Citrus salad with black pepper and tarragon.

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Helloo-oh, it’s winter. And Seattle has had some dark, short days. When I moved here this past summer, I selectively forgot about latitude, sun patterns, and the winter solstice. Why would a southern girl ever need to remember things like that? Evidently, it’s important in the Pacific Northwest. Evidently, it’s why the vampires from the Twilight series live in a town near me.

But (non-vampire) people have survived this far north for decades, centuries; I must be able to adopt the evolutionary adaptations that Seattlites use to cope with pasty skin and seven months of darkness, right? From my initial observations I’ve found that some days you have ginger cookies and milk for lunch. Some days (ahem, all days) you take hour-long baths. Some days you kayak and/or hike in the snow and/or rain. Every day you eat well.

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Never before have I been in a place that loves its seasonal food as much as the Pacific Northwest does. Winter is no excuse for bland colors. Instead, the markets burst with sunny persimmons, dark green lacinato kale and seaweed, silver-gilded oyster mushrooms, temptingly red endives, and citrus, their oranges, reds, and yellows like sweet, fragrant winter suns.

When our winter began in November, I made this citrus salad with grapefruit, tangerines, and pomegranate seeds. It was simple  and bright, a challenge to the months of gray to come. As winter has progressed, I’ve added a splash of sultry blood oranges, bit of freshly ground black pepper, handful of allspice. I need this salad like I need Vitamin D; in all its peppery, herbaceous lightness, it’s edible sun.

Postscript: As I write to you the sun is out in Seattle. In fact, the past week has been wonderfully, surprisingly sunny (three days of [foggy] sun! Sun, people!) Coincidence? I think not. Thank you, citrus salad.

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Citrus Salad with Black Pepper and Tarragon

Feel free to make this salad your own with different fresh herbs, spices, and types of citrus. For balanced flavor and pleasing visual appearance, pick types of seedless citrus with different levels of bitterness and varied interior colors.

Serves four, with leftovers for breakfast.

  • 1/8 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh tarragon leaves, split in two bowls
  • 2 blood oranges
  • 2 mandarin oranges, navel oranges, or tangerines
  • 1 pomelo or oroblanco
  • 1 grapefruit (ruby red looks particularly lovely)
  • Freshly ground black pepper (pink pepper would work wonderfully as well; it’s just a bit harder to find.)

Add sugar, 1/8 cup tarragon, and 1/8 cup water in a jar and shake until the sugar dissolves and tarragon bruises. Strain syrup through a fine-mesh sieve and reserve for salad. Tarragon syrup will keep for a week in the fridge and can be used as a cocktail mixer, pancake topper, etc… the sweet possibilities are endless!

Cut off the base and stem end of each citrus and peel citrus with cut side flat on the cutting board. Make sure to peel off any bits of bitter white pith. Slice citrus crosswise into 1/4-inch thick rounds.

Arrange citrus on a platter. Grind a bit of fresh black pepper over top, drizzle with tarragon syrup, and finish with remaining tarragon.

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Y’all, buttermilk biscuits!

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While home in Georgia for the holidays, I took Harvard University’s dialect test online.

Well, y’all, turns out I’m a southerner.

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When I was growing up in Atlanta, I wasn’t very fond of the south.

Actually, I did everything I could to prove I was not southern. When asked where I was from, I said Australia. During the “Freedom Fries” mania, I ordered French Frites. Okra made me gag. My parents were the only liberals within a forty-mile radius who dared put “vote democrat” signs in their yard, and I was proud of it. In high school, I skipped as many football games as was humanly possible without committing social suicide. And I insisted on leaving the south before I turned fifteen, escaping to the farthest parts of the world I could think of: Japan, India, Guatemala, Nepal.

Yet no matter how hard I tried, I still say y’all. I would trade my future child for a Price’s Chicken Coop fried chicken dinner; I know the words to every Garth Brooks and Dolly Parton song. And yes, oh yes, I love down-home, sweet and flaky, buttermilk biscuits.

For years, I have searched for the best biscuits. I’ve tried many in restaurants– Skillet Diner in Seattle and Swallow at the Hollow in Atlanta make my favorites. But I needed to eat biscuits that I had made in my own kitchen. I needed to cut butter and lard into flour, to feel silken buttermilk as I worked dough together with my hands. It would prove to myself who I was: a southerner.

It seems fitting that, just as I have begun to accept the south, I would find my homemade biscuits. It happened on New Year’s Day. My mom fried quail and boiled collards and beets; I made biscuits, trying out a new but sworn-by recipe. Sitting down to the table, we were a picture of the post-church Sunday Dinner Southern Gothic.

The biscuits tasted as they should: light yet sour, flaky yet rich. To me, they tasted like the south: tender and sweet.

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Ma Mae’s Buttermilk Biscuits

Recipe adapted from fellow Georgian and foodist brother, Alton Brown, who, for years, has sought to recreate his Ma Mae’s* biscuits. I suggest you serve these biscuits with butter and sorghum or molasses, as pictured above. It’s the southern way.

*Ma Mae: n. southern for grandmother (synonyms: mammy, grandmammy, granny, me-ma, etc…)

Makes a dozen.

  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces, cold
  • 2 tablespoons shortening, cut into small pieces, cold
  • 1 cup buttermilk, cold

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease a rimmed baking sheet or pie pan. Prepare a clean surface with flour.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. As quickly as possible, rub cold butter and shortening into dry ingredients with your fingertips until mixture looks like small peas; don’t let the fats melt. Make a well in the center and pour in the cold buttermilk. Stir just until the dough comes together; it will be very sticky.

Turn dough onto floured surface, dust top with flour and gently fold dough over on itself 5 or 6 times. Press into a 1-inch thick round. Cut out biscuits with a 2-inch cutter, being sure to push straight down through the dough. Place biscuits on rimmed pan so that they just touch. Reform scrap dough, working it as little as possible, and continue cutting.

Bake until biscuits are tall and golden brown on top, 12 to 18 minutes.