I have no principles. I realized this recently when I found myself abandoning a selection of various proclamations without thinking twice. That’s the problem with making any grand statements: if you don’t follow through or really commit to them you turn yourself into the girl who cried wolf. And then there goes your credibility. I guess you could say I have become officially incredible.
It started with brunch. Shortly after my anti-brunch rant, my friend Susan announced she was coming to town and would getting together for Sunday brunch work? " Sure!" I said without stopping myself for a hypocrisy check.
So to brunch with Susan and Rich I went. And I’d imagine that now Susan regrets having provided me with the chance to cry wolf. It’s funny, when you spend time with the same people you fall into patterns of behavior that everyone expects. I know that Rich will speak so softly that the waiter won’t hear him. Rich knows I’ll ask the waiter a million questions, thinking I’m being charming, when really I’m being annoying. And neither of us cares. Enter Susan. She did care. After she and Rich both plainly placed their orders (yes, the waiter said, “I’m sorry?” to inaudible Rich) it was my turn.
“Ok, I’ll have two poached eggs. Wait, can I get the Salmon Eggs Benedict without the hollandaise?”
“Sure,” the waiter said scribbling.
“Oh! But I just had smoked salmon.” I looked at Rich, “maybe I should have the omelet?” Rich rolled his eyes and said, “But then we’re all getting omelets.”
The waiter began looking around the packed restaurant and the frozen smile on his face started to thaw and morph into a grimace.
“Oh, I know I’m being a pain!” I said trying to be adorable. Yeah, not quite. He just stared at me. “Okay, I’ll have a cheddar and tomato omelet,” I said giving Rich a sorry—too bad face. “But wait, does anyone want anything sweet? I wish I could have just one pancake. Do you have sides of pancakes?” I asked the waiter.
It was at this point that Susan let out a “Really?!”
“Okay, okay. And we’ll have an order of pancakes for the table. Thanks.” I said timidly. I was totally embarrassed.
I actually consider myself to be a very decisive person. And the thing was, I didn’t really think I was being that bad. Someone in heaven, or the kitchen, must have thought I was because when the pancakes came they were totally mediocre. I was being punished for my pestiness and left the meal still needing the itch for a good pancake to be scratched.
A few days later I went out to dinner with my friend Margot. Thank God for Margot. She is the only person I know whose dining habits rival mine in the Princess and the Pea meets Goldilocks category and she helped me get out of my shame spiral. When I met her at the appointed restaurant I could tell by her face that she wasn’t happy.
“What?” I whispered.
“The fan. It’s blowing right on our table.”
‘The fan?’ I thought. I was sure she was going to complain about the stench of truffle oil. “Sir, can we move to that table by the window?” I asked.
“No,” he said, “That’s for four persons only.” The restaurant was totally empty.
Margot and I exchanged glances. “I’m not feeling it.” She said. “Me neither, let’s get out of here.”
This is the part where, had we been with other people, we would have been mortified. We did to our neighborhood what I had done to the waiter on Sunday. We walked up to, debated the pros and cons of, and rejected three more restaurants before Margot had a Eureka moment and remembered a place where she’d had a fabulous Greek salad with grilled salmon. And to quote my heroine, “It was just right.”
Why does being picky and exact get a bad rap? Especially if it's in the name of a satisfying gustatory experience. It doesn’t bother me when other people grill a waiter or ask a cab driver to take a specific route or want to wait to see a play until they can get the seat of their choice. So why should I feel funny about doing those things myself?
In the meantime I kept thinking about pancakes. I knew that was going to happen. Whenever my craving goes unsatisfied it haunts me until it is. The pancake problem for me is that I really think a stack smothered in syrup is too sweet. I hate starting the day that way because you crash from your sugar high an hour later and then you’re starving. So I set out to find something that would feel pancakey enough to shut my palate up but not leave me in a diabetic coma. I remembered the David Eyre's pancake my mother used to make when I was a kid, usually on a Sunday night if we’d had a really big lunch. The great thing is that it bakes in the oven so there’s no standing over a griddle, timing things just right for a crowd. It puffs up really dramatically and is more of a blank canvas than the typical vanilla-y over-sweet pancakes found on a restaurant menu (or in a box of Aunt Jemima).
I knew the pancake on its own wouldn’t be enough. I wanted something fruity to go with it. So I abandoned another one of my principles and sautéed some apples in maple syrup. Supposedly I think “apples are overrated” and I once had a roommate I rejected as ever being a friend because she opened our refrigerator and called out with glee, “Ooh! An apple!” as if it were a hot fudge sundae. (Come on, could you really be friendly with someone like that?)
The combination was fantastic and I highly recommend this take on a cozy fall breakfast. The caramel of the apples is offset by the squidge of lemon juice. The pancake is light and eggy with a nice bit of crust and the dish is substantial enough without leaving you with that overstuffed, carbo-loaded post-brunch feeling. And even though I have now revealed myself to be completely without conviction you really should believe me. I haven’t let go of my most important principle: good taste.
The Most Important Principle Baked Pancake with Caramelized Apples
from the New York Times, 1966
printer friendly version
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup whole milk
pinch of ground nutmeg
4 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons powdered sugar
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Caramelized apples--see below
Preheat oven to 450
In a medium bowl, lightly beat eggs. Add flour, milk and nutmeg and lightly beat until blended but still a bit lumpy.Melt butter in a 12-inch oven-proof skillet (I used cast iron) over medium-high heat. When butter is melted and very hot, but not browned, add batter and bake in oven until pancake is puffy and golden brown. About 15 minutes(While pancake is baking making caramelized apples.)
Remove pan from oven, be careful, it is very hot, and sift/sprinkle or shake with powdered sugar and return to oven for one-two minutes.Remove from oven and sprinkle with lemon juice. Cut into wedges and serve with caramelized apples (or jam or syrup or whatever you want if you hate apples)
YIELD: 2 big or 4 light servings
2 Tablespoon butter
3 Granny Smith (or whatever you have) apples, peeled, cored and cut into eighths
2 Tablespoons maple syrup
In a medium skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add apples and cook, stirring now and then, until they've released their juices but aren't too mushy and start to settle down. Add maple syrup and let the apples become dark golden brown, stirring occasionally so they don't burn.
Spoon over wedges of pancake.