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a tale of two scones

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I grew up eating scones in Africa because of the British colonial influence. For the most part, they came with afternoon tea–and they were pronounced like the word gone. I’m not sure what got lost in translation when they made it to this side of the ocean, but not only did we change the pronunciation (like own), but we turned them into hockey pucks.

It takes some work–or at least paying attention–to make a good scone.

Over the past few months I have found two recipes that make good scones and both approach it differently. The first caught my attention because of the name: English-Style Scones. I had hopes they wouldn’t make me pine for the Stanley Cup Playoffs when they came out of the oven. The second recipe caught my eye at Smitten Kitchen, one of my favorite sites, because it featured cinnamon and sugar, which are both big hits at my house.

Both of them make great scones–flaky, tasty, buttery. Yet both of them go at it differently. One uses a food processor and room temperature butter; one tells you to cut in really cold butter, for example. One uses more baking powder; the other uses more butter. I thought it was worth sharing my versions of what they did as a way to encourage other Americans to learn how to make a scone worth eating.

english-style scones

2 cups flour (10 ounces)
4 t baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup milk
1 large egg

Preheat the oven to 425°.

Pulse the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a food processor until mixed. Add butter and pulse seven or eight times, for two or three seconds each time. The mixture will look coarse. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk the milk and egg together. Set aside 2 tablespoons for the egg wash. Make a well in the middle of the dry mixture and pour the milk and egg into it. Mix it all together with a spatula until it starts to take shape and then use your hands to knead the dough until it is a smooth ball. As with biscuits, don’t knead it too much–just enough for it to all come together.

Put a piece of parchment paper or a silpat on a baking sheet. Shape the dough into a rectangle and put it on the baking sheet. Press it out with your hands until it is about a half inch thick. Use a knife or a bench scraper to cut it into nine or twelve pieces, depending on how big you want your scones to be. Separate them so they are about an inch apart.

Brush with the egg wash you set aside earlier.

Bake for 13-15 minutes (if you cut it into twelve scones, lean on the short side; for nine scones, it will be closer to fifteen).

A quick note about the amount of flour in each recipe. As you notice, both give weights as well as cup measurements. My suggestion is to follow the weights. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, get one. It matters. With my cookies, my measurement was 5.5 ounces = 1 cup. That is what made my recipe work. When I read these amounts, I decided to trust them rather than using the weight I was accustomed to and it paid off.

In the recipe below, you will add some flour when you are rolling out the dough, so it will be closer to 2 cups when you’re done, but start with 230 grams. It makes a difference.

cinnamon sugar scones

1 3/4 cups flour (230 grams)
6 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and diced (1 stick)
1/4 heavy cream or half and half
1 large egg
2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided

Preheat the oven to 375°.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, 3 tablespoons of the sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the diced butter until the mixture looks like cornmeal or coarse sand.

In a small bowl, whisk the cream and egg together. Make a well in the middle of the dry mixture and add the cream and egg. Use a fork in a whisking motion to mix the two together, then knead by hand until it forms a smooth ball.

Shape into a rectangle and lay on a floured surface. Roll out to about a 12×8 size. Spread 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon on one half of the dough and fold the dry side over. (I mix the sugar and cinnamon together first.)

Roll the 6×4 rectangle out to about to about 8×6 and put the last two tablespoons of sugar and the last teaspoon of cinnamon on one half and fold it over again. Pinch the edges of the open sides as you shape the whole thing into a circle. Place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silpat. Cut it into six pieces and gently separate them so they are about an inch apart.

Sprinkle with a little more sugar and cinnamon. Bake 15-17 minutes.

Start to finish, each of these recipes takes about a half an hour. One of the main things they taught me is there is more than one way to make a good scone. And however you pronounce it, it’s not long before these things are gone.

Peace,
Milton

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book news

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I am going to be laying low for a couple of days because I am down to the wire to get my final edits done for my new book, The Color of Together: Mixed Metaphors of Connectedness, which will be published on October 13, 2020 by Light Messages Publishing.

You can preorder it here.

This one has been a long time coming. I am excited we are moving closer to it being an actual book. Since I have a day job, the next couple of nights are going to be devoted to making a few changes and trying to figure out how to talk about these days of quarantine, which weren’t even something I was thinking about when I started writing.

Thanks for your encouragement. Tell all your friends, please. And when we can move around again and hang out together, I would love to come to your town, eat together, and talk about the metaphors that matter most.

Oh–when you click the preorder link, you will notice that the cover is different than the one I am showing here. This is what the book will look like when you get it. The other, as they say, is a placeholder.

Peace,
Milton

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what is it?

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I am preaching for our service this week. We recorded it on Thursday standing in front of our church vegetable garden rather than in the sanctuary, so not only do I have a manuscript of the sermon, I have a recording as well.

The text is Exodus 16:9-21–the story of the manna in the wilderness.

When I was in high school I was in a musical ensemble at my church. Ten or twelve of us were chosen out of the youth choir. The director wanted a name with spiritual significance. What we came up with was Manna, I think because we assumed the word meant something like “God will provide.”

Most of the sermons I’ve heard on this story of God raining bread like dew in the morning and quail into the camp at night have been affirmations that God will take care of us. And that is an important truth–the same one Ginger talked about last week–we belong to Emmanuel: God With Us.

We are not alone.

Here’s the thing. The word manna in Hebrew doesn’t mean anything deeply theological. It means, “What is it?” When they woke up in the morning, the ground was covered with something that looked like coriander seed, was white, and tasted sweet, and they said, “Manna?” They were trying to figure out what was going on. Sound familiar?

They were told to only collect what they needed for the day and trust that there would be more tomorrow. If they tried to save it to make sure they had food for the future, the stuff soured and became full of worms. They had to learn to trust God and take each day as it came.

Most of the sermons that I have heard sermons on this story stop right here. And they were good sermons. Their daily exercise in trusting God was the inspiration for lines in one of my favorite hymns, “Great is Thy Faithfulness”—morning by morning, new mercies I see. Jesus underlined the same point when he talked about considering the lilies and not worrying about tomorrow.

But as I looked at the story this week, I kept reading to the end of the and found something I had not seen before. Verse 35 reads:

And the Israelites ate manna for forty years, until the came to a habitable land; they ate manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan.

The Israelites had escaped from captivity—from generations of slavery and oppression—only to end up in the wilderness. The desert. Before long, they began complaining and Moses took their complaints to God, who responded with manna. I have this sort of a cosmic image of God handing sandwiches to the kids in the back seat who keep yelling, “Are we there yet?”
“Be quiet and eat.”
“What is it?”
“I said eat.”

I imagine the first few mornings of manna were cause for wonder and even gratitude. Morning by morning, they woke up to food for the day. But then they didn’t get where they were going for forty years. What they expected to change quickly became the way life was. I wonder how long it was before they stopped tasting the thankfulness. Being in the wilderness for forty years meant the ones who had come out of Egypt never knew anything but the wilderness. In fact, most of the people who left Egypt never got to the Promised Land. They woke up every morning in the and said, “What is this?” for the rest of their lives.

Eight weeks in to our lockdown, perhaps we are getting a taste of what they felt. A lot of days I feel like Billy Murray in Groundhog Day, where he is exhausted by having to live the same day over and over and he says, “I’ll give you a weather forecast: it’s gonna be cold and it’s gonna be gray and it’s gonna last the rest of your life.”

What began as something we hoped would be short-term is now something whose ending we can’t predict or control. In my own attempt to begin to understand that we may be in for the long haul, I wrote this poem last week:

maybe it doesn’t get better

you may not want
to read past the title
but hear me out–

we can’t do what we
are doing just because
we think this won’t last
and we can get back
to the way things were

maybe it doesn’t get better

I know–
I already said that
but what if the pandemic
pans out into permanence

or as permanent as
things ever get
what if we what we took
for granted isn’t granted

and we are left with life
and each other
for years, not days
yeah, I’m going to say it again

maybe it doesn’t get better

okay–I’ll say it another way
who knows what will happen
does that help

faith and hope hunger for uncertainty
love knows all you can count on
in life is someone else and let
someone count on you because

maybe it doesn’t get better
then again, maybe it does

The Israelites had to learn how to live in the wilderness as though that was what life was like. Yes, they knew they were supposed to be on their way to the land that God had promised them, but they couldn’t just sit around and wait for the future to come. The truth is the future never gets here for any of us. We cannot live lives that matter if they are based on what we expect to happen next. We can learn from our past and we can prepare for what we think might happen, but we can only live today, whatever the circumstances.

Most every Sunday morning during the quarantine, I have come into the meeting house to take the picture of Ginger and Jake as they send out the worship service e-mail. It feels strange to be in the room without anyone else here. I long for us to see each other, to be able to hug each other, to be able to sing together, and to eat too many snacks at coffee hour. That day may be a long time coming.

The decisions about how and when things will begin to open up, when we will be able to gather in person for worship, when we can go out to eat with friends, or quit wearing masks are not ones we get to make directly. We will respond to those circumstances, not create them.

How spend our days–these days, whatever the circumstances—are our decisions to make. We can decide how we will connect, how we will find ways to say we love one another, how we take care of each other, how we treat one another, how we ask for help. We can choose to make sure we all have what we need to get through the day ahead. We can choose not to wait for normal to return, or for things to get better, but to live today in this strange time as though these are the days we have to live.

One of my favorite stories about Jesus happened on the night before he was executed, when he washed the feet of his disciples. In a culture that knew only sandals and dusty roads, it was an act of servitude and compassion. The way John tells the story, he says that Jesus, “knowing he had come from God and was going to God,” knelt down and washed their feet. He wasn’t waiting for something to happen, or someone to rescue him. He took care of his friends.

We, too, have come from God and are going to God. Whoever we are and wherever we are on life’s journey, we are with God and God is with us. We have today to live, to breathe in the breath of God and breathe out the love of God, to take care of one another, to choose morning by morning new mercies to see.

Maybe things will get better. Maybe they won’t. Whatever happens, we have come from God and we are going to God, and we are traveling together. May we choose to do and say everything we can to remind one another of those things. Amen.

Peace,
Milton

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cream biscuits

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A good biscuit is hard to make.

I lived–and worked in restaurants–in Durham, North Carolina for five years before I dared to say I knew how to make a good biscuit, and I still know there are those who can make better biscuits than I can. Mike Hacker at Pie Pushers tops the list.

That said, the pandemic pushed me back to a biscuit recipe that is unusual in that it is easy and tasty. It is not an original creation on my part; you can find several versions online. But if you are hungry for a good biscuit and time is short–as in, when your mother-in-law asks when you are going to make biscuits again–these are the biscuits for you.

The other thing I like about them is all you have to have on hand to make them is flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and heavy cream. Start to finish, you can have these on the table, or should I say in your belly, in thirty minutes.

cream biscuits

2 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 i/2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

2 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 425°.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar together. Make a well and add the heavy cream. Stir until the mixture is combined and then knead the dough with your hands just until it holds together.

Put a piece of parchment paper or a Silpat on a baking sheet. Put the dough on the sheet and shape into a rectangle about a half an inch thick. Cut into twelve pieces and separate them so there is about a half an inch between them.

Cook for fifteen minutes. When you take them out of the oven, brush with melted butter and then dig in.

You’re welcome.

Peace,
Milton

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chicken limone

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One of the benefits of living in Guilford is Bishop’s Orchards has fresh asparagus every May. I had never tasted fresh asparagus–I mean asparagus that was still growing this morning–until we moved here. I now eat asparagus in May and then wait for next year because I know how it really tastes.

Something about asparagus made me want chicken and lemons.

When we lived in Charlestown, Massachusetts we were just a walk across the bridge to the North End, which is the Italian neighborhood of Boston. We ate this chicken dish in a restaurant there one night and I bought the cookbook so I could learn how to make it. I have since lost the cookbook, but I can still get pretty close to how it tasted.

The unusual thing about this recipe is the chicken is dredged in flour and then put in an egg wash before it goes in the sauté pan–without going back into flour or bread crumbs. It has a light a tasty coating.

1-2 lbs boneless chicken cutlets, pounded thin
4 eggs
1 cup flour
6 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 lemons, zested and juiced
salt and pepper

Lay the chicken out on a cutting board and season with salt and pepper. Whisk the eggs well and set a side. Put the flour in a shallow dish.

Heat 4 tablespoons of butter in a skillet over medium high heat. While the butter is getting hot, dredge the chicken in the flour, piece by piece, and then dip each one in the egg wash, and then into the sauté pan.

Cook the chicken about three minutes on each side. If they are pounded thin, this will make sure they are cooked through. (You may have to do this in batches.) Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and keep warm.

Add the remaining butter to the sauté pan and increase the heat. With a wooden spoon or spatula, loosen the particles from the bottom of the pan. Add the lemon juice and the lemon zest. Let the sauce reduce a bit; it will brown also. Pour it over the chicken and serve.

For the record, I spread the asparagus on a baking sheet and drizzled it with some olive oil and some salt. I put it in a 425° oven for about seven minutes. I also made some mashed potatoes. From start to finish, the whole thing took less than an hour before we sat down to eat.

Not bad for a Tuesday night dinner.

Peace,
Milton

5+

love is just a way to live . . .

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The last two weeks, as Spring has finally come to Connecticut to stay, the lengthening light of the days has been matched by the growing weight of my depression. This time, thanks to the pandemic, it isn’t all to do with my mental illness but circumstances as well.

I find that I crave being outside. I take my computer out on the patio to write in the morning. When my mind shuts down in the afternoon, I dig in our flower beds or out in the church garden behind the barn. On the weekends there are four of five of us spread out across our 50 x 30 plot, talking through our masks, and working to raise food for whoever needs it.

This afternoon late I went out and moved some dirt for an expansion bed that we are getting ready for next year. As I went back and forth with the wheelbarrow, I started singing a song I learned as a kid but really came home to me one night at Club Passim in Boston. I was the volunteer running the sound board one night when Dave Mallett was performing. He wrote the song and I got to hear him sing it.

inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow
all it takes is a rake and a hoe and a piece of fertile ground
inch by inch, row by row, someone bless these seeds I sow
someone warm them from below, ’til the rain comes tumbling down

In New England we are a week or so away from even being able to plant our tomatoes, much less harvest them. Tomatoes in these parts are a late summer, early fall pleasure. Nonetheless, it’s never too early to sing along with Guy Clark.

homegrown tomatoes home grown tomatoes
wha’d life be without homegrown tomatoes
only two things money can’t buy
that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes

The Indigo Girls’ song “All That We Let In” isn’t so much about gardening or farming, but about everything we digest in life. Digging out in the garden for me is therapeutic in part, I think, because I’ve got my hands in the stuff I’m made of. I’m breathing in life in all kinds of ways. And even though I am the one who cooks dinner when I come in, I know how this verse feels.

I pass the cemetery, walk my dog down there
I read the names in stone and say a silent prayer
when I get home, you’re cooking supper on the stove
and the greatest gift of life is to know love

Lyle Lovett sings about leaving home and worrying that the one he is leaving behind will have significant culinary experiences without him. It’s not about growing food, but it sure is about who you eat with–“Pantry.”

don’t cheat on me with cornbread,
don’t cheat on me with beans
and don’t cheat on me with bacon,
cooked up with collard greens
don’t cheat on me with biscuits
with jelly sweet and blue
keep it in that place where
you know you will be true
keep it in your pantry . . .

One of my favorite John Denver songs tells the story of his uncle who lived with them on a farm in Oklahoma. “Matthew” is full of joy and family.

yes, and joy was just the thing that he was raised on
love is just the way to live and die
gold is just a windy Kansas wheat-field
and blue is just a Kansas summer sky

Rich Mullins’ “First Family” is another song about a family on a farm and paints a wonderful picture of how all that is ordinary is full of wonder.

talk about your miracles
talk about your faith
my dad he could make things grow
out of Indiana clay
Mom could make a gourmet meal
out of just cornbread and beans
and they worked to give faith hands and feet
and somehow gave it wings

I’ll finish tonight’s playlist with “Trouble in the Fields,” a song Nanci Griffith wrote about her relatives who were farmers during the Great Depression. Though I am far from working a full farm, something about digging in the dirt during these days finds resonance in her words.

and all this trouble in our fields
if this rain can fall, these wounds can heal
they’ll never take our native soil
but if we sell that new John Deere
and then we’ll work these crops with sweat and tears
you’ll be the mule I’ll be the plow
come harvest time we’ll work it out
there’s still a lot of love, here in these troubled fields

Take care, my friends. We will keep digging and singing together.

Peace,
Milton

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volunteer

1

volunteer

in new england
we have to be gentle
with our tomatoes
let the air warm then the soil
plant on memorial day
while people down south
are already making BLTs

today Tom pointed to a
little green plant
“tomato” he said
then “volunteer”
from the latin:
acting by free will
choosing to show up

the seed fell last
autumn hunkered down
for the winter and
chose to show up
will it live long
enough to share
the taste of intention

Peace,
Milton

4+

permanent collection

5

permanent collection

the pandemic has gone
on long enough to get to
“clean up the barn”
and I unpacked the
museum in a box
waiting to be curated
pictures from my
father’s ordination
wrapped in plastic
since Mom’s funeral

what do I do with
a memory
that’s not mine
no one has missed
it for years
do museums ever
use trash cans

in another box
my eye catches a
card in Dad’s hand
thank you for making
time to come see me
it was after his heart
surgery I came in late
he was in recovery
and he remembered
I remember too

permanence
can’t be collected
we will all go
out of print
still I hate to
be the one who
clears the room
for the next exhibit

Peace,
Milton

7+

everything never stops singing

2

everything never stops singing

the tulips are down
to their last chorus
the apple blossoms
are just coming in
on the descant

the bleeding hearts
hum in the shade
and the chive flowers
translate melody to
fragrance when they
hit the hot skillet

the endless blue sky
sings of long ago and
far away because the
air that is close enough
to breathe sings a blue
I can only feel in my bones

the little birds whose
names I don’t know
bounce along the
branches and pickets
like the ball on a
sing-a-long screen

the chipmunks are
hiding in the old stone
wall that is stacked
but not cemented
the rocks leaning into
each other for support

the daffodils are dying
the peonies are rising
everything never stops
singing without even
making a sound

Peace,
Milton

4+

the shape of what is not there

4

the shape of what is not there

I’m not sure why this seems to be
the week for a mutual meltdown
but there is a tsunami of tension
even the schnauzers are surly

they know the whole thing has gone
to the dogs as we say and they
resent being made the metaphor
why couldn’t we have gone to the cats

the truth is we can’t go anywhere
other than away from each other
past empty buildings and cancelled
gatherings and get-togethers

masked and melancholy we skirt
each other for fear of contact
all that makes us human and alive
has been distanced absented

our inarticulate anger fills the shape
of all we have lost no are losing
this is all in the present tense
we don’t know what is next

our leaders speak in abstractions
opening economy best in the world
our pains are particular and personal
capitalism offers little comfort

life as we knew it is missing
so is touch and hope and ritual
tradition community and ceremony
the virtual proves itself vacuous

and we are starting to figure out
that we are in the middle of it all
not the end not whatever’s next
all is not lost there is more to come

Peace,
Milton

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