a special treat

Sometimes, in the morning, when I'm trying to rush myself or the boys to move-move-move and maybe today make it out the door on-time for school and work, I remember with a smirk how naive I used to be of Mornings With School-Aged Kids before I'd experienced them. Mornings back then were still groggy and too-early, but they were filled with options. One could choose to be lazy or industrious, grumpy or grateful, but it all happened within the closed-in cocoon of home. There was a safety in that, knowing that mistakes made could be recovered from in due time, and that moments lost to dozing off or lingering over a warm mug were non-crucial to begin with. They were a generous start to the day. And I arrogantly and ridiculously assumed that, once we were on that path, that would just be how things worked in this family.

Now, of course, things have changed. Mornings - weekday ones, anyway - are humbling, lorded over as they are by the clock, counting down the precious and dwindling moments before we are pushed roughly out. Out of sleep, out of bed, out of the house. And once we're out, we're running, joining up with the rest of the world in the work of the day, so we'd better be ready for it. There is nothing generous about these mornings, nothing gently rubbing the small of your back, reassuring you that it is okay to rest a bit more, to take your time with your coffee. They are all about getting us geared up, revved up, because everything outside these four walls is not waiting for us. It's time to go.

This doesn't always bother me. I get a certain bizarre satisfaction from getting everyone up, dressed and fed, along with lunches packed and animals cared for, in 45 minutes. And it (usually) puts me in a productive mindset right from the get-go, which certainly can't be said of those languorous dawns of my past.

But every once in a while, as I plunk down yet another bowl of cereal or plate of peanut butter toast in front of my kids, I worry that my limited kid-approved and ready-in-a-hurry breakfast repertoire is hard on my family. I, after all, am the one who used to rise early to make biscuits for our morning meal, or scones or even eggs and home fries, with sides of thick-cut bacon that had been cooked slow and gentle over a low flame, to help it brown and crisp evenly without its edges shriveling up and burning in the panic of high heat. But that was when our mornings could start at 8:00, or 8:30, or even 9:00am, with no ill effect. Not now.

Now we have places to be and people expecting us, and we're more interested in making sure everyone remembers to brush their teeth than in waiting for the oven to preheat. And so in the scurry and rush of it all, I wonder if it might look like I've lost my love of breakfast.

I try to make up for it on the weekends, with yeast waffles and breakfast tacos and spiced oatmeal cooked slow slow slow, without stirring, so that it retains its identity and toothsomeness, instead of turning to glue. And my kids don't seem to mind the food I serve on those harried mornings; on the contrary, boxed cereal still has an aura of being a special treat, despite my insistence that they choose one with no more than 6 grams of sugar per serving. (This leads to some interesting times in the cereal aisle.) But me, I still sometimes feel like I'm letting someone down, even if it's only the irrational expectations of my unsuspecting former self.

All this rambling is to say: a couple of months ago I discovered yeast pancakes. Now, I realize I'm probably the last person to figure those out. Even with all my experience with and promotion of yeast waffles, I hadn't yet grasped the notion that the technique of an overnight yeast batter could be applied to other breakfast batters. But when I finally did, and found out that they're even easier to make than yeast waffles (no waiting for an hour before the batter can be stuck in the fridge!), well, it was an exciting moment to realize that we can occasionally have a "real" breakfast at 7:30 on a Tuesday morning.

The other thing that's so great about these pancakes is that they're really great pancakes. They're luxuriously big and puffy, but not leaden in your stomach like the pancakes of his childhood that Josh stills complains about. The mix of whole grains and spices, along with the tang of the yeast, gives them a hearty, healthy flavor, so that pouring on some maple syrup is a welcomed complement, rather than an unnecessary extra layer of sweetness. And I still get a little thrill every time I open the refrigerator in the morning and find that, once again, the yeast has worked its magic and the airy, fluffy batter is practically to the top of my mixing bowl.

I will admit that I still don't make these as much as I'd like. Putting together breakfast the night before doesn't often occur to me on a busy weeknight. But simply having them tucked away in my arsenal, knowing that I could — and sometimes do — make a "fancy" breakfast for my boys on a school day? Well, it makes me feel like I'm that much closer to our leisurely, fairytale-hued breakfasts of yore.

Yeast Pancakes
Yields 10-12 pancakes

These pancakes are so easy, they barely warrant directions a simple ingredient list should be sufficient. Just make sure you mix up the batter in a large bowl, as it's going to grow overnight. And it should go without saying that, like all pancakes, these take well to a variety of fruit additions. Also, I should tell you that this recipe makes such thick, fluffy pancakes that you really need to cook them over low heat in order to not burn the outside before the center is fully cooked. In my house, this longer-than-normal cooking time works out just fine, since I can have lunches made and breakfast on the table by the time my kids are finally dressed and downstairs. And once they're ready, these pancakes are quickly devoured.

320 grams gluten-free flour blend (Your choice here, but lately I've been leaning towards a multi-grain blend, with brown rice and teff and buckwheat and sometimes gluten-free oat flour. I usually keep to a ratio of 70% whole grain to 30% starch when I'm mixing it up.)
1¼ teaspoons psyllium husks (or xanthan gum, or a combination of the two)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 packet rapid rise yeast
scant ¼ teaspoon nutmeg (I just grate some over the bowl)
12 fluid ounces lowfat buttermilk, warmed to about 100ºF. (I was low on buttermilk one night, so used 8 fluid ounces whole milk and 4 fluid ounces buttermilk, and the pancakes were still great.)
56 grams unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
3 Tablespoons maple syrup (grade B, if available)
1 large egg, lightly whisked
1 teaspoon vanilla

The night before you want pancakes, get out a large mixing bowl and whisk together all the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients, and mix with a spoon until well-blended. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

When you're ready for pancakes, remove the bowl from the fridge. Heat a large sauté pan or griddle over low heat, greasing it with the fat of your choice. When the pan is hot, give the pancake batter a quick whisk and then drop it by the quarter-cup-full onto the pan and nudge it into a circle-ish shape. (It will be quite thick.) Cook until the underside is a caramel brown, the edges are dry, and bubbles have just begun to emerge on the surface. Flip the pancakes, and cook until the other side is nicely browned. Serve immediately, with good maple syrup. Any leftovers may be wrapped and left on the counter; they make a good snack later in the day, heated up and spread with peanut butter.


back on the bandwagon

"I'm making soup too!"

"What kind?" My mom texted back.

"A made-up kind. I roasted a kabocha squash, and while it was cooking I sautéed carrots, celery, onion & rosemary in olive oil until soft. I added the roasted squash and a mix of chicken broth and duck stock. I had also roasted a bunch of garlic cloves, and I smashed half of them and added it to the pot (the rest are going into soft butter for garlic bread). Soon I'll purée the squash mixture with some more duck stock. I've also cooked shaved Brussels sprouts with bacon to garnish/stir into the soup. I'm really looking forward to it, though the boys will balk!"

That was three weeks ago. The boys did not, in fact, balk, and the soup was rich and earthy and belly-warming and the garlic bread was pungent and soft, and it was such an all-around pleasant affair, what with the swirling snow outside and the glowing candles inside, and the flame-orange soup served in the much-loved childhood soup bowls that I inherited at Christmastime.

It snowed again yesterday and now the weather has turned stark and severely cold, and after the other night's child-led rejection of kabocha in a different form (mashed, with lots of herbs and more of that garlic butter, and I for one loved it), I'm thinking we may need another round of roasted squash soup, just to get everyone back on the bandwagon.
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