The windowless basement is dark, but I rarely turn the light on. I walk down the hallway with a load of sheets in my arms and pass the bedrooms toward the washer at the end of the hallway. I know this basement well, but this time it seems different, smells different. The floor is spongy and audible. I feel for a light switch near the door frame. Water is licking my feet and rolling toward the ankles of the twin beds down the hall.
I make some calls. Kind people come and install a sump pump. Water is redirected back from whence it came through a rubber hose protruding from the foundation of the house and along the length of drain. Every so often a gush of water surges from the end of the hose and spills onto a cluster of purple crocuses nestled in the wintry lawn. So much of spring happens underground.
We’ve been outside the city these past few days for a little creative retreat. We start the day with a drawing exercise: standing, with eyes closed, a pen held loosely over a large piece of paper, drawing our bodies. One woman draws clusters of black lines, capturing the tension of knee pain. Another draws big, overlapping swirls, mimicking the rhythm of breath. I draw the looping lines of my back trapped beneath a tight sports bra. It’s strange what we focus on, what we cannot see.
We are a weaver, an animator and a writer. We set ourselves up at different zones in the house, where the surface of a table and the shape of a chair suits us best. They both begin, one with earphones on and a digital drawing pen in hand, the other with a needle and black thread. I am squirmier. I sit and write, I think about the curried tuna melts we’re going to have for lunch. I go for a walk. I write. I move the furniture in the living room, set up a yoga mat and tune into an online class. We start in table, twisting our spines, reaching a hand to the ceiling until we are prompted to circle our arms forward, like we’re swimming. Right arm, left arm, right, left. I think about the summer. I think about weightlessness. I think about the fluffy scones I might make for breakfast tomorrow with the first of the rhubarb coming from Ontario. I think about the research I’m doing on blackout poetry, where words are redacted until a different message emerges. I keep swimming. I wonder if I can blackout some of my unhelpful thoughts, like back fat and tight sports bras, and see if something different, more beautiful can emerge. My face breaks the imaginary surface of the water and I inhale then exhale until we’re prompted to move on.
After lunch we share what we’re working on with each other. Our work is vastly different, but each project requires an understanding of who we are and what we want to say. I haven’t worked on a podcast script in a long time. I’m out of practice. But as we listen to each other, as I squirm, a theme emerges. I sit back down and let the ideas flow, through the sump pump, upward, into the light.
I love the gentle pink and curly, chartreuse leaves of early rhubarb. I want to lend this pink to everything this time of year – Dinner with Julie’s Lunar Rhubarb Cake, stewed and spooned over yogurt, or today, folded into a scone batter. (I’m still playing with Sally’s recipe I mentioned a few weeks ago.) But Sally, avert your eyes, I’m going rogue here with the addition of a little sugar to balance the rhubarb, a drizzle of white chocolate and chopped pistachios to finish – anything for that pink and green.
Rhubarb Scones with White Chocolate and Pistachios
3 cups all purpose flour*
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ tablespoons baking powder
¼ cup sugar
1 cup 7up or Sprite – I used a lovely carbonated apple and rhubarb drink, it worked!
1 cup thick cream, or plain yogurt with 10% fat if possible
2 cups (275g) chopped rhubarb
2 tablespoons cream for brushing
100g white chocolate, broken into pieces
2 tablespoons milk or cream
1 tablespoon chopped pistachios
*the original recipe calls for 3 cups of self rising flour. If you can get your hands on that, omit the baking powder and half the salt from the recipe and carry on.
Preheat oven to 220c / 425f. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Whisk flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Add 7up, Sprite, (or in my case a local rhubarb soda sweetened with apple,) cream or yogurt, and chopped rhubarb. Careful stir until it just comes together – it should be a big, shaggy mess. Tip out onto a lightly floured counter and press no less than 2cm thick. Shape into a rectangle and cut into 12 triangles (to do this cut rectangle in half lengthwise, then each half into 3 squares, then cut each square in half on the diagonal). Or, use a biscuit cutter and cut into a dozen circles. Or just wing it. Transfer shapes to parchment paper and brush with cream. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until nice and fluffy and tops are golden.
Melt chocolate over a low, gentle heat. Add a little cream, stirring well, to loosen the chocolate if necessary. Drizzle chocolate over warm scones and finish with a sprinkling of pistachios. Serve warm.