Photo: Sarah Henry
Spring Break plans went pear-shaped, work and other obligations thwarted my best efforts to plan a mini-break with my son. I was feeling a bit sorry for him (truth be told: both of us). We were just going to tool around town during his week off.
It didn’t help that others in our circle had some pretty big adventures in store. One friend flew to Tokyo to take in all things Japanese anime related — an abiding interest of most of the 10-year-old boys I know. Another went snorkeling on the Big Island. A third headed for the mountains to snowboard. Others hit the desert.
Even if I’d been able to swing a getaway it would have been modest, given the economic times. But hello, how did you spend your school vacations? One of six, I recall staying at home annoying my siblings, romping around the backyard, reading endlessly, and getting creative when boredom set in. This pressure to constantly provide your kids with stimulating experiences seems a peculiarly modern parenting concern — and one only available to the affluent, I might add.
So I got over my pity party pretty quickly. It was made easier by the fact that over winter we spent a month in Australia. (It’s not quite like how it sounds. You won’t find us snorkeling on the Barrier Reef or roaming around the Outback. There’s lots of visiting with family and friends in suburban Sydney. Okay, Gabe did catch a wave with a dolphin one day. But I think the highlights of the trip for him included playing Guitar Hero, discovering hard-rock Aussie legends AC/DC, and watching his older cousins consume copious quantities of alcohol during the festive season.)
Early in the Spring Break week, my son helped me see the simple virtue of a staycation. He loved lolling around in pjs for much of the morning reading books, and catching up with friends he doesn’t get to see much during the school year. We took day trips to places we never seem to find time to visit on the weekends because of the martial arts-baseball-birthday party-sleepover shuffle. All good.
It didn’t hurt that the weather grew more gorgeous as the week went on. This time last year my son and I marveled at the appearance of a family of owls on the hiking trail I routinely climb. We spent the spring tracking their progress. First the mom and dad shared the task of sitting on the eggs. Once the babies hatched, the parents took turns leaving the nest in search of food for this trio of fuzzy little creatures. We followed their babyhood intently, as did many regular hill walkers — along with an army of photographers and owl lovers who emerged once word got out that something both ordinary and magical was happening up on the hill.
Flickr photo by Doug Greenberg used under the Creative Commons license
Gabe was delighted to watch nature in the wild. He’d just studied owls at school. So he’d spot the fledglings in their nest and then rattle off a bunch of owl factoids. After a few weeks I realized these fragile, fluffy young ones with the big eyes had taken on greater significance in my mind. It wasn’t lost on me that the parents shared nesting duties 50-50, closely mimicking my own new domestic situation. I found myself willing those baby owls to survive and thrive in this configuration. They did.
What a difference a year makes. Easter weekend we picnicked on a windswept beach and taught a gaggle of kids the joys of beach cricket. We joined in an egg hunt on a spectacularly sunny day in the woods by a lake. My sweet son shared his chocolate loot with a couple of girls whose families were forsaking the sweet stuff this year as an economic conservation measure during uncertain times.
And, of course, we made a special breakfast. I grew up with hot cross buns on Easter morning. Plump, yeasty buns, dotted with raisins, glazed and crossed on top, toasted and served with lashings of butter. Try as I might, I’ve never been able to replicate these treats in the Bay Area, even though some bakeries make a reasonable facsimile of these baked goods. Most are too self-consciously gourmet, though, and thus don’t evoke youthful memories of buns bought from what I now affectionately refer to as nasty Australian cake shops. (As a 15-year-old, I worked in one. We sold such monstrosities as vanilla slice, flaky pastry with icing and a gelatinous rectangle of solidified custard. Don’t get me started.)
Childhood food memories remain strong in the psyche. But part of becoming a grown up is creating your own family food traditions. My son has never cared for hot cross buns anyway; they’re not part of the culture he’s being raised in. Still, Easter breakfast deserves something a little celebratory. And so over the years we seem to have settled on the delicious puffy baked pancake, commonly known as a Dutch Baby, though there’s nothing Dutch or baby-like about this dish.
I first stumbled across it in a well-curated cookbook co-authored by Rick Bayless and his teenage daughter. I interviewed the celeb chef from Chicago for a story on picky eaters. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy. I especially appreciated that his daughter wasn’t one of those kids who would eat truffles, oysters, and every dark, leafy green imaginable, like some offspring of professional cooks. She was, um, quite particular about what would pass through her lips as a young one. So he got what it was like for many of us, who have children with quirky eating habits, be it taste, texture, or the horror of different food groups touching.
The handy thing about this breakfast dish is that it’s easy to make and looks pretty splashy when you serve it up, which gives it special-occasion cred, without a massive outlay of energy first thing in the morning. So, what’s not to like?
Plus, it’s loaded with berries. Need I say more?
Puffy Baked Pancake (also called a Dutch Baby) with Fresh Berries
(Adapted from Rick & Lanie’s Excellent Kitchen Adventures, which is adapted from their French friend Bob’s recipe…you get the idea)
Quick caveat: Do use a 12-inch skillet. I spaced out and used a 9-inch skillet last weekend and the result was a little too eggy in the middle. Oops, sorry Nina.
Photo: Sarah Henry
5 Tablespoons of butter
3/4 cup flour
3 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
Strawberries (cut into pieces), blueberries, blackberries, and/or raspberrries
Powdered sugar for sprinkling
Maple syrup for drenching
1. Adjust the oven rack to the upper third of the oven and preheat to 450 F.
2. Melt butter completely in the 12-inch skillet — one with an oven-proof handle – in the oven for about 5 minutes or so.
3. Mix flour, eggs, milk, & salt in a bowl. Whisk until smooth.
4. Pour batter into skillet. Bake in oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until sides are puffed up and golden brown.
5. Remove from oven. Loosen sides and bottom of skillet with spatula.
6. Slide onto serving plate.
7. Pile fruit in center and sprinkle with powdered sugar via a strainer or shaker.
8. Cut into wedges. Serve with warmed syrup. Watch it disappear.