Last weekend my Dad turned 60. He decided to throw a party out in West Marin at Nick’s Cove right on the Bay. They have a great rustic restaurant with awesome barbecued oysters, an amazing view and little cabins right on the water. My sisters flew in, friends were invited, meals were planned, booze was purchased, gifts were procured, speeches written, and toothbrushes were packed.
To start off the night, we had cocktails out in the boat house at dusk. Champagne, vodka, calamari, oldies on the Pandora radio, rain pattering away on the roof, everyone catching up on each others’ lives. And then, the power went out. Cheers erupt. We lit candles. We settled back in. How fun! We’ll never forget this party! How romantic! After about a half hour, we were escorted back up to the very dark restaurant. Most other tables had cleared out by this time. But our group–we were still thinking: How fun! We’ll never forget this party! How romantic! We sat down at our long table, started drinking wine, and then the waiter came up for a chat. It became quite clear pretty quickly that the power wasn’t coming back. There would be no dinner. They had bread and butter and a bit of romaine left in the kitchen so some people could have a salad. And of course, the chocolate cake we brought. It was about this time that my sister Rachael ordered a round of whiskey for the table.
Well one whiskey turned into another turned into another and another. And some wine and a few vodka tonics and a lot of bread and butter and chocolate cake and maybe even a cigarette. It couldn’t have been a better party. As you can imagine, the next morning was rough. Zoe, my youngest sister, had slept on the bathroom floor; I managed to polish off a bag of M & M’s in my sleep (a talent, if you ask me); and belongings and shoes were strewn about. We were all pretty hungover. The first priority? Get to a greasy diner, of course.
And then when you get to said greasy diner and you can’t decide between a patty melt or pancakes, and it’s seeming like one of the most pressing decisions of your life? You order both. And I have to tell you, a pancake has never tasted so good. It probably has a lot to do with the above circumstances, but nevertheless, it made me grab for Marion Cunningham’s fabulous The Breakfast Book the day after we got home to search out a good, classic recipe to make the next time I’m craving pancakes. After we got home, Zoe and I took the world’s most epic nap and we all watched some bad reality TV and ate more birthday cake. It was, hands down, a very fine party. From the candlelit speeches to that last Lemon Drop that sent us all over the edge–Happy Birthday to one incredible Dad. And a shout-out to two sisters who really know how to get down. And now: pancakes!
These pancakes are much more civilized than your typical hangover pancakes, but the nice thing about The Breakfast Book is that Marion Cunningham covers it all: from ginger pancakes to apple pancakes to waffles, muffins, coffeecake…if you don’t own this sweet little book, I highly recommend it. Before you make these, do know that they’re not your typical ‘light as a feather’ buttermilk pancakes. They’re light in a very different way: in an eggy, almost custardy way. I actually think they fall more into the crepe family than the pancake family. The recipe’s perfect as is, although I did add a bit of lemon zest to give them a fresh, wintry flavor and I decreased the amount of sour cream just by a smidge after a few experimental batches. I think you’ll find them quite suitable for your next hangover breakfast or for the very finest and fresh-faced morning company.
Marion Cunningham calls these ‘Bridge Creek Heavenly Hots’ in her book, and she recommends making them silver-dollar size and serving them piping hot. I made them a little more generous in size, but agree that a healthy serving of butter and maple syrup always melts better on right-off-the griddle pancakes. One technical suggestion: after the butter gets piping hot in your pan, turn down the heat to medium so you don’t burn the pancakes. Since there’s more moisture in this recipe than in most pancake recipes, the centers take a little longer to cook.
Very slightly adapted from Marion Cunningham’s The Breakfast Book
Put the eggs in a mixing bowl and stir until well blended. Add the salt, baking soda, flour, sour cream, and sugar and mix well. Heat a griddle or frying pan until it’s good and hot, add a clump of butter and drop small spoonfuls of batter on the to the griddle. Leave enough space in between each one so they can spread out just a bit. When few bubbles appear on the surface, turn over and cook the other side just briefly.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.