…on good food, questionable judgment, and making life work
In spite of my sometimes crippling anxiety, I’m generally a pretty happy, contented person. It’s probably a defense mechanism that I picked up when I was going through the typical late teens-early 20′s angsty/major depression phase of my life. At any rate, for the past 15 years or so, I have made the effort to “choose happiness” every day. Well-adjusted coping tool or defense mechanism? I dunno. So that’s what I bring to being a mostly stay-at-home wife and mom.
But, the daily grind and mundaneness of being in the house 23 hours a day (in addition to my Mom Job, I also work a paying job here in my house) have worn me down a bit. Additionally, long school vacations are a prime opportunity for familial course-corrections–especially with regard to being present and aware with the kids (who are now suddenly all up in my personal space 18 hours a day), remedial instruction on how to treat one other, and trying to remember to take care of the damned Elf on the Shelf every night.
As a younger person, I enjoyed engaging in overthinking everything. I think the kids call this “navel gazing ” nowadays. I used to while away hours (over)analyzing, sorting, and delving into every stupid interaction I had with people, every song I listened to, and every movie I watched. This is something I don’t indulge in much anymore, mostly because there is an immediacy to things when you have kids. Laundry has to get done, homework needs to be addressed, fights need to be mediated, meals need to be prepared, floors need to be cleaned at least once a month or the chud-to-carpet ratio gets wuh-HAY out of hand.
But, right now my vacuum is broken. The thing sucks, but it won’t suck. It takes twice as long to clean everything. Which has given me time to–you guessed it–start overthinking things again. So, I’ve been thinking about what my greatest source of anxiety is. I blew past the obvious sources–fears about screwing up my kids–mentally or physically, fears about my family’s health, fears about the future, and on and on. And as the vacuum left a trail of detritus in its wake after the 5th pass over the same area, I realized what my true Font of Foreboding is:
I fear that things will be a pain in the ass.
Yeah. I worry about something being a huge pain in the ass, with meh results, which will ultimately feel like a waste of my time (because I totally never waste any time at all, ever.) This worry actually prevents me from doing a glut of tasks that I can & should be doing. On the other hand, I think this particular anxiety has fed into my love of food and of cooking. I cook nearly all of our family meals. I like researching techniques. I enjoy buying things I can’t readily identify at the Asian market. I like cooking because there is a product at the end of it–and a lot of times if the dish is a pain in the ass or took a lot of time, the payoff is that there is something delicious waiting for you at the end. I don’t get that same satisfaction from say, vacuuming, laundry, toilet scrubbing, or weekend birthday parties at the skid-marked bounce house.
Christmas is approaching, and in my world, the pain-in-the-ass quotient is soaring. I’m turning into a humbug, and to say that I closely identify with Frank Costanza is an understatement. You bet I’ll be airing my grievances on December 23.
So, here’s something I’ll be making Christmas morning (and have been making quite bit over the past few months):
Are they a pain in the ass? Moderately. There is an extra step, which requires putting the formed scones into the freezer for 30 minutes. The lemon curd is a breeze, and can be made the day before. But, this is a pain in the ass task that I am willing to undertake, because it will make my house smell amazing, my kids will all take turns practicing their English accents, and hopefully it will become a happy memory for my kidlets, if not an annual tradition for us.
Also, I’m not vacuuming again until I win a Dyson or someone calls and tells me they’re coming over. Then, I’ll whip out the broken-ass vacuum and hand feed it the larger chunks of floor chud, all the while cursing the carpet, Eureka, the house, the trees in the yard…
Lemon Curd (adapted from Martha Stewart)
3 large egg yolks, strained through a fine mesh sieve
Zest from 1/2 a lemon, grated on a microplane
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
6 tbs sugar
4 tbs butter, cut into small cubes
1. Combine yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice, and sugar in a small saucepan. Whisk to combine. Set over medium heat, and stir constantly with a wooden spoon, making sure to stir sides and bottom of pan. Cook until mixture is thick enough to coat back of wooden spoon, 5 to 7 minutes.
2. Remove saucepan from heat. Add butter, one piece at a time, stirring with the wooden spoon until consistency is smooth.
3. Transfer mixture to a medium bowl. Lay a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd to avoid a skin from forming; wrap tightly. Let cool; refrigerate until firm and chilled, at least 1 hour.
Date Scones (adapted from King Arthur Flour)
2 ¾ cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tbs baking powder
½ cup cold butter
1 ½ cups chopped dates
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup to 2/3 cup evaporated milk
1) In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder.
2) Add the butter and pulse just until the mixture is unevenly crumbly; it’s OK for some larger chunks of butter to remain unincorporated.
3) Pulse in the dates (2-4 pulses should do it).
4) In a separate large bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla, and evaporated milk.
5) Add the dry ingredients to the liquid ingredients and stir until all is moistened and holds together (don’t overmix).
6) Line a baking sheet with parchment; if you don’t have parchment, just use it without greasing it. Sprinkle a bit of flour atop the parchment or pan.
7) Scrape the dough onto the floured parchment or pan, and divide it in half. Round each half into a 6″ circle. The circles should be about 3/4″ thick.
8) Brush each circle with evaporated milk.
9) Using a knife or bench knife that you’ve run under cold water, slice each circle into 6 wedges.
10) Carefully pull the wedges away from the center to separate them just a bit; there should be about 1/2″ space between them, at their outer edges.
11) For best texture and highest rise, place the pan of scones in the freezer for 30 minutes, uncovered. While the scones are chilling, preheat the oven to 425°F.
12) Bake the scones for 20 to 25 minutes, or until they’re golden brown. When you pull one away from the others, it should look baked all the way through; the edge shouldn’t look wet or unbaked.
13) Remove the scones from the oven, and cool briefly on the pan. Serve warm with lemon curd. When they’re completely cool, wrap in plastic and store at room temperature for up to several days.
*Note: I’ve never made these without parchment, and I can’t guarantee that they won’t stick. Feel free to air your grievances about it here.