Friday, October 18, 2013

into the clockwork

Our days have taken on the tenor of determination and focus they always do as autumn becomes more pronounced. This season perpetually feels sad and hopeful to me, all at the same time. Change almost invariably is.

Earlier in the week I spent a morning at a day shelter for homeless women, laptop in tow, to lend a hand with a résumé workshop. It is immediately apparent, after walking through the front door, that Mary’s Place is a well-run ship. The staff exude warmth and efficiency. The space looks organized and sparkly clean; the restrooms smell of bleach. The women present, some of them pushing babies in strollers, come to shower and eat and have someplace warm and safe to be, until they have to go elsewhere for the night.  As some of them opted to join me and the other volunteers where we were set up at tables with our laptops, I put aside my misgivings about my ability to manage any computer formatting issues that came up. I decided it didn’t matter that I last drafted a résumé over a decade ago. I had a laptop, and a template, and I’d done it before.

A somber-faced woman with long, silvery-blonde hair approached me. I introduced myself as she pulled up a chair, and we got to work. I learned she’d managed a busy downtown bar for years and had been in charge of security and bouncing, among many other things. At another job, she’d been responsible for approximately $100,000 at any given time – everything in the cage – while working at a casino. Because she doesn’t know how to use a computer, finding work became an insurmountable problem. Even Burger King requires an online application. When she graduated from high school, in 1974, computers weren’t in the classroom, and she never ended up picking up any technological skills. We wrestled to craft phrases; tried to choose just the right words to describe her experiences and skills. We hammered out a résumé. I sent her on her way with a dozen copies in hand and grim determination on her face. What she has been through is private; I’ll never know why she was at the shelter. I don’t know her pain, what she longs for. I said a prayer for her as I watched her leave, feeling tired and elated all at the same time. I realized how happy I was to be there.

That night, after dinner and homework and the boys’ bedtime routine I sat down with my laptop, again, in the comfort of my living room, and happened to discover a high school classmate on facebook. I learned in the few sentences we typed out to each other – how do you catch up on 25 years? – he’s now a father and an engineer. Trying to imagine him in his current life was confusing; in my mind he’s still a skateboarding, hockey-playing teenager with a cheery disposition. Yet our kids are approaching the ages we were when we were friends. Searing tenderness for both of our younger selves flooded me; I felt as if I’d peered into the clockwork of time, and could see us, then, knowing what our futures would be.

Since my morning with the women at Mary’s Place, I’ve felt compelled to cook and bake breakfast every day; an antidote, perhaps, to the hard realities of life. One morning, Cal and I made scones. I chopped hazelnuts while Cal worked butter into a flour mixture until the mixture resembled sand. We filled the house with the fragrance of comfort.

Toasted Hazelnut Whole Wheat Scones with Maple Glaze

Adapted from The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook by Tom Douglas

These are the best scones I’ve ever eaten. They are addictive; consider yourself warned.

If you can, toast your hazelnuts the night before, and even chop them, if you have time, so they’re ready to go. Place them in a preheated 350F oven for 5-10 minutes, until toasted all the way through.

1 ¾ cups (227 grams) all-purpose flour
1 cup (140 grams) whole wheat flour (I use white whole wheat flour)
¼ cup (60 grams) packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
14 tablespoons (1 ¾ sticks; 200 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch dice
1 ¼ cups (195 grams) hazelnuts, toasted, skinned, and finely chopped
1 cup (239 grams) cold buttermilk (I like to use Bulgarian buttermilk)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Maple Glaze
¾ cup (90 grams) powdered sugar
4 tablespoons (½ stick/57 grams) unsalted butter
¼ cup (71 grams) pure maple syrup
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 400F. Combine both flours, the brown sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Using a pastry cutter or your hands, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in the hazelnuts with a rubber spatula.

Combine the buttermilk and vanilla extract in a bowl, then gradually stir this mixture into the rest of the dough until it comes together in a soft, slightly moist dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gently knead it with your hands for a minute or two to help it come together; do not overmix.

Divide the dough into two equal parts. Pat each piece into a flat round about ½ inch thick. Cut each round into six wedges with a floured knife.

Place the scones an inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until golden and cooked through, about 25 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through the cooking time. Transfer the pan to a wire cooling rack and allow the scones to cool until they are only slightly warm.

While the scones are cooling, make the glaze. Sift the powdered sugar into a bowl. Put the butter in a small pan and melt over medium heat. As soon as the butter is melted and hot, pour it into the bowl with the powdered sugar and add the maple syrup, vanilla, and salt. Whisk until smooth, adding the cream last.

When the scones have cooled long enough so that they won’t melt the glaze, spoon it over the scones, letting it drip off the sides, and serve.

Yield: 12 scones


house on hill road said...

the whole part about time flying is so true. jane will be in high school next year, driving in two years...i often think about myself at her age and wonder which of her experiences will shape her the way mine have shaped me. also, when i think about how fast the last two years have gone and how fast the next four will go, i get a little heartsick. but! i wouldn't change it for the world.

bmom said...

A very challenging dilemma -- continuing adult education to help the hard to employ find jobs that pay a living wage. Those who aren't/can't keep improving skills are falling further and further behind. Easy to say "get a job" - harder to help people build the skills to do so.

Lecia Phinney said...

Erin: Thank you. xx

bmom: so many layers of complexity to this issue.

Ayisha said...

Nice recipe i want to cook it. I hope it will be very much yummy :-)

Allison said...

Thank you for typing their resumes. Life can be so hard for people, you lifted their burdens a little.

Lecia Phinney said...

Allison: xoxo