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.
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
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.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)