Monthly Archives: April 2013

These songs do sort of belong together…

My deepest musical influences are Bach, Beethoven, and The Ramones. But, along with other weird stuff in my head, is a fascination with Vangelis. Although almost everyone knows his music from Chariots of Fire, I first heard his electronic brand of awesome in the music of the Carl Sagan series Cosmos. I started collecting his work for the next decade or so.

One of my favorites was Opera Sauvage, which I think was actually written for some kind of animal documentary… but whenever I see cool natural events, this tune would play in my head: Hymne. Of course, Vangelis was all about synthesizers and whatnot, but I think my little arrangement for ukulele and melodica gives it a woodsy cabin sort of feel.

One of our fun pastimes out at our little homestead is to rewrite the lyrics for songs. We turn them into our own little version, generally poking fun at something we’ve done, or something one of the animals has done. I was watching some old video clips of The Muppet Show, and saw this awesome one where Rowlf and Fozzie sing the classic Country Gardens tune. It’s hilarious, and a piece of brilliant puppeteering! “Can you play hatless?” “I don’t know, who wrote it?”

So I looked up the actual folk song, and found out it was a way to teach British children about flowers and insects and stuff. I thought, “well, we’ve got stuff around the homestead… we should write a song about them, too!” Everyone pitched in on figuring out the words, and it’s been a frequently played song around the house. We have four verses: one for the lack of flowers (my superpower is killing all useful plants, apparently), one for our three dogs, one for our three ponies, and a final one for the chickens. It’s a fun tune.

Both of these tunes are also available on the Ukulele Page, and although one started as a piece of synthesizer music, and the other as an English folk song, they both have connections to animals, and in my version Hymne sounds sort of like a country folk song… Well, who cares if the connection is tenuous at best… they’re simple, fun tunes! Cheers!


Saturday Scones

I have a new Saturday morning tradition: baking scones.

Okay, so maybe doing something just two weeks in a row doesn’t quite qualify as “tradition.” But, you’ve got to start somewhere, and two weeks in a row is actually pretty good for me.

a_recipeLet me add that I’m no baker. I love to cook, and I’ll cook the hell out of a steak or a casserole… but I’ve always burned the cookies and ruined the pie, so to speak. Thus, it was with great hesitation that I tried my hand at scones.

Fortunately, the inter-webs are a wonderful place. And although I very rarely use recipes in my cooking, I figured I should have a reference point from which to diverge in my scone adventures. I went web searching, and found three promising sources: Alton Brown, Allrecipes, and America’s Test Kitchen. I stole their scone recipes and merged them into something I though would work for me.

I also chatted up my pals at my favorite bakery to get some tips. Behold, the recipe I came up with:

I had also recently purchased some pretty sweet stainless steel mixing bowls, and learned to make a simple sugar glaze. If all this information and equipment can’t help me make a decent fracking scone, then nothing would!

Dry Ingredients – Getting a Crumb
I added all the dry ingredients to the bowl, and whisked them together. Then, I removed the butter from the freezer (yes, you should freeze the butter!) and grated it into the mixture. I just used a regular, large tooth cheese grater. Then, a few chops with the pastry blender later, and the mixture should have a nice “crumb” to it… meaning, it looks a little like oatmeal, has tiny and small chunks of butter, but is otherwise dry.

b_01_butter.png b_02_crumb.png

Wet Ingredients – Getting the Dough
Make a hollow in the dry ingredients. Then, whisk the sour cream and egg together. Add it into the hollow.


At this point, I found the best way to combine everything was to begin stirring from the center, and slowly work outward. In math-speak, I let the radius of my circular stirring motion increase slowly with time. This keeps up a continual “feeding dry into wet” system that seems to work well.

Now, you sort of have to use some observational power. The dough was not holding together after a good mix, so I added one Tablespoon of milk. Stirred that up. Still not quite there. Added one more Tablespoon of milk. Stirred. Ah, there it went! The dough should NOT be anywhere near wet. When you reach in, you can grab a handful, squeeze, and it should come together, but not really stick to you.


Folding the Dough
c_01_rectangleLay the dough out onto a floured surface, and using nothing but your fingers (I use the backs of my fingers, just because I like to), flatten it out into a rough rectangle. Flip it over and complete. Dust with flour as you need to. If anything sticks to the table, just toss on a little flour, rub it into a clump, and add it back to the dough.

Once you’ve gotten a nice shape to it (as above), you get to do “the trick” to light, flaky scones… Remember when we used to communicate with each other by writing letters? You’d have to fold your letter so that it fit in this thing called an envelope, and place something called a stamp onto it. You’d then leave the letter at the end of your driveway and some stranger would come along, pick it up, and take it to your friend¬†for you! It was pretty slick.

Anyway, the point is that you want to fold up your dough like a letter, using a tri-fold, then flatten it again with your fingers into another rectangle. Do this three times.

c_02_fold1 c_03_fold2

Now we can add the fruit. In this case, I used some frozen blueberries. I had nothing fresh on hand (it is early April in Maine… the only fresh ingredient available to me is mud). Press out the dough a little larger than your earlier rectangle, being careful not to make it stick to the surface. Flip it at least once and dust with flour. Then, just press the berries into the dough.


Finally, tri-fold what you have, and press it with your fingers out into a nice, flat, log shape. Cut into four even pieces, and diagonally cut each of those pieces in half to form little triangles. Why triangles? Because people like to eat pointy foods! We’re then ready to put the scones on a buttered baking sheet and pop them into a 400F oven for 15 minutes.


The Glaze
While the scones are baking, I make the glaze. For this glaze, I used 2 Tablespoons of confectioners sugar, 1 teaspoon of raspberry syrup, and 2 teaspoons of milk.

Just whisk it all around with a fork or very small whisk. You want it to be the consistency of paste. If it’s too runny, add more sugar. If it’s too dry, add more milk (in very, very small amounts). You could use any kind of flavoring… I love this raspberry syrup, though! Other options would be regular maple syrup, vanilla, some orange or lemon zest… whatever you think will pair well with the fruit.


One Last Thing
I love coffee. I love all kinds of coffee. Even camp coffee that tastes like burnt grounds and smoke. And although I love me some Starbucks Grande Vanilla Latte, I really still enjoy basic drip coffee from my favorite little machine. (To the side of the coffee maker is my Plan B: PG Tips tea!)


After 15 minutes, the scones are ready. I remove them onto a cooling rack, and glaze them right away. This recipe makes 8 scones, but I tell my daughter it only makes 6… so that by the time she’s awake to start her Saturday, we can split those “6” scones “evenly” and have three each during the rest of our morning routines. (Please don’t tell her!)

f_01_scone f_02_glazed