There are many brands of maternal guilt that can swamp us. The version I’m currently swimming through involves failing to notice, despite three days worth of complaints about “itchy” hands, that my son was having a life-threatening allergic reaction to an antibiotic. I did notice, eventually – right around the moment he woke up covered in head-to-toe, blistering welts, his eyes swollen to bloodshot slits.
And so, we’ve been home again this week, fighting what is starting to feel like a never-ending battle to get these kiddos of ours all the way back to healthy. They have always been healthy preschoolers in the past – so much so that Jacob had only had a single dose of antibiotics, ever, until last week’s bout with strep throat.
I’ve subsequently heard horror stories from other parents whose kids ended up in the ER from this allergy. We are thankful that Jacob did not. In that spirit of thankfulness, I’ve been trying to enjoy these days of forced confinement.
It has been raining (and oh, how we need this rain) and we are all tired – but we are soaking up the rest, relaxing into long hours spent building, imagining, creating. This morning, after coming in from the yard and toweling themselves dry, the boys turned the entire living room into an elaborately constructed squirrel boat. Lucas was the mommy squirrel, Jacob was the baby, and we were headed north, around Canada, bound for Washington D.C. (?).
(I was a passenger squirrel, curled up in a chair with a favorite old novel. My strongest squirrel moment was not interrupting their game, even when they brought muddy boots and juice boxes into the mix.)
There has been drawing, puzzling, and a fair amount of fighting. Piano playing, harmonica blowing, and a bit of bouncing off the walls. They have also watched an unforgivable number of Martha Speaks episodes, and I’m feeling way too familiar with Fireman Sam.
An email from a friend said “Sometimes, you just need a nudge, a little reminder to take a few days off.” It felt more like a slap in the face. But it surely nudged me to slow us all down for a moment.
Last week my friend Lori texted me, asking if I wanted some heavy duty baking sheets that a neighborhood restaurant was getting rid of. She grabbed two of them for me, and the timing couldn’t have been better: few things alleviate maternal guilt as well as whole-grain, homemade baked goods. So it is that with all our downtime we have been baking, every day. Cookies, bread, crackers, scones. Strawberry barley scones, to be precise. Scones that make this interlude of quiet seem well worth the while.
Strawberries are back at the markets, here. Maybe that’s all the nudge you’ll need. But if you want more, I can tell you this: despite sore throats, blistered hands, grumpy bellies – despite all that and more – these were gone in a mere handful of minutes. Once they had disappeared, Lucas hauled the cookbook to the couch. He opened it to the scone page, and gazed at the photograph. Then he sat down IN the book, scooting as close to the still-life scones as he could.
We can Lucas. We will. Hopefully next time, we will all be eating them in good health. :)
Strawberry Barley Scones
Adapted from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce
If you are a lover of beef barley soup (as everyone at my house is) then you already know something about the creaminess of barley grains. It will be no surprise that barley flour makes a creamy, moist, tender scone that plays perfectly off its own crisply golden corners. The jam thickens up in the middle, and what you are left with is as much caramel as fruit. Then there are the caramelized edges, the golden caramelized underbellies from baking directly on a hot buttered pan. (Don’t be tempted to use parchment on these!) This is a whole-grain scone, yes, but it tastes like pure indulgence.
Kim’s recipe is a perfect one. My small changes are around which order I proceed in mixing things and a momentary extra chilling of the butter, both of which allow for my slight paranoia around anything even vaguely pastry-like. I also use whole milk here instead of buttermilk, but that’s simply a matter of what we regularly have on hand. The strawberry jam is so deliciously right here that I can’t imagine anything else, but Kim suggests that marmalade would also work. Someday I might try it and see. You’ll let me know if you do, I hope!
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole-grain barley flour (like this one)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
4 ounces (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter
1/2 cup milk (Kim uses buttermilk)
1/2 cup strawberry jam or citrus marmalade
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 tablespoon sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter a baking sheet. (As I said in the headnote, don’t be tempted to use parchment instead! The buttered sheet is what helps the bottom of these brown and caramelize so beautifully while they bake.) Put the stick of butter in the freezer to chill for a moment while you mix the dry ingredients.
In a large bowl, sift or fork together the flours, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. (If you sift, make sure to dump any bits of grain from the sifter back into the bowl.)
Measure the 1/2 cup milk or buttermilk, then whisk the egg into the measuring cup until milk and egg are thoroughly combined.
Cut your cold butter into 1/2-inch pieces. Add them to the flour mixture, then work quickly with cold fingers or a pastry mixer to break the butter into small pieces; the butter bits should range from rice-grain sized to smashed-pea sized. The faster you do this, the colder and more solid your butter will stay, which is key for successful scones.
Pour the milk and egg mixture into the flour mixture and mix with a fork until just combined (about thirty seconds). Scrape the dough onto a floured surface and fold or knead a couple times. Divide the dough into two equal pieces, then use your hands to gently shape each piece into a disk about 3/4 inch thick and 7 inches diameter.
Cover one dough disk with the strawberry jam, spreading it not quite to the edges of the circle. Place the other disk on top of the jam and press it gently down into the other disk. Brush the top of the dough with the melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. With a sharp knife, cut the disk into eight wedges (slicing it like a pie).
Place the wedges on the buttered baking sheet. Bake for about 25 minutes (Boyce says 22 to 26) until the tops are golden brown and the jammy edges have caramelized and dripped a bit onto the pan. Move them immediately to a cooling rack, to prevent sticking.