Lately I’ve been waking up like clockwork at 7:30, rolling out of bed and getting right to work. I’m up a good hour before Sam on most days, so I start the coffee and sit down at our breakfast nook and begin prioritizing emails. Some days I don’t get up again until it’s time for lunch (it’s been a big month: more on that very soon), and work can really cloak the whole day in a way that can make it tough to differentiate a Tuesday from a Saturday. And then a book and a conversation can change that quite suddenly, too, and introduce a new morning routine. Even if just for a day or two. Such was the case with these whole-grain pancakes.
In the newish memoir, Blue Plate Special, Kate Christensen details family life and relationships through the lens of food. While there’s a great bit to say about the book, there was one line that grabbed me in particular. To set the scene, Kate decides to set off on a 13-mile round trip hike up the Continental Divide alone (her husband John pulled his ankle muscle on a hike the previous day). As the weather turns and she finishes her water and starts to grow more and more tired, she begins to hurry just to get home before exhaustion sets in. A hike becomes more of a frantic, harried run. Finally back at the motel room after a hearty dinner and a few glasses of wine she thinks to herself, “I looked out at the lake and surrounding mountains, replaying in my memory all the views I’d missed that day.” While I can assure you I haven’t been doing many 13-mile runs lately, I have had that same feeling doing short errands around our neighborhood: when did the leaves become this vibrant? How did I miss this? No, really: there’s so much to see here, and clearly I haven’t been paying attention.
My friend Keena lives less than a mile from us but is currently doing some work for her company in India. The other day we were texting and she asked how the leaves were at Greenlake, one of our favorite walking spots. She insisted that they must be wonderful and lamented the fact that she couldn’t see them in person. I felt pretty sheepish that I hadn’t yet seen them in person myself despite the fact that, unlike Keena, I can walk right on down anytime.
This recipe is fitting because while it’s simple at heart, it is one step beyond oatmeal in terms of time and preparation. So it forces you to slow down for just a moment. And because pears are in season and pancakes are good fuel for leafy walks, I thought it was a good time to share it with you today. It’s in a series I’ve been doing for Attune Foods, and this recipe in particular uses their delicious Uncle Sam Rye and Hemp Cereal. I often fold rolled oats into my pancake batter to add a little more heft and personality, but lately I’ve been grabbing the Rye Hemp Cereal instead. It’s crunchy (and maintains that crunch even once baked) and has a really subtle earthiness that works so well with these simple whole-grain pancakes. I hope you enjoy them, slowly, with a good view of the trees.
For the Pancakes:
For the Cinnamony Pears:
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, buttermilk and butter.
In another small bowl, whisk together the flours, cereal, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and stir well to combine.
Let the batter rest for 10 minutes to allow the whole-grain flours to soak up some of the liquid.
Prepare the pears: In a medium skillet, melt the butter. Add the pear slices and cook until lightly browned in spots, about 5-6 minutes. Sprinkle in the sugar and cinnamon, stir well, and cook for an additional 8-10 minutes, or until pears are completely soft and fragrant.
Cook the pancakes: Melt a bit of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Scoop ¼-cup of batter into the pan. Repeat, cooking each pancake until the tops begin to bubble and the bottoms are golden brown, 1-2 minutes. Flip and cook the other side an additional 1-2 minutes.
Serve warm with cinnamon pears spooned on top. Maple syrup is nice, too.
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.