Tag Archives: Breakfast

Sweater-weather Breakfast

Painted in Waterlogue

“You two like butter,” our next-door neighbor said, handing us a stack of recipes she’d torn from magazines. I’d say that seemed like an odd thing to say, but our neighbor has been described as “like the kooky neighbor from a sitcom.” It’s a pretty apt description. She pops in unexpectedly, often to vent about something that’s happened in her workday or with a story about her cat, then disappears just as fast. But she’s also a very faithful cat-sitter and a good friend. And she brings recipes.

They weren’t just recipes featuring butter, it turned out; they were recipes featuring brown butter. Tidying up papers around the dining room before starting a work-from-home day, she looked through the sheaf of pages and showed me one: Apple Cardamom Dutch Baby. “Could we make this on Saturday?” “Sure,” I said. “Or today.” (I had forgotten to start a pot of oatmeal last night, and didn’t have any better breakfast ideas.) She set up her work station and prepared for a conference call, and I got to work in the kitchen.

It took me a minute to find the cardamom. To be honest, it took me a minute to remember what cardamom is. I knew it wasn’t a kind of sweater, so it wouldn’t be in my closet. It was with the baking spices, of course. She’s organized the cupboards to keep the “cooking” spices separate from the “baking” spices, although in the case of cardamom it might well have been stored with the “mostly ignored” spices. The jar had a label from the market near the City House, so it surely wasn’t optimally fresh. Still, it smelled interesting, so I decided to use it.

While the butter browned-but-did-not-scorch, I assembled the rest of the ingredients and whisked together the batter; the baking time neatly coincided with the rest of her phone meeting.

Dutch Baby is one of those dishes that always looks great in recipes, but often disappoints me on the plate. The pancake comes out of the oven brilliantly inflated, but collapses in the seconds it takes to serve it, leaving a dense, too-sweet mass. This one was different. The brown butter brought toasty notes; the cardamom was tart and earthy; and the apples, soft but not mushy, gave the pancake more substance than a jelly-topped version would.

I don’t know how long our neighbor had been gathering the recipes, but I’m glad she brought them to us when she did. With the leaves starting to turn in our part of New England, the cool nights and crisp mornings, and the sweaters coming out of storage, it’s perfect brown butter time. It’s probably time to buy some fresh cardamom, too; we’ll be  be making this again.

Apple Cardamom Dutch Baby
Adapted from a page torn from Martha Stewart Living magazine (sorry, the page didn’t have a date)

  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 medium-sized crisp apple (Honeycrisp, Gala, Granny Smith–whatever you like, but something that won’t turn to mush)
  • Sour creme or plain yogurt for serving

Preheat the oven to 450F.

In a cast-iron skillet over medium heat, brown the butter–stirring occasionally, to make sure it doesn’t burn, and to make sure the bottom of the pan is coated. Remove from heat.

In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and cardamom.

Peel and core the apple, and slice about 1/8 inch thick.

Whisk the eggs until light and fluffy. (I used an immersion blender in a 1-quart plastic tub.) Add the salt, vanilla, and flour, and 1 tbsp of the cardamom sugar, and whisk to combine. (The batter will be thin.)

Lay the apple slices gently in the hot pan; pour the batter over the apples, then bake about 20 minutes until puffy and golden.

Sprinkle with the remaining sugar, cut into wedges, and serve immediately, garnished with a little sour creme or yogurt.

Don’t Fritter, Don’t Waffle, and Definitely Don’t Disappoint

Painted in Waterlogue

I used to joke that if I wanted to change careers, I could become an interior decorator for extremely patient clients. I could look at every towel rack in a three-county area before choosing one. Sometimes I have a problem being decisive.

I love lasagne. But I hardly ever order it in a restaurant, because I’m always disappointed. It never comes out of the kitchen the way I think it ought to. I’m looking for thick, sturdy layers of noodles and fillings and cheese—the important word being sturdy. I expect it to have the structural integrity of a slice of cake, not a messy plate of pasta.

Similarly, I love apple fritters. Or, at least, I love the idea of apple fritters. Chopped apples, held together by a little dough, fried and lightly glazed. On those rare occasions I go to the donut shop, I choose one, thinking, this will be great! And better than just a donut. What do I get? A pile of glaze-covered dough, in which you’d need a geiger counter to find the apples. Or, if I’m lucky, a gloppy spoonful of canned apple pie filling.

I have no problem with a nice glazed donut. I like apple pie (though I’d prefer the filling not come from a can). But that’s not what I’m looking for.

This, however, is.

Apple Decisive
(no waffling, no frittering)

Pre-heat a waffle iron and coat lightly with non-stick spray.
Set a cooling rack over a section of the newspaper you weren’t going to read anyway.

Combine in a large bowl:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine in a small bowl:
1 cup milk

1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla

Make a well in the dry ingredients and stir in the wet, mixing just enough to combine, then fold in
3 cups chopped apples
(That seems like a lot, but apple is the star; pastry is the supporting player.)

Spoon the mixture, which will be thick and chunky, into the waffle iron and bake until golden brown and immensely fragrant. Remove each Decisive to the rack.

Mix in a small bowl:
4 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons apple cider (a few drops more, as needed)

If you want the glaze to set up, beautiful and shiny, wait ’til the Decisives are cool to apply it. We chose not to wait that long.

It is possible that the lasagne I’ve been getting in restaurants is exactly as it is meant to be, and the stuff I make is the casserole of a Philistine. It is possible that a Fritter is supposed to be a fried lump of dough faintly smelling of apple. I don’t care.

It might take a while for me to pick a towel rack, but when it comes to Sunday breakfast, I’m being decisive.

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Breakfast for Messiaen’s Nephew

Painted in Waterlogue

I had a summer job in a church a long time ago where the pastor had apparently been burned by bad improvisers. “I don’t care what you play,” he said, “but you have to have music in front of you.” I knew he didn’t quite mean that; he would most assuredly have been unhappy with “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” as an offertory. I agreed to do as he wished, though I thought it was a pretty ridiculous restriction. One day, feeling a little cranky about it, I finished the communion hymn and saw that there were still people processing to the altar. I turned the book upside down and, reading the music as if it had been intended that way, slowly and carefully played the same hymn upside down and backwards.

 

 

IMG_0103She came into the kitchen this morning and found a Mason jar of soup, containers of grapes and pretzels, a hard-boiled egg, and her travel mug filled with tea. “Wow, this looks amazing!” she said. “And you don’t know the half of it,” I replied. I gestured to a baking rack on which four chocolate croissants were cooling.

“You…made…chocolate…croissants?!”

“Well, when a guy can’t sleep he has to do something…”

Then I fessed up. I’d slept pretty well. I woke up once, checked on the cat, and wondered if it was time to put the croissants in the oven. The cat was fine; at 4:00 AM, it wasn’t baking time, so I went back to sleep.

“But you baked them.”

Yes. While I was baking cornbread to go with last night’s chili, I opened a package I’d bought at a national market and set some frozen croissants out to rise overnight. I set the oven to start pre-heating 20 minutes before I came downstairs. The croissants looked awful last night: pasty white folds of frozen dough, like sloppily folded comforters for a dollhouse.  Overnight they’d risen beautifully. I brushed them with a little egg-wash, and baked them while I finished breakfast-and-lunch prep and she got ready for work. It was astonishingly simple.

Out of the oven, they looked exactly like I’d hoped they would: beautiful golden brown pain au chocolat. When it was cool enough to handle, I put one in a paper-towel-padded container and asked her to leave the lid off until just getting on the train. (Personally, I wouldn’t have had the willpower to refrain from eating it on the way, but she’s very disciplined. Also, she hates getting crumbs on her clothes.)

One chocolate piece had fallen out of a croissant on the parchment that lined the baking sheet. I tasted it. “Hm. Sweeter than I remember, but still good.”

My memory was of the pain au chocolat I’d had on my trip to France. The chocolate inside the croissants there was fabulously bittersweet. This chip was better than Hershey’s, but that’s not saying much. The ones she’d had on a trip to London probably weren’t authentically French either, but she said these looked just as good.

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Croissant, safely arrived at the office. 

 

There was respectful silence after I finished the hymn-in-retrograde-inversion. The priest stood for the post-communion prayer, looked up to the choir loft, and called my name.

I am so busted, I thought.

“Was that one of yours?” (He knew I’m a composer.)

“Well…it was an arrangement.” I said meekly.

He loosed a contented sigh and smiled at the congregation as if his summer-substitute organist was the grand-nephew of Olivier Messiaen. “Just like Paris, France.”

My croissant was assez bon. The chocolate was sweeter than I’d like, but the pastry was flaky and light-as-air. It wasn’t as good as if I strolled to the patisserie on the corner, but we didn’t have to take a transatlantic flight. Even Messiaen’s nephew couldn’t argue with that.

Painted in Waterlogue

 

What the Doctor Ordered

IMG_0082

I’m a healthy guy, generally speaking. I eat a relatively healthy diet, I exercise vigorously several times a week, I don’t drink to excess or use any other unhealthy recreational substances. But, owing to a congenital condition that I won’t bother detailing, I need to have a minor surgical procedure every few months. Every three is optimal; four is passable; five is pushing it; if I wait six months, I end up having to have the procedure done under anesthesia in a hospital setting. Obviously, I try for the three-month interval–sort of like an oil change or tire rotation. It’s more uncomfortable than painful, and I don’t want to be a baby about it, but I try to leave the rest of the morning clear and perform a little self care afterward.

By “self care,” of course, I mean donuts.

Time was, I’d walk home from this appointment by way of a Perfectly Adequate Well-Known National Chain Donut Shop, pick up a couple of crullers and a mocha latte, and return home to sit on the couch with a cat purring nearby and British game shows on the television. But I’ve come to prefer my house blend coffee to their weak and over-sweetened brew. And, once, having to rush to the train station after an appointment, we stopped at a local shop I’ve been passing for years without visiting and discovered the wonder that is the Apple Spider.

A spider isn’t a donut, but it’s made of the same sort of dough, filled with spiced apples, fried and glazed. It’s a wonderful combination of crunchy exterior, cake-like interior, sweet glaze and crisp filling.  I don’t know why it’s called a spider. In some parts of the world it would be called a fritter. In some parts, it’s probably spoken of only in the hushed tones befitting contraband. But considering the Moderation Rule, I’m happy to enjoy one a couple of times a year. Yesterday’s was accompanied (in the interest of dietary balance) by some slices of fresh apple and a wedge of cheddar cheese–along, of course, with excellent coffee, a purring friend, and a single episode of Pointless.

I’m not sure it’s exactly what the Doctor ordered, but it’s what I needed to recover a bit before the rest of a very full day.

Duck Duck Improvise

We didn’t have long for dinner between train arrival and when we needed to leave to get to the theatre.  Grabbing sandwiches at a drive-through would have been perfectly justified, but I just didn’t want to do it.  There will be enough days coming when that really has to happen.  I stopped at the market to get half a pound of shrimp, which would take no time at all to steam (and in that no-time-at-all, I could mix ketchup, horseradish, and lemon juice to make better cocktail sauce than we’d find on any shelf). As for what else to serve, I figured I’d find something between the entrance and the fish counter.

The frozen section has a new line of international foods. A box of spring rolls presented itself.  These seemed worth a try. I’d much rather have made spring rolls, but this was a corner I was willing to cut. Cabbage, carrot, bean sprout–the vegetable course was covered.

I didn’t think about the appropriate condiments for the rolls, though. They weren’t packaged with duck sauce and hot mustard–which is just as well, considering the packaged stuff probably would have been full of ethylene this and glycol that.  She looked up a duck sauce recipe for me.

Apricot preserves, orange marmalade, fresh ginger…it was a festival of things I’d like to say were in our fridge, but they weren’t.

But we weren’t bereft.

A-Few-Days-Before-Spring Roll Sauce
2 tbsp ginger marmalade, warmed in a microwave for 30 seconds or so.
Stir in
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp orange juice, fresh-squeezed if you have it.
1 tsp Dijon mustard. This terrific mustard is the best I know, but whatever you have.
Sauce will thicken a little as it cools.

The result was not duck sauce, but something that went perfectly well with the spring rolls. It was a little like mixing duck sauce and hot mustard, which is what I would have done anyway. The shrimp probably would have been good dipped in the faux-duck, too.

We ate well, stowed the leftovers, started the dishwasher, and were on our way to a lovely production of a sweet, funny, romantic musical at a theatre built from converted barn. We love New York theatre, but there is something to be said for being able to have dinner at home and still make curtain. Especially when dinner was this good.

Chore, Sweetened

We rented a storage unit when we combined households. It’s been enormously useful during renovations. We haven’t been there recently, though. She had suggested that we spend a couple of hours there this morning–taking stock, photographing items that we want to sell, and removing anything we know now that we don’t want to keep. Saturday morning arrived, rainy and cold. I really just wanted to stay in bed, but that wasn’t going to get the job done.

I went to the kitchen to brew coffee and tea while she got dressed. Waiting for the kettle to boil, I looked around for something to snack on–I figured we’d have brunch later. I sliced a banana and peeled a clementine. The latter did not become part of our shared snack, though; I gobbled it down in no time flat. Seeing a partial loaf of banana bread, I had an idea and changed course. Maybe I would cook a little after all.

Banana Bread Foster

Put a small non-stick skillet over medium heat.
Toast 4 slices banana bread.
Melt 4 tbsp butter.
Add one banana, sliced into thick rounds.
Sprinkle with 2 tbsp brown sugar and 1/4 tsp vanilla extract.
Toss occasionally until the sugar is melted and syrupy and the bananas are caramelized and slightly softened.
Mix together 1/2 cup ricotta cheese and 1 tsp sugar.
Spread sweetened cheese over the toasted banana bread.
Spoon bananas over the cheese.
Top, if you have some, with a little whipped cream.

There are still boxes and boxes of books and CDs and files and some small pieces of furniture that we love but aren’t in current use, but the unit is well-organized now, and a trunk-load of items have been sent away. We’ll face the rest another day, but we did good work. It wasn’t such a daunting task as we’d feared–or perhaps we were just well-fortified.

The sliced apples are on the plate to suggest that this was a healthy, nutritious breakfast.  They are fooling no one. It was, however, delicious.

The sliced apples are on the plate to suggest that this was a healthy, nutritious breakfast.
They are fooling no one.
It was, however, delicious.

A Different Story

“What would like to do with the day?” she asked.

It was a perfect Saturday. The sky was blue and warmer than it had been in weeks. I’d done a little tidying and made breakfast. She read aloud the first chapter of a novel we were sharing. We planned dinner, and some chores afterward while we listened to a podcast: nothing too strenuous. I’d have to go to work for a while in the late afternoon, but in the several hours before then we decided to have an adventure.

We’ve been doing a little shopping on-line, looking for an apartment in NYC (or at least closer than we are now), and have found what appears to be a wonderful neighborhood. Friends of mine, and relatives of hers, even live there. But so far we’ve only been virtual house-hunters. Now, we had time, and decent weather, for an actual reconnaissance mission.  We’d drive to Yonkers and walk around to see the place for ourselves.  We could have lunch at a little café before driving back.

In that moment of calm after the decision was made but before the activity of getting organized to go, she froze.

“What’s that sound?”

I didn’t hear it.  Then I did.

Water. Dripping.

Well, sure.  It’s sunny. The ice is melting outside.

Except the drips were inside.

Ice dams had formed over the gutters. Now starting to melt in this bright sunshine, the water was forcing its way in. There were drips along the windows, and a huge blister above them where wall met ceiling.

Where the freshly painted wall met the just refinished ceiling, that is.

We threw out our plan for the day and spent it instead on the phone trying to find a roofing company to remove the ice and repair the damage, filing a claim with the insurance company, washing and drying all the linens that were lying on the quilt rack and had been soaked by the drips, hooking up a dehumidifier, and re-organizing the spare room so we could use it as a bedroom during construction.

I cleared the deck of snow and slush and ice so that it would be safe for a roofer to place a ladder there. I couldn’t reach the roofline at the front of the house, but I could lean out a landing window with a shovel and push snow off the porch roof, clear the resulting snow and slush off the front stairs, and get most of the frozen crud cleared so the trash can and recycling bin would sit level for the first time in weeks.

She called me in to lunch–a pasta dish she and her friend had talked about when they were at dinner on Friday–and, sitting comfortably while we ate, we saw more water.

There were stains and blisters on the living room’s just refinished ceiling, too. Which meant that there was also damage to the bedroom’s brand new flooring.

The contractor has been working on the powder room–laying pretty new tile and installing a new sink. From there, he was going to lay new tile in the laundry closet and the front entryway and we were going to be done.  Our search for a buyer for the Country House could start, and our search for a new City House could begin in earnest.

Not yet, apparently.

It’s just a setback.  Setbacks happen. Nobody was injured. Lots and lots of homes in New England have ice dams and wall and ceiling and floor damage.

Just a setback. A disappointment. An unexpected turn. A different story. Our intrepid hero and heroine will carry on.

Turn the page.

Pre-Catastrophe Breakfast.  Since it's an English novel we're reading. English Muffins stood in for crumpets, toasted and spread with preserves, honey, and applesauce, with sliced apple alongside.

Pre-Catastrophe Breakfast.
Since it’s an English novel we’re reading. English Muffins stood in for crumpets, toasted and spread with preserves, honey, and applesauce, with sliced apple alongside.