A version of this story first appeared on Bellwether Vance's blog.
Sue's marriage fell apart and we became best friends on the same day. A St. Patrick's Day.
We were new friends that year, with daughters in the same class. On paper we made no sense. She was seventeen years my senior, a native Minnesotan, a former emergency room nurse, married to a cardiologist, living in a mansion. I was ... none of those things, but I could cook. I invited her and her family over for a meal of corned beef and cabbage and "Irish soda bread" scones, filled with golden raisins and caraway seeds.
I prepared dinner and, knowing the serving time would be loose given her husband's schedule, I kept everything at a simmer, ready once he was able to break away. As time crept on and the children grew restless, Sue made a phone call on the front porch while I kept the girls busy with a video, and while her son surreptitiously ate every one of the scones I had laid out on a decorative platter in the center of the table.
She came in off the porch, her face disappointed in practiced lines, full of apology for her husband's absence, and then her eyes widened in horror when she realized her son, a notoriously picky eater, had scarfed down all of the scones. "I am so sorry...." she began.
I stopped her right there, sat her down at the kitchen table, poured her a second glass of wine, started a new movie for the kids, and made another batch of scones so that we'd be on for dinner in twenty minutes. The way she sank into the chair, at ease. I'll never forget it. As if it had been forever since she had exhaled so deeply.
This year, I watched as her mansion was sold for less than half of its appraised value, packed with her -- years of boxed-up memories -- helped her find a much more modest home, and sat with her as the movers made it all final.
As the moving van drove away, I laid back onto the concrete of her new front stoop, groaning as my spine relaxed. She sat down beside me, looking like a wrung-out dishcloth, threadbare and forlorn. She has looked that way for several years. Soon, after more than twenty years as a stay-at-home mom, at the age of sixty, she will have to find a full time job.
I said, "The saddest thing, Sue, is that you never got your doctor's wife boobs."
"You have engineer's wife boobs," she said.
"With those boobs you could be the secret wife of a Catholic priest."
"What does that mean?" she asked.
"I don't know, but it's probably true."
We were tired beyond laughter, and we laughed, grateful that we could.
Tonight, Sue will again join us for St. Patrick's Day. I'll make a vegetarian stew, potato and cabbage cakes browned in butter, and the "Irish soda bread" scones that marked the true start of our friendship. We don't make sense. She won't eat collard greens. I don't drink wine. Our daughters do not speak. Yet, we will feast and break scones, and love one another for one more year. At least.
"Irish Soda Bread" Scones
There is no baking soda in these scones, but with the golden raisins and the caraway seeds, they are very reminiscent of the Irish Soda Bread I make. These bake up faster than a traditional soda bread loaf, and because they are already portioned, they are easy to share with neighbors and friends.
2 C all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
4 Tbsp sugar
½ tsp salt
5 Tbsp butter, very cold, cut into small pieces
¾ C golden raisins
1 Tbsp caraway seeds
1 C heavy cream (plus a little more to brush on the top of the scones)
- Preheat your oven to 425.
- In a food processor, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Pulse a few times. Dot the top butter across the top of the flour mixture and pulse fifteen times. Add the raisins and the caraway seeds. Pulse a few more times to mix them in.
- Pour the cream over the top and pulse briefly, until the mixture begins to come together. Dump the mixture (there will be some dry, floury bits still unmixed) onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently until you can form it into a ball. It will look a little craggy and that's okay. Don't knead it too much.
- Pat into a circle that is about 8 inches across, and cut into eight wedges. Place each scone couple of inches apart on a lightly greased cookie sheet (or use parchment or silpat). Brush the top of each scone with a bit of cream, and sprinkle lightly with sea salt and caraway seeds.
- Bake for about 15 minutes (check them at 12), or until the tops are light brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Serve with butter and orange marmalade and good friends.