Tag Archives: breakfast

Waffle Epiphany

Food is one of the joys of travel.  I love trying local specialties, seeking out little family run restaurants hidden down an alley, and getting to know a new culture through the flavors of its cuisine.  My travel memories center on food, and an astonishing number of my vacation photos do too.

Food can also be one of the miseries of travel.  Specifically, I’m talking about airplane and airport food.  On shorter or domestic flights, this unpleasantness can be avoided by putting a few snacks or even a sandwich in your carryon.   Although I do always start out with bags of dried fruit and nuts in my purse, it just isn’t practical or possible to bring enough food from home for most international trips.  Given the limitations of what one can carry through security and customs at each stop, then the spoilage factor for an eight or ten or even twenty hour trip, travelers are at the mercy of the overpriced, overprocessed, limp airport food options.  Of course, the food on the plane is much, much worse.  So during layovers we take advantage of the airport wifi to distract ourselves while eating our depressing airport meal, then I scout around the gate area, looking for the least offensive food to buy and carry onto the plane.  It makes me cranky, to be perfectly honest.

So imagine my surprise when, on a recent trip to Costa Rica, I had not just an edible breakfast in an airport restaurant, but a delicious breakfast.  The setting, of all places, was the George Bush International Airport in Houston, Texas at around 6:00 am.  Fresh off a red-eye from Seattle, gritty-eyed, rumpled and dazed, we shoved our bags under the table and picked up our menus without much hope.  The waitress poured coffee into those little non-Seattle sized mugs.  The mosquito whine of Fox News on the TV was interrupted regularly by blaring flight announcements.  It was an unlikely venue for an epiphany, to say the least.  But it came in the form of a breakfast so good that I ate every bite with relish and knew I needed to have it again, and soon.

Yes, it was waffles.  But in this case crispy tender Belgian waffles were a platform for a few simple toppings that harmonized with each other so perfectly that I replicated this breakfast as soon as I got home.  And it has earned a place in the regular weekend breakfast rotation.

Start with your favorite waffle recipe.  Don’t have one?  Here is a good place to begin, or if you have a sourdough starter handy you can’t go wrong with this one.  Pour yourself a comforting large cup of coffee and then get the waffle maker going.

Once you’ve got a plateful of hot crispy waffle goodness, it is time for the really important part.  Drizzle the waffles with honey—not enough to drown them, but just enough to gleam from shallow puddles in the bottom of the waffle-treads.  Sprinkle a handful of roughly chopped walnuts over the top.  Then add a dollop of mascarpone.  It won’t take much—no more than a tablespoon.  Finally, if you’ve got them, you could gild the lily by slicing up a few fresh strawberries or throwing on a few blueberries.

And that’s it.  Deceptively simple, but oh-so-good.  The sweetness of the honey is balanced by the slightly bitter walnuts, then there is just the right amount of richness from the mascarpone–the whole is so luxurious in the mouth that it’s almost indecent.

Good in an airport, yes–but so much better on a Sunday morning at home, still in pajamas, with plentiful coffee and a couch just waiting to receive you after you are done with breakfast and ready for a little nap.  Try it.  You’ll see.

Breakfast in Puerto Vallarta

What makes a good vacation breakfast?  For me, the requirements are simple.  It should be immediately accessible and not too exotic.

I’ve had some kick-ass Full English breakfasts, and I’ll never forget the joy of walking into the cool, clean, glorious hotel breakfast buffet in Southern Spain after inadvertently spending the whole night getting there from Morocco… and room service is fun in moderation.  But really–just quick, filling, and familiar.  That’s all  I ask.  I’ll be an adventurous eater later in the day.

Our first night in Puerto Vallarta, as we strolled back to our hotel, we happened across a supermarket and decided to stop in and stock up on bottled water.  It must have been after ten o’clock, but the bakery department was hopping.  Lines of customers picked up round trays and a pair of tongs, then filled their trays.  Nothing was wrapped in plastic or covered.  Bakers continuously rolled out fresh carts of small, hot French loaves, and customers flocked around them.

We decided to pick up some items for our breakfast, so Michael got a tray and tongs, and we wandered the aisles of donuts, bread, muffins, and pastries.  We  joined the line at the counter, where our selections were bagged and tagged for us, then headed up front to the checkout lines.  A couple of muffins, a small loaf of bread, and two pastries cost about $4.00, in my rough mental conversion from pesos.

The next morning I made coffee and we took our bag of goodies out onto the balcony for a leisurely breakfast.  Birds wheeled overhead, dark against the pure blue sky, and we gazed out toward the ocean as we sipped and nibbled.  We laid our plans for the day, and talked about where we should go for lunch.

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Pear Pancakes

Weekend breakfasts have gotten a lot more exciting lately.

Generally speaking, I have a narrow breakfast repertoire.  On weekdays, it’s either toast and an egg, or yogurt.  I don’t need variety.  I’m boring and set in my ways I like it that way. I just want a simple, sustaining breakfast that can be made and eaten in approximately five minutes, while on full auto-pilot.

A long, leisurely weekend breakfast, on the other hand, is a pleasure to be savored.  Ahhh…jammies, slippers, a giant mug  of black coffee.  Still, I’m happy with the same-ole same-ole, week after contented week.  Scrambled eggs, bacon, bagels, sometimes pancakes.  It works.  It makes me happy.

But things aren’t so quiet in the mornings now, what with Sasha around.  Is there anything sillier than a kitten in the throes of his morning crazies?

He’s underfoot, and then he’s gone.  He’s climbing like a mountain goat, and making wild, miscalculated leaps into space.  I burn the bagels while I stalk him with the camera, giggling and heedless of the smoke coming from the toaster.

Then, as if weekend breakfast time wasn’t already shook up enough, along came Kim Boyce’s cookbook, Good to the Grain, with the recipe for Pear and Buckwheat Pancakes.  The pleasant routine went straight out the window, and I was buying pears a week in advance, checking the cupboard for buckwheat flour, and stirring up honey butter, all in anticipation of a Sunday breakfast nonpareil.

These pancakes are well worth leaving the beaten path for.  They are dense, nutty, moist, fruity, and utterly satisfying.  Even better, they aren’t much more time consuming to make than regular pancakes.  I made the honey butter and combined the dry ingredients the night before, to streamline the process.  If you like maple syrup on your pancakes, you could skip the honey butter altogether and be perfectly happy.

The original recipe, like all of the recipes in this book,  is really perfect as-is.  I increased the milk because I like pancake batter that is a little thinner.

Pear and Buckwheat Pancakes

(adapted very slightly from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce)

Butter for the pan

Dry mix:
1 cup buckwheat flour
1 cup whole-grain pastry flour
3 tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp kosher salt

Wet Mix:
2 tbsp butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 1/4 cup+ 2 tbsp whole milk
1 egg
2 medium pears, ripe but firm

4 oz. (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup honey

Stir the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.

Whisk the melted butter, milk, and egg until thoroughly combined.

Peel the pears. Using the large holes on a box grater, grate the whole peeled pears into the milk mixture; the pear juice should fall into the milk along with the grated pears.

Using a spatula, add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and gently combine. For tender pancakes, it is important that you use a light hand as you gently fold the batter with the spatula. The batter should be slightly thick, with small pieces of pear flecked throughout.

Although the batter is best if used immediately, it can sit for about an hour on the counter or overnight in the refrigerator. When you return to the batter, it will be very thick and should be thinned, 1 tablespoon at a time, with milk-take great care not to overmix.

Meanwhile, melt the butter and honey together in a small saucepan and cook until boiling, emulsified, and slightly thickened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Pour in the honey butter into a serving pitcher and set it in a warm place near the stove.

Heat a 10-inch cast-iron pan or griddle over medium heat until water sizzles when splashed on the pan. Rube the pan generously with butter; this is the key to crisp, buttery edges, my favorite part of any pancake. Working quickly, dollop 1/4-cup mounds of batter on to the pan, 2 or 3 at a time. Once bubbles have begun to form on the top side of the pancakes, flip it over and cook until the bottom is dark golden-brown, about 5 minutes total.

Wipe the pan with a cloth before griddling the next batch. Rub the pan with butter and continue with the rest of the batter. If the pan is too hot or not hot enough, adjust the flame accordingly to keep results consistent.

Serve the pancakes hot, straight from the skillet, with the pitcher of honey butter.

Makes about 12 pancakes


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They Puffed

It’s Thanksgiving and Christmas Basket season again.  Just like every year at this time, I am up to my eyeballs in coordinating this holiday charity project that provides the groceries that will make holiday dinners for needy families in my neighborhood, and Christmas presents for the children, too.  We helped 52 families at Thanksgiving.  And now we’re headed straight toward Christmas Basket delivery day like a runaway freight train with boxcars full of presents and turkeys and produce and volunteers and spreadsheets and…

You know that thing that happens when you have been working on something really difficult and time consuming and a deadline is looming, and you decide that you absolutely MUST clean the entire house from top to bottom, knit a sweater, and reorganize your spice cupboard?  Or in my remote past, assemble an entire Victorian dollhouse from a kit, when what I really needed to be doing was to finish my research so I could actually graduate from grad school.  I think you know what I’m talking about.

Well, something of that sort came over me a few weeks ago.  Out of the blue, I decided that it was time to master the art of the popover.  I have gone on record as saying that I’m not much of a baker.  And yet, it suddenly seemed of the utmost importance to not only make baked goods, but fussy, tricky baked goods of the sort that lead people to leave despairing pleas for advice in online forums.  I found a few recipes that looked good and promised to produce popovers that would reliably puff up into light, airy pastries.  I foolishly–if predictably—ruined the first batch by substituting cream for milk because I had cream and it sounded good.  I forced myself to comply with the next recipe, and still produced hockey pucks.

Then Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce came from the library.  I have heard many awed and reverent reviews of this book, and eagerly looked forward to seeing for myself.  I was leafing through the pages, reading bits here and there, admiring the beautiful pictures, when it occurred to me to look for a popover recipe.  There was indeed a recipe, one that looked wonderful and included helpful suggestions.  The recipe called for Boyce’s Multigrain Flour Mix, so I flipped to that page and saw that I already had three of the five flours, but a trip to the co-op would be needed for the other two.   Not that I minded more distractions from the Christmas Baskets!  Off to the co-op!

The Multigrain Flour Mix makes 4 cups, quite a bit more than is needed for the popovers.  I put the rest in the freezer, and I expect it will be perfect for making whole grain bread in the bread machine, or in muffins.

The popovers were ridiculously easy to make–a little bit like German Pancakes, but on a much smaller scale.  Just mix, pour into heavily buttered muffin cups, and bake.  And they puffed!  Oh, how gloriously they puffed.  They came out of the oven golden brown and as fluffy as cumulus clouds.

When pulled open, the popovers were hollow.  The outsides were crusty, and the insides a bit creamy.  More butter was hardly needed, but I slathered it on anyway, and a touch of blackberry jam.  Delicious.

These popovers are at their best fresh from the oven.  They would make an ideal Christmas morning breakfast, with a cup of coffee or cocoa after the presents and stockings have been opened.  And they are still quite edible if rewarmed in the oven later in the day, but will lose their light freshness quickly, so eat them all on day one.  That shouldn’t be too onerous of a task.

Multigrain Flour Mix

(from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce)

  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 cup oat flour
  • 1 cup barley flour
  • ½ cup millet flour
  • ½ cup rye flour

Measure all the flours into a bowl and whisk together


(slightly adapted from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce)

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 ¼ cups whole milk
  • ½ cup Multigrain Flour Mix
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp butter, melted and cooled slightly
  1. Place rack in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place the muffin tins (unbuttered) in the oven to heat up.
  2. Measure the eggs, milk, flours, and salt into a bowl.  Measure half of the melted butter (2 tbsp) over the ingredients in the bowl.
  3. Using a hand mixer, mix the popover batter until combined, about 20 seconds.  Remove the muffin tins from the oven and brush every other cup liberally with butter.  Working quickly, fill each of the buttered cups three-quarters full with batter.
  4. Bake for 15 minutes.  Then, rotate the tins and lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Bake for 8-10 minutes more, or until golden brown.
  5. Take the tins from the oven, slide a sharp knife around the popovers to remove, and eat immediately.  Turn the oven temperature back up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and repeat with the remaining batter.

Makes one dozen popovers.

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The Wonders of Room Service

When it comes to creature comforts, room service is right up there on my list.  It combines the pleasures of eating out, with–well, not actually having to go out.  I’m a staunch proponent of food delivery of all kinds, including the traditional pizza and Chinese, grocery delivery services, and friends who drop by with soup when one is sick.

For us regular folks, us “servantless American cooks” if you will, having someone cook for us and wait on us is a treat, not a daily occurrence.  And ordering room service is a rare pleasure, one to be savored once every year or two, wallowing in decadence without shame.

Some people might disagree with me.  “But Rowdy,” I can hear them protesting, “It’s ridiculously overpriced.  Uninspired food.  And lukewarm!”  To those skeptics, I say this:  You’ve missed the point of room service.  It’s not about value, nor about excellent food.

Consider the following scenario: you are travelling alone.  It’s your first night in a new town.  You get to your hotel room.  It’s late and you are tired.  You settle in, maybe take a shower.  That ubiquitous binder calls to you, and you flip to the room service tab.  Yes, the food is dreadfully expensive and may be lukewarm when it appears.  Still…you pile up all of the pillows behind you, and recline on the bed perusing your options in a leisurely manner.  You make a phone call, and 20 minutes later, there is a knock on the door.  You put the tray on the end of the bed, turn on the TV, and sprawl out full length to eat your two shrimp cocktails in peace.

But where room service really shines is at breakfast.  There’s nothing like a leisurely weekend breakfast, right?  Well, nothing except a leisurely weekend breakfast that I don’t even have to get out of bed to eat.  And let’s be realistic.  All good breakfast restaurants have interminable waits on weekends—certainly long enough for my blood sugar to reach dangerously homicidal lows.  That’s what Starbucks is for, on longer vacations.  We get our muffins and coffee and move on with our day of sightseeing.  But for those occasional weekend getaways…

I renewed my friendship with room service breakfast on our recent weekend trip to Portland.  Soon after waking, I ordered up some food.  Very shortly, I was wrapped in the plush cheetah-print robe thoughtfully provided by the hotel, and ushering in the room service guy, who politely didn’t stare at my crazy sleep hair.  He did a big reveal, taking the lids off of the dishes and allowing fragrant steam to rise.  Then he departed, and I settled back into bed with the best French toast ever to be fried in about a stick of butter, sausage, jam, more butter, a bagel with cream cheese, smoked salmon and capers, and a few cups of coffee.  All piping hot.

There are so many good things about this kind of breakfast.  I like tucking the white cloth napkin up to my chin and leaning on a pile of pillows like a rajah.  I like eating breakfast that someone else cooked, while still unshowered and in my pajamas.   I like the adorable, doll-sized salt and pepper shakers and the teensy bowl of butter and the glasses with their hats of saran wrap.  I like pushing the tray of empty dishes away and falling back into a stupor–to just lie there digesting, or read a bit, or maybe go fill up the Japanese soaking tub for another bubble bath.

Room service breakfast is a trifle in the big scheme of things–nothing compared with the major joys and sorrows of life.  But daily life is made up of a lot of little things, so many of them stressful and tiring and beyond our control.  Why not tip the balance the other way just a bit, whenever we get the chance?

In the immortal words of Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile it might pass you by.”

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