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.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
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.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.