Quitter's manifesto... and scones

So I guess now is when I should tell you about how I quit my job. 

Yesterday would have been WAS the first day of school for teachers (I’d imagine it still occurred, even given my absence).
Last February when I emailed my boss (to be fair, he was out of town so it wasn’t a total cop-out) that I wouldn’t be returning to teaching in the fall, I didn’t really have a plan. I just knew I didn’t want to be a teacher any more. So I quit. (By the way, he didn’t respond to my email for almost a week, a special kind of purgatory-limbo I don’t wish upon you). Now I find myself unemployed self-employed figuring out what's next, and more and more I notice that I luxuriate in the time to make good food. And, surprisingly, I find myself wanting to WRITE. Perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise when you hear that I spent the past ten years as an English teacher, but writing has always been easier for me to edit than to produce. (I once wrote a paper in college that, pre-editing, started with the line “Charles De Gaulle was a man. A great man.” Yikes!) There’s a difference between teaching writing and actually putting your own writing out there. (If I were my writing teacher, I would tell myself to “moderate your use of parenthetical insights.”)

I probably should have known that I’d be drawn toward food, once the background noise of grading papers on To Kill a Mockingbird and spotting dangling participles faded away. The signs were certainly there. 

Side note: There's a church advertisement billboard along the highway on my drive back from Lopez that says “‘Well you did ask for a sign’ - God.” For some reason it makes me laugh every time I drive by and it seemed (tangentially) relevant here… 

So back to the signs. On my last day of work, my colleagues presented me with three parting gifts: a copy of the Smitten Kitchen cookbook (my second) and a reusable tin for taking my ‘delicious homemade leftovers’ for lunch. Even if I couldn’t see that I spent a lot of time thinking about food, they certainly could. 

(I realize that’s only two gifts. The third was a copy of Jay-Z’s annotated lyrics as a tribute to my deep love of 90’s hip-hop, which I prefer to keep on the DL.)

I recently finished Molly Wizenberg’s new book, Delancey, and she talks about realizing now how her husband was destined to become a pizza chef but she just couldn’t see it. In the words of the (egomaniacal but) great Steve Jobs, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, only looking backward.” Had I noticed that between my 4-H cooking club, two stints at cooking school in France, and application to the California Culinary Academy post-college, I had a more than budding interest in food, perhaps I would have started this blog earlier. As the great rapper 50 Cent put it, I love cooking “like a fat kid loves cake.” It sounds less mean when he says it.

So here I am: no longer a teacher, not sure where I’m going with my food/writing/consulting ‘projects’. I added a tagline to my blog header that says “starting from scratch.” It’s both how I approach cooking, using basic ingredients that I try to keep around in full supply, and also how I now find myself approaching my professional life. Honestly, it’s not a bad place to be, albeit a little scary at times. For those of you worried about how I will ever pay my mortgage by sitting around writing about scones all day (hi, Dad!), let me reassure you that I have also launched another, slightly more lucrative new venture as an educational consultant.

Perhaps I may be so bold as to offer some advice for those of you out there contemplating a career change (or major, life-altering, earth-quaking, 1/3-life-crisis paradigm shift, as it were). 

5 things you should know about quitting your job:

1. There is never a good time to do it. And yes, it's as scary as you think.

2. If you don’t like your job now, you probably aren’t going to like it more a year from now.

3. It’s ok if you are not sure what your passion in life is. It doesn’t mean you don’t have one. 

4. If you build it, they will come. Or rather, if you create the time and space to do something new, you will find something new to do.

5. If you do quit, when people tell you how jealous they are, just nod and smile (Do NOT remind them that you have no paycheck and often wake up in a sweaty panic in the middle of the night. They will counter with their horrible boss, two weeks of vacation, and never-ending string of emails to reply to. And they will always win.)

Notice your signs before they all pass you by. If you really don’t like what you are doing, do something about it. I will miss teaching, but I'm glad I took the leap.

Since I feel like we have this deal - you listen to me wax philosophical about life, and I provide you with (hopefully) inspiring food ideas - I think I owe you a recipe now.

I was going to share the recipe for the Whole Wheat-Nectarine-Oat Scones I invented this morning, but, honestly, they weren’t that good. So instead I’m passing along what is quite possibly the best scone recipe ever, which I can take no credit for developing. If you are ever in San Francisco, it’s worth waiting in the line that infallibly wraps around the block to eat at Tartine Bakery. I recommend getting a scoop of the bread pudding and taking to-go a scone and a loaf of bread (only if you’re lucky enough to get there right when they take it out of the oven, as it doesn’t last much longer than that).

Buttermilk Scones

Adapted from Tartine - makes ~12


3/4 cup dried zante currants (soaked to soften - you can also use dried cranberries here)

4 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp baking powder

3/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 1/4 tsp salt

1 cup + 1 Tbsp unsalted butter, very cold (I actually keep mine in the freezer)

1 1/2 cup buttermilk (once I tried making my own buttermilk - just buy it. It’s key to the flavor)

1 tsp grated lemon zest (or orange works nicely too)

Melted butter and crystal sugar, for topping

Preheat the oven to 400F and butter a baking sheet or line with parchment.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and baking soda into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and salt and stir to mix with a wooden spoon. Cut the butter into 1/2" cubes and scatter over the dry ingredients. Cut together, either with a pastry blender, 2 table knives, or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, but don't overmix. You want to end up with a coarse mixture with pea-sized lumps of butter visible.

Add the buttermilk all at once along with the zest and currants (or cranberries) and mix gently with the wooden spoon. Continue to mix just until you have a dough that holds together. You still want to see some of the butter pieces at this point, which will add to the flakiness of the scones once they are baked.

Dust your work surface with flour, and turn the dough out onto it. Using your hands, pat the dough into a rectangle about 18" long, 5" wide, and 1 1/2" thick. Brush the top with the melted butter and then sprinkle with the sugar. Cut the dough into 12 triangles and transfer to the prepared baking sheet.

Bake the scones until the tops are lightly browned, 25 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately, with jam, lemon curd, more butter, or just plain!

NB: This photo is NOT of the Tartine scones, but it's the only picture I could find of scones I've made. Totally cheating, I know.