We’re off to Rome in less than two weeks.
If you’ve any Roman restaurant suggestions or any general Rome or Italy suggestions – or cautions – let us know!
This got me thinking about some quintessential USA food. Comfort food. Pancakes.
This website almost had this name: pancakemixisanabomination.
It gets to the heart of a lot of issues. Plus I like the word abomination.
Perversely, the word historically has been applied to now-minor or no-longer-punishable infractions – at least in this country – and pancake mix angst nicely fits into the minor category.
Have you ever made pancakes? (Or flapjacks, or hotcakes.) Crazily easy and dirt cheap. Some notes on making them below, but really, they’re nothing.
But pancake MIX?
Why does this get to the heart of a lot of issues? Because there are some fun philosophical questions around how to choose between two options. In one sense, in deciding on a course of action, one has a spreadsheet with one side the pros and the other side the cons. It’s the values and possibilities that you place on those pros and cons that tip the scale and often it’s all so complicated and rife with contingencies.
But pancake MIX?
This is pretty straightforward. Because in this case, all you need is this deep analysis: cheaper and better ALWAYS wins the day.
What is pancake mix? It’s flour and leavening (baking powder), some sugar and a bit of salt. Those elements are in the manufacturer’s determined proportions. But wait – you still have to crack an egg, beat it, add milk and then add in the mix and cut some butter. And you still have to measure out the amount of mix.
The cost of the mixes range from ~ $2 to over $5 a pound.
Flour, salt, sugar and baking powder in the appropriate proportion costs ~ maybe $1 a pound. Maybe even 75c. So the mix is two to more than six times the expense if one refuses to measure out the addition of salt, sugar and baking powder.
Of course there are some mixes that already have a milk component (dry powdered milk) and somehow an egg component along with some other items on the ingredients list that are better called food-like products. So you only need to measure out this mix and add water. But do we really have to analyze this one?
So, cheaper is a given for the pancake batter you put together. But is your own “scratch” batter better? It’s true you do not need to measure out a teaspoon or two or three of baking powder and true you need not go into your own stores of salt and grab a big pinch of it and true you need not measure out a bit of sugar. But you’ll still need to measure out the mix itself and measure out the milk, etc. So, yes, you do save three measuring steps. But no savings in cleanup. And then the fact of some unpronounceable names in the ready-mix ingredients list. Will your batter taste better? Yes. It. Will. And the tiny extra satisfaction of doing it yourself.
Don’t get me started on bottled salad dressing.
1 cup flour
Big pinch of salt.
Half to a full tablespoon of sugar
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1 cup of milk
3 tablespoon meted butter.
1 tablespoon lemon juice, maybe a bit more.
. Mix the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder in one bowl.
. In another bowl beat the the egg and add the butter and milk.
. Then add lemon juice to this milk mixture. It should become noticeably thicker because of the acid in the lemon juice and it also will boost the leavening effect of the baking powder.
. Mix the thickened milk mixture into the dry ingredients gently. If it looks too impossibly thick add some more milk.
Don’t wait – make the pancakes now.
. Heat a pan and add butter to it and wait until the foaming subsides – it’s now quite hot – and spoon in the batter.
A couple of minutes and the top of the pancake will begin looking dry, flip over and cook another very short bit, and…done. The butter still in the pan may be flirting with being burnt, if so remove the pan from the flame and wipe out the butter with a paper towel and add a bit more and you’re ready for the rest of the batter.
. And sure, want to substitute all purpose flour with whole wheat flour or some buckwheat, or add some brown sugar instead of white, or add some cinnamon, or instead of milk use buttermilk (if so, you won’t need the lemon juice), instead of meted butter in your batter and on the pan use an oil (olive, vegetable). All good. Let alone banana, other fruits, and it doesn’t get more Americana than this: chocolate chips.
We’ve become mild coffee nerds. Not that deep that we worry too much about the relative elevations of sourced coffee beens or roasting our own “cherry” but understanding locations and roasts, and more importantly how to brew a perfect cup. Nerdy term is a pour-over but I think this term has lost its moment. We used to call it drip coffee. It’s easy. But the first thing you need is a scale. You don’t have a scale? Do you ever want to bake? Please go buy one. $15 to $35. I’ll wait.
. You’ll need a conical plastic, glass or ceramic holder to hold the filter above any carafe.
. You’re looking for the perfect brew, yes? Then you’ll need a burr grinder (versus a blade grinder – but you should have one of these anyhow for grinding whole spices. A post for another day.) A burr grinder can and will be on the expensive side. A burr grinder is the same mechanism as your pepper mill. You’ll likely want to get an electric one. But we’re on the road and so space, weight and non-US electrical outlets move us to have a mechanical one. It’s our very mild morning work-out. (Ours: https://store.bluebottlecoffee.com/products/Porlex-Max.html)
. The math.
For each moderate-sized coffee cup use 15 grams of coffee beans and depending on the coffee itself, 12 to 15 times this weight in water. Thirteen times has worked for us for most coffees. So for the 15 grams of coffee at 13 times water, use 195 grams of water.
. The procedure.
. Grind the coffee as close as possible to the time of brewing. Within minutes. Of course the beans themselves should have been roasted within the last few days and for sure within the last two weeks.
. Either weigh out the water in the kettle itself or once you’ve boiled the water, pour the appropriate amount of water into another container with a good spout. Keep the water at a simmer. We use the second method because we then use the excess water in the kettle to pour very hot water into the coffee cups we’ll be drinking from in order to get the cups hot.
. Before putting the ground beans in the filter, wet the filter for at least two reasons. One, it will take away any raw paper taste that some filters can impart and two, with the filter already soaked it will not take away from the weight of the simmering hot water you are about to use for brewing.
. Warm up the carafe you’ll be using. Put the filter in the filter holder and put in the ground beans, put that on the carafe and pour an initial amount of steamy water enough to soak the grounds. Don’t let the grounds dry out, within 20 to 30 seconds add another measure of water to the coffee grounds, and so on. You should gear it so that you’ve made all the coffee you’re making within about two minutes.
. Pour out the hot water from your cups – if that was your cup heating method – and pour in your perfect coffee.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
Wait, this is a blog post – the first one after more than six months on the road.
Left NYC on almost the last day of June of 2012. Driving. We wanted to make a northern route because of the season but we still got caught up in a countrywide heat wave.
No Global Warming here. Move along, move along.
Spent the first nights in rural Pennsylvania. It had not at all struck us what an odd endeavor this all was. It did later and the same thoughts of tetherlessness would keep coming back. It’s one thing to travel for a long time – something we had never done unless two weeks count – but all together another thing to sell our apartment and have no fixed address, and travel for a long time to stay in cities and towns for about two months at a time. We sold and gave away almost all our furniture and have a very small storage place in the middle of New Jersey somewhere. But could not quite give away the cooking equipment – about the equivalent of 50 boxes – enough to easily arm a small restaurant. And it did arm our micro underground restaurant at our apartment in SoHo. We had a dinner very roughly once a month for over six years. Typically eight people. Sometimes ten or more. About 13 for my birthday a few years ago. Small courses, usually about seven of them. Multiple desserts. The cooking equipment is with a fabulous and sharp knife maker in Brooklyn, Joel Bukiewicz of Cut Brooklyn and his wife Julia Dahl. They hope to use the equipment for their own parties or to entice chefs to their shop for knife demonstrations (www.cutbrooklyn.com). We eventually will retrieve all the equipment when and if we figure a place to stay.
So back to the story, from the idyllic farm in Pennsylvania (where for breakfast we picked up some eggs from the coup – those yolks! – some greens and other vegetables and made a simple frittata) we drove to Ohio and from there to Michigan for a couple of days and then to Chicago. We’ve gotten better at driving long distances but initially we tried to limit it to five or maybe six hours a day. And the heat wave was still there in Chicago. It only reached 95 degrees – but that was the low. At night. At 9:30. We made dinner the following night or the night after. We cook at almost every destination – when staying at friends we literally cook (and sing – Kate) for our supper. We stayed for about five days and then on the road again. Because we wanted to see a friend and great and knowledgeable wine aficionado we took a detour to St Louis for a night and, since there, why not go to Kansas City for some barbecue! The barbecue was so very mediocre. We had hunted out the most storied and recommended place, and, well…maybe an off night! From there to South Dakota. First Sioux Falls and the Black Hills and then to Rapid City. Rapid City environs of course has Mount Rushmore – astounding, but more importantly it had our first good restaurant meal on the road at The Corn Exchange (www.cornexchange.com). Almost every restaurant on the road before this was somewhat to wildly disappointing. The errors were large and small and almost all easily overcome. Restaurant errors mostly spin from this I think: the owners treat the restaurant firstly as a pure business and only secondarily as the perfect place to make others happy revolving around food and conviviality. Next life: Restaurant Consultant. Hmmm.
From Rapid City to Casper Wyoming. From there to Jackson, Wyoming for several days and staying with a friend and now ex-client. I think we made pasta. She also hosted me to make dinner at her place two past times for about ten people. We carry our Atlas pasta roller around with us. It’s really too heavy, but still. I loved the clients at this particular firm, but the only thing that held me up is that the principal of the firm, although he’s jovial, smart and has been a brilliant investor also harbors right wing fantasies and helps fund those fantasies to – not to become true, that’s impossible of course – but to help change laws.
Happily in NYC I had another client on the Left who did lots of funding himself. So it cancelled out for me!
From there we made our way through the Tetons and then Yosemite. Not camping of course.
(Side notes: I believe in the separation of powers of the three branches of government; global warming is real and has been materially helped along by humans; the planet is way more than 10,000 years old – by about, oh, 4.5 billion years; evolution through natural selection is true not because I want it to be or not, but because mounds of empirical data show it to be so; less guns would mean less killing; pâte brisée is the pent-ultimate tart pastry – 3:2 by weight flour:butter, a little salt and some ice water, be gentle.)
Then onto Spokane for a night and then to Kate’s brother and family in Seattle. Consumed the best espresso Seattle has to offer and that’s saying something.
Then finally, our first real rental place for a month in Emeryville, CA across the bay from San Francisco and right next to Berkeley. Heaven. The food markets! (www.ecologycenter.org/bfm). And in San Francisco itself around the Ferry Building (www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com/farmers). They put NYC’s Union Square on notice. The supermarket(s) Berkeley Bowl (http://www.berkeleybowl.com/) completely and utterly knocks any other market.
Worked for a couple of weeks in Oakland at a restaurant where casualness and serious flavors intersect, Pizzaiolo (www.pizzaiolooakland.com).
Then to the teeny tiny town of Marfa, Texas. In the middle of nowhere. Very west Texas. Three hours to the nearest airport. Seven hours to Austin, driving – legally – 75mph. Small town with layers of modern art and architecture. Judd Foundation (www.juddfoundation.org), Chinati (www.chinati.org), Ballroom Marfa (www.ballroommarfa.org), etc. People rarely lock their doors and drivers keep their car running if going into a store for only a minute or two. Everyone really says hello. Worked for a day or so at a food oasis there, Cochineal (www.cochinealmarfa.com). Generous and sharing owners. New Yorkers don’t expect great pizza except in New York or maybe possibly in Naples, and certainly not in a west Texas town with a population of 2,000. But ho! There it was – Pizza Foundation (www.pizzafoundation.com). Also, a food truck kept us fed multiple times a week, Food Shark (www.foodsharkmarfa.com). The owners of Food Shark opened a brick and mortar place just as we were leaving town – called Future Shark. We were sorry that Austin Street Café was not open on a regular basis, but we did sample their wares on multiple occasions. (www.austinstreetcafe.com). Generous and charming owners here too. The whole town was embracing. I’ve never been to a town where I knew by name about 5% of the entire population. And this after seven weeks.
Now in Pasadena. Really too far from LA. The driving is quite distracting here, but the weather beats the East Coast with little effort.
Next stop: Rome. From Mid March through the end of April.