After a week of thinking about it, I finally found time for the Worldwide WP 5k. My car-free life involves a considerable amount of walking, and I very much wanted to join in and support an activity that promotes to physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Choosing my 5k route was easy: two laps around the nearby Chestnut Hill Reservoir.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the reservoir provided drinking water for Boston. While technically still a backup water source, the reservoir now serves as a recreation spot, an ideal way to enjoy nature in the midst of city life. It’s not a true escape, with the sights and sounds of traffic, trolley lines, and college life always evident. Sadly, even a funeral procession passed by earlier today. But the water, trees, and wildlife (mostly squirrels, chipmunks, ducks, geese, and, in the summer, turtles) contribute to creating a convenient and refreshing setting for connecting with the natural world.
While the cloudy skies failed to brighten the colors of the trees, the near-peak autumn foliage still added to the beauty of the scene.
The purpose of this 5k was to promote a healthy lifestyle, but of course there’s always room for unexpected treats. While walking home after my 5k, I encountered two young girls spending their Sunday selling cupcakes. I wanted to help them out, but I also felt that I had earned one!
The best way to enjoy scones will never change: spread jam and clotted cream over a plain or fruit scone and enjoy with a cup of tea. Yet scones have a versatility as well that has inspired, especially in the blogosphere, some creative variations for our quintessential tea-time treat. One fun and irresistible variation that I’ve discovered is the Cadbury Mini Egg Scone.
This creation is from Sues at the well-known food and lifestyle blog We are Not Martha | But Can’t We Try?. I met Sues a couple of years ago when she was teaching blogging courses at the Boston Center for Adult Education, and this recipe illustrates the joy she brings to cooking and baking.
Along with Cadbury Mini Eggs, the ingredients include Cabot Greek-style vanilla bean yogurt, which contributes flavor and a flaky texture to the scones. In part because I’m still trying to master the art of combining cold butter into a flour mixture, I decreased the amount of butter. And while Sues chops her Cadbury Mini Eggs, my knife skills made chopping impossible, so I crushed the candy instead.
For detailed and entertaining instructions, plus a wild suggestion for adding a glaze on top of the scones, visit Sues at WeAreNotMartha.com.
Cadbury Mini Egg Scones
2 cups of flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 1/2 sticks of cold butter (I used only 1 stick)
1/4 cup of sugar
3/4 cup of vanilla Greek yogurt (e.g., Cabot’s Greek-style vanilla bean yogurt)
2 teaspoons of vanilla
1/2 cup of milk
1 cup of Cadbury Mini Eggs, chopped or crushed
Mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
Cut butter into small pieces and combine with flour until it resembles coarse meal.
Add yogurt, vanilla, and milk.
Add chopped or crushed Cadbury Mini Eggs.
Mix together until dough forms.
Place half of the dough on a floured surface and roll into an 8-inch circle.
Cut into 6 triangles and place on parchment lined baking sheet.
Bake at 350º for 17-20 minutes.
Repeat with the remaining batter.
Needing a larger quantity than 12, I made smaller scones, more like cookie-sized. I also made a batch of full-sized scones, and both versions produced a satisfying and unique experience: flavorful and moist with sweet pleasure from the bits of candy. The pastel shells added a sense of springtime joy as well. This recipe offers a creative and delicious use for your leftover Cadbury Mini Eggs, although simply eating the candy on its own is always satisfying as well!
While my Irish ancestry runs deep, I had never experienced the traditional Irish-American meal of corned beef and cabbage until college, when my friend Beth hosted an elaborate St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Years later we still reminisce about her amazing and authentic feast, which included one St. Patrick’s Day tradition that was familiar to me from childhood: Irish soda bread. Beth recently shared her recipe with me, and I am now inspired to start my own tradition of making this bread every St. Patrick’s Day!
Beth is an interior designer with wonderful creativity in the kitchen. Her recipe, which she learned from her grandmother, includes buttermilk, sour cream, raisins, and baking powder instead of baking soda. Beth recommends enjoying the bread with a cup of Irish breakfast tea. One option is Mark T. Wendell’s Irish Breakfast Tea, which Bonnie recently reviewed at Thirsty for Tea. I have not yet tried this tea and am looking forward to enjoying some in the near future.
For anyone seeking a bolder accompaniment, Beth has another suggestion. The other day she hosted an Irish coffee social, where she and her neighbors enjoyed her Irish soda bread with Irish coffee: a mixture of coffee and Irish whiskey (Beth used Jameson’s) topped with freshly whipped cream and a dash of cinnamon and/or nutmeg. Coffee-flavored drinks don’t appeal to me (not even whiskey!), so my tamer option was a nice cup of herbal tea, Mint Medley from Bigelow Tea.
Grandma’s Irish Soda Bread
3 cups of flour
3/4 cup of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of salt
4 teaspoons of baking powder
2 tablespoons of shortening
1/4 cup of buttermilk
1 cup of raisins
3/4 pint (1 1/2 cups) of sour cream
Preheat oven to 350º
Sift together flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder.
Add shortening and buttermilk. Mix until well blended.
Mix in sour cream until dough forms.
Grease and flour cast iron skillet.
Add dough to skillet.
If desired, carve an X into the top of the dough.
Bake in skillet for 30 minutes. Check on the status.
Bake for another 20-30 minutes.
If needed, cover with foil for the last 15 minutes or so to prevent the raisins from burning.
Since I did not have a cast iron skillet, I substituted with a round cake pan. Also, raisins are not my favorite flavoring and were omitted. And my overall presentation, including my attempt to draw an X on top, needs work. Yet even with my little flaws and adjustments, the outcome was a delight. My bread was moist and sweet and dense, with a taste that was familiar and yet still a revelation. Making this Irish soda bread left me even more in touch with my Irish and Irish-American roots and the traditions of St. Patrick’s Day. Thanks to Beth for sharing her grandma’s recipe!
Despite my still questionable scone-making ability, I requested Sara’s recipe. Trying to bake like her would be impossible for me, but I welcomed the challenge.
And the challenge started with the ingredients. Sara’s scones include three of her baking staples: organic flour, plain yogurt, and crème fraîche. I forgot to buy organic flour, so all-purpose flour had to serve as a substitute. And crème fraîche was a mystery to me. Fortunately her recipe listed milk as an alternative. (I now know that crème fraîche would have been easy to make: combine 1 cup of heavy cream with 2 tablespoons of buttermilk, cover, and let sit at room temperature for 12-24 hours. Click here for more detailed instructions. I’ll try this next time.)
At her tea party Sara served two types of scones: almond and cranberry. The almond scones were especially popular. Since I don’t eat nuts, her cranberry scones were my choice. But I did not choose cranberries for my own scones. Instead I added the baking staple that is never missing from my cupboard: chocolate chips.
So while my version of these scones lacked all the elegance of Sara’s baking, her tea party, and the tea and scones culture, I enjoyed the effort. Next time I’ll use the proper ingredients, including homemade crème fraîche.
Scones made with yogurt and crème fraîche
This recipe is tea-party sized (32 scones). The ingredients can be halved.
4 cups of organic flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2/3 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of baking soda
2 sticks of butter, softened and cut into small pieces
1 cup of any of the following: broken almonds or other nuts, dried cranberries or other dried fruit, or any other desired add-in
1/2 cup of plain yogurt
1/2 cup of crème fraîche (or substitute with 1/2 cup of milk)
Fancy sugar (optional)
Sara uses a stand mixer to combine ingredients.
Combine flour, salt, baking soda, and sugar.
Blend butter into the dry ingredients until beads of dough form.
Mix in almonds, dried cranberries, or other add-ins.
Add the plain yogurt and crème fraîche (or plain yogurt and milk).
Mix until dough forms.
Divide dough in half.
Turn out one half of the dough onto a floured surface.
Roll or press dough into a square about 8 or 9 inches on each side, about 1/2 inch thick.
Slice dough into 4 quarters, and then create triangles, like this:
Separate scones onto parchment lined baking sheet.
Sprinkle with fancy sugar, if desired.
Bake at 425° for 10-12 minutes.
While first batch is baking, repeat steps 8-11 with the other half of the dough.
As expected, my scones lacked the elegance of Sara’s, and not just because of the substitutions. My precision when rolling and cutting the dough needs improvement.
Still, I was satisfied with the result. These scones are moist and flavorful with the crumbly texture typical of scones. Despite appearances, I feel as if great scones, or at least good ones, are within my reach.
When I was a kid, snowstorms always promised a cup of hot chocolate after what seemed like hours spent shoveling the driveway. Now, thanks to living in an apartment building as well as enjoying a car-free life, shoveling snow has become a distant memory.
This snow-day tea also brought back more recent memories of a lovely autumn tea party hosted by my friend Sara.
Within days of our visit last year to Tea at the Belvedere in Bristol, RI, (which, sadly, closed in November), Sara was inspired to recreate the experience, adding her own twists. On a late October day at her Central Massachusetts home in a quiet neighborhood, Dorene, Beth, Paige, and myself joined Sara for the quintessential tea party: leisurely companionship over tea, scones, and an irresistible afternoon tea tier.
Sara’s two youngest children, her then 11-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter, occasionally lingered around the edges of the tea party. Both have already developed an appreciation for tea, especially the girl, and joined us for the first cup. Numi Moroccan Mint is their favorite, which is understandable given its sweet aroma of peppermint. Sara gave me a few samples, and I was glad that one remained for me to enjoy during the blizzard.
The amount of time, effort, and care that Sara put into creating the perfect experience still amazes me. Here’s a look at the results.
Sara’s Tea Party
Tea – I had mentioned to Sara that David’s Tea had opened near my office, and while she had a medley of tea options, Rooibos was missing from her selection. So with my first visit to David’s Tea, I discovered Pure Vanilla Rooibos (organic) and Coco Chai Rooibos, and then couldn’t resist adding Coconut Oolong and David’s Breakfast Tea (organic). Sara enjoyed the Pure Vanilla Rooibos, which her 11-year-old geometry student renamed “rhombus.” However, we could not tempt him to taste it.
Scones – Almond and cranberry. Both received rave reviews. Sara had hoped to start with the scones according to the Tea at the Belvedere tradition, but when most of us reached for the savory sandwiches, she did not mind.
Tea sandwiches – Cucumber with cilantro on white bread; ham and mustard; and chicken salad with grapes and pistachios. All were excellent, with the chicken salad as the favorite.
Pastry tier – Sara’s second tier had a cookie and cupcake theme. In addition to Raspberry Thumb Cookies, Sara made mini-cupcakes based on Paula Deen’s pound cake recipe. Delicious.
Top tier – At Tea at the Belvedere, the top tier was all about chocolate. Sara’s tier, which I saved for last, was worth the wait: Chocolate Peppermint Brownies and Peanut Butter Buckeye Balls.
Soups – We had learned at Tea at the Belvedere that by pacing ourselves, we could extend afternoon tea and eat more than we thought possible. After a leisurely walk on a sunny autumn day, we returned to enjoy two kinds of homemade soup: squash and split-pea. And to truly test our limits, the afternoon tea tier was replenished.
Sara was kind enough to share several of her recipes, and I am looking forward to adding them to the blog over the next few weeks.
Although I love New England weather, even snow, the photo I took while riding the train back to Boston after Sara’s tea party offers quite the contrast to the blizzard. Thanks to Sara for the wonderful experience and memories, as well as my snow-day tea!
A year and a half ago, a batch of homemade scones would have been made in someone else’s home, not mine. Now a year of experimenting with homemade scones has created a small sense of accomplishment for this tea and scone journey of mine. Just a small sense, though, because scones humble me as well. Despite the relative simplicity of the ingredients, the process of combining cold butter into a flour mixture remains my nemesis. Yet scones are part of my life now, and the experiments continue.
My latest scones were based on a recipe for Buttermilk Scones, with the option to substitute for the buttermilk with plain yogurt. A substitute for cold butter would have been more welcome, but this recipe is intriguing nonetheless. While the yogurt does not make these scones healthy, this recipe inspires me because of its connection to four women who share a commitment to natural, homemade foods.
The first inspiration is my friend Sara.
Sara is the mother of three who makes her meals from all-natural ingredients and uses local and organic products whenever possible. In her ideal world, Sara would live on a farm and grow all of her own ingredients. When I asked her for a scone recipe, she referred me to celebrity chef and modern pioneer Georgia Pellegrini and her 2010 book Food Heroes:16 Culinary Artisans Preserving Tradition.
One of the culinary artisans featured in the book was Sue Forrester from Cumbria, England. Sadly passing away at age 63 shortly after the book appeared, Sue Forrester was known for her hand-made Cream of Cumbria butter, as well as for her “Butter Poetry,” which she enjoyed composing during the butter-making process.
A chapter about butter, poetry, and England of course must include a scone recipe. Georgia Pellegrini adapted a recipe from Cumbria’s celebrity food artisan and one of Sue Forrester’s customers, Annette Gibbons OBE (Officer in the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire). Annette Gibbons is author of Home Grown in Cumbria and has been recognized for her services to Cumbria’s Food and Farming Industries.
To do justice to these women and their commitment to natural, locally sourced food, the butter and buttermilk should be homemade (Food Heroes includes instructions for both), as well as the yogurt (my friend Sara makes her own yogurt). I’m satisfied with working on scones for now and saving butter and yogurt making for another time. As a compromise, I shopped at Whole Foods and bought Kate’s Homemade Butter (produced in nearby Maine) and 365 Organic Low Fat Plain yogurt.
In this recipe (used with permission), Georgia Pelligrini adds prunes to the scones and suggests cooked and crumbled bacon, grated cheese, or any other dried fruit as alternatives. My fruit additions paid tribute to a scone I discovered last year at a farmer’s market: strawberry and coconut. Again, I should have dried my own strawberries and coconut, but since I have no idea what that involves, I turned to Whole Foods for freeze-dried strawberries and shredded coconut, both free of additives and sweeteners.
Buttermilk Scones (made with yogurt)
3 cups all-purpose flour
2½ teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoons powdered sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces
½ cup prunes, coarsely chopped, or any other flavoring tidbits (using my version, ½ cup of dried strawberries and ½ cup of shredded coconut – more of each if desired)
About 1½ cups plain natural yogurt or buttermilk
1 large egg white, lightly beaten (Optional)
Preheat the oven to 425º F.
Combine the flour, baking powder, powdered sugar, and salt in a large bowl.
Rub the butter into the flour mixture with your fingers until it resembles fine sand.
Toss in the prunes or other flavorings. (Dried strawberries and coconut for me)
Gradually stir in the yogurt (or buttermilk), stirring until the dough just barely comes together. If you find you need more yogurt, add a teaspoon at a time so you don’t overdo it.
Turn the dough out onto a floured board and press down gently. Lightly roll or use your fingers to flatten the dough to about ¾ inch thick.
Using a ⅔-inch round cutter or an upside-down cup, stamp out scones and place them on a baking sheet. (If you use dried strawberries, push the fruit deeper into the scones. Some of my strawberries were sitting on top and got a bit burnt.)
Brush the tops with egg white, if you’d like, for a shiny touch. (I skipped this step)
Bake for about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Eat immediately to enjoy them at their best, or let cool completely and freeze. To serve, thaw at room temperate and fill with fresh whipped double cream and thick strawberry jam.
These scones have a fluffy texture with a moist and buttery taste that lacks the crumbly quality of many scones. Even though the taste and texture may differ, the effect of spreading jam and cream and serving with tea creates a wonderful scone experience. While I’m far from mastering scones or qualifying as a food artisan, this recipe inspired me to continue my efforts and also to consider more deeply the rewards of natural, homemade foods.
After all those tea excursions in England, this blog needed a U.S. experience, and I had the perfect place for the inaugural entry: Tea at the Belvedere in Bristol, Rhode Island, home to the longest running annual Fourth of July parade in the U.S. The post was delayed for several months, and I was looking forward to finally adding it to the blog when some sad news arrived. The owners of Tea at the Belvedere, Victoria and Diamantino Fonseca, announced last week that they would have to sell or perhaps even close this wonderful establishment.
Tea at the Belvedere is part of Revival, a tea/gift/pastry shop that opened in 2007 on the street level of The Belvedere, a 1901 brick building that once functioned as a hotel for wealthy visitors. Located in the Historic District of Bristol, a town founded in 1680 on a peninsula in eastern Rhode Island, Revival joined a neighborhood of gift, craft, antique, jewelry, and other shops that appeal to tourists and local residents alike.
In 2013, Revival’s owners created a seating area within the shop for afternoon tea, and Tea at the Belvedere debuted Thanksgiving weekend. As Victoria mentioned in her announcement, she was diagnosed with an illness while working on installing Tea at the Belvedere. Her condition is treatable, but running a business will no longer be possible. Victoria confirmed on Facebook that she still hopes to sell the business.
For now, Revival remains open at 423 Hope Street, and Tea at the Belvedere will continue to offer “casual” Afternoon Tea (tea, scone, two tea sandwiches, and a pastry) from 2:00-5:00 daily until further notice. The expanded afternoon “high” tea option that we enjoyed during our visit is no longer available.
Rather than our standard assessment, the next section will serve as a tribute to Tea at the Belvedere and illustrate why we hope this establishment can be preserved. Making their Tea and Scone Hop debut are Beth and Sara, two of our friends from college, who joined Dorene and me for this visit.
What we love about Tea at the Belvedere
Tea, of course
With about 25 varieties to choose from, including SoRen and Elmwood Inn teas, we each selected a different type, with Dorene trying two.
Dorene started with Cashmere Creme: “A tropical blend of white peony tea leaves with the creamy essence of island coconut.” The coconut flavor and aroma were excellent, and Dorene returned to it for her third pot of tea.
In between she tried Coco Chic: “Fruity South African rooibos with succulent hints of organic banana, apple and rich cacao.” The aroma was wonderful.
Beth selected Abigail’s Blend, named for Abigail Adams. This enjoyable blend of black teas is reminiscent of the teas thrown overboard during the 1773 Boston Tea Party.
English Breakfast (decaf) was Sara’s selection.
I chose Fleur de Mint: “An exotic blend of organic white tea with the soothing essence of mint, accented with delicate rose petals and a hint of lavender.” This was my first time trying white tea. I loved smelling the mint each time I sipped.
Revival is known for carrying a variety of scones, and four flavors were offered the day of our visit. We selected one of each, all excellent:
Unfortunately, I committed the most egregious faux pas of scone blogging: I forgot to get a picture of the scones before we started eating. Here is Dorene’s Apricot & Almond scone, minus a bite or two.
The Afternoon Tea Tier
Dorene and I are accustomed to receiving scones on one of the tiers and then eating the sandwiches before the scones. As soon as Tea at the Belvedere’s afternoon tea tier arrived, I understood the benefit of having the scones first. With such generous offerings of savory and sweet treats, we did not have to worry about saving room for scones.
With no sightseeing planned for this visit to Bristol, we had the luxury of pacing ourselves, lingering over each bite, and thoroughly enjoying (and finishing!) each tier.
The white and beige motif, gold-trimmed china, chandeliers, and black and white photographs create a sense of warmth and elegance. The interior decorator in our group (Beth) was impressed by the stenciling on the walls. Folding screens designate the section for Tea at the Belvedere, which blends well with the rest of the gift shop.
Interior – Tea at the Belvedere
Decor – Tea at the Belvedere
The elegance of the room combined with the flavor of the community creates a welcoming and refreshing atmosphere. Both tea lovers and novices can recognize respect for the tea ceremony, while finding ways to have fun with tea culture too.
Hopefully new ownership can be found for Revival and Tea at the Belvedere, preserving the wonderful experience that Victoria and Diamantino have created. I want to wish Victoria all the best as she receives treatment and moves forward to the next phase of her life.