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.
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?)