I didn’t plan on blogging today, nor did I anticipate that, in addition to making a fancy schmancy version of Tuna Noodle Casserole (a few leeks and a cup of Gruyere can go a long way) for me and my brother, the day would end with a decision to make scones. But since it’s summer and spontaneity rules, I decided to go with the urge and see where it would take me. After all, since I’m currently on vacation in southwestern Pennsylvania, my options are somewhat limited: I can read, watch TV or a movie, take the dog for walk, cook or bake….and then read, or turn on the TV, again get antsy and decide to move around for a bit. I would repeat this a third time to really drive my point home (and maybe even in a different order), but I’m sure you’ve already started to get the picture. 🙂 While it may seem like I’m complaining, really I’m not. The simple truth is that I love doing any and all of these things; plus it’s my vacation, which means it’s my duty to live well and be lazy. It’s just that reality managed to intrude today since I happened to get a bit of bad news regarding an article I had sent off for submission to a journal (as promised, this blog will not just be about food, but about how one can use food to cope with the perils of graduate school), and so I wanted to do something a little out of the ordinary. Scones, being something I have loved since my college days when my friends and I would regularly go to Alice’s Tea Cup on the Upper West Side, yet rarely make because I’ve never thought my own could live up to the glory of those I’ve had while out and about, seemed just the thing I was looking for. In short, it was time to conquer the scone.
Interestingly enough, the funny thing about the news that I had received (not really all that negative or unexpected since any author knows his or her work has flaws; it was more that the second reviewer clearly lacked imagination, was unwilling to see past her own textual bias and, frankly, appears to lack knowledge of both the visual medium and Japanese history. But, hey, nobody’s perfect) was the timing. You see, I’m currently reading and loving every minute of A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg, the blogger behind Orangette and, after just having finished the chapter in which she discusses how she came to leave graduate school to follow the culinary pursuits that were closer to her heart, I checked my email and, boom, the fateful epistle was there. And before you get any ideas that I’m about to do something stupid or rash, let me stress that, of course I’m not leaving graduate school!!! I’m just being slightly dramatic here (seriously…even a blog needs some form of narrative momentum or gasp-worthy moment). I do, however, recognize that I wouldn’t be human if it didn’t bother me a little; after all, who likes rejection? Rejection can be appreciated only waaaaaaay after the fact when you have somehow managed to turn it into a life lesson that you are certain you will never repeat….at least not consciously and probably not at all willingly.
But you know, despite the fact that I love my work, it was definitely one of those food for thought (not at all intended as a pun; word of honor!) moments. Grad school isn’t easy, people’s standards are high and varied, things are always ridiculously competitive and, more importantly, the sad reality of the writing process is twofold: 1) you will never be able to please every reader and 2) no piece of writing will ever be 100% perfect. Which is exactly how I came to this whole food thing to begin with: not only does something that tastes good to one person usually taste good to another, but also it’s just for me. It’s my escape from the madness and the place where I’m the Czarina behind it all. I decide the recipes, I tinker with them as I like and I enjoy the fruits of my labor, eating them, but of course, in moderation and then sharing the rest with my friends. It’s comforting and fun; maybe ideas can be rejected, but cupcakes, cookies and scones rarely are (and, oh yes, I should mention that I’ve always been a bit of a people-pleaser). 🙂 This is also part of the reason that I went with scones to begin with; tomorrow’s breakfast is already taken care of. Even if today included a few snags, I wanted to start tomorrow morning off right. It just so happens that I’m one of those people who firmly believes in the power of pastries. Years of experience have taught me that, if the day begins with the luxury of a fresh and crumbly pastry, it’s as good as having a talisman around your neck. Just call it my secret to guaranteeing a good day.
Scottish Scones (adapted from Molly Wizenberg’s recipe in A Homemade Life)
Yields 8 scones
2 cups flour
2 tsps. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
4 Tbsps. cold butter cut into thick chunks (though the recipe called for unsalted, I used the salted and just held off on the 1/2 tsp. salt)
3 Tbsps. sugar
2 tsps. grated lemon zest
1/2 cup dried cherries, cranberries and blueberries
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup half and half
1 large egg
-Preheat the oven to 425.
-Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
-Rub the butter into the flour mixture with your hands, pinching until there are no chunks of butter larger than a pea.
-Whisk in the sugar, lemon zest, nuts and dried fruit.
-Mix the egg and half and half together, beating it with a fork
-Pour the wet ingredients into the dry mixture and stir to combine (N.B. even if some of the flour mixture remains at the bottom of the bowl, it’s ok; ignore it)
-With your hands, squeeze the dough into a rough mass (don’t worry if the dough isn’t firm at this stage)
-Move the dough and any excess flour at the bottom of the bowl to the countertop and knead until it just comes together (Molly’s sister’s Scottish friend–feels weird to be acting like I know these people, but a food memoir just invites this level of intimacy–stresses that the dough should be kneaded no more than 12 times; consider this the golden rule of the recipe)
-As soon as the dough comes together and appears firm, pat it into a rough circle
-Cut the circle into 8 wedges
-Place the wedges on a baking stone or a baking sheet (for the latter, use parchment paper)
-Brush half and half on the scones with a pastry brush
-Sprinkle turbinado sugar on top for that little sparkly something extra 🙂
-Bake for 10-14 minutes or until golden
(Scones should be stored in an airtight container)