The Rubbing Method (British Scones)

July 23, 2014

Often, when I’m sitting with the guests at the breakfast table, I learn something new.  Monday was one of those days.

When I’d spoken with Susan on the phone a couple of days prior to their reservation date, of course, I’d noticed her British accent right away, but we’d been extra busy and I didn’t think about it again.  Yesterday afternoon when she and her husband arrived, we chatted for a time and she told me that when she moved here from England, she quickly learned that Americans just didn’t do the whole Tea Thing properly.  (I certainly don’t, so I knew what she meant.)  This morning at the breakfast table we continued that conversation, and it hit me like a ton of bricks that I’d completely forgotten the tea shop reference from the day before.  Continuing our chat, she went on to describe how she’d thought about the idea of opening up a tea shop for many years and at age 39, she did exactly that.  And she did it for 10 years.  She described how everything was homemade and how much guests always appreciated the experience.  During this chat, my mind began whirling and my heart started sinking – further and further into the stew pot, since in our busy-ness (complicated by the installment of a new hot water heater which necessitated an entire basement clean-up on the day of their arrival), I couldn’t seem to get my mind around making a brand new sweet treat for breakfast.  Occasionally, I’ll use a couple of homemade scones or muffins from the freezer that I keep for emergencies, and this situation seemed to fit because the homemade cinnamon bun dough wasn’t going to work either.  (With Yating, our Chinese guest being here for 3 weeks, the time obviously had gotten away from me and the dough from the freezer wasn’t going to rise.  So no emergency help there.)  I rarely use the frozen left-overs for guests’ breakfasts, but they’re still lovely and guests seem perfectly delighted by them.  (We always get easy-to-please guests).  Soooo…..I’d put two of these previously-frozen blueberry scones alongside 2 pieces of buttered toast from the homemade bread that was fresh on their breakfast table.  But as I sat there, listening to the rubbing method – the first mixing method introduced to Susan in her “cookery” class when she was in about the 7th grade, where she’d learned to put her thumbs and little fingers together to gently rub butter into the flour mixture of quick breads and pastries by sort of fanning the mix from thumbs an little fingers onto each of the other fingers then back into the bowl, I knew I had but one alternative.  I’d have to rub out my egregious error of serving frozen left-over scones to a Scone Queen who’d only served fresh scones her whole life by confessing.  There was no way around it.  So that’s what I did.  She laughed and smiled all at the same time, with her eyes too, and I knew I would live to serve yet another breakfast after their departure.  And then I begged her for her British Tea Shop scone recipe, which she graciously recited for me.  I made them yesterday for our guests, who loved them, but ohmygosh, there were left-overs, even after I sent some home with them, had David deliver a couple to Miss Phoebe and the saving of some for David’s lunch.  Oh dear.  Only one thing to do.  Yep. They’re in the freezer.  You just never know when you might rub against a real emergency and need a real British Tea Shop scone.

Susan’s British Tea Shop Buttermilk Scones

4 cups King Arthur all-purpose flour

pinch salt

2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp cream of tartar

Rub in (or cut in with a pastry blender like I learned to do it from my mother) 6 T butter.  Stir in 1/4 cup sugar.  Stir in add-ins, like fruit or chocolate chunks (which I used yesterday).  Stir in 1/2 quart buttermilk.  (Susan said that if you find yourself without enough buttermilk, you can add some lemon juice to regular milk).  Cut out in rounds.  Brush with milk, then sprinkle with sugar (which I forgot to do but which I’ll certainly do the next time).  425 degrees – 15 min’s.

The Syringa Tree (Grief and Grace)

July 18, 2014

There was so much beauty in this book…..

When we buried my grandfather, my grandmother sat very quiet and still.  The skin on her face, neck, and much of her shoulder still wept with burns.  It was as if she saw and heard nothing.  In the hospital, she had repeatedly asked, ‘What did they want, Dr. Winston, what did they want?  Did you know, they took his medals, his war medals from the trunk under our bed.  They took them.’  Then she sat on the end of the hospital bed, staring ahead as though she could see whoever he was running through the hills soaked in blood, sporting the medals of the man he had murdered.  Her hand inadvertently folded and re-folded the edge of the hospital sheet, pleating her life back into place.

My mother had had to be restrained when we first arrived at Clova, when Sergeant Potgieter said, ‘We believe he was a freedom fighter from Rhodesia, ….’

‘What does murdering people have to do with freedom?’ my mother screamed, and seemed to want to run into the hills herself to find this man, to demand that he answer her.  My father held her arms down to her sides, then carried her crying like a child, to lie down.

Now we stood, huddled around a hole in the earth at the small, bleak cemetery…The wind swirled around us in a lonely wail.  It lifted the dust at our feet and curled it over the edges of the grave, softening the dark pit, making it seem kinder.

‘Let us pray,’ Father Montford said into our grief.

‘…our life, our sweetness, and our hope.  To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve….’

I looked up and saw, across the veld, a tall Venda slowly approaching.  I saw another, then another, then several more.  They must have walked for hours, many all the way from Clova, many from the farms around us.  Soon a column of Vendas, led by Thoyo, wound toward us through the windswept, graveyard veld.  Many I had never seen before…Like an army of men, they walked in silent unison, shoulders gleaming in the sad light, their tearstained women following, wrapped in black batik-cloths.  And quietly behind them, the Clova picaninns, all wearing white shirts from my grandfather’s shop.

Father Montford waited until they had gathered, a wall of comfort, around us.  Then slowly, he resumed.

‘To thee, do we send up our sighs, Mourning and weeping in this vale of tears….’

My grandfather was lowered down into the ground.  I thought of his hands.  I thought of gifts.  I thought of friends — how he had been mine.  I wondered if he could ever have imagined a hundred Vendas come to say good-bye.

And I thought of foes.

Even as I wanted to pat him down into a rose-brown blanket of earth, where he would be safe and warm, I could not think about leaving him there.  Father Montford continued his soft-spoken Irish words:

‘Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us, and after this exile…

When it was over, we walked away.  The Vendas stayed by George Waltham’s grave to mourn him into the night.  We left him tucked deep into the dark soil close to the place he loved, close to the land no one had wanted, where, trying to forget, trying to redeem himself, he had brought barren earth back to life.

pp. 210 – 211, The Syringa Tree, Pamela Gien, 2006.

Queen Sugar: (Forgiveness)

June 23, 2014

From Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile, 2014, a book about the sugar cane industry.  I grabbed it off the New Books shelf at the Kent County Public Library and it totally grabbed me back.

…Up and down the rows, farmers loaded air compressors, old sinks, and batteries into their trucks.  Standing alone in the shade of a shabby oak, Charley was afraid to check the parking lot for Denton’s truck.  Just the thought that he’d quit made her light-headed with shame.  She’d acted foolishly.  Now she had to go home and tell Micah and Miss Honey how badly she’d blown it….

The empty Coke can still in her hand, Charley walked toward the parking lot, braced for the sight of the empty spot where Denton’s truck had been.  But his truck was there, and yes, thank God, there he was, leaning against its door….She had never been so happy to see those Liberty overalls, the bald head, or that raggedy old truck, as she was right now.  Her first impulse was to run over, hurl herself on the ground, and beg for forgiveness.  She would apologize for everything…all of it — if he’d just give her another chance….

‘I was afraid you’d gone,’ Charley said, chastened, and then, ‘Oh God, I’m so sorry.  I’m such an idiot….I don’t blame you for quitting.’  If she thought Denton wouldn’t find it girly and manipulative, she’d cry.  And for an instant, she thought she might.  Her head was buzzing and there was that tightness again, like some gigantic, soggy wool sock was being wrung out inside her.  But then it lifted.  Just enough for her to say one word.  ‘Please.’

Nothing.  No reaction at all….

…Well, Charley thought, that’s it.  It’s over.  She stood clear as Denton back up and swung around.  A furious spray of gravel flew out from the tires and there was that awful grating sound, the sound of spinning tires over loose rocks and dirt, the sound of someone who couldn’t get away fast enough…..she listened, ….wondering if she could hold off crying until he was gone.  But the sound never came, and when Charley opened her eyes, Denton’s truck was idling right there in front of her and he was leaning across the seat.  And now he was reaching for the handle, and the door was swinging open. It wouldn’t be until later that night, when she was at Miss Honey’s and had time to think back on it, that Charley would understand there was a difference between kowtowing and letting people’s assumptions work against them; that there was a beauty and honor in the Japanese bough that bent but didn’t break, and she finally, truly, appreciated what a decent man Denton was.  That just when she thought her life was over, just when she thought she’d screwed things up (again), forgiveness and grace would be bestowed upon her with two simple words:  ‘Get in.’                       pp.  170 – 171

Basil Ice Cream

June 16, 2014

The basil ice cream is steeping on the stove just now:  step one of the process.  I like to keep this in the freezer as a staple this time of year.  Fresh berries go up a notch with a small scoop of this special surprise at breakfast time!

My parents used the old-fashioned crank ice cream freezer, and it was always a treat in the summer time.  Our family of four worked together, with Daddy always making it fun!  After my mother had finished cooking it on the stove and it was poured carefully into the silver-colored, cylindrical container that fit into the middle of the freezer, it was almost ready.  The ice would be layered with the rock salt, again, carefully, so as to keep the inner container perfectly balanced.  When the ice reached the top, sprinkled again with salt, it was ready to crank.  The three of us took turns turning, (my mother being exempt, since she had done the stirring of the cooked custard base).  It did seem to take a long time, but our watering mouths and anticipation made it OK.  Besides, Daddy was there, cheering us on.  When the turning became more labored, it was TIME.  Again, carefully lifting it, Daddy carried it inside to the kitchen counter, wiped the lid, then gently pulled out the paddles.  They were then our’s – my sister’s and mine – to lick until all ice cream was gone.  Sometimes it was chocolate and sometimes it was peach or strawberry, but it was always wonderful.  My process isn’t the same, since I have a Cuisenart, but the results end up pretty much the same.  Except that you’d better believe we didn’t get it for breakfast.  Who knew that was possible back then?  Aaaah, change.  It really is OK.  🙂

Basil Ice Cream

2 cups half and half

1/2 cup sugar, divided

1/4 cup basil (pressed into the measuring cup)

pinch salt

4 large egg yolks

1/2 cup whipping cream

Bring to a boil the basil, half and half and 1/4 cup sugar.   Remove from heat; cover, and allow to steep for about a half hour.  Squeeze basil leaves with your hands into the pot.  Beat yolks on medium speed in the mixer.  Add 1/4 cup sugar, then beat till thick and pale, for one minute.  Pour the half and half mixture, in a slow, steady stream, into the egg mixture, while continuing to mix.  Then pour back into the pot.  Place onto the stove again and cook, stirring constantly, till the mixture coats the back of a spoon.  Chill in fridge.  Then freeze.

The Shipping News

May 25, 2014

Lots of emphasis in Chestertown this weekend on shipping news:  Chestertown Tea Party Festival, the town’s biggest party of the year.  Just happened to be reading a shipping book about shipping news.

1994 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction award winning book, The Shipping News, is our neighbor’s all-time favorite book, so I had to read it, too.  Laura, our neighbor, told me it was “dense,” and she was right. Heard from some friends about the book and 3 out of 3 hated it, would never read it again.  (But one of the three did also mention that it is the all-time favorite book of her brother-in-law, too).  My opinion?  I loved the story, and thought E. Annie Proulx’s writing was brilliant.  I would definitely read it again, and really, I need to; there was so much in there.

Samples:

 “His boots rang on the naked stone.  Stumbled on juniper roots embedded in fissures, saw veins of quartz like congealed lightning…” p 208

“…the clock’s face peered out like a bride’s from a wreath of worked wildflowers.  The knobs of the kitchen dresser sported tassels like a stripper in a bawd house, the kettle handle knitted over in snake-ribs, the easy chairs wore archipelagoes of thread and twine flung over the reefs of arms and backs….” p 213

“‘Well, I wondered what happened to you,’ said Mavis Bangs, the part in her black hair glowing like a wire in the rhomboid of sunlight.  ….Anyway, noon I went up to the post office and got your mail.’  She pointed at the aunt’s table with her eyes.  Importantly.  She had jumped into the habit of doing small kindnesses for Agnis Hamm.  And would get the mail or pour a cup of tea unbidden.  Proffer things with invisible trumpets.” p 228

Below, one of my favorite parts, since I’m a sucker for good stuff happening to the underdog:

Jack Buggit was an unlikely looking newspaper editor…

‘Quoyle!’  The hand shot out and Quoyle shook it.  It was like clasping a leather pot holder….

I know what my readers wants and expects and I gives ’em that.  And what I say goes.  I don’t want to hear no journalism ideas from you and we’ll get along good.’

….’About time you got here….Jack’s on his way down.  he wants to see you.’….’Why?’ said Quoyle apprehensively.  ‘Because of the piece?’  ‘Yep.  He probably intends to tear your guts out for that…yacht piece,’ said Tert Card.  ‘He don’t like surprises….’ 

The roar of the truck engine, the door slam; Quoyle went sweaty and tense.  It’s only Jack Buggit, he thought.  Only terrible Jack Buggit with his bloody knout and hot irons.  Reporter Bludgeoned.  His sleeve caught on the bin of notes and papers on his desk; paper sprayed over the desk…

Jack Buggit strode in, ginger eyes jumped around the room, stopped on Quoyle.  He hooked his hand swiftly over his head as though catching a fly and disappeared behind the glass partition.  Quoyle followed. 

‘All right, then,’ said Buggit.  ‘This is what it is.  this little piece you’ve wrote and hung off the end of the shipping news–‘ 

‘I thought it’d perk the shipping news up a little, Mr. Buggit,’ said Quoyle.  ‘An unusual boat in the harbor and–‘ 

‘Jack,’ said Buggit. 

‘I don’t have to write another one.  I just thought–.’  Reporter Licks Editor’s Boot. 

‘You sound like you’re fishing with a holed net, shy most of your shingles standin’ there hemming and hawing away.’  Glared at Quoyle who slouched and put his hand over his chin. 

‘Got four phone calls last night about that…boat.  People enjoyed it.  Mrs. Buggit liked it…..So go ahead with it.  That’s the kind of stuff I want.  From now on I want you to write a column, see?  The Shipping News….’ 

Quoyle went back to his desk.  He felt light and hot.  …Quoyle rolled paper into the typewriter but didn’t type anything.  Thirty-six years old and this was the first time anybody ever said he’d done it right. 

Fog against the window like milk. 

pp 63, 68, 143-44.

 

Hijacked! We have a NEW email address! simplybbctown@gmail.com

May 20, 2014

If you have tried to contact us via email and have been unsuccessful, the title above indicates the reason why.  🙁

Just use this new address and you shouldn’t have any trouble!

Thanks for being patient through these technological difficulties!!

Miss Phoebe

April 14, 2014

Yes, I grew up here.  One can tell because of the title of this post, since the local yokels grew up calling their elders by their first names with their appropriate titles preceding:  Mr. or Miss.  A woman’s marital status applies not; she is “Miss,” regardless.  Hence, Miss Phoebe, at age …. hmm … not quite sure now … 95??  She was married, but has been widowed for many years:  25 or 30, maybe?  (I’m sure she knows the exact number of days since Mr. Townsend died, but that fact, like so many other rich, deep ones, lie far beneath the quiet composure of the sweet, calm way that she has).

Our 5 3/4 year old grandson has “figured out life,” [see preceding post] and you know, I believe I may have, too:  I want to be like Miss Phoebe when I grow up.  When I’m in my 90’s, I want to be the person who welcomes, and who waits patiently, with grace; the one who listens – with smiles, nods, encouragement, and with great interest, like the one visiting is her most favorite person in the whole world, (even though, in Miss Phoebe’s case, I know better, because she is much loved).  I want to laugh, (like my Aunt Sara), and for my eyes to tear up when tears are shared – like Miss Phoebe’s did yesterday (even though she, by her own admission, is not a cry-er) and just like they did with Aunt Sara, Aunt Bernice, Aunt Hilda and with both of my parents before they died so long ago now.

I really couldn’t tell you if Miss Phoebe has face wrinkles or not, although she must, since she is a 90-something, but I can’t say for sure because I’ve never noticed.  What I have noticed is that her beauty goes way deep and radiates out through her skin in a kind of glow.   She’s “pretty,” real easy on the eyes.  But not in the usual way of meaning it.  She is, though, just the same.  (And she did used to be a beautiful young woman, just for the record, but even if she hadn’t, she would still be one now.)

I stayed 2 hours at her house yesterday afternoon and I thought it was oh, maybe 30 minutes.  Terry, her son, came through her front door at 5, (and I knew he was coming at 5 to fix her supper for her, because she had told me), and since I had to be somewhere else at 5, I burst out, “Terry!  I thought you weren’t coming till 5!”  He laughed and said that it was.

Her sons take turns now, coming to fix her supper and to spend nights with her, since they’re worried about her falling.  “Girls,” Miss Phoebe calls them, come during the day to help her with her bath and to get her lunch because Miss Phoebe needs to stay put (in her chair) unless somebody is with her.  (The “girls” are the ones who say that her “diapers,” as she calls them, which she only wears at night, are not “diapers” to a lady, but rather “fancy pants.”  She giggled at that, but we agreed together that you might as well come ’em what they are and thank God for them, since they bring a lot of peace of mind – good grief, that could be a commercial, but I’m not sure a TV crew could even capture the wearing of Depends as such a lovely thing as Miss Phoebe makes them).  Up until a few weeks ago, she was doing her meals by herself and doing fine, but since a few falls happened in a row, this is her new life.  And she makes it look easy.  So this is what I mean:  I want life to look easy when I’m that age.  That’ll make it easier for those I love, for each one who comes through my front door of my 90 year old self, if there is such a thing, and I want those who come to be glad to be there.  I know, of course, that a life of caring for a 90+ mom isn’t “easy,” but I know that it can still be “good,” even when it’s not easy, since it is when things are not easy that some of the best memories can be made – of all kinds, and I think you know what I mean.

So yep, I want to be like Miss Phoebe when I grow up.  And God willing and if the creek don’t rise, maybe, just maybe, with a ton of grace thrown in besides, maybe I will.  At least, that’s my dream.

The Closet

April 4, 2014

Our 5 3/4 year old grandson said to his mom and dad last weekend, “Well, I finally figured it out.”

“What?” they asked.

“Life,” he answered.

“Life?” they wondered.

“Yeah, life is like a closet full of really great things.  It has a door on it and when you make good choices, that door opens and those wonderful things pour out.  But when you make bad choices, the door stays shut,” he told them.

Orange is the New Black, by Piper Kerman, is our most recent book club selection.  Our group chooses books randomly – which our laid-back, adventurous group embraces – but you never know what you might get next.  Even those who choose might be surprised, but that’s just fine b/c we all just love a good story, so we run with ’em.  Someone mentioned that this particular book was the subject of a TV show, (which I’d never heard of), but b/c Barbara, our English teacher, had recommended it, I was looking forward to reading it.  And I was not disappointed.  Kerman’s memoir of her year in a federal prison is a great read, with grace, beauty and love revealed through the lives of many whose own closet doors had often been shut b/c of their choices, b/c of the choices of others or just because.  I didn’t want to put the book down.

Piper Kerman tells it like it is; she doesn’t try to pretty it up.  She’s honest about others, the circumstances and her own choices.  And sometimes her candor, coming out of nowhere, kicks you in the gut and causes you to stop right where you are:

‘When they shackle you, try to flex your wrists so there’s a little more room, and if you try to catch the marshal’s eye when he’s chaining you, maybe he won’t cuff you so tight your circulation goes.  Oh, and double up your socks so the restraints don’t make your ankles bleed.’

‘Pray they don’t send you through Georgia.  They stick you in a county jail, and it’s the worst place I’ve ever been in my life.’…

I went to talk to the Marlboro Man.  ‘Mr. King, they’re shipping me out on a writ, to Chicago.’  I actually succeeded in making him look surprised.

Then he laughed.  ‘Diesel therapy.’

‘What?’

‘Around here we call the airlift ‘diesel therapy.’

I had no idea what he was talking about…..

….After a rough pat-down, a female marshal checked my hair and my mouth for weapons, and the hop was on to the stairs up to the plane. 

On board were more marshals, enormous beefy men and a handful of weathered-looking women in navy blue uniforms.  As we clinked and clanked into the passenger seating area, we were greeted by a wave of testosterone….

Con Air is like a layer cake of the federal prison system.  Every sort of prisoner is represented…

I was feeling more positively about everyone’s shackles….

Con Air does not fly direct….At one stop more women got on.  One of them paused in the aisle, waiting for a marshal to tell her where to sit.  She was a scrawny little white woman, missing teeth, with a cloud of hair that was an indeterminate shade somewhere between gray and peroxide.  She looked like a woebegone yard chicken, like she had led a hard life.  As she stood there, some wise___ called out, ‘Crack kills!’ and half the plane, which must have contained some crack dealers, busted out laughing.  Her homely face fell.  It was like the meanest thing you ever saw on the schoolyard.  (pp. 257, 262, 263)

And some hardly have any closets at all.  🙁  🙁

 

 

 

 

Swinging on the River

February 27, 2014

Spring is the first time in the year to check for swing – if you’re by the river, that is.  A rise in the temperatures, a change on the calendar, a short walk to the water and the boats will be there:  the Washington College Crew Team during the week, and the Chester River Rowing Club on the weekends.  The early bird-ers can catch the view in the mornings but the afternoon strollers can watch the grace and beauty of the sport then:

There is a thing that sometimes happens in rowing that is hard to achieve and hard to define.  Many crews, even winning crews, never really find it.  Others find it but can’t sustain it.  It’s called ‘swing.’  It only happens when all eight oarsmen are rowing in such perfect unison that no single action by any one is out of synch with those of all the others.  It’s not just that the oars enter and leave the water at precisely the same instant.  Sixteen arms must begin to pull, sixteen knees must begin to fold and unfold, eight bodies must begin to slide forward and backward, eight backs must bend and straighten all at once.  Each minute action–each subtle turning of wrists–must be mirrored exactly by each oarsman, from one end of the boat to the other.  Only then will the boat continue to run, unchecked, fluidly and gracefully between pulls of the oars.  Only then will it feel as if the boat is a part of each of them, moving as if on its own.  Only then does pain entirely give way to exultation.  Rowing then becomes a kind of perfect language.  Poetry, that’s what a good swing feels like.                                    p 161, Boys in the Boat

Ivan: not just for a snowy day, but for any day….

February 26, 2014

It’s been quite a winter, unusual for us here.  We don’t usually experience such snow or so much bitter cold.

One morning, about a month ago, I was walking at Wilmer Park, next to the River, and I heard something.  It wasn’t a big something at all, but a very small sound.  I wasn’t sure what it was because all around me, it was so still.  (My footprints were only the 3rd set seen in the snow).  Then it dawned on me that I had heard the ice on top of the river cracking.  In the frigid frost, that was the only sound there was.  And I thought again, for the umpteenth time, “Wow.  I love living in Chestertown where I can walk every day by the water.”  It’s been a thought of mine, way more than just once, that living here is like being on vacation.  At least, that’s how it seems to me.  But guests tell me, too, that they feel the difference here.  Chestertown doesn’t have a corner on the “quiet market,” but you just can’t beat the opportunities that quiet brings.

But thankfully,  quiet does come in different places….

 

People call me the Freeway Gorilla.  The Ape at Exit 8.  The One and Only Ivan.  Mighty Silverback.

The names are mine, but they’re not me.  I am Ivan, just Ivan, only Ivan.

Humans waste words.  They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot.

Everyone knows the peels are the best part….

I’ve learned to understand human words over the years, but understanding human speech is not the same as understanding humans.

Humans speak too much.  They chatter like chimps, crowding the world with their noise even when they have nothing to say.

It took me some time to recognize all those human sounds, to weave words into things.  But I was patient.

Patient is a useful way to be when you’re an ape.

Gorillas are as patient as stones.  Humans, not so much.

pp 2 – 3, The One and Only Ivan, Katherine Applegate, 2012.

 

Ivan has more to say, even though he uses his words sparingly.  And I think you’ll want to know what those words are.  I recommend this lovely little book – not just for a snowy day, but for any day.

 

« Previous PageNext Page »

Location, Location, Location.

You might notice the WAC Administration Building cupola out of the corner of your eye as you walk onto Simply Bed & Bread's brick path, since our house is just a stone's throw away from the college. Or it might be the ...
Continue reading »