Instructions for living a life: 
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it. -Mary Oliver (Wild Geese“)

I try my best to live these words on a daily basis, and, thanks to this blog, I think I’m most successful when it comes to number 3; I certainly do a lot of telling and think that my life is all the better for it. Through food, I’ve created some kind of record of my experiences.  I also like to think that I’m astonished often enough–on most days, I find myself snapping pictures of seemingly unremarkable things that maybe seem ordinary, but enchant me in some small way.  Maybe it’s the play of light, maybe it’s the hour of the day, maybe I just need, in that instant when I pick up my camera, the everyday objects with which I surround myself to be interesting again.  Needing alone can be half the battle. But, when it comes to “paying attention,” I think this is where I struggle the most.

I am, for better or for worse, simply one of those people who has an ongoing list of things to do running through her head. Even while I’m engaged in some task, I’m usually thinking of what will come next, what I’ll be doing tomorrow and, in some cases, even what I’ll be doing next year! It’s really difficult for me to embrace the words that, even if true, have become a cliche: “to live in the moment.” I have discovered, however, that cooking is usually the time when I’m most aware. It may be because cooking can be hazardous if you don’t give it at least 99.9% of your attention, but I like to think that it’s more because it’s an all-embracing sensory experience that forces you to smell, touch, see, taste and listen for sizzles and pops.

But even so, this past weekend the pile of things I needed to do intruded upon my quiet Sunday morning breakfast-making ritual.  Since we’re leaving for Greece this upcoming Sunday, I was thinking about laundry, a haircut, correspondence I needed to take care of, the dissertation, the article and, of course, the blog, too. My mind wasn’t quite where it should have been, which was on the recipe for a pancake that I had found at our B&B in Tahoe: a cross between a Dutch Baby, a thin, puffy pancake that looks like a bit like an inflated crepe, and a Finnish cottage cheese pancake (Mokki Pannukakku).  Given my obsession with both pancakes and Finnish food, it seemed only fitting that I add this recipe to my ever-growing collection of breakfast recipes.

As I reread the recipe, however, I realized I’d have to make some modifications. It called for the ingredients to be mixed in a blender, which I don’t have; I’ll admit that I’m sometimes a bit of a snob when it comes to these things and I’d rather mix the ingredients myself than let a machine do it for me. It must be because of my inner do-it-yourself girl. I also noticed that the recipe didn’t call for any salt, which struck me as strange, so I added some. Then I go to thinking that instead of sugar, agave would work nicely….All this was happening as I was snapping pictures–it’s been ages since this blog has seen a proper breakfast post!– and enjoying the way the shadows from the tulips the Greek had given me could be seen on the ingredients.

I mixed the wet ingredients with the dry, added it to the butter-coated cast-iron skillet (as a sidenote, this thing has fast become my favorite kitchen object with which to cook. Seriously, what could be better than a skillet that works on the stove and in the oven? It may be a lot of work to keep it properly seasoned–I once read an article in which it was compared to caring for a puppy–but it’s worth it…just like a puppy would be) and put it in the oven….I had a niggling thought that the texture didn’t seem to be quite right; it looked a little too thick to be a Dutch Baby, but I figured that maybe this was due to the addition of the cottage cheese. And then I was puzzled by its cooking speed:  it cooked in 15 minutes, when it was supposed to take about 30…But it was delicious, light and fluffy and slightly sweet–in a way, more like a sweet egg frittata with crispy edges than like a pancake.

After breakfast, I took another look at the recipe to see if I had done something wrong and then it hit me: I had forgotten to add the two cups of milk! These two cups would have thinned out the batter. They would have increased the cooking time. I remember having had every intention of adding them, but then somewhere between snapping a photo and melting the butter, the milk never even made it out of the fridge. But I can’t say that the recipe was incomplete without them; it simply led to something different, but no less wonderful. In a way, I guess you could say that I was so busy being astonished by those tulips that I forget to pay attention. I think this is proof that not only is balance hard to achieve, but also that sometimes, by not paying attention, we discover something unexpected. Also, I now can’t help but think that maybe it really can be better to sometimes hold the milk.
A Cottage Cheese “Dutch Baby”, or a Sweet Cheese Frittata*
Yields 6-8 pie-size servings
Adapted from Tahoma Meadows Cottages B&B Cottages
5 eggs
1 Tbsp. agave nectar 
1 cup flour
1 cup cottage cheese
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 cup butter
1 Tbsp. melted butter
1 Tbsp. light brown sugar, for sprinkling on top
2 cups milk (optional)

-Preheat oven to 425 F.
-In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder. 

-In a medium-sized bowl, add the cottage cheese, agave nectar, eggs and the 1 tablespoon of melted butter.
-Mix the wet ingredients into the dry, taking care not to over-mix. Mix only until just combined and you can see no loose bits of flour. 
-Melt 1/4 cup butter in a cast-iron skillet. 
-Once the butter is melted, move the pan around so that it coats the sides, as well as the bottom.
-Then, pour in the butter and sprinkle with the brown sugar. 
-Place in the oven and, if without milk, bake for about 12-15 minutes or until golden on top. If you’ve added the milk, it should take 25-35 minutes or until puffy and golden. 
-Cut into pie-like slices and serve with fresh fruit and maple syrup, agave or honey.

*This recipe almost defies classification, although I promise that, regardless of what it technically is, it makes for a lovely breakfast.

4 thoughts on “Astonishment Trumps Attention: Almost a Dutch Baby

  1. This sounds fabulous! I will definitely have to try this soon. I don't have a cast iron skillet, but I think I can find a work around. I think I'm going to start telling people that I'm a snob and that's why I mix by hand (rather than the truth: that I'm too lazy to wash the gadget pieces). 😀

  2. I love cottage cheese, I love eggs, and I rarely have milk — so this looks like a perfect breakfast for me. The idea of having them on the sweeter side sounds delicious! I think a handful of sweet corn could be a great addition to this, if I am imagining the flavors properly.
    Yum! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Washing each and every part of each and every gadget can be exhausting! Whether snobbery or laziness, it's still the good old-fashioned way. 🙂

    Hope you like the pancake!

  4. Glad to know there are other closet cottage cheese lovers out there! I often find that it's unjustly despised.

    And I think you're onto something with the addition of sweet corn–the texture, I think, is open to crunchy additions. 🙂 I'd be interested to know how it turns out if you make it and try it with the corn!

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