Diana Edwards writes from Charlottesville, Virginia.
Perhaps it was four major moves in one year or it might have been the floor-to-ceiling mountain of cartons – all labeled kitchen – that loomed from the far side of the already crowded room. Whatever it was, it rendered me senseless that sultry August afternoon three years ago. Chances are I’ll never know what produced that absent-minded moment, but I like to blame it on the heat.
In any event, I had decided to mix up some scones for an afternoon tea. The basics were unpacked – cookie sheets, bowls, food processor, parchment – and my favorite whip-it-up-quick cookbook of muffins, scones and treats was at the ready.
I’d pulsed the flour, salt and butter. The lemon was zested and the cream was chilled when I realized that my stash of sunflower seeds was gone. I’d ignored my own #1 Rule – read the recipe and gather the ingredients before you begin.
I yanked off my apron, grabbed my car keys and headed for the store a mere three minutes away. As I sped up the hill, I thought “Good, the oven will be up to temp when I return.” I raced toward the baking isle – nearly skidding past the sundries, flavorings and the Teva-sporting, hairy-legged man whose face I never saw, in my lightening-speed dash for seeds. “Raisins, dates … where are the sunflower seeds?” I must have been speaking aloud for the baritone in Tevas was now at my side.
“I saw sunflower seeds at the check-out,” he said softly as his tanned arm stretched shelf-ward in an irritatingly slow and mellow reach.
“Ah, thanks …” I sputtered, attempting nonchalance. Turning and resisting the urge to run, I headed to the registers where the sunflower seeds were stacked neatly on the top shelf of the candy rack at – Thank God – the express register.
Crossing the patio at home I was met with ear-splitting scream of our smoke alarms. Burnt, and now smoky, remains of peach-blueberry cobbler spill on the bottom of the oven had triggered alarms on all levels of the house, and I raced about opening windows while pausing every fifteen seconds or so under an alarm, twirling a tea towel over my head in ceiling fan fashion to help quiet the screeching. Finally there was silence.
Retrieving my abandoned package from the patio, I tried to refocus on my original task. I transferred the flour mixture to a bowl and tossed in the zest. Next, I tore open the package of sunflower seeds and tossed them with the flour and zest mixture before making a well for the cream. I reached for a spatula, filled the well and gently blended everything before turning the mixture on to a floured board. Chaos was becoming perfection. I divided the dough, formed two rounds and sliced a dozen lovely scones. Into the oven they went.
I cleaned up the baking items and the sweet-savory aroma began to replace the slight smoky remains of the burnt cobbler. It was 3:30; my husband was due home soon. I unearthed a tablecloth from a carton marked dining linens and set two places. The tea was steeping and two minutes remained on the timer when Newt walked through the door. “Mmm … smells wonderful. I see you can’t stay away from baking, too long.” he teased. He went to wash up. I smiled with satisfaction.
“These smell just a bit different from the ones you usually make,” he said as he spread jam on his still-warm scone.
“I thought I’d surprise you with sunflower seeds.”
I was tucking the teapot under its cozy when Newt let out the worst sort of sound and began spitting his mouthful of scone onto his plate. He reached into his mouth and pulled out a bloodied sunflower seed shell.
“What the heck. What’s in these?” he said, now moaning and soothing the roof of his mouth with his tongue.
I looked at his plate and then I broke open my scone. I ran to the trash, pulled out the empty package and took a closer look. I’d tossed an entire packed of un-shelled sunflower seeds into the recipe.
I sank back onto my chair, tossed the empty wrapper in the air, and said “shells – the seeds are still in their shells!”
Through his pain, Newt began to laugh, too. We’ve been sticking to scones with currants ever since.