Sunday night, you'll usually find me puttering around the downstairs, late. I start after story, somewhere north of nine, and continue on until It is Done. When Done is, and what It is, varies. Ten, eleven, sometimes midnight, though by midnight, of course, we're technically into Monday. But no matter. It's all Sunday ritual. I always fail to schedule it, struggle to account for what's in the It, but I've come to recognize It as something Sunday evenings bring. And as useful, like gravity, to the week ahead.
It all begins with pre-packing of three lunches, lining up boxes, queueing contents. The peeling of carrots, defrosting of peas, allocating of salami slices across a week. There's pasta to pull from the pantry and place, front and center, next to the coffee kettle. It's the only way I'll remember to put a pound in the pot, and boil, before first light. Eldest: fed. One down, two to go.
If they all ate sandwiches, or even the same things, or if I went in for chips and chocolate milk, Sundays would be simpler. They don't; I don't. So Sundays it is. One child is all steadfast routine, same five things, every day, every year. Another is full-on fruit and protein, and fairly flexible on the details. Fried rice is good, as is chicken pot pie, as is last night's beef Keema and beans. Just don't, under any circumstances, pack PB&J.
The third, oy. Still puzzling that one. So far, we're Cheese: 1; Everything Else: 0. Her tastes are not particularly fickle, but I think it's really, really hard to catch up with friends across four classes and eat a balanced meal. In a crowd of two hundred. In twenty tiny minutes. The trial and error continues...
(My children are inveterate packers, having not bought so much as a box of milk. Ever. I used to encourage them to at least try a school lunch, crying "try everything once!" and "life skills!!". Then, I spent three hours in the lunch room. I haven't brought up buying, since.)
Then, there's the end-of-weekend tidying up. The tucking in of chairs, the restoring of order, the scraping away of layers from surfaces. Because every surface, by Sunday night, has them. Plural. Layers upon layers. The schrapnel from the Halloween banner, that occupied the better part of the afternoon. The shelly bean detritus, from the last of the garden's hanger-onners. The adorable (dirty) petite sweet potatoes, that represent our first foray into the crop. The papers and dishes and books and shoes and leaves that all look like they blew in, moments earlier. Like a tornado in Longview, Washington. (Wait, what???)
Never mind our Saturday family clean, when we scour the house, top to bottom. Saturday, noon, everything's spotless. Thirty-six hours later, and you'd bet a small farm that the cleaning fairies have been on strike a month. A year? Maybe more. So, Sunday nights, I set things right. Because if a week has any hope, a clean slate is pretty much key.
It's when I sit down with my three calendars (wall, phone, paper) and attempt a master plan for my week. Or at least, a crash-course in what the next twelve hours will bring. Find the North Stars. Figure out hard stops. Marshall the must-do's and need-to's and want-to's.
It's when I pull the trash to the curb, and ensure dresser drawers contain clean socks, and take a look at the week's weather, to find out whether we'll need shorts or mittens. Or both. It's a tricky season, Fall. I find mornings run far more smoothly if I know to advise fleece or flip-flops, before breakfast.
Ah, yes. Breakfast. I try, Sunday night, to peer into the fridge and across the week ahead, to contemplate the glitch that is breakfast.
There is nothing wrong with breakfast, per se. Really, I love everything about it. The waffles, the eggs, the sausages, the bacon, the pancakes, the promise! Behold the new day! Lo, the latent potential!! And we're all here, now, assembled together!!! But please, when can I crawl back under my rock? Because I'm not just sub-par, but sub-human, before eight. I just wish breakfast could, you know, be re-scheduled? For, like, mid-morning? Or after my cup of coffee? Or at least, for fifteen minutes after I wake up?
(I know, I know. Get up early. Carve out "me" time. Believe me, I've tried. No-go. I have a child who bests any alarm. The earlier I rise, the earlier he follows. One summer, I experimented with rising earlier, in search of thirty first minutes of quiet, and of his natural limits. I tried 6:00 a.m. 5:30. 5:00. 4:30. Nope, not even 4:00 a.m. Within days, he was rising at 4:10. I've realized it's an innate, circadian thing. And as a life skill, deeply useful, really. I've always wanted to be an early bird. But it doesn't jive well with my deeply night owlish ways. To bed by 2, up at 4! Not.)
Breakfast is great. Really, I'm the glitch.
I've learned this about myself. I know this, accept this, and caffeinate accordingly. And have developed a set of coping skills so that I (and my peeps) can stand my morning self. Skill 1: be nice. Skill 2: Sunday night. Skill 3: keep breakfast brainless. Skill 4: repeat skill one. Repeatedly. But, back to 3.
Our breakfasts are mostly quick 'n dirty staples, a rotating line-up of bread + protein + fruit. Quesadillas and apples. Toasted cheese and apples. Bagels and apples. Toast and peanut butter and apples. (We go through a lot of apples.) Pancakes happen once, most weeks, and dutch babies, twice, most months. Waffles are more weekend fodder, though they appear on erratic Thursdays. Cream of wheat, oatmeal, cold cereal, occasionally. My people are not big on cereal. Also, regularly, simple scones.
These Wholemeal Scones hail from West Cork's Adèle's Café, by way of The Pleasures of Slow Food. Which is sort of ironic, since they take, maybe, four minutes to make. Or if you're me, two minutes Sunday night, to whisk dry goods, rub in butter, and shove in fridge, breakfast prepped. And another two minutes, come morning, when I'm always delighted (and surprised; morning) to find the ingredients, flaky, chill, and waiting. I blindly fire up the oven with my left hand, while filling the kettle for coffee with my right. As the water boils, I splash in buttermilk, stir, shape, slice, slide in, done. All with ample time left over to grind beans and pour over and with any luck, find my Nice voice.
The wedges that emerge twenty minutes later (which seems like six, when all's said and done, coffee brewed, apples sliced, table set, sleepyheads woken) are happy-making. Just that. These are lower case scones. Weekday scones. Unfussy, unruffled, unflappable scones. They're not weighed down in adjectives or add-ins. There's no pumpkin, no spice, no browned-butter drizzle (though I'm not opposed such things). There is no clever twist, no special technique, no almond flour or apple sauce or extra-special anything. No nuts, no dried cherries, no single-origin chocolate hand-chopped and carefully folded in. (Though they would certainly welcome such things. As would I, were you doing the baking.) We love a good chocolate-walnut scone, on weekends. And a Platonic white scone, come Spring. But as the light fades and the cold creeps in, I turn toward simple, steady, good.
By good, here, I want to be clear, I mean good to eat, not good to think. Whole wheat flour, of which these are mostly made, is all fine and good, so long as you use it for the right reasons. Which reasons aren't right? Vitamins. Minerals. Fiber. Purported halo of health. Eat a few extra slices of apple and a slice of white; you'll end up ahead. The right reasons? Flavor. Texture. Character. Spunk. Pure nubbly satisfaction. The deep nutty and excellent tooth and ever-interesting personality of wholemeal, that's the point here, the appeal. Ireland understands wholemeal, respects it, revels in it. There is butter here, for flake and layer, and buttermilk, for a melting crumb. Crisp-edged, tender-centered, barely sweet, arguably savory, these are the tweedy wool socks of scones, plaid flannel shirts, passing as breakfast.
We eat them with sharp slices of cheddar, and soft scrambled eggs, and silver-pink ham. We eat them with roasted almond-chocolate spread, spackled thick, washed down with cold milk. We eat them with butter and fruit-filled jam, because hot from the oven, doh. We eat them. That's the the thing. Because they're easy, fast, slam-dunk. Because there's some algorithm that states warm things from the oven make mornings run better. Because fresh + baked goods yield unguarded, genuine fourteen-year-old smiles; a feat any time, doubly so, before seven. It's that bit about filling bellies well, and souls, also. Equally vital, under the circumstances.
My kind of food, for any time, really. But especially my kind of food, for a Monday morning.
Wholemeal Scones (West Cork Scones from Adèle's Café)
adapted from The Pleasures of Slow Food, by Corby Kummer
yield: 12 scones
I add a smidge of sugar; an unorthodox bit of baking powder, appreciating its extra lift; and cry lazy over the original egg wash (1 Tbs. cream + 1 egg, beaten, and painted on before baking). Feel free to omit/add, as suits.
When making these for breakfast (bearing in mind, they appear as often alongside dinner), I mix the dry goods and rub in the butter the night before, then shove the bowl in the fridge. This a) means I can stupidly stir in buttermilk, set the scones to baking, and be done, before coffee, and b) ensures a well-chilled flour/butter mixture, maximizing the crucial flake-factor. Win-win.
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cup unbleached white flour
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1-2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1 cube; 4 oz.) salted butter
1 1/2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken, full-fat if possible
Preheat oven to 450°. Line a half-sheet pan with parchment paper.
In a wide bowl, add both flours, salt, baking soda and powder, and sugar. Whisk to combine. Cut butter into small bits, and add to flour mixture (I hold the cube in one hand, and "shave" off bits with a knife, directly into the bowl.) With clean hands, toss butter in flour to coat, then rub butter into flour, picking up handfuls and smearing mixture across fingers with thumbs. Toss and smear, toss and smear, for 60-90 seconds, until pea-sized butter bits are still visible, and most flour has encountered butter. Alternatively, use a pastry cutter or food processor. Refrigerate overnight, or continue on with next step.
Shake buttermilk well, measure, then pour into center of flour/butter mixture. Using a spatula, fold flour mixture into buttermilk. Gently, thoroughly, fold several times, until mixture is mostly homogenous. With clean hands, gather outstanding crumbs into mass by turning dough several times, then "smear" dough several times against side of bowl (think fraisage, not crush and compact), until it is roughly together.
Tip dough onto a lightly floured, clean surface (or onto your lined paper-lined baking sheet; I often roll and cut directly on the parchment; it's Monday morning!), divide in half, and form each half into a square, roughly 6" across and 1 1/2" thick. Cut each square into 6 triangles, and move to lined baking sheet (or space apart, if already there). Bake 20 minutes on the center rack, or until edges are burnished, and scones sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.
Eat warm, with whatever pleases you. Leftovers are unusually good, split and toasted.