This upcoming weekend will be the first one in awhile that I’ll be home sleeping in my own bed. While I’ll be working the Ballard Farmers Market on Sunday, I’ve schemed up all kinds of scenarios for Saturday: sleep in and read in bed, brunch at one of the new restaurants cropping up around town, catch up on an Oscar film, hike Mount Si. Oh, the options! While traveling for the book tour has been a little more exhausting than I’d originally thought it’d be, there have been some unexpected highlights. Perhaps one of my favorites: the daily scone.
Sam came with me to Portland to promote the cookbook and we stayed at a hotel called The Kennedy School. While we usually stay at the Ace if we’re in town, I’d heard good things about The Kennedy School — it’s a historic schoolhouse that’d been converted into a large hotel with a soaking tub, a movie theater and a restaurant. It’s also close to Alberta, which is a great pocket for ambling about, eating good Indian street food, and ice cream — if that’s your thing, of course. Well, Sam loved the hotel. He would’ve moved in if the staff gave him the thumbs up. The room had really high ceilings and a great desk and he got some of his own work done while I ran about town doing classes and talks. He loved the sandwiches at the cafe, the IPA, the view from our room, the irreverence in design. And apparently, the girls working at the bar loved Sam. You get the idea. Me? I felt kind of like I was back in college for some reason … and not in a good way. The food wasn’t great (although they did serve tater tots which you’ll never find me complaining about), the parking lot was always full, and for whatever reason the charm was just lost on me. But the one thing that I really did love: morning room service coffee with a warm daily scone. Hello, daily scone! Where have you been all my life?
The first morning we were there, the scone was a blueberry mascarpone, the second morning it was a decadent chocolate affair, and the third morning a really light, crumbly cherry almond. I loved every one. The recipe I’m sharing with you today is certainly healthier than the scones we had in Portland. Sure, there’s butter, but I used all whole-wheat flour and opted to sweeten these ever so slightly with maple syrup instead of a more refined sugar. There is a new-ish coffeeshop here in Seattle called Vif and they make a fine, fine scone if you get a chance to visit (as a side note, they also make their own almond milk for lattes which blows my mind each time I have it). I always ask what the Vif secrets are and inevitably they tell me there’s either ground walnuts or almonds in the actual scone so I took their lead here and used walnut meal as well as chopped, toasted walnuts. I love the rustic quality of the crumb: the walnut meal adds an earthy toastiness along with little flecks of color. They’re not overly sweet, and they feel simple and solid — perhaps the definition of a good scone? If you happen to like your scones a little less simple, I think golden raisins would be really wonderful folded into the dough as would little bits of chocolate (they do this at Vif) or even crystallized ginger.
If you’re a scone sceptic, I think you might still like these: they have a crumbly, flaky exterior but the interior is extremely tender — almost more like a muffin. I know quite a few people in my life who would take a muffin over a scone any day because they feel scones are often dry and lifeless. These are an exception.
Because we’re using buttermilk and a liquid sweetener for these scones, this dough is definitely on the wet side — so do know you’ll want to use some flour to help you form it into a disk without sticking to the counter … and your hands. And don’t skip the step where you let the dough rest for 10 minutes — that’ll help the whole-grain flours soak up a little of the moisture. If you have trouble finding whole-wheat pastry flour, feel free to use spelt flour or all-purpose flour instead.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lay the walnuts on a small baking sheet and toast until fragrant, about 8 minutes. Set aside to cool. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse 1 cup of the walnuts until very finely ground. Coarsely chop the remaining 2 cups.
Increase the oven temperature to 375 F. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Whisk in the ground walnut meal. Add the cubed butter and, using your hands or a pastry cutter, rub or cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles small, course peas. Do this quickly so the butter won’t warm too much. It’s o.k. to have a few larger chunks of butter. Fold in the remaining chopped walnuts.
In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, maple syrup and vanilla extract. Add to the dry ingredients and, using a wooden spoon or flat spatula, stir until the dough gathers together (I actually use my hands at this point). The dough will be pretty wet and that’s o.k. Let it sit for 10 minutes to allow the whole-grain flours to soak up a bit of the moisture.
Take out a large wooden board (or use a clean table surface) and sprinkle generously with flour. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured counter or surface and sprinkle the top with a little flour. Gather the dough into a ball and pat/push it down so it’s circular in shape and about 1-inch thick. Cut into 6 large wedges (or 8 for smaller-size scones).
Place the wedges on an ungreased baking sheet, brush the tops with buttermilk and sprinkle with a little sugar. Bake for about 25-30 minutes – or until tops are lightly brown. Cool on the pan for five minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely.
Winter Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.