Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Two-Edged Sword

I had retired to the solarium with a cup of English Breakfast tea, Mother insisted that I user her Periwinkle Blue & Pink Roses Hand Painted Royal Stafford Tea Cup and Saucer Set for my Mid-Morning Tea, when I heard the unlikely sound of singing from the vicinity of the kitchen.  It seems that our new rather Scottish housekeeper Agnes Findlay is given to singing songs from the old Scottish Psalter while she works, not that I mind at all.

The strong words of the Psalter rang loud and clear in Agnes rather robust alto voice, “Yet, not withstanding, I have him to be my King appointed; and over Zion, my holy hill, I have him King anointed.”  I was rather enjoying Agnes performance when Mother came in shaking her head.

“Whatever will I do, Alfred?” said Mother, “It’s almost more than I can bear.  If it’s not one thing it’s another; either Agnes singing Psalms or tonight’s Bible Study group with the Whittingtons.  I don’t know which has me more upset.”

Rather than run the risk of entering into a debate over the singing of the Psalter or the Bible Study group I merely passed Mother the plate of home baked Scottish short bread that Agnes had made.

Mother absently took a piece and nibbled the end of it, then took a sizeable bite, “That’s rather good, isn’t it, Alfred?  I had no idea that she could bake so well.”

“Mother, I was thinking,” said I, “about something that occurred with I was a young lad at the Wilfred Choate School.  You know that the Wilfred Choate School kept up the English sport traditions like many of our other fine boarding schools?”

Mother looked at me quizzically as if to say “What has that to do with singing and shortbread?”

Well, Mother,” I continued, “it was the annual track and field day and one of the first features was the Cross Country Race.  Now, as a young lad, I didn’t have much experience with running.  To my amazement I discovered that towards the end of the race I was out in front of the pack with a large lead and some of the bystanders began cheering me on.  Several hundred yards from the finish line I felt a terrible stitch, and an excruciating pain in my side.  As I slowed several other runners flashed on by.  I didn’t know that one could run through the pain, and as a result I lost the race.  I have often looked back on that as one of the central learning experiences of my life.  There are times one just has to run through the pain in order to win in life.”

With that Agnes appeared at the door with our small Italia Parruccca Tray laden with another Royal Stafford cup and a small plate of chocolate cupcakes carefully decorated with the red, white and blue, Union Jack flag.

“Here you go, Mum,” said Agnes, “A wee treat for the mid-morning, seein’ as how the Colonel has is short bread.”

“Oh, how lovely” said Mother, “Where on earth did you ever learn to do that.”

“Oh, it’s nothing, Mum,” said Agnes, “I love to do little things like that for my ladies.  Some people just go through life putting one foot in front of the other, but that’s not my way.  I like to attack life with joy.  As it says in the Psalms, ‘Let the high praises of God be in their throat and a two-edge sword in their hand.’”

Agnes Findlay’s Shortbread

1 1/2 cups butter
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 cup rice flour
2 cups flour
1/4 plus 1/8 tsp salt

Put flour and sugar on board
Cut in butter with two knives
Knead dough with your hands until all the butter is absorbed
Halve the dough and make into two balls
Press into two 8” cake pans
Bake until pale sandy colour
Bake at 325⁰ for 35 to 45 minutes

Cut in wedges with sharp knife before it cools.

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