Sunday, August 18, 2013

Pancakes and Wedding Vows

"Archaeological evidence suggests that pancakes are probably the earliest and most widespread cereal food eaten in prehistoric societies. The pancake's shape and structure varies worldwide."

-Wikipedia, "the true source of knowledge..."

Are you ready to learn the structure for the perfect pancake?

Blueberry Pancakes every Sunday - the Cast Iron Skillet Variety

My Mom, Linda, makes pancakes every Sunday. This morning, I was around to partake with her in a pancake date. I can't imagine how many millions of people in the world eat pancakes on Sunday. I can't imagine how many millions of varieties of pancakes were whipped together across the globe today - but as far as American style, blueberry griddle flapjacks, these ones are truly the best known to man. I am confident in saying so, and proud to offer Linda's revered recipe and method. 

Of all the recipes taped to the cupboard door, this one is the most aged...

Only a cast iron skillet can produce such a crispy, melt in the mouth pancake edge.

Linda McElroy's Skillet Pancakes

For 4 large pancakes: adjust ratios as you like for more or less.

1 egg
1/2 C buttermilk
1/2  C regular milk
1/2 C white flour
1/2 C whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
Optional: handful blueberries

1. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

2. Whisk milk with egg thoroughly, stir into dry ingredients.

3. Preheat your skillet so it's quite hot but not smoking, and put a couple of generous tablespoons of oil in the pan until it's shimmering hot. If the pan's not hot enough to start out, your pancakes won't get nice and crispy brown. Don't skimp on the oil, either, if you want the melt in your mouth edges. A 9 inch cast iron skillet is great for ladling in batter to form one big pancake, about 7 inches wide. 

4. Right after ladling in the batter and hearing a good sizzle, turn the heat down fairly low. Drop some blueberries in the batter, if using. Cook the first side longer than the second - wait for the bubbles to appear in the batter and lift up the edge to see if it's brown enough for you, then turn with spatula. Cooking time is anywhere from 5-7 minutes total. 

Obviously: serve with lots of (real) maple syrup and salted butter. 
Don't ignore the things I wrote in bold lettering!

I can't read anything hefty until AFTER having breakfast...
I never realized what gems lay in the Wedding Vows section of the New York times. I enjoyed reading some quotes aloud to my mom at this morning's pancake date. I truly am happy for these couples, don't get me wrong, I just want to poke a little fun - do you think the "Vows" section can hold up to a little of my teasing? Here are my votes for:

Best of "Vows," The New York Times, Sunday, August 18

Best Senior Citizen social networking anxiety:

"She says, 'You need to find this guy, you need to look him up, see if he's on Facebook,' and I say, "No, no, no, no, no, no, no," 

(seven "no's", to be exact. Yet, she made the plunge, and now they're married. Bravo.)

Best Shout-Out to an Ex:

"The Groom's first marriage ended in divorce." 

:(  - in case first wife needed to be reminded via a nationally circulated newspaper. 

Best "Chillaxed" Wedding Vow:

"I promise I'll never forget your phone number again" (recites perfectly memorized phone number) "and I know now exactly what you like in a Chipotle burrito." 

Best expert commentary on "Chillaxed" Wedding Vow:

"Ms. Abbot said couples today place great importance on these kinds of highly personal, carefully crafted vows. 'It's a talisman against the misfortunes of marriage,' she said." 

Best convoluted Law Firm Name where the Bride works:

"the Chicago office of the New York law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom." 

Cool, sounds like something out of the Lord of the Rings. 

Best minimalist wedding vow:

"I want to have your babies. I want to watch you die." 

Best expert advice for preserving such "personal and idiosyncratic" wedding vows:

Frame them and hang them above your desk.

Best Depressing Head Scratcher to make you nostalgic for the 20th century:

"Writing your own vows is in the 'my life is your life' spirit of Facebook, Twitter and reality shows about marriage. 'This is just one other way we've broken down the walls and are allowing people to see our humanity,' said (the bride.)"

I'll have to get on facebook to check out her photos! 

Best thing I learned about the harp:

"You can't leave your harp in the car in Texas in August. It will literally explode."

Enter future husband on the scene - holds the car door open for harp removal. 

Vows (2013 August 18). New York Times, p. ST12-15

Sunday, August 11, 2013


"Almost anything can be romanticized, if under the control of a really good romanticizer."

-Richard McElroy

"But elegies don't have a moral,
They're aimless-that's what makes one weep-
Whereas an ode's majestic sweep
Is noble and...' 'Here's cause to quarrel,
But I'll restrain myself before
I make two ages go to war."

-Alexander Pushkin

Prosciutto Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Fried Sage, Creamed White Beans and Kale

My Uncle Richard is sweet to indulge the notion that I am "in control." I'll never forget the letter I received from him in the fifth grade. He kindly wrote to me explaining that I was some kind of "artist," which can be a hard thing to deal with, what with the anxious insecurity involved and perils of drama. I think his letter has always bolstered me. Whether or not I am an "artist" today, (I am a classical musician, which doesn't necessarily make one an artist in my estimation) the temperament in me is surely alive and well. 

In my own definitions, an elegy is a poetic nostalgia for something that's dead and gone, while an ode is a poetic song that is exultant in praise of what is more real and tangible. If you ever want to accuse me of seeming elegiac about the the memory of last Sunday's meal, remember that I sing a rejoicing ode to the reality of today's Sunday and tonight's dinner. I am guilty of romanticizing considerable portions of life, but certainly don't want to stamp Sunday Dinner with such tenuous behavior. Here I know I'm discussing something quite solidly real, and that's the only reason I grant myself such free and whimsical license, playing with poetry. On Sundays, I'm particularly grateful for everything I have, and for a tradition I am lucky to be a part of. Writing these posts is a bit of an anthropological foray into my family, our food and Sunday, the most meaningful day of the week to me. If you are reading this, I want you not only to find food inspiration or a recipe, but also share in my experience and continual quest for what's beautiful and true. 

I might not be inspired to write on Sunday without the precursor of a Saturday evening walk in Seattle's Volunteer Park - peeking through the iron grating of the water tower. 

Oh, I have so many more pretty postcards from Seattle to show you, but the world through that heart is enough for now, lest I provoke too much elegy with another sunset: let's move on to the ode. 

Ode to crusty bread and butter: It is too rare that I know this simple delight. How often we forget it these days, or think that gluten must be banned. 

Ode to a 35 year old carving board, who knows the memories of a thousand different roasts. 

Pork Tenderloin Wrapped in Prosciutto and Marscapone
From Linda McElroy to you

*** Note: If marscapone is a hassle to obtain, just substitute a good quality mustard, it would taste fantastic. ***
Season the tenderloin with salt and pepper. Spread marscapone cheese on one side, then lay the cheese side down on slightly overlapped slices of prosciutto - 6 pieces for the piece of meat shown above. Spread the top side of the meat with more marscapone. Roll the prosciutto over the meat, covering it entirely. Turn it over- now the "seam side" is on the bottom, and you'll put it in a roasting pan. Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. (If you check it by inserting a meat thermometer, it should read 140 degrees.) You can make a little sauce out of the browned bits on the bottom of the pan when you take out the meat. Just place the pan directly on the stove, and deglaze it by adding some white wine and a little stock, or even just water. Finish with a little butter. To garnish the pork, fried sage leaves are a must. Throw them into a saute pan with hot oil - but watch out - it's very easy to burn them. They only need around 30 seconds. 

For the white flageolet beans, (3/4 cups for four people) saute 1/3 of a diced onion in a saucepan, add a couple of sage leaves, cover with water and cook for about an hour and a half, until they're nice and tender and just starting to fall apart a little. Don't let them dry out, rather, keep the consistency on the soupy side. Don't add salt until the beans are close to being done: salting beans too early in the cooking process can make the skins tough. Finish by stirring in 3 Tbsp of cream and 1/3 C parmesan cheese. 

Saute some kale with chopped garlic - you'll have a complete food trinity on a plate. The deep green variety of kale you see above is called "Dinosaur" or "Lascinato/Tuscan" kale - it really is the best.     

Don't forget the bread and butter! 

All right, I lied. I think I will inundate you with one more sunset: so here's another postcard:

As you can see, Summer evenings in Seattle are a mixture of both elegy and ode. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Relish Tray

"Their peaceful lives went on, retaining 
The customs of antiquity...
And at their table guests were served
With dishes, as their rank deserved. "

-Alexander Pushkin

Everything pickled - corn, snap peas, cauliflower, and pink beets. 

Last Sunday, the concept of "The Relish Tray" was brought to my attention. Of course, my imagination was captivated by this ancient custom from my parent's Michigan upbringing in the 1960's, surely an offshoot of some old world tradition, wherein a heavy meal is balanced with a platter of pickled condiments. 

I don't think my parents ever found any reason to bring up memories of the Relish Tray until last Sunday. Linda has recently hit a stride in pickling anything that will fit into a jar, and these four pickled vegetables are a pretty good representation of her practice. (She claims that the next time there are any leftover watermelon rinds around, she will pickle them.) Apparently, the Relish Tray was a a common item on restaurant tables in the retro midwest, and surely the east coast as well. It featured all varieties of pickled vegetables, olives, a couple pieces of salami, cottage cheese (potentially with horseradish!) white beans, or some whole green onions. To serve one properly, the divided glass crystal tray was a must. 

Linda describes picking up a whole green onion from the tray, dipping it in a pile of salt, and chomping it raw. The bracing bite was chased down with a tomato wedge. This strikes me as a little curious, although I shouldn't judge until I've tried it. That tradition has died out, but Linda's still in the practice of eating toast topped with a juicy tomato slice and peanut butter. I always love hearing stories about what she and her six brothers and sisters ate at their Detroit table growing up. OH - ACTUALLY, as I write this paragraph, I spy her enjoying some toast with almond butter and tomato - Michigan moment? What coincidences visit me on Sundays. 

This tomato not from Michigan, but Linda did bring back some beauties from a summer trip last year.  

I am indeed fascinated by the lore of the Midwest, when my ancestors still lived and ate in "Detroit the city not the suburbs." Linda claims the first cookbook she ever owned was: Betty Crocker's Cookbook. It is still on her shelf. When I open its ridiculously vintage pages, I see that the particular copyright date on this version is from 1974. Sometime, I'll write all about the quirky ways of this entertaining volume. For now, this page leaps out at me, and I wonder if this recipe was inspired by Relish Tray...

But I digress and digress...our guest for Sunday Dinner was my dear friend Lauren. I hope that she was impressed by the candy-colored novelty of the Relish Tray. Everything old is new again. Pickling is all the rage these days, don't you know. Honestly, I'm not sure if it made much of an impression on her, but we did make Panzanella Salad, which is her favorite. When Lauren and I were roommates the thing she most often said to me was: "You know, I would just love to make a nice Panzanella Salad tonight," in a sweet musing way, her flexible sanguineness almost making you doubt that she's a steely strong, high powered lawyer who daily bikes the hills of Seattle: rain or shine. 

Dear, dear Lauren. Probably discussing Matt's new white linen pants. Also, whether or not Matt should put a bleach streak in his hair? 

Grilled Soy Marinated Hanger Steak and Panzanella Salad. 

Panzanella: oven toasted bread chunks, tomato, fresh Mozarella, basil, and red wine/balsamic viniagrette.

I will provide for you some of the recipes that Linda used for Relish Tray, which come from Cooking Light, Bon Appetit, and the ever popular Smitten Kitchen. She is also partial to the book Pickled Pantry by Andrea Chessman.

Here are the links:

Rose and Raspberry Beets (Bougeouis sounding, no? Linda only used half the sugar called for in the recipe, and used the leftover brine to pickle some red onion slices.)

Pickled Corn

Pickled Snap Peas

If any great peaches come your way in August or September, you may want to make this tart, which is Linda's original creation. 

Peach Tart

For the crust: 
5.2 oz of flour (basically one cup, if you can't bear to weigh flour.)
4 oz butter
3 tsp sugar
1 to 2 T ice-water
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp lemon juice

Cut chilled butter into chunks and work it into the flour and sugar, with a pastry cutter, or pulse in a food processor, until dough is crumbly and you see pea sized lumps. Add the liquids to the dough gradually as you toss and mix with your hands, until it just holds together. Try not to squeeze or knead it too much - overworking it will make the pastry tough. If it needs a little help coming together from the crumbly stage, add a little more water. Form it into a 4 or 5 inch flat disk shape, and make sure to refrigerate for at least one hour. Roll it out on a floured surface, until it's wide enough that the dough can extend over the edges of a 9 inch tart pan. Press the shell into the tart pan, pushing the dough into the ridged sides. Freeze it for an hour, then bake at 425 for 15-20 mins, until it looks light golden. 

Wait to fill the tart just before eating it, so that the crust will stay nice and crispy. Spread some raspberry jam on the shell. Mix together 4 oz creme fraiche, 2 oz marscapone cheese, and 2 Tbps sugar, and carefully layer that over the raspberry jam. Slice very ripe peaches and nestle them snugly together on top, then sift or sprinkle a little brown sugar to finish. 

So, if anybody wants to help me trace the roots of the Relish Tray, I'd be much obliged. If you ever had a vivid experience eating some outrageously obscure pickled thing on a dish, platter, tray, etc, let me know. And, I'm fully aware that I didn't even touch on the subject of Korean banchan in this post...