Category Archives: Breakfast

A morning like every morning

Every moment of light and dark is a miracle.
~ Walt Whitman

Last night, I watched a spectacular sunset – one which said clearly, “Stop. Pay attention to me.”

That reminded me to be present in each moment… to know that the Good Life is not the Perfect Someday, or the Hive of Meaningless Activity. It is right here, right now. Walking on wet grass, releasing the scent of rain with each step. Feeling the wind graze every inch of my skin. Drinking in the glow of the setting sun. Gazing at the mist. Pausing on purpose. Dreaming, yes, but not losing sight of the waking moments or the really important things. Being thankful.

So this morning I met Herman for breakfast and there it was again – something which said, “Stop. Pay attention. Take a photo if you like…” Of what? The bright sun, the table askew, the berries stacked in his glass and the avocado spread on my toast. Or, in the case of the photo below, the End of Breakfast and the Start of Mid-morning Tuesday…

Conversation. Friendship. My work schedule for the day. The buzz of business people walking past clutching meeting agendas and other such things. Morning.

The mornings like every other morning – those are the gems.

Photos from Marcel’s Great Pancake Race

No story is the same to us after a lapse of time; or rather we who read it are no longer the same interpreters.
~ George Eliot

The luckiest people in the world grow up with a plentiful shower of stories, traditions, legends and tales in their childhood. I certainly did. I read about them in books, learned about them at school, and of course my family celebrated some of them – e.g. Christmas, Dumpling Festival [or Duan Wu Jie], Mooncake [or Mid-Autumn] Festival, just to name a few.

In the last few years, I’ve lost my fascination with and anticipation of some of them. Or, at least, I have never stopped loving the stories and the memories, but I haven’t felt as eager to celebrate them. It’s not New Zealand’s fault; perhaps it is just that to revisit some of those things make me unbearably homesick for what I can never retrieve now and do not hope to. The present has too much goodness in it to stay rooted in the past.

For now, it is good enough to keep listening to people’s stories and exploring different places and cultures whenever I can.

So, recently my friend Gudrun and I joined Marcel’s Great Pancake Race before we went to work. Marcel and team did a great job organising and facilitating this, and from various facial expressions around me I gather that everyone enjoyed themselves – and I imagine that more than one of us discovered the joys of Marcel’s pancakes!

People raced down neat green lanes with mini skillets and pancakes in hand, flipping as they went (a little harder than it may seem)… and then we were all treated to fresh pancakes with a delicious choice of toppings. Hardly a bad reason to stumble out of bed at 6.30am, if you ask me :-)

Are you reading this and wondering what the deal is with pancakes and running? To be honest, my brain didn’t make the connection between Lent and Pancake Day and pancakes until a few days later (I know…).

The tradition has a rather funny (to me) story behind it – the story goes that in 1445, a woman lost track of time cooking pancakes, found herself terribly late for Shriving service, then ran (à la Maria in The Sound of Music, in my mind) – down to church still decked in her apron, clutching skillet and pancake. Her neighbours then (as neighbours do) turned this incident into a race to see who could reach the church first and collect a “Kiss of Peace” from the verger (bell-ringer.) And the rest, as they say, is history… coming to form what we today know as Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Day/Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday.

These links paint a better picture about Marcel’s race and the story behind the tradition better than I can: click here, here, here, here and here.

Thank you Marcel and team, for bringing colour to Auckland and for a beautiful morning.

A Bircher sort of experiment

To see the Summer Sky
Is Poetry, though never in a Book it lie –
True Poems flee.
~ Emily Dickinson

    Bircher muesli with mango, mint and macadamias*
    Ingredients:
    1/2 cup rolled oats
    zest of 1/2 orange
    1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (1 orange should do)
    1/4 cup unsweetened yoghurt
    1/2 tsp cinnamon
    handful of mint leaves, chopped
    handful of macadamias, chopped
    2 tbsp shredded coconut**
    1/3 mango, cubed***
    1 tsp light brown sugar
    dribble of milk
    1/2 tsp honey (I used J. Friend and Co’s Beechwood Honeydew Honey)
    Method:
    Combine the rolled oats, orange juice, orange zest, yoghurt and cinnamon in a bowl. Stir well, then cover the bowl with cling wrap and place it in the fridge to chill for at least 1.5 hours.
    When ready to serve, stir in the other ingredients. Simple, gently sweet and so good when the sun is attacking your face and you want a cold, wholesome breakfast.
    Yields one serving.

* The alliteration here is entirely serendipitous – I picked the ingredients based on what I had left at home yesterday.

** I unfortunately forgot to add in the shredded coconut… but I know it would have been even better with it!

*** I find it easiest to dissect a mango this way: cut into three parts leaving the seed in the middle. Make deep diagonal cuts in the top and bottom third, so you get diamond-shaped mango pieces sitting in the skin. Invert and let the cubes fall into the bowl (you may need to coax them out with a knife if your mango isn’t ripe/soft enough – I had to do this yesterday). Eat the middle section while standing at the sink, letting the juices run merrily down your arms.

Bejewelled buttermilk pancakes

Sunglasses wrapped like a fallen angel’s
~ John Kinsella, Divine Comedy – Canto of Wings

“Pancakes” – a word for any Dictionary of Words that Elicit Smiles. It seems to me that every time the word “pancakes” is uttered, ears prick up and faces start glowing with warm-fuzziness while mouths chime in on a chorus of “Mmmmm…”

I remember that four years ago, when I cooked so poorly that a certain flatmate tried to ban me from the kitchen permanently (I kid you not – he trembled on my Cooking Nights and once stood at the entrance to the kitchen begging to know what I would come up with this time)… one of the things I desperately wanted to learn to make was pancakes. I thought that if I could just make them, I would be well on my way to being a Wonder Woman in the kitchen. Wonder Woman in general. With Nigella coursing through my veins.

I did make pancakes that year. Sometimes they resembled good pancakes. Sometimes they did not. One time I made these blueberry pancakes that looked a great deal like a freckled face dotted with pimples and bruises. My friend Justin ate them with a bright smile, and then we sat down and watched “Star Wars” DVDs till Yoda snuggled into my eyelids.

I am sure that must be one of the reasons Justin and I are still good friends – I admire the qualities of humour and courage very much. (Justin likes berries and madness.)

Mastering the art of making pancakes was to me so synonymous with achieving success in cooking (plus I knew no one who disliked them), that I was pretty blind to the shortcomings of pancakes. It took me a while to realise I was more in love with the idea of being in love with pancakes, than actually in love with them.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had jolly good pancake/crepe/hotcake meals. I remember in particular one pancake party my friend Hellie hosted a while ago – it kept me in a reverie for days afterwards! Also, I like maple syrup as much as anyone could like maple syrup, and they happen to take to pancakes exceptionally well :-)

It’s just that, good as they are, pancakes seldom taste as good as they look and smell to me. (Some say the same about coffee).

The truth is that, most of the time when I DO venture to eat pancakes, they excite me at the start, evoke boredom and a bloated stomach midway through the meal… and I leave the table sad.

So, all that said, I awoke at 6.30 this morning and was pretty surprised that I had a picture of pancakes in my head. I peeked at a few sites on Google, scribbled down a list of ingredients and decided to make a small batch of pancakes.

I had buttermilk, condensed milk and pomegranate seeds on hand, so that is how this recipe came into being.

And, you know, it wasn’t so bad.

    Bejewelled buttermilk pancakes
    Ingredients:
    1/4 cup flour
    1 tsp caster sugar
    1/2 tsp baking powder
    pinch of salt
    pinch of cinnamon (optional)
    pinch of lemon zest (optional)
    1 egg, separated
    1 tbsp melted butter
    1/4 cup buttermilk
    pomegranate seeds
    2-3 tbsp condensed milk
    Method:
    Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Stir in the lemon zest and cinnamon if using, then set aside.
    In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk, egg yolk and butter. Add this to the dry ingredients and whisk together. Do not over-whisk.
    In a separate bowl, whip the egg white, then fold it into the above mixture.
    Heat a skillet over medium-low heat. Grease with a pat of butter or some olive oil (butter tastes better in this instance). When it shimmers, ladle batter on to the skillet, making pancakes of any size.
    I found these cooked pretty quickly – keep an eye on them and flip them before they burn (approximately 1-2 minutes)! Once the second side is lightly browned, rescue and keep them in a warm spot in your kitchen.
    Once they are all done, place a pancake on a clean plate, drizzle condensed milk and scatter pomegranate seeds on it, then add a pancake on top and repeat these steps till you have a sparkling pancake stack. Substitute condensed milk and pomegranate seeds with your favourite pancake toppings if you wish.
    Open the windows, greet the morning, and eat your meal with fork and knife.
    This recipe yields three small pancakes – when cooking for a crowd, you can probably adjust the dry ingredients to scale (i.e. 1/4 cup flour for three pancakes, 1/2 cup for six pancakes, etc) but I think you’ll have to adjust the number of eggs and amount of wet ingredients based on how your batter looks! This batter seems pretty forgiving, anyhow, so just experiment and have fun. Also, preheat the oven to 50°C and keep the stack of pancakes warm in the oven while you cook all of them.

P.S. Through a stroke of great fortune, I got a complimentary ticket to attend the opening night of Cav & Pag last night. Blood, jealousy, love, blue skies and the scent of orange trees. Pathos. Humour. Surprises. Themes reflected in colours, posture, juxtaposition. A moving stage set. Luring singing. Enjoyed the two hours of magic! In Auckland? Get your tickets here.

Breakfast, as of late

I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you till China and Africa meet and the river jumps over the mountain and the salmon sing in the street.
~ W. H. Auden

I have been eating this every day for breakfast this week. Kids, try this at home: lay a piece of your favourite bread on a plate. Cover it with fresh spinach leaves. Decorate with oily oh-so-good-that-you-want-to-swoon-over-it smoked salmon and healthy flecks of parmesan cheese. Squeeeeze a wedge of lemon over the whole lot. Poach an egg in salted water, and place on top of the lot. Sprinkle with black pepper if desired. Eat immediately with knife and fork.

Golden

The beginning is the most important part of the work.
~ Plato

Haven’t made this in a while, and last night I decided to toast a tray of this for my next few breakfasts. Remembered again everything I like about this! So much more fun to make and eat this than to buy and eat a box of Vogel’s too…

Make your own good morning.

Vanilla Bean Buttermilk Cake and other stories

And I believe that when I part with a man I must do it in such a way that when he sees me again he will be glad – and so will I.
~ Elbert Hubbard

It is now nearly 2.00am, and I have just put down the phone. I was chatting with one of my closest friends Jane, who’s just moved to China… I wish to goodness that we could chat face to face right now. The silly calling card caused inconvenient lapses on the phone… and of course, nothing really beats face to face conversations. She’s a friend with whom I can have six-hour dinners without running out of meaningful things to talk about… one of those people with whom mutual understanding flows easily and smoothly, like fresh milk. I miss you Jane.

I now have four days left in this city, and as a result, with my kitchen. The day before, I felt inspired and descended upon my kitchen to make a Vanilla Bean Buttermilk Cake with Glazed Oranges and Creme Fraiche from Molly Wizenberg’s “A Homemade Life” (Page 88), and a salad (inspired by the mandarin and watercress salad at Estadio)…

The cake wasn’t as simple to make in the end, but I am glad I made it anyway. It gave me a chance to work with two foreign ingredients: vanilla pods and buttermilk, and a chance to master the Beating of Impossibly Sticky Mixes. I highly recommend the use of some kind of electric beaters or mixers for this cake.

I was struggling with a whisk, then a manual eggbeater; by the time my cake mix looked like THIS (picture below) the only thing that kept me from tossing the damn thing out was the smell of the mix (heavenly).

The mix CLUNG to my manual eggbeater like a stubborn sticky octopus, and I ended up prying the mix off in mini clumps and beating it all with a spoon… which is… not so fun.

I was glad no one was in the kitchen with me.

I am also glad that the people who ate this cake with me probably won’t read this blog post.

Still, at least it came together in the end.

This recipe makes a gentle cake, sweet and soft like a baby’s kiss – and shines when partaken of with a good spoonful of tart creme fraiche, a drizzle of orange syrup and a few warm wedges of sticky sweet glazed oranges. Mmmmm… summery comfort.

The salad was fun to assemble: peeled mandarin wedges, baby beets (briefly boiled), fresh radish rings, crisp watercress, brazil nuts (roughly chopped), bits of dark orange-flavoured chocolate, garlic and chilli prawns. Colourful and citrusy.

Thank you Estadio for inspiring this.

And before I forget, Lams prepared the most YUMMY breakfast for us this morning: muesli with mango, kiwifruit, banana, lemon yoghurt, dessicated coconut and chopped fresh mint. Divine!! It turns muesli into a very glamorous dish indeed.

(She really should start a restaurant or some kind of eating establishment).