Journey to Disappointment
What’s Panera without the bread? No cure for a hangover, that’s for sure.
As it unfailingly does at this time of year, fall has come to New England, and so this morning Mr. Slattern and I rose before dawn to head north for a squint at the leaves. As the alarm sounded at 6 am, it occurred to me that undertaking a 500 mile drive just a few hours after returning home from a festive evening wedding was perhaps ill-advised, but we were committed to this course, and so there was no question of not pursuing it, hangover be damned. And I had one goddamned hangover, let me tell you.
Of course, at a wedding — especially one that involves two superbly matched, uber-fun queens of fabulosity like our pals Robin and Jen — the champagne should flow like water, and though Mr. Slattern refused a tipple from my slipper, a good time was still had by all. I even allowed myself a big old slice of wedding cake (an indescribably sinful and delicious homemade coconut confection with cream cheese icing, sigh) in direct contradiction of the Feelbad diet plan, aka dinner at Gitmo. I figured I’d probably be incapable of eating for a couple days anyway, so what the heck, I had a brownie and an éclair too.
So anyways, by about 11 am, Mr. Slattern and I both felt like we’d been up for about a week and decided that a little sustenance was in order. Unfortunately neither of us was fit for public view for reasons previously alluded to, so a leisurely lunch at the Old Port Sea Grill was out of the question. Besides, we were in a hurry. So we decided to drop off the highway and go foraging for reasonable fast fare, which is how we ended up at Panera Bread at the ungodly hour of 11:30 am.
Mistake number one. Well two actually, since I guess you’d have to count my appropriation of a full champagne bottle from the waiter and subsequent request for a straw the night before as the first step on this particular trip to hell.
In any case, it’s been a while since we were on this kind of meal schedule, like about sixteen years, which is why I guess we had forgotten that when you eat lunch well before noon your fellow diners will mostly be under five or over 90. Kids I don’t mind so much, provided they’re cute and silent, but as previously documented, the active seniors tend to get up my nose, unless they’re built along the lines of my Grammie Florence, who is still a head turner and party favorite as she approaches age ninety. But of course, she’s the exception rather than the rule.
We spent about eight hours in line behind a foursome with a combined age of about 420 who had lots of querulous questions about free refills and senior discounts. (They all ordered soup in bread bowls, the mere thought of which nearly made me vomit as wet bread disgusts me.) Finally though, we put in our order, received our complimentary Panera vibrator and picked our way across the dining room to a reasonably clean table by the window, which was a tad bright for my liking, but at least was well off the flight plan of the cookie-fueled preschooler whose mother was deeply involved in a phone conversation about what Stan was going to do with all that money and why he shouldn’t spend it on that whore he’d gone ahead and married even though his entire goddamned family had told him it would be a mistake verging on a crime to do so. Maine, the way life should be.
Anyway, the vibra-pager eventually lit up and we retrieved our food. Mr. Slattern’s turkey and avocado sandwich was entirely acceptable, even tasty. It came with a pickle and an apple, which made for a satisfying lunch that left him fueled up and ready to drive the remaining three hours. My Panera dining experience, however, was considerably less spectacular, consisting as it did of chicken and avocado atop a Cobb salad made of previously frozen romaine, tasteless tomatoes and some kind of chopped egg product, in which the texture of both the yolk and the white reminded me more of Peeps than anything chicken-related I have ever encountered. Perhaps it’s a seasonal thing, putting Peep eggs into a salad; however, one would expect to see that at Easter rather than harvest time. And as the gag inducing egg bits were both indistinguishable and inseparable from the bleu cheese crumbles, I eventually just gave up and lunched on the chicken and avocado. Don’t even get me started on the “vinaigrette.” The apple, however, was delicious.
As for the hangover, a day of green tea and Alka Seltzer eventually put paid to the nausea, which is a good thing because we’ve got party guests at the cottage, and they always stop at the wine store before they arrive.
Sunday Morning Pancakes: Of buttermilk and hangovers
Has this ever happened to you? It’s Sunday morning and you wake up with a yen for pancakes. Perhaps you overindulged the night before and need a little bulk to face the day. Or maybe you overindulged then picked a fight with your husband and are feeling just a tad guilty. It may even be that your in-laws are visiting and you’d rather cook than discuss the Sunday papers, your “drinking problem” or how you can be such a bitch to their golden boy who is also the perfect husband. Maybe it’s all three, not that I’d know much about that. Anyhoo, whatever the reason, it is safe to say that when we crave pancakes (or white cake, or biscuits, or whatever) it’s best that the monkey be fed. For everyone.
So as I was saying, there you are on Sunday morning, all ready to whip up a batch of the best when you realize the recipe calls for half a cup of buttermilk, which of course you do not have. I for one don’t even know what buttermilk is, nor do I care enough to bother to find out, and I certainly wouldn’t waste valuable cold storage space – space that is required to keep champagne at the ready and at least one bottle of white in reserve – on buttermilk, which only comes in quarts and will have to be located and thrown out in three months after I’ve forgotten all about it and it’s gone rancid and is stinking up the kitchen.
Now I know what you’re thinking – there’s no buttermilk in the instructions on the Aunt Jemima box. I thought we understood each other on the issue of baking mixes by now. Well all I can say is once you’ve had scratch pancakes, which are about the easiest thing in the world to make, you will never go back to the nasty, grainy, plastic ones from the box, no matter how kindly and reassuring the face under the headscarf may be. And I’m not even going to get into buckwheat pancakes. Why in the name of all that’s holy would anyone eat those?
Here’s the good news: there is no need to have buttermilk on hand, or go out searching for it at odd hours while trying to conceal your pajamas under your trench coat, as long as you keep powdered buttermilk on hand. Oh yes, it comes in powdered form, just like the dry milk you use in bread machine recipes. Saco makes it, and there’s even an organic version available from the good folks at Organic Valley. You can order it online, it never goes bad and you keep it in the pantry.
Alternatively, you can substitute either of the following for a cup of buttermilk:
- For each cup of buttermilk, pour a tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice into a one-cup measure and fill with milk, then let it sit for ten minutes or so.
- Drop a heaping tablespoon or so of plain yogurt into a one-cup measure and fill with milk. Mix and use immediately.
For those of you who can’t be bothered with any of the above, here’s my no-buttermilk recipe. Although buttermilk pancakes are best, the regular milk version is still head and shoulders above anything from a mix. This recipe is utterly foolproof and goes a long way toward getting those pesky in-laws
off your back happily fed on a Sunday morning.
No Panic Pancakes (makes about 10 smallish pancakes)
In a bowl, mix:
- 1 cup all purpose flour (don’t even think about whole wheat)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 beaten egg
- 1 cup milk (whole is best, low fat will do, skim only in an emergency)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil (or use melted butter, which I prefer). Almond oil is also nice for a slightly nutty flavor.
Stir until just blended and still a little lumpy, then cook on a hot, oiled griddle as usual.
A note on additives: If you’re adding fruit, and this is important, don’t add it to the batter in the bowl. Instead, sprinkle each pancake with the fruit (or chocolate chips, which are delicious with bananas or strawberries, btw) right after you pour the batter on the griddle, then flip.
And now, for those of you who have hung on to the bitter end, a little John Malkovich to go with your flapjacks.