As far as I’m concerned, fall is officially here once my birthday arrives. Yes, I know it’s technically ten days later, but there’s just no way I will acquiesce to having a “summer birthday.” No, my birthday happens when the weather has started to cool, when you still feel warm in the noonday sun but feel completely comfortable with a light jacket and decorative scarf at night, when you are no longer suffering from the 100 degrees inside your stuffy, non-air-conditioned apartment. Yes, fall is finally here. This means something else grand happens too: everything is coming up pumpkin.
It’s like a switch flipped in my brain. I immediately wanted to start making pumpkin eats and had a strong craving to try my hand at incorporating the gourd into pancakes. A quick Google search revealed this recipe from Tales of an Overtime Cook. It seemed easy enough and even though I didn’t have white whole wheat flour on hand, I knew I could easily substitute all-purpose flour instead. The only thing I would change is that I would add more salt. The pancakes were lacking just a little…something. When I’m missing that unidentifiable thing, I usually find out that a little bit of salt does the trick. Instead of a pinch, I would try a quarter teaspoon and go from there. Otherwise, these pancakes were fantastic. They had a nice heft without the density you might expect from a mashed vegetable. The oats got a little crunchy and added a nice textural difference. And the spices, well, you can never go wrong with the quartet of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice. (I added the allspice, because the quartet needs to be complete!)
With the pancakes, I made a ridiculously simple side dish of Sautéed Apples with Bacon. This comes from Joy of Cooking, but is so easy that it doesn’t actually require a recipe. I can tell you it right now: First, cook some bacon in a pan, however much you want depending on how many people are eating. I did three slices for the two of us (Mindy and me) and had some leftover. Peel and slice some apples (again, I did three) into medium-ish sized slices. When the bacon is done, remove it and, if resulting grease is excessive, some of the rendered fat. Cook the apples in the remaining fat until soft, about 20-30 minutes. Sprinkle with brown sugar and add the cooked bacon back to the pan. Done and done. You get this started and give it a stir every once in a while, and get on to flipping your pancakes. It’s easy and delicious, which is just how I like it.
1 cup white whole wheat flour (all-purpose is fine if that’s all you have)
1/2 cup rolled oats (old fashioned)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch ground nutmeg
Pinch ground ginger
Pinch ground allspice
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup canned pumpkin purée (not pumpkin pie filling)
2 tablespoons canola oil
3/4 cup milk (I used almond milk, because it’s what I have, but whatever’s in your refrigerator is fine)
Heat a large frying pan over medium heat.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, oatmeal, baking power, spices and sugar. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until combined.
Grease the pan with a small amount of oil or butter. When the pan is hot enough, spoon about 1/2 cup of the batter onto the frying pan and spread it slightly into a circle.
When the pancakes are set on top, flip it and cook for a couple of minutes more until both sides are golden brown. Top with maple syrup, honey, nuts, fruit, or whatever your heart desires.
Tourist for a Day
Something that I’m reminded of every time I go to visit another city is that I need to be more a tourist in my own. No, I don’t mean not being able to cross the street with the light, walking four-abreast down Michigan Ave., or blindly thinking the only stop on the red line is Addison and no one else needs to exit earlier. I mean that we have fantastic things right here in Chicago and I need to take advantage of them more often.
As a sort of belated birthday celebration, Mindy and I decided to do just that with a visit to Grant Park, the Shedd Aquarium, and Northerly Island, finished with dessert at Hot Chocolate in Wicker Park. (The last thing is not touristy, I know, but I had come for brunch before and I really wanted to try their desserts.) Here are a few photos from our excursion.
First up: Buckingham Fountain. I know I’ve seen the fountain before, but I don’t remember it being quite so massive. It is ridiculously large and you cannot even tell from this picture.
Next: the Shedd Aquarium, for which I used the pass I won. I have to say, the pass price here is a little exorbitant. Sure, it was fun, but it wasn’t $30 worth of fun. Here is a picture of a jellyfish.
Then: on to Northerly Island, where I’ve really been wanting to get some cool sunset photos. While waiting for the sun to do its thing, we started making a list of activities we want to do and places we want to explore. (I may not be up for a transatlantic flight just yet, but there are plenty of closer places I want to see.) Alas, it wasn’t much of a sunset that night and it was windy and freezing to boot. I got some decent photos, but I may have to go back soon and try to catch a more picturesque sky.
After a quick dinner at Chik-Fil-A (I know, I know…my pro-gay marriage stance should steer me clear but I don’t go there often and if loving Chik-Fil-A is wrong, I don’t want to be right) we hopped on the blue line and fortuitously nabbed seats at the Hot Chocolate bar right away. This is how hosts should do it: tell me it’ll be an hour wait and then inform me ten minutes later a table has opened up. I guarantee you I’ll be happier than if it happens the other way around.
We ordered the doughnuts, which were warm and fluffy and rich from the brioche dough. They were the best doughnuts ever, and this is coming from someone who doesn’t really like doughnuts.
We also ordered the milk chocolate3, which is described as “milk chocolate and bourbon barrel smoked sugar cake, Tcho chocolate mousse, whiskey milk chocolate butter cream, chocolate cake ice cream, fresh cocoa nib cream.” Everything about that sounds delicious, doesn’t it? For two bourbon loving girls, it was a must. Our doughnuts came out first and we each ate one. Then we waited for our next dessert, the one we really wanted to try. And we waited. And we waited. Finally I asked the bartender about it and he admitted that he had forgotten to put it in. It arrived shortly thereafter and we dug in…only to be sorely disappointed. There was nothing special about that dessert. There was no hint of the whiskey and what I assume were burnt sugar crisps tasted exactly like that – burnt sugar. The cocoa nib cream was so unpleasant that I thought it must actually be coconut cream (which I do not like) and that I had misread the menu.
When the bartender asked how it was, we confessed our disappointment. “We don’t love it,” I said, and we listed everything we didn’t like. Fortunately, the bartender did right by us, saying that he refused to charge us for a dessert that came late and that we didn’t even like. And that, dear restaurants, is how you placate an unhappy customer and encourage them to come back another time.
The dessert debacle and the cold notwithstanding, it was a good day. Despite my seemingly constant complaints about tourists, it was fun to pretend to be one for a little while. There are tons of things to see in Chicago and I intend to have more tourist days in the future. Where else better to see things from another viewpoint than in the city I love?