Many years ago, when I first went off to live on my own, I developed a recurring fantasy about living in a rambling country house where friends and family could drop in whenever they wanted and stay for as long as they wished. All I would ask was for a little help, maybe with cook prep, baking, gathering loads of fresh herbs from the kitchen garden (surely there would be one) or some other such every day task.
My fantasy probably had something to do with the fact that I lived in a tiny attic apartment in Brooklyn, with a very nice roommate and her three active cats. I'd found my roommate, Pam, after stopping to gaze at a homemade flyer taped to a street pole from which I'd pulled off a scrap imprinted with a phone number. At the time, I was staying at a college friend's apartment and after four-plus weeks of sleeping on the living room couch, I knew my welcome was wearing thin.
Pam was prompt about returning my call and we set up a time to meet. The interview with her seemed unremarkable enough, a quiet conversation peppered with ordinary questions about each of our backgrounds and the logistics of life in a very small space.
Less than an hour later, just as I was stepping through the doorway of my friend's place nearby, Pam was leaving a message on the answering machine saying that I was the only normal person she'd met all day and would I please move in and save her from having to deal with any more weirdos.
So, I did.
My room was just large enough to fit a twin size mattress, with a two-foot-strip of walking-around space along the edges of it. I quickly learned that if I didn't keep my bedroom door firmly shut, the cats would wreak havoc. That is, the fuzzy nocturnal creatures would shock me from my deepest slumber by crash-landing on my head, where their claws would immediately become entangled in my hair before sinking into my scalp.
It was hard to invite any out-of or even in-town guests with so little space and the cat shenanigans going on, that was for sure. So I had to settle for my house-in-the-country fantasy while I flung myself out of the apartment and crammed myself into the D-train each day to get to my editorial assistant job in mid-town.
My life looks a lot different now here in the Pacific Northwest. Back in the NYC days, I lived thousands of miles away from my family and my fantasy was probably a simple wish for the people I loved and cared about most to come stay for a while.
While I don't live in a big country house where anyone can just stop by unannounced for a weekend or a few weeks, my fantasy lives on. My family still lives scattered in different locations, and I would still love for them to visit. And when they can, they do.
I have to admit, I like taking care of guests. Maybe I've become a certain kind of weirdo after all. The kind who doesn't mind washing sheets and making beds, cleaning up the extra bathroom, or restocking the pantry shelves. The kind who gets excited about filling the fridge with my guests' favorite foods and beverages so we can meet again in comfort.
In my mind, one of the most welcoming food gifts to offer a guest is a sweet and tender triangle of butter, flour and buttermilk. I am indeed referring to none other than the scone.
People love a good scone. It is like a warm and loving hug. This is a tasty one that will linger in the heart. It has crispy edges and a delicate middle that is just sweet enough. A hint of savory is provided by two teaspoons of chopped fresh sage. The dense, orange flesh of the kabocha squash lends this scone a festive golden hue.
This is the scone I make throughout the Fall and Winter. I always keep some in the freezer should any unexpected or last minute guests arrive. Once made and ready to go, it is the perfect last-minute treat to toss in the oven, filling your home with an inviting fragrance.
Press these generously onto your guests and they'll surely be back for yet another visit.
Kabocha, Sage and Buttermilk Scones
2 cups all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage
6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/2 cup kabocha squash puree (see below for how-to)
1/3 cup buttermilk, plus 2 T. for brushing on before baking
1 large egg
Eight small sage leaves
Turbinado or demarara sugar
For the kabocha puree:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Oil a large rimmed baking sheet. Cut one kabocha squash in half. Remove seeds with a spoon and discard seeds and pulp. Place on baking sheet and into oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes until squash is beginning to collapse and can be easily pierced with a knife. Remove from oven and allow to cool until it can be easily handled.
When cool enough to handle, scoop out flesh and discard skin. Mash squash with a large fork, or a potato masher will also work nicely. Set aside 1/2 cup for this recipe. Use the remainder to make soup, or just make more scones by doubling this recipe. Depending on the size of your squash, you will have plenty. Squash can also be frozen for future use.
For the scones:
In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger and sage. Using a pastry cutter or your fingers, work butter into dry ingredients until butter is in small, flour-coated pieces pieces. Some pieces may be the size of petite peas, others will be smaller.
In a separate bowl, combine squash puree, buttermilk and egg.
Form a well in the flour/butter mixture and pour in the liquid mixture. Using a large fork fold the wet into the dry. Turn the bowl gradually as you go, continuing to fold rather than stir, until mixture comes together in a shaggy dough.
Transfer the mixture onto a lightly floured surface. Gently pat together into a 6" circle. If it seems too shaggy still accomplish this, you may bring the dough together more by folding it over a couple of times with a pastry scraper and giving it a very gentle knead or two with your hands.
Cut the circle into eighths with your pastry scraper then transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place in freezer until triangles are frozen. (This is actually an optional step, but I think the scones bake up better this way, with less spreading. I usually leave them overnight and bake them first thing in the morning.) From here, scones may be baked or placed into freezer bags and stored in the freezer until needed.
To bake scones:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place scones on baking sheet. Place one sage leaf on top of each scone. Brush tops of scones with buttermilk. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden and edges are beginning to brown.
Lightly adapted from mrs.larkin.