Superlatives are so completely overrated. I mean when, exactly, are exceptional, outstanding, superior, extraordinary, actually warranted? I'm the first to admit I fall victim, now and again, but I'm going to get off on the right foot this time. No puffery, I promise, when describing this past weekend.
This past weekend in New York City.
Alone, together. Just for fun. For the first time in eleven years.
It was nice.
There's a biggish park there, maybe you know it?, with some trees and pretty paths and stones for climbing. Good place for a stroll. Especially if the weather's decent, say sunny, breezy, 82° with an edge. Ordinary October stuff.
If you stroll far enough, you might notice a little museum up ahead. Worth a visit, if you're so inclined. I spent a week there once, in my twenties, open to close (no exaggeration). But feel free to just pop in, if only to sit a minute. Some of the benches have good views.
The paintings aren't bad, either.
Watching Spiderman duke it out with Green Goblin was nifty. Stumbling onto the impromptu post-it note memorial to Steve Jobs was memorable. Lady Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, still there. I checked.
Walking Manhattan up and down, east '50's to west '20's, Battery Park to Chinatown, City Bakery to Le Pain Quotidien, without a single small whine, was sort of novel.
(Big whines don't count. But it bears mention: flip-flops top out around mile fifteen.)
Stepping into PurlSoho, after pixel-shopping for years, was what I think is called an experience. Like entering a warm-fuzzy kaleidescope, the 4-D model. Or a pop-up Met, accordion-folded into a shoebox. Neat.
Flying in a plane like a grown-up was a touch weird. My bags and I both felt sort of odd, empty. I am apparently unaccustomed to travelling without snacks, and sippy cups, and seventeen activities and forty-two distractions.
I'm a quick learner. I got over it.
(Sometimes, travelling light on the street is also peachy. Thank you, Hipstamatic. You're pretty keen.)
Selecting meals based on hunger instead of, say, blood-sugar-levels-are-crashing-QUICK!-where's-the-nearest-bad-pizza-joint?, is fun. And tasty. Particularly when said meal includes words like 'moules' et 'frites', and reservations that begin when bedtime stories ordinarily end.
Who was reading said stories? And where exactly were the six little ears?
Back in Ohio, of course, playing with my friend Annette, not much noticing we were gone. She stayed over with the kiddos for three days. Had to fly out from Seattle first to do so, seeing as that's where she calls home.
Typical 'that's what friends are for' material.
Being a good friend myself, I intend to pay her back, naturally. I did pick up a leash, a dashing orange, monkey-dotted leash at that. But it's for her beagle Charlie, which might technically mean it doesn't count.
So I thought a plate of pancakes might settle the score. Procrastinated pancakes, promised back in May, but hey. Five months isn't so long. Between friends.
We made some of these the last time Annette came, because, I think, I hadn't set any oats to soak. These being ricotta pancakes, a longstanding favorite in our pancake rotation.
(Oh dear. You do have a pancake rotation, don't you? I may have entered awkward territory, here. I am deeply loyal to friends and family, but am no pancake monogamist. These oatmeal lovelies are our go-to's, but I believe a person needs at least as many pancakes as shoes. [Maybe more.] Pancake as genre contains so many possibilities, so many personalities, it seems a shame to never look up. Especially when there are ethereal ricotta hotcakes to be had.)
I'm never quite sure how to describe these, as nothing quite gets at their inner soul. I usually fumble through some bad cheesecake-pancake comparison, because they contain twice as much ricotta as flour. There's some truth to this, too, a custard quality, a dairy sweetness. But unlike those dense wedges, there's a lightness, here, a loft, that is unlike any other pancake I know. There's a small, always-packed set of cafés here in town, that serve these under the alias Cloud Nine Pancakes. This seems as good a description as any. And any heavenly hyperbole, well, their words, not mine.
As for me, I love them best under a veil of melted butter, and a restrained drip-drop of maple syrup. I would, however, be remiss if I didn't mention that my children love them most with tiny chocolate chips stirred in. I tried this this morning, just to double-check, and it led to some interesting pre-eight-a.m. declarations. I was pleased, but not surprised, to hear Henry exclaim, "Mom, you are THE. MOST. AMAZING. COOK." He's my passionate child, inclined to ALL CAPS, equally enamored of a drive-through cheeseburger. But when Max (whose highest praise, rarely issued, is "...fine...") said, "These are the best pancakes ever!", I took note.
I will not go nearly so far as that, because they are just pancakes, after all, not world peace. But I did then have a small stack myself, and I must say, it was nice.
adapted from Nigella Lawson, Forever Summer
I love the fresh, hand-dipped ricotta that is increasingly popping up in stores, but the standard red-and-green variety will work swimmingly, also—just make sure it is whole milk. Because eggs vary in size and ricotta varies in water content, the milk quantity varies; see recipe for end texture. And a final, heartfelt plug for the cooking of them: a gloss of melted butter and splash of oil (to prevent burning) are nine-tenths of great-pancakery. No spritz of cooking spray can touch the crisp whisper crust of a proper, butter-burnished disc. A bit slower, this three-at-a-time system, but so worth it.
And a note to the gluten-free: given the high ricotta:flour ratio, I've long suspected these would make fine gluten-free candidates: substitute oat flour for wheat, and you may just have a winner. Do let me know, if you do.
9 ounces (1 cup + 2 tablespoons) whole milk ricotta
3/4 cup flour
1/2-3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
Crack eggs into medium bowl, and stir briefly with a fork. Add ricotta and flour, and stir again, until ricotta clumps are broken down and flour is combined, 30 seconds. Add baking powder, salt, and sugar, and stir briefly to combine. Add milk, beginning with 1/2 cup, adding up to an additional 1/4 cup, to reach the consistency of very light, creamy mashed potatoes.
In a well-seasoned or non-stick skillet, over medium-low heat, melt a knob of butter and a dribble of canola oil until foam recedes. Drop small dollops of batter (I use my 2 tablespoon ice cream scoop)—these are a bit fragile, and benefit from a smaller, dollar-pancake size. Cook low and slow, over medium-low heat, until cloud cakes bubble around edges and toward the centers, also, and are golden on the bottom, 3-5 minutes. Gently flip, and cook reverse until golden, 1-2 minutes. Eat hot, preferably in the company of friends.