Cold Brew + Dark Chocolate Scones

There I was, frantically plunging the bathroom toilet upstairs, trying to free the pipes and save the bathroom floor from being overrun by murky waters. I succeeded – mostly. Until I didn’t. It seemed maybe a few too many “flushable” diaper liners and their contents from my kids’ cloth diapers had run their course in that bathroom, and the toilet finally decided to revolt. I tried one last time to flush, convinced everything was cleared up and I just needed to do a final test.

Nope.

The waters rose, I plunged with a vengeance, and suddenly toilet water covered my bathroom floor. Fortunately, it was mostly clean toilet water, but toilet water nonetheless. Minutes earlier, I had plopped my toddlers in their cribs in an effort to keep them out the way. I could hear them playing, and for the moment they were happy. Hallelujah. But I was not.

I grabbed whatever towels I could find stashed underneath the sink and hanging on the back of the bathroom door, trying desperately to hold the water back from the hallway carpet. Success. There was a mess to clean up, but the waters receded. All I had to do was wipe up the floor and wash a basketful of sopping towels.

I hauled the wet laundry down the stairs to get everything into the washing machine as soon as possible. As I turned the corner, I got that feeling – you know, that sinking feeling when you’re both confused and in denial about what's in front of you. Water dripped from the bathroom, through the ceiling, and onto the table, splashing books, chairs, toys, my kitchen floor, and everything else in the vicinity. The overflow of the toilet had, in fact, beaten me. I dropped the basket of soaked linens, grabbed a few more dry ones from the kitchen and a bowl to catch the never-ending water, and went to work cleaning up room number two.

My kids, having been quarantined in their cribs for longer than they’d like, started to complain. My frustration began to take over, and I envisioned the worst-case scenario. What if this was a major plumbing issue? What if we needed to tear apart the ceiling? Oh – and how the heck am I supposed to host a baby-shower in this very room in two days if we’re ripping the ceiling out and gutting the kitchen?

My mind was consumed by worry and agitation. The rest of the day, I dwelt on worst-case scenarios, which didn’t even end up happening. The reality was I hosted a baby shower in that room with hardly anyone noticing the damage. We repaired the ceiling at minimal cost, and no major plumbing issues could be found. Still, I had to spend the day cleaning up toilet water, which wasn’t exactly on my to-do list.

Some days are just those days. The ones when you get a parking ticket even though a tree covered up the “No Parking” sign. The ones when your kid decides it’s a good day to skip his nap, or in the middle of Target your daughter has a blowout and you realize you have nothing even remotely useful on hand. They're the days filled with spilled milk, coughing toddlers, burned dinners, calls from the teacher, and potty training gone awry. They're the days that, I think, require an extra dose of coffee and dark chocolate.

These scones are for those days. Bake a batch in between school pick-ups and running errands, or when your kids are finally asleep. Eat them fresh if you can steal away for long enough, or store in the freezer until you need them most. And when that day comes, warm up a scone (or two), slather it in butter, and enjoy alongside yet another cup of coffee.

Cold Brew + Dark Chocolate Scones
Yields 8 large scones
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (plus a little extra for sprinkling on the baking sheet)

1/3 cup sugar

1 Tablespoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup cold butter

6 ounces dark chocolate, chopped

2 large eggs

1/3 cup whole milk

1/4 cup cold brew coffee, plus 2-3 teaspoons for topping*

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 Tablespoon turbinado sugar (or other coarse sugar), optional

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and then sprinkle the parchment with a little bit of flour. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. “Cut” the cold butter into the flour. To do this, you can first cut the butter into small cubes, and then mix it into the flour with a fork until the mixture is crumbly. Another option I like is to use a cheese grater. Grate the stick of butter into the flour, then mix with a fork until crumbly. (Here’s a helpful video showing two other methods.)

Gently stir the chopped dark chocolate in the flour mixture.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, 1/4 cup of coffee, and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir just until incorporated.

Scrape the dough out onto your prepared baking sheet. Form the dough into one large circle, about 9 inches in diameter and3/4 inches thick.

For the topping, brush the top of the dough with 2-3 teaspoons of cold brew coffee, and the sprinkle on the turbinado sugar. With a large knife, cut the dough into 8 slices. (It helps to run your knife under cold water after each cut). Gently pull each slice away from each other and spread them out on the baking sheet.

For best results, place the baking sheet of unbaked scones in the freezer for 30 minutes to chill. While they’re in the freezer, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Bake the scones for 20-25 minutes, or until slightly browned. Allow them to cool slightly before serving. I think scones taste best when they’re freshly baked. However, once they are cooled, you can also wrap them tightly and store at room temperature for 1-2 days, in the fridge for up to a week, or freeze for 2-3 months.

*You won’t get quite the flavor, but you can substitute strong, regular-brewed coffee.


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Through

I have one hand on the wheel and the other stuck in a box of tissues on the passenger seat.

It’s 90 degrees out but I have the AC and the radio off so I can hear my husband’s voice on the phone as I navigate through another construction zone in our rapidly-growing city. A sinus infection muffles my ear, an affront to the gorgeous July blue outside, and my version of hands-free driving is cranking the speaker on my cheap flip phone, face up on the center console. (Yes, in 2017.)

“You need to be fierce,” I tell him. “If you’re doing too much production work and it’s depressing, you need to make time to just mess around with the forge and the hammer again.”

My husband’s a blacksmith with a small production business. He forges tools for other small businesses, on top of the one-off knives, rings, and sculpture he loves to make.

I check the time on the dash — 25 minutes before I need to relieve the babysitter — and pull into the post office parking lot. There should be a check in the mail from an article I wrote, and I need it to pay the babysitter for the writing time I had this morning. I feel a little like the man making goldfish in One Hundred Years of Solitude, forging fish after fish and then melting them down to start all over again.

I cradle the phone under my ear as I turn the key on our PO Box. “Maybe that means staying late some nights, or going in early, or turning something down — I don’t know,” I continue. “You might have to piss some people off. Including me.”

This advice I’m giving him may as well be for myself. Or maybe I offer it because of how fiercely I’ve been fighting lately, for my own creative work.

Our daughter was born over a year ago, and it has been hard, harder than we thought it would be, to return to our projects. Perhaps more surprising, for me, is how little I wanted to write at all in the beginning.

Those first months were too consumed with learning how to be parents — and trying to cling to a vestige of mental and physical health — to be worried about much else.

The seismic identity shifts of new parenthood have been so disorienting, it has taken a while to locate ourselves and our relationship through all the rubble. Through frustration at what I perceived as his inability to intuit what our baby needed, like I could. Through an utter lack of clean underwear. Through the smell of a diaper pail in August heat. Through anxiety over the first vaccines and through taking turns bouncing her on the exercise ball at 3 a.m. and through the tears of first teeth and through sleep deprivation.

All of our old ways of reconnecting were not options in those early months. I wanted a candlelight dinner; instead we dined beside piles of laundry, the baby strapped in her bouncy chair on the table between us. I wanted to repair harsh words and tension in bed; instead, for the first five months our daughter slept with us. I turned in when she did, at 7 p.m., because she’d only fall asleep nursing and startle awake if I crept out of the room.

I kept waiting to connect with my husband, holding out for a chance to catch our breath and take stock of what the last year had brought us — an opportunity that looked and felt like it did before the baby was born.

Eventually, I realized those options weren’t available and might not be coming back — maybe in a few years, but certainly not tomorrow night. Next week didn’t look good either.

So I had a choice. I could keep getting frustrated at the disparity between my expectations and reality. This option usually led to me yelling at my (exhausted, bewildered) husband for neglecting to notice that our daughter wasn’t yet skilled enough to replace her pacifier in her mouth when it fell out, and that I was tired of doing all the noticing and pacifier-replacing.

Or, I could take a good hard look at reality, and a look at the man in front of me. This guy, who was doing his best to love me and our (dependent, indescribable) new daughter.

Now that our girl is older — eating at the dinner table with us, sleeping in her own bed— we are at an oasis of possibility. An undersized oasis, sure. Maybe more of a small fish pond. But it’s something.  

She takes two naps: if I let the dishes sit, I can sneak in some extra writing time. She goes to bed early: more writing tucked in around dinner and scrubbing high chair slime. Sometimes my husband goes back to the shop at night to forge.

Yet, there’s only so much room in the fish pond of possibility. If one of us takes time to nurture their creative soul, you can bet your babysitting money the other one is somewhere tending to our 14 month-old. Or picking up the mail and talking the other one through their existential crisis on makeshift speakerphone.

My husband sighs on the other end. He’s tired and an employee just put in her notice and when did it get so hard to find the time and energy to create new things—not just sandwiches, but poems and sculptures and stories and photographs? Things, for lack of which, a part of us withers and dies.  

I tell him I don’t know, but I have the feeling it doesn’t get easier. If we’re going to continue to pursue the work that matters to us, it’s going to have to happen in and through the patched-together minutes of our new life as parents.

It’s too hot to think straight and I can hardly hear him, and my three-hour reprieve from being Mom just dwindled to 15 minutes. But I feel hopeful. I’m happy to have conversations like this with him: tough-love pep talks in the absolute middle of it all.

Our marriage has been transformed by having a child, but it’s been expanded, too. We’re closer, stronger, and we have a deeper appreciation for the time we do get to spend together. We’ve been forced to become more intentional about it.

Maybe it’s the same with creativity. Each of us has a relationship with our work that looks different now that we have a child. We’re each going to have to figure out how to make our cobbled-together minutes count, to rise above fatigue and frustration. To write and hammer our way through it, in our own ways, but together.


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Guest post written by Melissa Reeser Poulin. She is a poet, essayist, and freelance writer. Her most recent work appears in Hip Mama, Mothers Always Write, In Good Tilth, and Ruminate Magazine. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and daughter. You can read more of her writings at melissareeserpoulin.com.

Photo by Emily Gnetz.

Older

My husband and I sit with breakfast sandwiches and strong coffee at a narrow, two-person table in the bakery where he first asked for my phone number ten years ago. He waves his arm across the room, toward a row of tables running the length of the long wall.

“We were sitting over there.”

We don’t have time to stop by City Bakery on every visit to Asheville, North Carolina, but when we do, I like to be in this place again. I like to order the dark coffee and see if it tastes the same as it did that first time. I like to see if the place still feels special, like something that is ours.

On our first date, a few weeks after he asked for my phone number at the bakery, my husband and I spent several hours in a downtown coffee shop called World Café. Sitting at the tiny round table, cupping our drinks, we arrived at that moment in first-date conversation when age comes up. I knew I was older than him — but not by much, I hoped. We shared stories about college, about what happened during those years for each of us. The age difference started to show.

“How old are you?” I finally asked. The answer was a wide margin. I had to tell him my age, of course. I was just past the threshold of thirty. Why couldn’t it have been two months earlier, so I could say twenty-anything, just like him?

***

It is rare to meet another mom of young children and discover that she is, in fact, the same age as me. And while it isn’t always necessary to tell friends how old I am — I used to avoid it at all costs —I find myself sharing my age more and more.

“I turn 40 next month,” I say. Surprisingly, the words come easy. They were harder to say half a decade ago, sitting in a living room with a group of young twenty-somethings, other brand-new moms, while I bounced my first baby on my 34-year-old knees. A lot of water had passed under the bridge for me since college, a number of moves, jobs, churches, and towns. I had a hard time identifying with those barely-post-grad girls, even though they were mothers, too. My experiences had grown so varied across my single twenties, and the friends I’d grown close to had begun to span the decades. The fresh young moms would turn their faces towards me when they realized I was older, and we would all feel uncomfortable for a moment. I would wish I’d kept quiet about my age.

But that wasn’t, and isn’t, really an option. This is the reality: the extra decade under my belt and all the people and places across that time — an almost impossible count of coffee shops and friends, apartments and houses and wooded hikes and downtown streets that those extra years allowed for. Those years were so full of life that the weight of memory is, even now, sometimes overwhelming. An indie-pop band called the Weepies sings, “I held so many people in my suitcase heart,” and so it is for me. All of my experiences and memories make me who I am now – this is true for everyone – and I wouldn’t trade that long single decade of my twenties for anything. I can see that now. Which means I can’t mind parenting young children in my mid- and late-thirties, and I can’t mind other people knowing my age, not if they are really going to know me.

“I’m almost 40,” I can say without feeling uncomfortable anymore. I feel just right. I feel full of everything that matters. I am rich in the places and people I get to call mine. I have begun to freely share my age, not as a brand of pride, though that is a part of how I feel (I have achieved this decade!), but as a way of saying, My life is good. As it was at 23 right after college, and at 30 on that last first date, and at 34 and 38 in the labor and delivery room.

Some other moms have quietly told me, “Me, too. I’m getting close to forty.” Invariably, they confess they aren’t ready. They don’t like the idea of middle age. They ask, “How are you comfortable with being older?”

I tell them it is because I treasure the baggage I carry. The abundance of my life thus far presses in on me, and the weight of it is a comfort.

***

I unpack my memories from time to time, like my husband did at the bakery.

“Yes, it was over there,” I answer him. “You asked for my phone number at one of those tables.”

I bask in the glow of past moments, which make for a warmer sun because of all that has happened since. We are about to get on the road to head home to our children after a weekend away. We miss them. My husband turns to look at me and says, ”It would be great if they were here.”

I imagine my oldest walking through the door of the café, and our youngest shouting loudly and wreaking havoc on all the plates and silverware within arm’s reach. We would have to clear the table. We are ready to go home to them, to our life as it is right now.

We grab our coffees and bus our dishes. At the door, I cast a backward glance across the room where, at 30, my already-rich life gained a future wealth I could hardly have imagined.

Yes, I am ready to welcome this new decade, mostly because I won’t be leaving anything behind. My suitcase heart, miraculously, keeps getting bigger.


Guest post written by Rebecca D. Martin. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Lynchburg, Virginia. More of her essays can be found here

P.S. Head over to our giveaway page to enter to win a Stair Barrier of your choice (valued at more than $150)!

What We Are Worth

My grandmother was never one for group activities, but when my daughter was born, she started playing Bingo every week. This was a surprise to all of us, but soon her plan became clear. When my daughter, Gillian, was just a few months old, my grandmother presented me with several rolls of quarters, each labeled in her tiny print with the exact amount.

“It’s for Gillian’s college fund,” she said, beaming with pride.

My grandmother is a strong, independent woman, who’s been self-sufficient most of her life. She worked her way through college, earned a Master’s Degree in engineering from Vanderbilt during World War II, then spent the rest of her life as a high school teacher and administrator. She retired comfortably on her pension with no debts.  

But when my daughter was born, my grandmother struggled. She didn’t have the income she had when I was young, and she couldn’t babysit as she did every Wednesday night during my childhood. But she was determined to find a way to contribute. To feel useful. To prove that she still had worth.

Before I became a parent, my grandmother and I spent every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday afternoon together. It was an enormous commitment, but after my mother died, it was one I was more than willing to make. I am the only child of an only child: all we had was each other. We needed one another in ways we hadn’t before: she still needed someone to parent and I still needed to be mothered. However, after my daughter was born, the dynamic changed. I had to find ways to cater to the needs of two bookends of the lifecycle.

The effort has been worthwhile. As a parent, our goal is to teach our children kindness and compassion. Not only has my daughter built a meaningful relationship with a wonderful role model, she has also learned how to be patient and gentle. She doesn’t fear the elderly or the dying.  

As my daughter gets older and my grandmother grows increasingly frail, it has been a challenge to find ways to spend quality time together. Gillian wants to do everything by herself, while my grandmother must accept that she must now accept help.  Now, our outings rarely exceed the time it takes to visit our favorite local ice cream parlor. The effort it requires to get them both in the car, then safely navigate the parking lot can be exhausting. One moves very fast, while the other moves painfully slow. But I know that she looks forward to our outings, for an escape from the monotony of life in a retirement home.

My grandmother never thought of herself as an ordinary resident of the home. She led their daily exercise class and for 20 years she appeared as the court jester in the senior citizen Mardi Gras Court. But eventually, she couldn’t do it anymore. The one job that my grandmother still maintains is delivering the mail to the residents on her hall.  

When my daughter and I come to visit, she and my grandmother travel the halls together, handing out the mail.  For a woman now approaching 102, it’s a small act that makes her feel needed. It is in being needed that we often find our worth.

While my grandmother mourns the loss of her independence, Gillian has begun to embrace her own. She has found ways to be useful, to prove her worth. When we return from an outing, my daughter volunteers to escort my grandmother to her room. She carefully walks her through the halls of the home, asking questions I know my grandmother probably can’t hear and is rewarded with a peppermint when they arrive in the room my grandmother now calls home. Then she walks back to the car where I am waiting, beaming with pride. And she too, at age six, feels like she has purpose.


Guest post written by Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder. Her plays include Gee's BendThe Flagmaker of Market StreetWhite Lightning, and the upcoming Everything That's Beautiful.  She is currently documenting her 40th birthday by taking 40 people out to lunch.  You can follow along at www.40lunches.com.

Photo by Emily Gnetz


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