See above there? Those are some delicious pear and cheddar scones. And what I’m about to talk to you about – has nothing to do with baking, scones, rushed breakfasts, or leisurely brunches. Nothing at all – except this is what has recently been plaguing my brain. So bear with me here…
What has been on my mind lately is how people living in small apartments work at home without having a designated space. There’s a blogger I follow who documents her life in a tiny apartment that she shares with her husband. The apartment, a studio in our neighborhood, is tiny, and she manages to make it look airy and large. Meanwhile, I trip over my own stuff, and our place is about three times the size, and to be perfectly honest here, it feels like a tight squeeze.
To live in a tiny apartment (and not lose your mind from all the clutter), you must pare down the amount of stuff you own. I’m not one for “stuff”, but we do have a fairly sizeable collection of books (and cookbooks!) and it’s only growing. Then, there’s a matter of pots and pans and a fully-stocked kitchen. There are books in the bedroom, there are books in the living room, and sometimes books even come to hang out in the kitchen. Our living room, also, is home to our desks. Both of our desks. As two writers, we require our own. Andrew’s is a handsome desk from West Elm I purchased awhile ago and it was satisfactory (minus the terrible shoulder cramps I would get from sitting there) until I realized that because I was too short for most desks, I needed an older one (since they were made with shorter people in mind).
My current desk is a handsome Chippendale mahogany secretary-type of a contraption. It has various crevices and drawers with fancy brass knobs, and gorgeous carvings. It cost me a freaking fortune, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s a keeper of a piece and I can close it up and the whole thing looks just like a dresser. Still, I could use to keep it less cluttered. A work in progress.
And so back to people in tiny apartments where there’s no designated space for work. Every morning, this young woman takes the dining table and moves it a few inches, then moves a computer on top of it, then adds a simple chair, a notebook, and a cup of tea (or coffee, I cannot tell). And having watched this video a number of times (okay, maybe nearly thirty) I wonder to myself, Well, what if she has to stop work mid-day, but she has chapters of text or something to work with, what does she do then? Put everything back and then when she returns reconstructs her workspace? That seems inefficient.
On the other hand, I marvel at her organization.
So, I did what any sensible (and curious) reader would do: I wrote a comment once asking her what she does about stuff like bills, and staples, and post-it notes, and little sticky flags, and pens, and notebooks, and reminds to make a dental appointment, and birthday cards, and coupons on those amazing face wipes that seem to have the entire beauty world enraptured. What happens to documents, various papers, drafts, recipe clippings (oh boy, do I have a problem on that front), contracts, and magazines? And she responded (though her comment didn’t go into enough details to leave me satisfied), that she simply didn’t have a taste for those things and went digital as much as possible. Yes, I thought to myself, of course, but still, what about those bills and things that need to be stapled or taped together? I dislike those things too, and yet I am forced into the nuisance of office paraphernalia. I fight it, but it seems like the “stuff” (all of the above crap) is winning and the human (me) is losing.
The thing about my desk (or Andrew’s desk for that matter) is that while we both love working in our respective spaces (never mind how ugly they make our living room look, we’re in New York, so we’re sucking it up), Forrest, our cat, simply cannot stand it. Every five minutes or so, he will sneak up on one of us and sit by the office chair, crying in the most anguished manner. You’d think he’s been neglected and abandoned the way he goes on and on. After awhile, if I happen to ignore him, he’ll get up on his hind legs and reach for my elbow, gently swiping at it. I’ll skip enumerating the damage he’s done to my clothes, it doesn’t so much matter, because what’s done is done, but if I somehow manage to ignore sharp claws piercing my flesh, he will sneak up to where my feet are and start nibbling on my ankles. And that can go on for hours, until he exhausts himself and curl up on the couch next to the desk and falls asleep. Should I choose to give up and move my work to the couch, the crying ceases, Forrest curls up next to me, and goes to sleep. Then he twists and turns into the most amazing (and adorable) poses, which in and of itself, is a distraction. Sometimes, he even snores. Cat snores, for the record, are even more adorable than baby snores, in my opinion. Of course, when I have a baby of my own, my opinion may shift to favor the baby, but it’s an unknown at this point. I do hope that I didn’t manage to offend any new mothers. She thinks cats are cuter than babies, someone might think. I don’t – just the cat snores.
Which brings me back to my initial point: none of the above, not a thing, has anything to do with scones or brunch. Except, maybe for the part when you have to explain your unorthodox living room set up when you invite people over for brunch. Brunch, while wildly unpopular with chefs (they really hate brunch), is a very “good thing” (to borrow a term from Martha) in my book. It might seem like a lot of work on a lazy Sunday, but it’s trumps going out for brunch each and every time. You can make things like gravlax and a quiche, and you can serve the most ridiculously delicious scones. With some homemade ricotta, bread from your favorite bakery, strong coffee, and mimosas, life is pretty good – great, even. And the best part – you can linger for hours and hours and maybe linger into the evening when brunch slowly bleeds into dinner – these are my favorite kind of Sundays, even if my desk is cluttered and I can’t find a thing.
Roasted Pear and Cheddar Scones
Slightly adapted from “The Perfect Finish” by Bill Yosses and Melissa Clark
Don’t let the fussy instructions turn of you off this recipe. Yes, I know, roasting pears before you tuck them into a scone, seems a little over the top. But just trust me when I say, it’s totally worth it. Really. Roasting concentrates the pears’ essence, making them, somehow, even more pear-y and wintry. The original recipe features apples instead of pears – also very delicious. But in the dead of winter, I reach for a pear more often than for an apple. Either way, they are delightful and, I have a feeling, will take a permanent rotation in your breakfast and brunch baking routine.
You can even roast the pears the night before, cover them with a kitchen towel and wake up in the morning with only ten minutes of scone-making left (minus the baking time, of course). I tried making the scones with firm, slightly under-ripe pears and pears that were growing softer by the day, with ample juice. Both work equally well, the only difference being that you need to roast the juicy pears a bit longer until they dry up. You’ll know when they’re ready by gently touching them with your finger and feel that they’re on the drier side of things. However, if the pears are disintegrating in your hand, I say their time has passed, at least for their scone role anyhow.
2 firm pears (454 grams; 1 pound) – I used Anjou
1 1/2 cups (195 grams; 6.75 ounces) all-purpose flour (preferably Gold or Pillsbury brand – you want a lower protein count as far as scones go)
1/4 cup plus 1/2 tablespoons sugar (63 grams; 2.2 ounces) divided
1/2 teaspoon (3.5 grams) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (4 grams) fine sea salt, plus additional for egg wash
6 tablespoons (3 ounces; 85 grams) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup (65 grams; 2.25 ounces) coarsely grated white, sharp cheddar
1/4 cup (59 ml; 2 ounces) heavy cream
2 large eggs, divided
1. Position the baking rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a half-sheet baking pan (13×18-inches) with parchment paper.
2. Peel and core the pears and cut them into eighths. Cut each of those pieces into 4 pieces. Each pear should give you 32 pieces. Transfer the pears onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake about 15 to 20 minutes or until the pears take on a bit of color and are dry to the touch. If you use ripe (not mushy) pears that are juicy, you might want to roast them another 5 minutes so they dry up. Transfer the pears to a cooling rack and allow them to cool completely. Transfer the pear pieces to a bowl, and reserve the sheet (and its parchment) nearby. (You can do this step the night before and leave the pears to cool, covered with a kitchen towel.)
3. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt, and whisk together for 2 to 3 minutes until the mixture is sufficiently aerated. Set aside.
4. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the butter, reserved pears, cheese, cream, and 1 egg. Spoon the flour mixture all over, and mix on low speed until the dough just comes together. Do not overmix.
5. Generously flour a work surface and place the scone dough on it. Sift a light layer of flour on top of the dough. Using a rolling pin to gently roll the dough into a 1 1/4-inch thick 6-inch circle. Cut the circle into 6 wedges (they should measure about 2 1/2-inches at the outer edge) and transfer the scones to the reserved parchment-lined sheet (no need to change parchment!). Leave at least 2 inches between each scone.
6. Lightly beat the remaining egg with a pinch of salt. Brush the scones with the eggwash and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar. Bake scones for about 30 minutes or until firm and golden. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Serve scones warm with your best butter, jam, and/or clotted cream.
Makes 6 scones.