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.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
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.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.