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.

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 ...
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