We turned on the light in the baby’s room last night and left it on until we went to bed. I’d initially turned it on to hang a watercolor before dinner and had forgotten all about it. An hour or so later, I yelled up the stairs to Sam that the light was still on but he already knew. He didn’t want to turn it off. When you’re almost a week past your due date, it’s nice to sense a little light in there.
Everyone says to enjoy it. To relish this time between the two of you. To catch up on books and movies and make foods you love. And we did this for awhile. But there is this inbetween-ness that won’t vacate the premises, a sense that we’re still firmly in one familiar world (answering work emails and raking leaves) while staring at the hospital bag that’s been packed for weeks and the empty carseat that lays waiting — signs of the next, not-so-familiar world. And yet, we are trying to enjoy it all. I go on long walks and sometimes Sam will join or I’ll meet up with a girlfriend. We’ve been preparing food for each other, seeing a few movies out, making fires, eating donuts and reading. We are ready, now more than ever. But Sprout seems to be letting us know that it’s not yet quite time yet.
The funny thing about this inbetween time (written about so well in this article forwarded by my friend, Lane) is that virtually everything feels like it’s on hold, like there’s this giant pause button that you carefully maneuver around with each passing day. Our dishwasher is broken but I haven’t called the repairman yet because, ‘what if I go into labor on the day he’s to arrive?’ I keep hemming and hawing when making follow-up doctor or acupuncture appointments, assuring each secretary that there’s no way I’ll be back so it’s really not necessary. And then, sure enough, the following week, wearing the same trusty pair of maternity jeans, I’m sheepishly strolling back in.
The more days that pass, the less comfortable I’m feeling in my body. Because I was lucky to have such an easy pregnancy, this part is certainly new and unexpected. For me, the difference between 39 weeks pregnant and almost 41 weeks is notable. My sister says this is what I get for proclaiming how much I loved being pregnant for all those months. That this is the universe’s way of saying ‘you did, did you?’ And she may be right. But I guess in the big picture of things these long, slow days will eventually become blips tumbling into one tangle of memories: lake walks, fallen leaves, coffee, baby manuals, movies, couch naps, ice cream, and doctor’s visits. Lentil stews, black leggings, squats in the shower, acupuncture needles, cod liver oil, and having Sam help hoist me out of bed in the morning. And what will replace those cloudy, tangled blips will be a tiny human that we’re very much hoping to meet this week. Until then, I have a feeling the nursery light will be on.
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I baked these scones late last night in a small bout of sleeplessness. I looked at a bunch of scone recipes I’ve developed in the past and sort of joined them all together, and the result is a new favorite. They’re humble, light and fragrant — not too sweet, very lightly spiced, and really good with butter and jam. Or just warm on their own. The fact that they’re drop scones and don’t require any rolling or shaping make them a great ‘I want to bake something quick and I don’t have a ton of energy treat. And it turns out they’re a most worthwhile time filler for all of the inbetween-ness. I hope you like them as much as we do.
If you’re not familiar with sultanas, they’re really just a fancy name for golden raisins. The kind I use here look a little darker than the ones you may be used to seeing in stores because they’re unsulphered (sulpher dioxide is a preservative that makes them so pretty and golden) but certainly use whichever is easy for you to find. You could also use currents, regular raisins or dried cranberries instead.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a large baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper (or spray with non-stick spray).
In a medium bowl, whisk together both flours, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, ground spices, salt and orange zest. Add the cubed butter and, using your hands or a pastry cutter, rub or cut it into the flour mixture until it resembles small, course peas. It’s o.k. to have a few larger chunks of butter.
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the egg, heavy cream, maple syrup and vanilla extract. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and, with a large wooden spoon or flat spatula, stir until the dough gathers together in an uneven ball. Fold in the sultana raisins. Make sure all the flour is incorporated, but be careful not to overmix. Refrigerate the dough for 10 minutes.
Using a large spoon, drop 10 even mounds of dough onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 16-17 minutes, or until tops are golden brown. Let the scones cool on a wire rack before serving.
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.