortless. Kathryn could master several dishes at once, cooking each without a recipe. Nothing was burnt. Nothing was over-seasoned. Nothing was served at the wrong time. It was ready, and it was perfect. The woman could make noodles like you’d never seen. Tiny strands of dough so rich with beef stock you would swear you had mistakenly bitten into a brisket. Her potato salad was that of legend, using a specific brand of pickles. This was gospel. Once, during a family gathering at my aunt’s lake house, a storm began to brew. Radios blared warning of imminent disaster and advised us to take cover. We all ran for safety. My mother ran to defend the potato salad.
My skills are quite limited. I can make a mean peanut butter sandwich (no jelly) and follow instructions carefully assembled by the good people at Kraft. I can produce the cookies on the back of the chocolate chip bag, but I read the recipe four times—you know, just in case. I’ve never started a kitchen fire or added salt instead of sugar. But I don’t think my narrow repertoire is entirely my fault. I’ve tried to remember any times I worked in the kitchen with my mother. Surely it happened, but it’s like a very selective type of amnesia. I remember putting flour out on the counter and later getting cookies out of the oven. There had to be a middle experience, but I have no recollection.
It’s not to say my mother and I aren’t close. Quite the contrary. I fear my choice to move back home has put us just a chorus of “Tea for Two” away from “Big Edie” and “Little Edie” of Grey Gardens. My mother, Eva, was an artist, and I became one as well. We both love travel, shopping, theater, fashion, and a well-crafted sarcastic remark. We never bonded over cooking because we were too busy bonding over everything else. Sunday dinner was a tradition at my grandmother’s, but the closest my mother had to tradition was steeping a cup of hot tea in the morning to help the two of us “come around.” Tea for two, you might say.
One thing my mother perfected was rolls so light and fluffy that the butter seemed excited to be included. I remember her bundling up trays of freshly baked rolls in dish towels and delivering them to family members. And she certainly made an effort to feed my friends. One of them requested her recipe for delicious spaghetti, which began, “Go to Wal-mart and look for the sauce aisle.”
1 3/4 c. buttermilk
1/2 c. sugar
1 t. salt
1/2 c. canola oil
1 egg, beaten
1 package yeast
1/4 c. warm water
6 c. flour
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
In a large bowl, mix together buttermilk, sugar, salt, oil and egg.
Dissolve yeast in water and let it foam, them add to batter.
Stir in flour, baking powder, and baking soda.
Knead in floured bowl until smooth.
Store, covered, in refrigerator, punching down daily. Batter keeps for 5 - 7 days.
When ready to use, grease muffin tin with vegetable oil.
Pull off dough in balls and place 2 balls of dough in each well of the tin.
Let rise until doubled in size (about 1 1/2 hour).
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Bake for 15 minutes.