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.
Winter Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.