Thursday, March 16, 2017

Camping pancakes

We normally stick with eggs and sausage for camping breakfast, but if we have friends joining us I'll take it up a notch with some pancakes. I loathe doing dishes while camping, so I avoid anything that requires mixing on site. Making pancakes ahead of time is tricky because they usually depend on baking soda and/or baking powder as leavening, both of which act quickly and lose power if they sit around. So for camping I rely on a yeasted recipe instead.

Don't expect traditional diner style pancakes here. These are yeasted and allowed to sit for a few days, so they have a tender, almost lacy crumb texture and a slight sourdough flavor. The batter is only lightly sweetened, but they pair beautifully with maple syrup, or with my personal favorite pancake topping - Greek yogurt swirled with jam.

To adapt for camping I put the batter in a gallon ziploc bag. Because the yeast are active little buggers the bag will fill up with CO2, so you do have to remember to open it up and press the air out once or twice a day. When I'm ready to make pancakes, I cut a corner off the bag and use it as a batter dispenser.


camp pancakes

Camping pancakes (serves 4 - 6, original recipe here - scales up easily)

1 teaspoon (about 1/2 package) active dry yeast
2 tablespoons lukewarm water
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups buttermilk, shaken
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons melted butter

Dissolve the yeast in the water and set it aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar.

In another bowl, beat together the buttermilk, eggs and melted butter. Add in the yeast mixture, which should be nice and foamy by now if your yeast is working properly.

Mix the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk just until combined (don't worry about lumps).

Pour the batter into a gallon Ziploc bag and stash it in the cooler. Remember to check on it twice a day to let out pressure or you could end up with a batter explosion on your hands.

When you're ready to cook, heat your griddle to medium, butter it and then snip one corner of the bag off and use it as a pancake dispenser. Cook until bubbles appear on the surface, then flip. Camp stoves aren't precision instruments, so be prepared for the first batch to be a trial run as you adjust the heat. I find that it takes a couple of minutes cooking on each side once the heat is adjusted properly.

Pancake batter should hold up for at least three days. I usually make it on Friday evening or Saturday morning and cook it on Sunday, so I haven't tested the limits of this.

Camping pancakes

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Anza Borrego camping - 2017 edition

We loved our Anza Borrego trip last year so much that we vowed to get a reservation during wildflower season this year. Of course, when you're picking your dates you have no way of predicting the exact week that the flowers will explode. But we booked a site and then some friends booked another site next to us and then other friends booked a third site and pretty soon we had a 25 person camping trip* in the works.

Luckily the timing was pretty good. We didn't see full on fields of color, but there were so many beautiful flowers and it was amazing to see the desert this green for the first time in years. We stayed in Borrego Palm campground again, full review of the campground in my previous post.

desert wildflowers
camping morning
avocado prep
camping breakfast
campground dogs
desert river
desert dog

On our way home we took a detour so we could check out some of the DesertX art installations in and around Palm Springs. Definitely worth getting home a little later than usual.

Doug Aitken - Mirage
Doug Aitken - Mirage
The Circle of Land and Sky - Phillip K Smith III
Claudia Comte - Curves and Zigzags

*In case you're wondering how you coordinate a 25 person camping trip - SHARED SPREADSHEET. Rather than having everyone bring their own food we assigned a certain number of people to each meal and asked people to sign up. Other communal items you should have people sign up to bring - coolers with ice, firewood, french presses, camping stoves. It was really nice sharing out the meal duties because we only had to bring breakfast stuff.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Favorite books of 2016

This title is a little misleading, because these aren't books that were published in 2016, just books I happened to read last year. Because I post regular round ups with eve.ry.thing I'm reading (however humiliating), my lists often include a lot of duds. Rather than make you dig through all of them if you're looking for only good recs (is anyone looking for bad book recommendations?) I thought I'd go back and compile the books I liked.  Also, I clearly planned to get this up in January or even February, but here we are and it's March. Let's roll with it.

2016 books

The standouts:

The Boys of My Youth - Want to re-read this a million times, not exaggerating.
A Manual for Cleaning Women - Killer short story collection.
Pond - Serene, poetic, lovely.
The Angel of History - Heart breaking, gorgeous.
The Argonauts - Read it in one sitting if you can.
The Hand That First Held Mine - Loved this novel about two women living in London at different time periods.
Bastard Out of Carolina - Heart wrenching but so worth it.
Gilead and Home - Loved these. The writing is just so perfect.

Runners up:

Young Skins - Great debut story collection.
When Breath Becomes Air - Gut wrenching and beautiful.
After a While You Just Get Used to It - Mile a minute funny memoir.
A God in Ruins - Kate Atkinson's follow up to Life After Life.
Fates and Furies - Really beautiful and intimate exploration of a marriage.
Mislaid - Weird and fun. Dry humor. Explores gender, sexuality and race.
Between the World and Me - Powerful.
My Name is Lucy Barton - Fragmented and ethereal in the best way.
Into Darkest Corner - Seriously creepy thriller.
The Wonder Garden - Short story collection about a fictional small town. Voyeuristic in a good way.
If I Loved You I Would Tell You This - Well observed short stories.
The City of Mirrors - Last in the Passage trilogy.
Monsters of Templeton - Funny little almost fairytale.
Make Me - Solid Lee Child.
A Spool of Blue Thread - Lovely novel about family relationships.
Now You See Me - first in a series about a female detective in London. Gory.

I'm still in a kind of literary dead zone as far as 2017 goes. I read a couple things in January that now feel like a blur but I should probably dig them up and share them with you. I've been re-reading familiar books for comfort and ease but I'm hoping to dive back into my reading list as my focus (hopefully) improves.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Sugar cubes infused with angostura bitters and orange (aka the instant old fashioned)

I've been contemplating this project for over a year and I finally got around to it over the holidays (and then made a couple more batches for quality control before writing this post). An old fashioned is one of my favorite cocktails, when it's done well (FYI - my current favorite in LA is from Melrose Umbrella Company). In the simplest form it consists of just bourbon, bitters and sugar, although personally I like a strong note of orange in mine so I always add that in.

At home I've played around with various methods and my best version involves an orange infused simple syrup, but that only lasts for a few weeks in the fridge and there are times where I don't feel like pulling out a saucepan just to make a cocktail.

Also, sugar cubes are cute and easily portable (read: camping, flights).

sugar cubes with orange and bitters

I looked pretty extensively online and found a couple of different methods for making your own sugar cubes, but I wanted a way to incorporate that orange flavor that I love. I was originally thinking about buying some orange essence oil and then it suddenly occurred to me that, duh, I am surrounded by fresh oranges this time of year and I should just go straight to the source. So the process starts with making a variation on an oleo saccharum, which is just a fancy way of saying that you're pulling all the delicious oil out of citrus peels. A traditional oleo saccharum has a very high peel to sugar ratio and you basically end up with liquid. I didn't want to go quite that far, so I upped the sugar ratio. After letting the sugar and citrus sit for 24 hours I pull out the peels and add in bitters to taste. The amount of bitters you need will vary widely depending on how sweet your oranges were, so you do have to taste. The first batch I made using oranges from my favorite farmer's market vendor, but they weren't super sweet and I ended up needing very little bitters at the end. The next two batches I made using navel oranges from my parents' tree and those were so sweet that I needed double the amount of bitters. Sorry - I know it's nicer if a recipe can tell you exactly how much of everything to add, but fruit just varies too much. I recommend tasting tiny bites of the sugar mixture as you add in the bitters, and when you think you have it perfect you should mix up a quick old fashioned using the sugar. If it's too bitter, add in a bit more sugar. If it's not bitter enough, keep going. Warning - make scaled down cocktails for tasting and keep in mind that unless your alcohol tolerance is sky high, you won't be able to fine tune it much at this point.

sugar cubes with orange and bitters

I wanted to be able to package them for friends, so I designed a label that would fit inside an Altoids tin because we had those lying around. I washed the tins multiple times with soap so that the peppermint scent was completely gone. If you want to do the same, the printable PDF with the labels is right here (pretty sure this goes without saying, but personal use only, please!). If you don't have a crazy Altoid addiction like us, these blank tins look to be the right size.
Sugar cubes infused with angostura bitters and orange (makes two trays full of tightly packed cubes, plus a bit left over) I use these trays and I love them - each tray makes 81 cubes, so you get 162 cubes per batch, enough for 50 - 80 drinks 
2 cups superfine sugar (I just quickly blitz regular sugar in my food processor)
4 oranges, peeled (you are just using the peels)
Angostura bitters, to taste (somewhere in the range of 15 - 30 dashes) 
Combine the orange peels with the sugar in a non-reactive bowl (glass or enamel, NOT metal) and allow to sit for about 24 hours.  
The next day the sugar should be fairly damp. Pull out the orange peels (it is really tempting to snack on them as you do this, but WAIT - if you snack on orange peels you will totally blow out your taste buds and make the next step harder).  
Start adding bitters. I'd start with 10 dashes, take a tiny taste and see if the flavor is coming through. You're also getting bitter flavor from the orange peels themselves, so a lot depends on your fruit. For early season farmer's market oranges, I used 12 dashes of bitters. For peak season homegrown oranges I needed 25 dashes. If you overshoot, you can add a bit more sugar. 
Once the sugar is adjusted to your taste you start pressing it into the trays. I work on a large sheet of parchment paper and just dump sugar all over the tray, press it in using a wedge shaped offset spatula, and then scoop up the extra that spilled on the parchment and pack that on top. I want these cubes to be as perfectly shaped as possible, so after I fill the whole tray I go back and use the base of a chopstick to tamp each cube down, then add a bit more sugar, then tamp it down again. It's a little fussy, but the whole process still doesn't take more than 15 minutes. 
Allow to dry thoroughly. We had a damp winter, so I actually left the trays in my oven for a couple days so that the pilot light could help speed up the drying process. If you do this I'd recommend putting a huge note on the front of the oven door to remind yourself to pull the trays out before turning on the oven. Speaking from personal experience here. 
Once they're fully dry you just pop them out of the trays and package them up. Store them in a dry, dark place, since they'll lose color more quickly if exposed to light. 
You can use them in an old fashioned (instructions on the printable labels) or just drop one in the bottom of a champagne flute for a quick and pretty cocktail.

You could easily play with this method and make different flavor combinations. I'm thinking of doing a grapefruit and rosemary version for summer cocktails but the possibilities are endless, really.

making the oleo sacchrum
{oleo saccharum in progress}

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Easing back

Thank you, all of you, for the kind comments and emails. The last several weeks have felt very surreal and I'm just adjusting to the new normal.


The only upside to experiencing a string of tragedies is that it's forced me to accept my own limitations. I used to beat myself up a lot when I was having a hard time dealing with things and not being 100% on top of everything but I'm gradually getting better at just riding with it. I know that there will be days when I don't feel like talking or cooking or exercising or reading. Some days all I manage is showering and going to work, but instead of feeling bad about it I remind myself that all I'm required to do right now is sustain myself. And there are plenty of other days where I do cook and clean and see friends and walk the dog and generally function as an adult. It's a bumpy process, and I have to be okay with that.

I'll be back tomorrow with the instructions for the infused sugar cubes I promised forever ago. And yes, I wrote "instructions" and not "recipe" on purpose. Sorry in advance for the huge amount of text but I swear they really aren't that much work, they take some explaining. You'll see.