While I’ve never been the biggest Valentine’s Day fan around, I do like celebrating holidays–and especially ones that lead to massive cuts in chocolate prices at drugstores and other such venues. So, with that fortuitous event in mind, I wish you all a happy, happy Valentine’s Day!
And, really, despite the unnecessary hoopla that surrounds Valentine’s Day (ok, perhaps my unfair bias really stems from those nasty little heart candies that look like they should taste so good, but, when you put them in your mouth, make you and your childhood self–the only self that will eat them because, yes, knowledge is power– want to run from such gushy phrases as “Be Mine” and “You are Sweet” forever), there is something nice about it–at least the thought of making homemade Valentine’s Day cards, using glitter and glue and perhaps baking–or making–something to show somebody that you care. Then again, who needs a designated day to do such things?
I do, however, recognize that my musings are probably ruining it for the rest of you. So, I’ll stop. I’ll go back to my happy and low-key Valentine’s Day breakfast of Rice Krispies (on this front, my childish delight at hearing them snap, crackle and pop is never diminished) and overly strong, just-how-I-like-it coffee. And I’ll also make you all love me again and forget my spoil-sport musings by telling you about what I had for breakfast yesterday, which, frankly, was my version of Valentine’s Day this year. It’s much easier to be celebratory on a Sunday than on a rainy, “let’s all go back to work” Monday.
This is, on an unrelated note, the vanilla that my dissertation advisor gave to me a few weeks ago. I was very intrigued when she told me she had something for me, more than a little scared when she asked in her charming Russian accent, “you are always baking, right?” and then nothing less than thrilled when she pulled this bottle of homemade vanilla out of her bag for me. I did, however, try to talk her into keeping it, telling her that it’s never too late to learn to bake or that it would go well in a breakfast polenta if her cooking was limited to breakfast foods, but, finally, after hearing that her cooking was limited to instant oatmeal, I accepted it humbly. And, needless to say, I will use it well.
It even got to play a role in this meal since, naturally, being a woman obsessed, pancakes were on the menu. And not just any pancakes, but healthy pancakes that offer more than the chewy cake-like texture. These were crispy and golden and, more importantly, not at all sweet…at least not until I drizzled honey on them and topped them off with sweet and slightly tart blueberries (the blueberry gods must be shining on CA a little earlier than usual this year…or these are just a rare February find; in either case, you won’t hear me complaining).
But who am I kidding? Honey and blueberries aside, what really made it for me was the heaping cup of pine nuts I poured into the batter. When in doubt, texture is key. It just turns out that pine nuts are the perfect complement to cornmeal’s mushiness.
Cornmeal Pancakes With Vanilla and Pine Nuts
From Mark Bittman’s now defunct and much-missed “The Minimalist“
Yields 4 servings
1 1/2 cups fine or medium cornmeal (I used white instead of yellow)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup milk, or more as needed
2 Tbsp. vegetable or olive oil, plus more for frying
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup pine nuts
Honey, for serving
-Combine the cornmeal, salt and 1 1/2 cups boiling water in a bowl and let it sit until the cornmeal absorbs the water and softens, 5 to 10 minutes. (you might want to stir it lightly so that the water reaches the bottom)
-Stir in the milk, a little at a time, until the batter is spreadable but still thick.
-Stir in 2 tablespoons oil, the vanilla and the pine nuts.
-Put a large skillet or griddle over medium heat.
-When a few drops of water dance on its surface, add a thin film of oil and let it become hot. (follow these instructions carefully because, without the necessary amount of oil, these aren’t going to achieve the necessary crunch. And, trust me, you want them to be crunchy)
– Spoon out the batter, making any size pancakes you like.
-Cook until bubbles form on the top and burst and the underside is golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes.
-Turn and cook on the other side until golden.
-You may have to rotate the cakes to cook them evenly, depending on the heat source and pan.
-Serve with honey.