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 had every intention of starting a new tradition this year and hosting a cookie swap with some of our local friends, but somehow the season really got the best of me and it just hasn't happened. But! That hasn't stopped me from getting a head start on holiday baking; I posted a photo on Instagram the other day of some of my very favorite holiday cookbooks, and asked if there was a way we could all just take the whole week off to bake instead of work. Judging from the responses, it seems I'm not the only one who thinks this would be a really great idea. But back here in reality, cookie baking is relegated to later evenings or, I hope, this weekend we'll find some time to eek in a few batches (the recipe for Sam's mom's Nutmeg Logs is up next, and I'm set on making gingerbread men to take with us down to the Bay Area). Right now on our countertop, we've got a batch of these crumbly, chocolatey, whole grain shortbread that have proven to be a big hit. The ingredient list is small and simple, the technique foolproof, and I think they're a real standout in a sea of holiday cookies.
Hello from the other side! I realize we haven't been back here for a few weeks, and I'm sorry for dropping into a little black hole. My cookbook deadline was Monday, so I've been a writing and editing machine, stepping away from the computer to occasionally clean the house like a crazy person or throw together a most random lunch or dinner. But somehow it all came together although there was something strangely anti-climactic about sending it off: In the days when you'd print out your manuscript and have to walk to the post office and seal it up carefully to send to the publisher, I imagine it would feel much more ceremonial and important --you could stroll out of the building and do a cartwheel. Or high-five a fellow customer on your way out. Instead, I was sitting in our dining room on an incredibly rainy, dark Monday afternoon unable to hit "send." My sister Zoe told me to just close my eyes and do it. Sam gave me the thumbs up. So around 3 p.m. that's what I did. With the click of a button, just like that: it was finished.
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.
We've been waking up early these days with baby Oliver. I've always been a morning person, so this isn't particularly challenging for me -- although the middle of the night feedings have proven to be really tough. There has been a lot of finessing of sleep schedules and figuring out how Sam and I can both get enough to function well the following day. And just when we think we have it down ("gosh, aren't we lucky we have a baby that sleeps?"), everything changes. When I was in the final weeks of pregnancy and would talk about how I couldn't wait for the baby to be here, all of my friends with kids would advise me to sleep as much as possible -- and now I get it. I should've napped more. I should've listened. In getting up at odd times throughout the night with Oliver, I've had the chance to occasionally see some really brilliant sunrises (although not this past week which has been a particularly dark one in Seattle); I've made up some wacky baby tunes that I'm happy no one else can hear; and I generally have a good hour in which I can put him in the sling and walk briskly around the house trying to soothe him back to sleep while also putting away a dish or two or making a quick cup of coffee. In that hour, I can usually get something productive done and this past weekend that something was pear gingerbread.