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Posts Tagged ‘pancakes’

This is the most trying time of year. No doubt. As far as sunlight goes, we’re on the other side of winter; if we can make it through January, we’ll be out of the woods. But the landscape here on the U.S. east coast is still dreary, and the air is still bleak, only to get bleaker before daffodil season. As the days begin to lengthen, the cold begins to strengthen, as the saying goes. Now what?

Well…as long as we still have a couple of months until springtime (a groundhog’s yet-unknown prediction notwithstanding), I vote we pass the time by having fun. And by that I mean having treats—experiencing something every day that guarantees us a smile. Making a point to doing this at least until daffodils do it for us.

Treats can be food, but there are dozens of others I can think of. They’re personal, to be sure; an hour of Grand Theft Auto on the upstairs TV, with the door shut behind you, may spell bliss for you. For someone else, it’s a Sunday nap, cat curled up next to you, sunlight streaming across your legs, the sound of the radiator popping and hissing.

A treat is anything that makes your heart swell, anything that makes you want to splash around in it like Labrador in a kiddie pool. A color. A sound. A smell. What makes you feel 100% in the moment?

Photography does it for me. Four out of five senses gratified in one fell swoop. I get a bang out of putting on my snow boots now and trekking around, looking for beautiful low light or color or patterns in a wet sycamore or snow.

The beach, just a couple of blocks away, is desolate and gorgeous in winter. This shot was taken last February, in the late afternoon light.

This time of year offers more challenges for photographers (and athletes, and all outdoor types), but I have also found opportunities not to shoot the same old thing, not to be cliche, when the light and landscape are so spare. The same stuff you walked past last August doesn’t look the same now. It’s kind of cool.

In Scandinavia, people crave winter. They wait for summer to pass so they can jump into the winter sports they’ve either invented or perfected: skiing, ice skating, ski driving, or ski-joring—that’s fastening your big pooch to a harness, tying a belt around your waist, putting skis on, and letting him cruise you around the neighborhood. Apparently there are groups springing up here in the States, devoted to this most awesome idea. And after a day out in the elements, the Norse have a sauna—their lifeblood.

Doctor Who is a nighttime treat for me, a new one (okay, yes, I’m a late arrival, mock me). I borrowed DVDs of the modern series and am enjoying Chris Eccleston’s impish grin, the cheeseball special effects, and hearing Billie Piper say things like, “Nine-een-ay-ee-seven” (1987).

Back to food, because 1) I can’t veer too far from that topic for long and 2) cooking treats, and eating them, get me through these winter days pretty well.

I know many of us are trying to ease back from holiday overindulgence now, but that’s not I’m talking about when I say ‘treat’. I mean eat healthy most of the time, and allow yourself something yummy from time to time. Being good to yourself is good.

Tonight I’m writing this while checking on my vanilla fudge, which is cooling on the counter. It’s a gift to bring to a party tomorrow, and the smell in the place right now is rich and sweet, warming up this winter night.

Then there’s teatime. A centuries-old institution based on having a civilized treat in late afternoon—why did we ever diss this notion? I love my version: eating really high-end bittersweet chocolate buttons in the teeny cloud-covered bowl I got at a Ben & Jerry’s in D.C., and drinking milk through a straw stuck in the carton. Anglophile I may be; civilized, not so much.

My neighbor, in his late eighties, makes himself blueberry pancakes in his small, not-even-slightly-updated kitchen every Sunday morning without fail. Endearing creature of habit that he is, I suspect he has done so since the mid-fifties when he moved into town. He knows treats are there for the taking, and he makes a point to incorporate them into his life every day.

Life is supposed to be fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong. Even in the winter.

It’s getting late, and the vanilla fudge is finally done. Here it is in the fridge, where it will wait in the cold and dark until morning. Just like us.

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I love pumpkin pie as much as the next chick, really I do. But October has this treat written all over it.

Cider syrup does not come in a jar or a bottle (not that I know of, anyway; and even if it was, this version is probably better just because it’s homemade in your own cute little cucina). You can cook it up in about 20 minutes, your house will smell incredible, and your family will think you’ve been sneaking away for private lessons with the Barefoot Contessa.

Take out a small saucepan and put in 1/2 c sugar, 2 tbsp cornstarch, 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp nutmeg.* Mix it up.

Next add 2 c apple cider, and if you can get it with nothing added, all the better, because the flavor will be more intense.**

Add a couple of apples, peeled and sliced as thickly or as thinly as you like. Use different varieties, if you can get them. Any will do except maybe Macintosh, which tends to plotz in the pan. Hang onto those for applesauce.

Boil, stirring, for one minute. Take it off the heat and add a pat of butter for richness. Stir. Done.

The syrup should be goopy and gorgeously aromatic. It’s great hot over pancakes or waffles, which is how I grew up eating it (Dad would make pancakes with apples in the batter and then we’d spoon this stuff over it). Put a square of hot gingerbread or hot pumpkin bread in a shallow bowl and dump some of this, cold, on top, for breakfast, and you’ll feel like you have nothing to do all day but putter around the bed-and-breakfast wearing Ugg slippers and reading House Beautiful. Or do what I do: put the syrup in a Tupperware, stick it in the fridge until it gets good and cold, then take a spoon to it. Sometimes I feel guilty doing this, knowing full well how many other worthwhile ways I could be enjoying this, but it doesn’t last long.

I just bought little local, organic Bartlett pears from the farmers’ market and am going to try them in a riff off this recipe, with cardamom, my current obsession, substituted for the cinnamon, and pear brandy, steaming hot over vanilla ice cream.  Brown sugar instead of regular granulated sugar would be good too. Any other riffs you can think of? I’m all eyes.

*Saigon cinnamon, available in my local supermarket and possibly in yours, makes such a difference in pungency and fragrance that I don’t bother using any other kind of cinnamon in any of my baking. Same goes for using nutmeg in its original seed form. It’s about the size of a hazelnut, and again, can be found fairly easily. Just grab a cheese grater, or better, one of those neato microplane graters, and grate some right into your bowl. Don’t fret too much about measuring. Yes, you can use ordinary cinnamon and ground nutmeg and get decent results. But only decent.

** NJ shore residents: Don’t fool around and just head straight to Delicious Orchards.

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