All this time I’ve been missing the sea, its smell, the way it reflects light. Some people tell you that if you are born by the sea, you can’t do without it. I wasn’t born by it, but I belong to the sea anyway, never had a doubt about it. I am a different person when I am close to the sea.
One of my last days in Wales I took a break from packing and went to a yoga class with my bike. As I was cycling back home, I stopped. I took that ride almost every day, apart from the darkest part of winter, to go to work. It went from my house down the hill, then it ran through the heart of the forest. I’d check for mushrooms in autumn and bluebells in spring. The path then continued by the sea, between the city centre and the beach, until the office, some 3-4 miles further down. I had gorgeous summer days on that path. I had harsh days as well: when there had been a tempest the night before it would be covered with a thick layer of sand. With high tide some sprays would hit me. By the time I came to the office my heart was beating fast and I felt alive. I developed an addiction to weather forecast – I checked the excellent met office ones trying to guess if I was to have half an hour window without too much rain, or whether the wind gusts would just be too strong. Wind is the worst enemy when cycling by the sea, it can literally stop you if you are going against it. I learned not to mind rain that much, on the other hand. Like my landlord once said, while trying to unblock a pipe in our garden under a torrential rain: “It’s just water”. It is.
That day I came out of yoga class, I saw the sea – high tide – and my breath broke. I did not want to leave. I took a moment to sit down and say arrivederci to the sea. It was bound to be an arrivederci, because you see, I can survive without the sea, sure enough, but I can’t be totally me.
Which is why I am so elated now. We are going back to the sea: a few months, and I’ll be there. This time it is going be England, not Wales, but it is the same sea. There is more to the UK than the sea for us, of course: there are friends and good job opportunities and great outdoors and a gentle place I’ve always felt at home in.
One thing I knew when I first moved to the UK is that food was bound to be awful. I was not disappointed in this regard, as I’ve written here. But I know there are some little surprises waiting for me. I learned it when I first visited an English-speaking country, Ireland. I was fifteen, going for a summer school with my sweetheart, my best friend and half a dozen classmates, plus the other Italians I met there. I did not expect to learn much English, I did expect a lot of rain and awful food. I was completely wrong. Ireland experienced that summer the worst drought in fifty years. I swam more than once in the ocean and got sunburned at the Aran islands. I also learned a lot of English and had great food, all thanks to my host mum (by the way, I learned on later travels that the average food in Ireland is way better than the average food in the UK).
I was then a skinny teenager, grown 10 cm in a year, and I was always starving. The host mum, a lady who rarely left the comfort of her home, was always in the kitchen waiting for us girls, with toasted bread, little sandwiches, home-made apple pie (home-grown apples), pancakes and scones, all served up with salted butter (oh the revelation!) and a good deal of chatting. I ate, I spoke and I listened to her for hours, and even learned how to make proper tea. I came home with an Irish accent and a recipe for scones. I have lost both over the years, unfortunately, but I remember the basics – she was no lady for fussy recipes, so I’m sure the BBC recipe I started with would have done for her.
Being way more fussy, on the other hand, I could not resist and had to add my own touch to the quintessential classic scones. Just a tiny bit of brown butter, from an idea of Kim Boyce. You don’t taste it that much, because scones don’t have that much butter in them, but they are slightly nuttier than normal. I always take any excuse to make brown butter: I find the smell nearly as satisfying as eating a slice of cake. And yes, I swapped half of the flour with spelt one, because did I mention that I am moving? I already am in pantry cleaning mode. And spelt does add a sweet flavour and a golden hue to baked goods, making them a little more special. Just a shame I could not find clotted cream to go with the scones, but hey, I’m moving to Devon! I’m going to drown in clotted cream in a few month’s time.
I am so happy. Happy to be sharing with you this moment and my hundredth post. I was not sure I was going to keep writing and photographing and cooking this long (well I had no doubts about the cooking), but the more I do it, the more fun I have. Reading your blogs taught me more than a million books. Your sweet, funny and informative comments have made me go through more than one otherwise lonely day. So thank you, and may you find some sea in your life soon, if it is not already there.
Brown butter Scones
(makes about 8)
125 gr spelt flour
100 gr all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
55 gr butter
110 gr milk
25 gr sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten (optional, for eggwash – substitute with 2 tbsp milk)
At least a couple of hours before, melt the butter into a small pan. Keep cooking until some of the deposits at the bottom start to turn brown and it smells delicious. Take off the heat, move to another container (leave some of the brown bits behind if they are too burned, otherwise move them is as well) and refrigerate until solid again (can be made 1 day ahead).
In a food processor or in a bowl fit for a hand blender sift together flours, baking powder, salt, sugar. Mix in the butter, cut into small pieces and process with the blender or processor until it has a crumbly consistency. Add the milk and mix quickly to get a sticky and soft dough.
Generously dust a surface with flour, put the dough into it, and using the palm of your floured hand press it down to about 1 1/2 cm height. Make sure it does not stick in the process. Dip a 10 cm diameter round cutter in flour and cut the scones. Transfer on a baking sheet covered with parchment. Repeat until all the scones have been cut, quickly kneading the leftovers together and flattening them into a new disc. Arrange the scones well spaced apart, brush with egg wash or a little milk, and bake for about 20 minutes. They are ready when they are golden and slightly raised. Serve warm with jam, butter and tea (mandatory!).