Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Perfect Pancakes: with bacon fat

I think I've hit on my perfect pancake recipe. The proportion of whole grains, including cornmeal, gives it a balanced flavor and a texture that is hearty and chewy while still light enough. Bacon fat is commonly used in place of butter in this household, since we keep a constant supply in the fridge of strained grease leftover from cooking bacon. It won't overpower but rather enhance, especially with maple syrup on top.

Whole Grain Pancakes with Bacon Fat
1 1/2 tsp bacon fat (or butter)
1 1/2 tsp honey
1 egg
3/4 cup plus 1 tbsp milk

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder

additional bacon fat (or butter) for frying
maple syrup

Take out your fat of choice, whether it be bacon fat or butter. Scoop out 1 1/2 tsp into a mixing bowl and give it 5 or 10 minutes to soften. In the meantime, you can get out the remaining ingredients, grease a 1/4 measuring cup, and put your cast iron pan over a low heat to warm up.

Combine the honey, egg and milk into the fat. Add the dry ingredients and stir to combine until it's a smooth batter. To the pan, add enough bacon fat to coat the bottom. It should quickly melt and slightly bubble. Run your finger under the faucet and then flick it over the pan - when it sizzles, it's hot enough.

Using your well greased 1/4 measuring cup, scoop out batter. Pour it into the pan with a steady hand and let the batter flow outward to create a perfectly round pancake. When the pancake edges start to curl under and bubble, flip it over and cook for an additional few minutes until both sides are browned. Store pancakes in a covered dish or oven to keep warm until they're all cooked and ready to serve with maple syrup.

Makes 8 medium sized pancakes

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Birding in Jamaica Bay

Not only does Jamaica Bay offer camping, as I was surprised to learn last summer, it is also home to one of the country's largest bird sanctuaries. We headed out there on Mother's Day. The air smelled clean and salty, as if we'd left the city behind. From the visitor center, it's an easy mile and a half walk circling a pond, with the bay water on one side and the marsh and shrubby vegetation on the other. Ducks and geese abound, but so do plenty of other birds. Bring binoculars to spot them all, as well as bird watching lovers. I'm no good at finding and identifying birds, so I'm always impressed by people who can. They pointed out ospreys in their constructed wooden nests, egrets, a green heron, yellow warblers and others I can't remember. We stopped so often to look at birds that we had to turn around after only making it a quarter way around in order to make a dinner reservation on time. We drove there, but it would also be a nice day trip by bike.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Tips for Entertaining in Small Spaces

The apartment I'm living in now with my boyfriend is a 400 square foot one bedroom. It may not be as difficult as Erin's life in 250 square feet, but it still requires some creativity to make it work. 

For example, we both love to entertain. I often hear people complain that their apartment is too small to have people over but as I've mentioned before, I don't let that stop me. In this apartment, I've discovered two tips that make it possible to entertain in a small space: 1 - rearrange furniture and 2 - have convertible furniture.

We are lucky enough to have an open kitchen/living space that allows us to rearrange as needed. We also both inherited quality wood dining tables that can expand or contract as needed. Mine has extra leaves that can be added, and his can be folded into a small narrow side table.

For dinner parties, the couch is pushed against the wall with an accompanying coffee table. Then, our two dining tables can be fully expanded and pushed together in the middle of the room, in total providing seating for nearly 10 people. Or for bigger parties, the tables can be folded up out of the way against the walls or bookshelves to create open space for dancing and mingling.

When the party's over, the couch goes back into its place in front of the TV, one table folds back into  a side table next to the couch, and the extra leaf comes out of the other dining table, returning to a table for two.

All that rearranging might seem like a pain, but that's just how life is in NYC. And you might be surprised at how many people you can actually fit in your apartment, if you try.