I lied. I promised an amazing morning recipe early this week and somehow I’m sitting here Thursday morning finally making it happen. My internet’s been down, so I’m sitting at the coffee shop right down the street where I used to camp out before I had internet in the first place. It’s kind of a nice change of scenery and pace from my living room (obviously). They make better coffee, there’s buzz, there’s bits of the paper strewn about, and pieces of conversation to eavesdrop in on. And this morning, there seems to be a steady stream of Phil Collins. Not sure what to say about that.
But I am sure what to say about breakfast these days. Since I’ve been commuting to Marin, I don’t have much time to have my typical breakfast of yogurt, granola, and honey. I can barely seem to get coffee and milk in my travel mug and get out the door on time. So I’ve started planning ahead a little with things I can grab and take with me. Homemade granola bars? Check. Bananas and those nice little pouches of peanut butter? Check. A damn fine English muffin. Check.
My mom actually says these are the best thing I’ve ever made. She doesn’t make those proclamations lightly. She made breakfast for her best friend Carol yesterday and toasted them with butter and fruity jam. And she’s already put in a request that I make a batch around the holidays so we have some around the house. I brought a bag to my “man friend”, Creg, and a few to some coworkers. The reaction’s always kind of funny: What?! You made your own English muffins? I didn’t know people did that. Well I’m here to report back that they do, and they’re shockingly simple, so you should too.
This was actually the first time that I’ve worked with yeast (I tend to be a quick-bread kind of gal), and I was (and still am) taken aback with how a simple ball of dough transforms itself into light and slightly chewy little disks with the requisite nooks and crannies. So cool.
The following recipe is slightly adapted from Peter Reinhart’s book The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. I actually found it online at this lovely blog. The key, as with most bread recipes that call for yeast, is a little patience and a side project. Break out that magazine you’ve been wanting to catch up on. Or the ironing or wii fit or…you know. You get the idea. And for me, my dough took longer to rise than the recipe dictated, so it took a little extra patience and some nail biting. But it all worked out in the end. It’s as simple as rising, quickly cooking on a griddle or skillet, and baking for a few minutes:
I wrote about the recipe and a great cafe in San Francisco that makes their own English muffins on Bay Area Bites this week, so if you’re interested in reading even more on the topic, feel free to head over there. Otherwise, here’s your ticket to brighter mornings.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, salt and yeast. Mix in the butter (or shortening) and 3/4 cup of milk (or buttermilk). If the dry ingredients are not yet fully incorporated, add enough of the remaining milk so a dough forms. Stop mixing right when this occurs: don’t over mix! Sprinkle flour on a dry surface and turn the dough out of the mixer, and knead by hand for about 9-10 minutes. The dough should be tacky (but not sticky), and register 77 to 81 F. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl and roll the ball of dough around the bowl to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for at least an hour, or until the dough doubles in size. It helps to keep the dough (in terms of rising) in a relatively warm place–away from cold, drafty windows or open doors.
Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces and shape into small balls. Lay parchment paper on a baking sheet and spray lightly with oil. Sprinkle with cornmeal.
Move the dough balls to the baking sheet, spacing them evenly with enough room to rise and double in size. Mist them lightly with oil and sprinkle with cornmeal then cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise another hour, or until the rolls are nearly double in size. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Heat a flat griddle to medium (350 F) (you can also use a skillet on the stove top if you don’t have a griddle). Brush the griddle lightly with oil and gently transfer the dough balls to the griddle. Allow them to cook for 5-8 minutes or until the bottoms are a rich golden brown color. Be careful not to burn. Carefully flip and cook the other side for the same amount of time. They should flatten as they cook.
Remove the muffins from the skillet and transfer them to a parchment or Silpat-lined baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 6-8 minutes.Transfer the baked muffins to a cooling rack and let cool at least 30 minutes before slicing or serving.
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
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.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)