A few months ago, I had taken advantage of my wife and
children’s visit during my longer-than-planned Japanese trip (the purpose of
which I may go into… someday) to take a “long belated-birthday celebration weekend”
getaway to Hokkaido. It was there we had visited the farm that produced the lovely
lavender honey my Auntie gave me earlier in the year, which I had enjoyed on my
We purchased quite a few jars. And since she had tasted the
first sample, Namiko wanted to eat the honey with scones, confiding to me that
she almost couldn’t wait until our holiday was over and we would return to the
small rental flat in Kokubunji where I can bake her up a batch.
I thought to myself, why wait? And we were fortunate that
the lovely Japanese couple running the bed and breakfast at which we were
staying granted our unorthodox request to borrow their kitchen for an hour in
the afternoon to make scones, which they at the time did not serve. We of
course purchased all of the ingredients for our spontaneous baking endeavour,
and invited the couple to our afternoon tea as a small “thank you” for their
Suffice to say, the couple felt that they were well-rewarded, with the elder man paying a very fine complement in Japanese for my
“flaky golden treasures” that were “befitting for the Emperor himself.”
“In other words,” my wife said in response to my translation, “your scones are ‘fit for a king’… or should that be queen?” Namiko’s eyes flickered as she shared my knowing smile that
told me that we were both thinking about the now-no-longer-secret origin of the
Four years prior, one of my old college mates from London
was making his first trip to the states, and was planning to visit my family in
Daly City during the first and last leg of his week-long stint in California.
Since he would be spending a few weeks with friends in Boston and New York before
he would trek out west, Namiko thought it would be fun to surprise him with a
British tea on that Sunday afternoon. So we planned a spread with fresh
strawberries, finger sandwiches and, of course, scones with clotted cream. Not
happy with the American version of scones from our favorite Bay Area bakery, I
decided to make them from scratch following the guidance of an old British cookbook I
had acquired during my early-college years (and that I had still retained mainly for
the shepherd’s pie recipe, which is spot-on). The instructions made the scones seem relatively easy to make, which I planned to do on Sunday so they would be
freshly baked upon my mate’s arrival. Best laid plans…
In short, the scones didn’t turn out. Long version: Namiko actually
tossed one of them out onto the small veranda outside of the dining room window
of our second-storey flat, and we watched it bounce into the dumpster beside
the parking lot below. If the dumpster was empty, I’m sure we would have heard
it bounce a few more times.
So we had a sconeless tea to start off my mate’s visit, but
a lovely time was still had by all… even if my so-called “friend” divulged to
my family embarrassing stories of a few of our college-day misadventureswith the same cheek Namiko used when
she related our recent mishap with the “rubber biscuits” I planned to serve with
“I was wondering about that,” he remarked, noting the obvious deficiency. Then, to Namiko,
“I’m surprised you let 'im have a go at baking.”
“Oh, I can’t bake to save my life,” Namiko laughed, “Xum is
really quite good at it, when he isn’t making scones, of course…”
“Maybe I can help you out with that, X-Man,” my mate barely
annunciated between mouthfuls of cucumber finger sandwiches. He then explained
with a grin of admiration that his girlfriend back home made an excellent
scone.In fact, she used a recipe given
to her by a friend who had a friend who had a cousin who worked at Buckingham
Palace, and was thus privy to how they made the scones served at their “royal tea.”
I admit I was skeptical of my mate’s claim ( as I am sure you were upon reading the previous sentence), but I did welcome the recipe that he
arranged with “his bird” to have delivered to my e-mail later that evening (when morning would hit the U.K.). In
return I promised a proper tea with scones when he returned back to the Bay
Area after his week-long excursion to L.A. and San Diego.
No longer wanting to leave anything to chance (and perhaps
to quickly salvage my once-spotless baking reputation with my wife), I decided
to wake up early Monday morning and try out the “royal scone” recipe for
breakfast, which the entire family enjoyed with leftover clotted cream and some
Shropshire honey my mate brought for us from Fortnum and Mason. Well, “enjoyed"
may not be the appropriate word, though it was a definitive improvement over the
previous day’s hockey pucks. They did have a good flavor, yet they were a bit
dry and crumbly, and not too unlike the passable-but-lackluster scones from the Bay Area bakery (maybe they
had "connections" at Buckingham Palace as well?).What was the point of taking the time and trouble to bake scones from
scratch if we end up with the same ones from a shop? That would not do. These
scones needed to be better.
Driven by a passion that I now admit bordered on the
irrational, I spent the next few nights baking five batches of scones with a
slightly tweaked recipe (inspired by my years of successfully making various
types of pastries): less baking powder in batch one; more butter in batch two;
shortening in batch three (big mistake!), exchanging one of the eggs and some
of the milk with full cream in batch four; eliminating the eggs and milk
altogether in favor of cream in batch five. Namiko was very tolerant of my
current obsession (even during batch three), and both of our workplaces were in
what they thought was “breakfast scone heaven” as we shared the overnight
leftovers (except for batch three, which we had tossed). And the scones were getting fluffier,
tastier, (in a word, better) with each batch (except for batch three), but I
wasn’t quite… “there.” For with my first bite of these five batches I immediately
had an idea on how to make the scone even better in the next go-round
(especially with batch… well, you know).
Surprisingly, no ideas for improvement came to me with the
sixth batch, which was rich and dense, but not too heavy -- and had just the
right amount of crumble without being dry. However,I couldn’t rule out the possibility of my
judgement being affected by possible “baking fatigue.” Then the definitely baking-fatigued Namiko bit through
the crisp crust and into the moist tender layers (that I imagine must have
melted into the same sweet buttery heaven that I had just experienced), and
exclaimed with a mouth full of scone:
"I don’t think I can possibly love you
any more than I do right now!”
That was when I knew I had finally perfected the
That night, my baking efforts were rewarded with a different
kind of passion.
And we didn’t share the leftovers with our workmates.
When my British mate returned that Saturday, he was completely
awestruck at tea time.
“My god, X-Man!” he exclaimed with the same jovial theatrics
he had exhibited for as long as I had known him. “My bird never made her scones taste
like that. What the hell did you do?”
Of course, I immediately sent the recipe back to him and his
“bird” with my final adjustments; they were the only ones outside my immediate
family that I had shared this recipe with… at least at that time. For I had
also shared the recipe with the kind Japanese couple at the Hokkaido bed and
breakfast as further gratitude for their extra hospitality. The couple in turn
offered a significant discount on our stay and on future stays for my allowing
them to add the scones as an item on their rotating breakfast menu.
And, as you may have guessed, I am sharing the recipe with
you now, to give back for your time spent wading through my latest batch of
self-serving claptrap this week. Enjoy.
(Makes about 16 2-inch scones)
300g (2 cups) flour, plus a little extra for working the
55g (1/4 cup) sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
80 g (about 1/3 cup) of cold butter (do not use margarine
and heaven forbid put the shortening away!), cut into small cubes
250 ml (1 cup) heavy whipping cream
In a medium-sizedmixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking
powder and salt.
Cut in the cold butter (pastry cutter is best;
fingers work too, as long as you work quickly so you don’t melt the butter),
the mixture should look like cornmeal when you are done.
Add whipping cream, and stir until just
moistened (be careful not to overmix).
Turn dough out onto a slightly floured surface
and lightly knead it a half-dozen or so times to smooth it out.
Use a rolling pin to flatten it to a ½-inch
thickness, and cut with a 2-inch round cookie cutter (a flour-coated drinking
glass works in a pinch).
Place cut dough on a lightly greased or
parchment-paper-covered cookie sheet, spaced 5 cm apart.
Bake in a 190 degree C (375 degree F) oven for
about 13-15 minutes or until golden.
Serve warm with preserves, clotted cream, or our
favorite, lavender honey.
I should warn you that these scones are very rich and should
be enjoyed occasionally. In fact, the next time I had seen my British mate he
was about 10 kilos heavier, and I’m sure it was not due to his long-time penchant
for crisp sandwiches. There was a reason the royals allegedly used eggs and
milk instead of all this cream and butter, after all. Oh, and the scones' effect on human
libido may vary.
I was listening to Haim’s “Days are Gone” and Samantha Fox’s
self-titled album on the same “car trip” (i.e., “traffic jam”) the other day
when a realization struck me: when did songs stop using the slow fade-out to
cue the listener that they are about to end? That technique seemed to be fairly
commonplace in the 1980s (with some exceptions, which are always there to test
the “rule”), but not so much (if at all) today.
I’m not sure which I prefer, the slow fade or the abrupt end…
whether in songs or life in general. I had personally experienced the abrupt one,
and am now painfully witnessing a loved one going through a slow fade. In both
cases, the ending isn’t so obvious.
I had recently reached my 50th birthday the other week, and I have to admit
that initially, the day wasn’t all that special. It probably didn’t help that
my celebration of this half-century milestone was more of a halfway measure as
I was currently halfway around the world from my wife and family. So while my
birthday dinner comprised of what I believe to be the best sashimi the Roppongi
district has to offer, it was less enjoyable when partaken at a table-for-one. I
also splurged on dessert, a lovely honey-lavender pudding that one of my dear
aunties managed to bring to me from Hokkaido. However, the evocative taste
triggered thoughts of an exquisite delight that I had shared with my absent wife
that I am to this day still debating whether the indulgence was more pleasant
I do suppose one consolation of my then-current solitude was that
it had provided an excellent opportunity for deep self-reflection on the past five
decades of my life – a chance to see how far I had come into this world, and
how far I have yet to go.
But the only “midlife crisis” I wanted to deal with belonged
to my cartooning “altered-ego,” the unabashedly conceited "Professor
Xum," who couldn't help but commemorate the half-life occasion in a recent
“mock comic book cover” submission to "The Line It Is Drawn"
(a feature of the “Comics Should Be Good” blog on ComicBookResources.com [hereinafter
referred to as “The Line”]). The week's theme revolved around a breakout
cartoon programme called “Adventure Time,” of which I could sum up all of my
personal knowledge at the time in this “sketch cover variant.”
The summation of my knowledge of "Adventure Time."
But a little thing like lack of show knowledge wouldn’t stop
the narcissistic Professor – especially since he recently discovered that he is
about the same age as another “Professor Zoom,” who was a recurring
villain in one of his favorite childhood comic books. The idea of having two
fifty-year-old “Professors” squaring off on the comic book cover was too much
to resist, even if it had nothing to do with “Adventure Time.” Fortunately, a
Twitter suggestion happened to request a team-up between a couple of the show’s
characters and Zoom’s four-color arch-nemesis. So all the wily Professor needed
was a few quick Google searches on “Adventure Time” to figure out the creative
shoehorn he needed. The egocentric result can be viewed here.
The Epic Confrontation No One Demanded
Little did the vainglorious Professor know that this would
only be the first “doppelganger duel” on the week of his birth. His long-distant
wife and a few Stateside friends have conspired with the ever-wonderful ShannonFarnonto provide a special birthday surprise to a longtime SuperFriends
fan: a follow-up audio scenario for the one episode that never truly had an ending. And the villain of the audio piece goes to super-extreme measures in
an attempt to eliminate me (as if my head wasn’t swelled enough). Fortunately
Wonder Woman arrives to save me… and the day… in a very unique manner.Of course I can’t keep this wonderful birthday
gift to myself. You can check out this fantastic audio treasure here.
(By the way, it’s possible to hire Shannon Farnon yourself to
create a Wonder Woman recording for your loved one’s birthday, or any special
occasion. Just visit the “Voice Mails for Sale” tab on her website to
find out how.)
Fortunately, my family had finally arrived at Narita
Airport yesterday for the summer. As soon as they get used to the time shift, we'll
plan a more proper, albeit belated, family celebration to kick off the next 50