I moved to Seattle last February so this January business is all new to me. I remember pulling into the city in the U-Haul we lovingly named Hugh on a sunny February afternoon. We were eager with anticipation and hope, schlepping everything into the house in tee-shirts with a few strong helpers and occasional mild cursing. Seattle really made a showing that day. I’m gathering that wasn’t exactly typical, although I really do appreciate the gesture. This year the winter mornings have not been warm enough to encourage tee-shirts. They’ve been quiet, extremely cold but — lately — startlingly sunny. That bright light, despite the layer of ice on my car, has helped get me to yoga when I’d much rather stay inside nursing a cup of coffee. It’s been enough to inspire me to send letters to old friends, organize all of my tax documents, make some pretty great oatmeal and take long winter walks with Sam. I’m not letting myself have the space or the moment or the luxury to miss those warm summer days that now seem like a distant memory. I know they’ll come back (they will, right?). For now, there’s just putting one foot in front of the other, getting my work done, and sneaking out in that light whenever it decides to make a showing.
It all feels dutiful in a way, but it also feels just right. The excess of the holidays is behind us; it’s time to focus on what’s ahead. There’s not much outside to distract me this month (although Sam would –and does– sing the praises of hoar frost), and it seems like many friends are hibernating in the evenings. It’s been quiet and cold. I’m sure you can relate.
On the evenings when I don’t fall asleep the second I crawl into bed, I’ve been slowly reading a new book that I’m really loving. It’s called Daring Greatly by Brene Brown (do you remember her TED talk?) Yes, it’s a touch on the Self Help spectrum of things and I don’t often venture over to that part of the bookstore, but for Brene Brown I make an exception. As I started the book, I kept thinking that anyone in a relationship should really, really read it. And then I thought that anyone with siblings should read it, parents should read it, anyone with a boss, anyone creative who puts out a product that other people will see. That other people will judge. So, really, I think we all should read it. At its core, it’s about learning to be vulnerable — or, in other words, learning to fully let down your guard and realize that other people’s expectations of you don’t have any bearing on who you really are or what you’re worth. That your work isn’t who you are. That you must learn to show up fully. A tall order for a dark winter day, I realize.
The first line in the book that struck me was this one: “Scarcity thrives in a culture where everyone is hyperaware of lack. Everything from safety and love to money and resources feels restricted or lacking. We spend inordinate amounts of time calculating how much we have, want, and don’t have, and how much everyone else has, needs and wants…we’re called to ‘dare greatly’ every time we make choices that challenge the social climate of scarcity.” There are days when it feels like all of our friends are out traveling somewhere great, days when I feel my business should be something it’s not, days when I wonder when we’ll own our own house or whether people will like cooking from my book. It’s all questions and doubt. It’s all lack. And it serves no one well at the end of the day, certainly not me. It’s the opposite of just putting one foot in front of the other and showing up fully — instead, it’s allowing myself to get distracted by fears of what others think, feelings that my work won’t be enough, feelings that our friends are getting ahead in ways we’re not (or, at the very least, just have way cooler weekend plans).
In speaking about the term “Daring Greatly”, Brown’s referring to a speech Teddy Roosevelt gave in 1910 called Citizenship in a Republic. In it, Roosevelt talks about the average, everyday men who have to show up in the arena and “who at the best know in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” It’s really easy to not even step foot into the arena for fear that we’ll fail or for fear that we’ll be judged for lackluster work. It takes a whole lot just to show up and put our whole selves out there. It’s dutiful. It’s important. And on a really minute level, it’s how I’ve been feeling this week: I’m just showing up at my computer to do the work that needs to get done. Showing up to see a few friends in the evening. Showing up to talk with Sam about his day.
About halfway through the book, Brown notes, “If you own the story, you get to write the ending.” I love this line because there’s an element of choice to it. There’s a lot of factors we don’t get the luxury of controlling, but showing up each day in the arena ready to face whatever it may look like? That one’s all ours. Some days the arena looks really daunting to step inside: the days when you get your manuscript back from your editor and realize people are actually going to see the thing you wrote and it all starts to feel really big. And some days the arena is smaller. These scones were born from one such day. I was up early before Sam and didn’t want to peek at my email just yet. The night before I’d taken a marmalade class from Rachel of Blue Chair Fruit, and I had four bright little ball jars of sunny marmalade basking on the counter. I thought about Kim Boyce’s Buckwheat Scone recipe and how I’ve been meaning to try them for ages. I put the coffee on. I steamed a little milk. I cut up a stick of butter, preheated the oven, and began to make scones. Dutifully, just following the directions before me.
Quick Note on Buckwheat: In the U.S., buckwheat is most often ground down into flour with its beautiful purple/gray color. Naturally gluten-free and high in protein and fiber, buckwheat groats have a really assertive flavor (some call it grassy), but when they’re ground down into a flour, the flavor and texture somehow changes and becomes quite mild and wonderful. For this reason, bakers have started adopting it in everything from quick breads to muffins to cookies. It’s fine, soft and a dream to work with in these scones, and it should be relatively easy for you to find in the bulk bins of a well-stocked grocery store or Bob’s Red Mill will always come through for you online in a pinch.
In her lovely book, Boyce fills her scones with a fig jam, but I used marmalade instead. Be careful because the chunks of citrus in the marmalade can burn onto the bottom of the pan if you over-bake these, so just keep an eye on them, and check their bottoms every now and again. Besides that change, I used natural cane sugar instead of white sugar because it’s what we had on hand and added in a little orange zest for extra citrus flavor in the scone itself. Next time, I may just sprinkle in some dark chocolate bits as well (if you do, let me know how it goes!)
Adapted from: Good to the Grain
Whisk together all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the butter to the dry mixture and rub it between your fingers, breaking it into smaller bits. Continue rubbing until it’s coarsely ground and feels like grains of rice. Work quickly so as to avoid letting it get too warm. Add the cream and gently mix with a spatula until the dough comes together.
Transfer the dough onto a very well-floured work surface. It’s a sticky dough, so make sure your hands are floured, too. Roll the dough into a rectangle that’s 8-inches wide and 16-inches long and about 3/4-inch thick. Feel free to use your hands to help guide it. As you’re rolling, run a spatula under the dough to ensure it’s not sticking (if it is: more flour!).
Spread the marmalade over the top of the dough. Roll the long edge of the dough up, patting the dough as you roll so it forms a neat log, 16-inches long. Roll so the seam is on the bottom and the weight of the rolls seals the edge.
Use a sharp knife to slice the log in half. Carefully transfer to a plate and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes (or covered with plastic wrap for up to 2 days). While the dough’s chilling, preheat the oven to 350F.
After chilling, take both logs out of the refrigerator and cut each half into 6 even pieces, about 1 1/4-inches wide. Place each scone flat on a baking sheet, with 3-4 inches inbetween each one (they spread). Give each a little squeeze to shape them into perfect rounds. Bake for 38-40 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through, and checking periodically to ensure the bottom of the scones aren’t burning. They’re done when their undersides are golden and the tops are golden brown and firm.
The scones are best eaten warm out of the oven or on the same day they’re baked. That being said, cover any leftovers, store at room temperature, and warm before eating the next day.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.