Monday, December 28, 2009

Quality versus quantity

At my current job, I am occasionally required to provide breakfast for a working group of 16 colleagues. This is always a source of unnecessary anxiety for me: what should I make? what ingredients to use? how much to spend? Most people bring boxes of supermarket-purchased croissants, or Dunkin Donuts or McDonald's. On principle, I am opposed to giving any money to the fast food chains. The temptation is great though: it is quick and easy to procure at six in the morning. Nor do I work with a bunch of foodies -- everyone greets the Egg McMuffins with guilty joy. The same can't be said for the homemade granola I brought a few months ago.

I just read a great post on another garden blog, Daphne's Dandelions, wherein the author admitted that she didn't use her home-grown and carefully-stored produce for a Christmas potluck. She decided to cook with store-bought ingredients. Though she felt this really wasn't in the Christmas spirit, she wanted to save the good stuff for herself and her family. I face this same dilemma with the breakfast I must provide tomorrow. Do I stay up tonight baking bread, and bring in one of my precious cheeses or garden-grown preserves? Do I spend a lot of money on organic and locally-sourced ingredients for a crowd of people who are just as -- if not more -- happy with fast food? On the other hand, why would I serve my respected colleagues food of lesser quality than that which I would feed my own family? In the larger scheme of things, this is a small issue. I have many better things to ponder and wring my hands over. It's not like my own pantry is free of cheap supermarket staples, or that everything I put in my mouth is the hard-won fruit of my own labor. But the tension between quality and quantity is never more apparent to me than with these breakfasts.

It comes to this: no one likes to be up at 6 in the morning in a Chicago winter. I assume that most of us would rather be sipping coffee with our families. I want my colleagues to feel appreciated and valued, especially given the sacrifice they are making of their own time. The way I would demonstrate that appreciation to my own family would be with homemade food, usually a long time in the making. That being said, granola or homemade yogurt -- no matter how lovingly made-- won't be comfort food to a colleague used to more standard American breakfast fare. I am tempted to make McMuffin-like sandwiches with local eggs, home-baked biscuits and home-cured bacon. But I don't want to wake up at 4 in the morning to do so, and I couldn't bear it if it got a bad review. So I'm going to low-ball it with something sweet and rich: scones. These are a crowd-pleaser -- these scones were my mother's signature baked good at her bed and breakfast. They are quick to whip together -- especially if you bake them in a large circle scored into wedges, rather than individual rounds.

In place of the raisins, I will fold in some chopped figs that I preserved in a brandy-laced syrup in the fall. To another batch I will add some dried cherries I've been looking to use up. Will my colleagues care that the scones are made with homemade yogurt instead of store-bought buttermilk? Who knows? Likely not. They'll probably just think I'm crazy for not stopping at Dunkin Donuts on the way in. But hopefully they will feel comforted, and I will have fed a crowd with just enough homemade love to let me breathe easily.

Sarah's Scones

2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
6 Tbsp butter, cold and cut into small pieces
1/2 c yogurt or buttermilk
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup raisins or other dried fruit (cut into raisin-size pieces if large)

1. Preheat to oven to 400 degrees

2. Mix together all the dry ingredients. When well blended, cut in the butter with a pastry blender.

3. In another bowl, stir together the yogurt, egg and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture, mixing just until moistened. Gently fold in the raisins.

4. Pat the dough into an eight-inch circle on an ungreased cookie sheet. Score into eight wedges.

5. Bake for 18-20 minutes, cool 5 minutes, then serve.

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