26 March 2009

Ham Biscuits

In the radiology waiting room a man stands, with trouser socks pulled up to his calves and shiny leather loafers, wearing nothing other than a droopy hospital gown. He has a laptop in one hand and a cell phone in the other, and he paces back and forth furiously, determined to do work up until the last minute he has to enter the radiation room. These are the prostate cancer patients.

There is a very pretty young woman, head wrapped in an elegant scarf with thick blush on her cheeks, sitting while milky white liquid drips into her veins. She has shiny silver flats that match her silver bag. There are middle-aged women too, many walking about slowly, many flat-chested, waiting outside radiology. These are the breast cancer patients.

There is a young man with a brace like my mom's, he has multiple myloma, with tumors along his spine. His mother comes each day in a different shalwar kameez, tunic and scarf perfectly placed, a perfect shade of sunset orange one day, a black and gold embroidered ensemble the next.

There are patients who carry buckets for vomiting in their laps, and those with perfect hair and those with none. These are the cancer patients.

No one looks like the brain cancer patients. No one has to be arranged on the table just so, wincing as their disabled body is laid on the hard surface. No one has to have a wire mesh mask clamped over their entire head and shoulders so tight that they can barely breathe or talk. No one else has the mask's "waffle face," the indentations that last for an hour after the mask has been released.

My mom has maintained a good appetite through her treatment, a side effect of the steroids, she happily eats most anything we put in front of her. Starches are best: pizza, mashed potatoes, pie, and pudding. Nothing too acidic or vegetal, the wine aficionado has lost her taste for anything except half glass of Lillet.

My aunt sent Tennessee country ham, super-salty thinly sliced cured ham, and I made biscuits for serving. Ham biscuits are less of a recipe and more of a Southern tradition. My grandmother called them "hambiscuit," one word and always in the singular. They are found at every family party I ever attended, and these days they are pretty comforting, wrapped in foil and tucked in your bag, snacked on in the sterile halls of the radiology waiting room.

Ham Biscuits

thinly sliced country ham (I recommend these guys)

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter—chilled and cut into small cubes
1 cup buttermilk, chilled
additional melted butter for brushing the tops

1. Preheat the oven to 425° and position a rack in the lower third of the oven. In a large shallow bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and fine salt. Add the chilled butter and use a pastry blender or 2 knives to cut the butter into the flour until it is the size of peas. Stir in the buttermilk just until the dough is moistened. Lightly dust a work surface with flour. Turn the dough out onto the surface and knead 2 or 3 times, just until it comes together. Pat the dough into a 1/2-inch-thick disk.

2. Using a floured 2 1/4-inch round cookie cutter, stamp out biscuit rounds as closely together as possible. Gather the scraps and knead them together 2 or 3 times, then flatten the dough and stamp out more biscuit rounds. Pat the remaining scraps together and gently press them into a biscuit.

3. Transfer the biscuits to a large baking sheet and brush the tops with the melted butter. Bake the biscuits for 20 minutes, or until golden. Let the biscuits cool slightly on the baking sheet.

4. Split biscuits, fill each with a nice, but not too thick, pile of country ham. Serve as soon as possible.


breadchick said...

There is NOTHING like Tennessee Country Ham.

MBH's family is from TN and after his funeral, we had so many country ham biscuits that I think that was all we ate for a week. They were comforting to us all. When I was visiting his mother over the past Thanksgiving, she sent me home with a whole Country ham. "It will be comforting", she said.

I'm glad your mother is doing so well through her treatment. And you are right, the Ham biscuits are comfort food.

Quinne said...

Hi Mercedes - sending you hugs and keeping you close in my prayers.

I sat in those rooms with my father and then with my mother.

These precious words were (and are) such a blessing to me. So true, how true they are.

“I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.” Psalm 130:5-6

Love, Q

Anonymous said...

First of all, we just made a country ham--but from Kentucky. And just made ham biscuits for a photo shoot.

But most of all, I read your post several times, aghast the words could "carry in the gap," as my southern grandfather would have said. So amazed, as I always am, that words can heal and hurt and heal and hurt. Or as Emily Dickinson put it, "she dealt her words like blades."

Karen D said...

Thank you for continuing to post even though your world has been turned upside down. I am a former oncology nurse, the people on treatment who I had the privilege of caring for were some of the bravest, most beautiful people I EVER met. Your mom is one of them, I am certain. I would love to be her nurse and would likely ask for a sneak of your ham biscuit! Hang in there, and keep on livin'! All the best to your mom and you!

Anonymous said...

my first love from high school is dying of cancer, but we live in two different countries now and have nothing to say to each other. he's 22. your posts are giving me courage, that there are little things that make sense to yourself even when you think they shouldnt, like cooking. i pray that your mom gets through this fine, and that you and everyone you love stays healthy and safe and with much love for each other. be well.


Christine said...

The recipe sounds perfect. And I am usual am awestruck at your ability and grace during this incredibly difficult period. Best wishes and hopes of restored health to you and your mother.

Linda said...

I am a real sucker for biscuits, and normally it is the picture and the recipe that draw me back for a second & third look. But your poignant post is what drew me in this time, so I read previous posts to get some sense of your story. Your observations and honest eloquence in reporting is a real advocate for your Mom and other cancer patients. Positive thoughts to you & your Mom, and thanks for the recipes!

Poorni Pillai said...

I'm speechless...what you described is a completely different world, one we all know exists, but try not to think of and pray we never become a part of. And yet those of who you do are so brave and try so hard,...keep going strong. I'm glad your mom enjoys her food, that's good to hear.

SarahHeartburn said...

My mom had liver cancer and swore that it was the buckets of coffee ice cream she ate that kept her going for so long. Love to you both. I'm glad you're blogging, and you're both eating.

adele said...

I'm not sure what to say, but I felt like it would be horribly wrong to read this and not leave a comment.

I wish you luck, and hopes for your mother's swift recovery.

Dave Jones said...

wow...that biscuits sounds delicious...picture looks cool. M gonna try it soon..best wishes to your Mom and you.....take care.

Anonymous said...

I began to read your blog for the recipes-great. Now, I find myself reading to find out more about your mom and a little less about the recipes, I say a little less, because I still LOVE your recipes.

I'm not sure there are words one can express at a time like this...mothers are the glue that hold EVERYTHING together and when they need us more than we need them, it becomes difficult to face...keep on keeping on, until you can't keep on anymore, and then keep on keeping on some more.

God Bless you and your mom..

Allie said...

Beautiful. I'm glad your mother is handling the treatment well. You guys are in our prayers.

Anonymous said...

My boss gave my wife and I some really good ham from TN for Xmas last year. We relished it to last pull of salty, stringy love buried in a bisquit. I wish you and your family much courage during this time. I love your blog.

Unknown said...

i've recently begun reading your blog and as much as it can from a total stranger, my heart goes out to you. i must commend you for still managing to create such beauty in your writing and your wonderful recipes. i'm sure your mother is very proud, and that that helps her through this ordeal.

suzanneelizabeths.com said...

I'm going to make ham biscuits for Easter and I'm going to think of you and your Mom, wishing you both the best.

Max mickle said...

My father is a huge fan of ham biscuits and I always try to bake one for him whenever we see my parents. He has yet to be fully blown away by any of the recipes i've tried. Simplicity is key, and yours looks perfect! Can't wait to try it. thank you for shearing your post.