During April, images of a deep-dish strawberry rhubarb pie, peanut butter-chocolate truffles and Mediterranean stew toy with my brain. But as the Tahoe temperatures dropped again, baking hearty scones served with hot tea won my heart. Meet the scone: a cake-like quick bread made with flour (white or wheat) that can often be sweetened by fruits. Scones can be sweeter with sugar or frosting and cut in a triangle or perfect circle shape. And scones are ideal for cool Sierra spring days and nights.
Living in a colder climate has surprisingly grown on me and this week memories of my days in Eugene, Ore., paid me a visit. One week I volunteered to house-sit for an acquaintance. On a freezing, rainy afternoon — I wasn’t acclimated to the big chill — I attempted to chop kindling for the wood-burning stove to keep warm and bake fresh date bread. On the 10th chop, I hit my index finger and baking was the last thing on my mind. In excruciating pain — a 20 on a 1-to-10 pain scale — the stove barely heated the kitchen; the bread took hours. The house was so cold that before 7 p.m. I took to bed with my achy hand and broke the house rules by sleeping with my warm black lab. The best part was, in the morning the bread was surprisingly baked. But as a city girl, I flunked kindling 101.
Today, a semi-mountain woman living on the South Shore, I still can’t and won’t use an ax, but I can light a gas stove. What’s more, instead of making a quick bread, I’ve mastered the art of creating a tasty sweet-and-savory scone to write home (or Eugene) about and be proud.
2 cups natural whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup European style butter (cold cubes)
1 organic brown egg
3/4 cup 2 percent low-fat buttermilk
1 cup honey vanilla Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon each cinnamon and nutmeg
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon fresh orange rind, grated
1 1/4 cups dates, chopped (dried or fresh)
1/2 cup pecans or walnuts
Butter and honey, melted (local alfalfa or orange blossom)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and spices. Add chunks of butter. In another bowl, combine buttermilk, yogurt, egg, vanilla and stir till a dough-like mixture forms. Add dates and nuts. Drop spoonfuls onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Brush tops with buttermilk. Bake till brown, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar. Makes approximately 12. Serve with butter and honey.
Sure, buying ready-made scones at Starbucks is tempting, but DIY ones, like these, sweeten the home. And to feel the warmth of a stove (any kind), smell the scent of sweet dates and spices, and taste the flavor of a smooth cup of nut-flavored joe is a heavenly light breakfast on a snowy morning in the mountains. And my two warmhearted dogs are allowed in Callie’s bed at breakfast time for creature’s comfort.
Motto: If you don’t get the hang of something, it may not be meant to happen. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get it right by trying another way to achieve your goal.
— Cal Orey, M.A. is an author and journalist. Her books include “The Healing Powers” series (Vinegar, Olive Oil, Chocolate, Honey, and Coffee) published by Kensington. (The Healing Powers of Honey and Coffee are offered by the Good Cook Book Club.) Her website is www.calorey.com.