Recipe

Blueberry Pancakes, SummerStyle

JESSIE and I’ve been planning a brunch getaway for a while, and somehow have been continually forced to postpone the adventure.  Either I’m not in town, or she has play rehearsal; one of the dogs she’s dogsitting gets sick, or I’m double booked.  Sigh.  Anyways, we finally made a plan for today and, in honor of Jessie making it all the way out to Philly and devoting a whole morning to brunch and me, I made the executive decision to pick up blueberries at one of yesterday’s farmers’ markets.

We wanted a quick, satisfying, fruity recipe that would both fill us and give us leave to reminisce and invent.  Pancakes, that great childhood equalizer, seemed the prime choice.  I like my pancakes fluffy, D likes hers soaked in maple syrup, and Jessie enjoys hers pungent with the aromas of fresh berries.  The obvious choice was blueberry pancakes, with a summer fluffiness.  And the best option for that, of course, is beaten egg whites.

And so, without further ado, here it is: our summer-style pancakes, fresh from the farmstand and soaked in thick, ropy maple syrup.  Divine!

Blueberry Pancakes, Summer Style

  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1 cup blueberries

In a small bowl, beat egg whites until stiff; set aside.  In another bowl, beat egg yolks, then mix in milk and butter.

In  medium-sized bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.  Add in the egg mixture; mix until smooth.  (Whisks are particularly useful in taking care of the odd lump or two.)  Stir in blueberries.  Fold in egg whites.

Bake on a hot greased griddle.  Serve with maple syrup, warm laughter, and bright slabs of sunlight.

-bisoux

Brunch · Full Complement

IHOP, Philadelphia: “Pure Thoughts Every Second of the Day”

I DO a lot of revisiting my childhood. When I was stressed out at college (thesis season, exams, midterms, finicky profs, the stomach flu, etc), I’d check out a couple of young adult novels and a few picture books from the library to soothe my raging mind. When I carp about current stressful situations, I hit up my Netflix queue and order up Mermaids.

Sometimes, though, it’s happiness and contentment that give me the same warm-fuzzy feeling as memories of sneaking cake for breakfast or Lex’s little sister describing braces as a “teeth necklace.” After the Big Move of last Sunday, a week of never-ending work (I really ought to be doing some Right Now, but who has the time?!), and a trip to New Rochelle, I fell back against the new sofa this morning and thought to myself, “This has been an extraordinary week. I should reward myself with IHOP.”

Coffe

Technically, I thought to myself, “This has been an extraordinary week. I should reward myself with the Rooty-Tooty-Fresh-N-Fruity Special,” but that’s semantics.

After running a few errands for the apartment–a new wireless router (!!!), spackle, stemless wine glasses, dish towels, etc–we headed out to the promised mecca of IHOP. A morning of Best Buy, Pier 1 Imports, Ikea, and Lowe‘s is enough to make anyone need a refresher course in how to be sane, and there’s nowhere better to cull that lesson than a trip down memory lane.

It bears noting that I haven’t been to an IHOP for over 3 years; the last time was while I was in college, when Lex and Jeremiah road-tripped over from Chicago, and we got one of the Rooty-Tooties for free (hence the positive association). It should also be noted that the Guest of Honor this week was none other than my mother, in town to oversee the moving process and make sure I keep the floors of the new apartment clean. Amen.

So, with the backseat of Shreya’s car loaded with the spoils of our shopping trip, we pulled into the IHOP parking lot on Snyder Avenue (right by Modell‘s) and made our way into the establishment. Now, there’s something to be said for chain restaurants. Sure, they rarely vary, either in decor (think Applebee‘s) or in menu. But you know what you’re getting. And sometimes that’s more important than culinary experimentation or a challenged palate.

Omelette 2

Certainly I went out on a limb this time and had a slightly more grown-up meal than usual; instead of pancakes or french toast, I ordered the Big Steak Omelette ($10.99), which comes with three buttermilk pancakes and is stuffed full of steak, mushrooms, cheddar cheese, tomatoes, onions, and served with salsa. My mother went for the Spinach & Mushrooms Omelette ($8.99), which is exactly what it sounds like, and is topped with hollandaise sauce. Shreya got the Two x Two x Two: two eggs (she got hers scrambled), two pancakes, and two bacon sausages. She slathered it all with hot sauce, downed a couple cups of coffee, and then regretted having already eaten breakfast.

None of us were obeying the laws of the Guru of Eating, Paul McKenna. Instead of listening to our stomachs, we were listening to our memories. Twice during the meal, the IHOP staff came out to sing their version of ‘Happy Birthday.’ And even though I wasn’t scarfing down the Rooty-Tooty-Fresh-N-Fruity, I was remembering countless other IHOP breakfasts scattered across Tennessee and the landscape of my childhood.

-bisoux

Brunch · Drink · Full Complement

Cafe Mogador, NYC: “It’s the Romantic in me”

SOMETIMES, escape is inevitable.

You know how it is: a rough week at work, your Netflix queue is backed up and the final disc of Doctor Who: Season 3 is going to be shipped in from Ohio (of all the absurd nonsensical places in the universe; these two days are killing me), the person you’re scamming wireless internet from has caught onto you and has password-protected their connection (a hypothetical situation, of course), you’ve seen all the movies you want to see in the theater (Snow Angels, people: devastating and hauntingly grim, but beautiful and achingly tender, and Kate Beckinsale completely redeems herself after the travesties of Underworld and Van Helsing), you’re restlessly awaiting the outdoor café days of spring, and you’ve realized—suddenly and horrifyingly—that you’re going to be moving in less than two weeks and you haven’t even started thinking about packing yet.

The ideal solution? Escape to New York City, of course! Preferably in a car driven by someone else (shout out to Dan, who wouldn’t even let me pay for gas; I’ll be your co-pilot or backseat snoozer any day) so you can take in the scenery and brush aside all those nasty little details and responsibilities you’re leaving behind.

“Why New York?” you might ask. Besides the rather large population of friends, acquaintances, and relatives inhabiting the city, there’s the food-scape. New York has it, as demonstrated quite admirably by today’s sampling. It seems that whenever I mention my breakfast quest, people always have some place in New York that I just “have to try.” Apparently, a girl can’t be disappointed in NYC, especially if the object of one’s affection is of the edible persuasion.

Getting together a group of eight girls for a brunch-fest is quite a feat. But Jyo, thinking ahead and scoping out chowhound, came up with seven possibilities, which were then narrowed down to one and communicated to the group across various media: facebook, myspace, text message, email, and the antiquated but nonetheless effective face-to-face. The MTA being what it is, we even managed to reach Café Mogador within 15 minutes of each other.

 

Eggs

 

I sometimes pride myself on my powers of observation, but I confess to being distracted when I first read Jyo’s list of enticing East Village eateries. Getting ready to leave work at the end of the day on Friday, I didn’t properly peruse her descriptions and agreed, completely without judicious thought, to what everyone else had already agreed to for Saturday brunch (yes, we’re rebels). So when we showed up at St. Marks Place and were confronted with a Moroccan-inspired menu, I was surprised, slightly taken aback, and completely thrilled.

It must be said: I miss Morocco. I miss the tang of the orange juice, which nobody should ever drink on an empty stomach because it’s so tart and acidic. I miss the olives, best bought from street-side vendors and spiced with an entire caravan’s worth of seasonings. I miss the brightly colored city walls, the glasses of heavily sweetened mint tea, the slow-cooked tajines over mounds of yellow couscous, the ornate tilework in the gardens of the old cities, the beat of the Atlantic Ocean against the stalwart walls of Rabat’s casbah, the superstitions and traditions associated with the graves of Islamic saints and the eel-inhabited pool at the Chellah (feed the eels a hard-boiled egg and you’ll be pregnant by year’s end, for example; but feed the groundskeeper’s cat and you’ll have good health for a whole lifetime).

Café Mogador takes all the best pieces of the Moroccan experience and crams them into a surprisingly well-sized East Village restaurant. The décor of the room is tasteful and evocative; accent walls are painted the same blue as the walls of the Jardins Majorelle in Marrakesh; the woodwork adorning the walls and the deep benches with carpet-cushions are reminiscent of the riads converted into guesthouses in the medinas of most large cities. The menu boasts of classic Moroccan tajines, bastilla (flaky pastry stuffed with meat and spices), mint tea, merguez sausage, and pita bread slathered with zaatar. For brunch, there are various options accompanied by Moroccan spices or a Moroccan salad of green pepper and tomato (called the Moroccan salad because the colors are those of the national flag).

Olives

Our selections represented the broad range of options that Café Mogador offers. We got it all, from the Blueberry Pancakes to the Moroccan Eggs Benedict (which substitutes a spicy tomato sauce for the usual hollandaise). Win and I split the pancakes and the Eggs Normandy (we chose this specifically for the smoked salmon, and were happily delighted). Others tried the scrambled eggs, the Moroccan Omelet with Moroccan sauces and green peppers, the Haloumi Eggs which come with haloumi cheese and zaatar-topped pita bread, and a Goat Cheese, Spinach and Tomato Omelet. Brunch options come with a small glass of orange juice (enough to whet your appetite) and a choice of coffee or tea.

We sampled each other’s dishes, compared the use of Moroccan spices across the different egg platters (unanimous vote: yum!), handed pieces of pita bread across the table, and mopped up every last bite. At the end of the meal (which came to $96.82 for us thoroughly sated eight), we collapsed against the wooden benches, contemplated our empty plates and full bellies, and agreed: we’ll be coming back.

Café Mogador is sure to be counted amongst my most beloved confidantes from now on, and will be a certain destination for future escapist episodes. (And, for the record, Café Mogador is also a fantastic place to go when considering a new haircut, as you’re sure to see many interesting ones paraded before you among both the clientele and the waitstaff.)

 

Ending

Over cappuccino and conversation, we chased away the petty annoyances of the real world and created of Café Mogador a haven for laughter, stories, and an indulgent escape into that most fantastic of adventures. In those immortal last words, this feast was the “start of a beautiful friendship.”

-bisoux

 

 

On a partially-related side note, parts of Anthropologie’s spring catalogue were shot in Morocco and feature the vibrant colors of the country. Planning a trip to Morocco? Pack your Lonely Planet guidebook (tried, tested and true), and book a seat on Royal Air Maroc, flying daily from JFK nonstop to Casablanca’s Mohamed V Airport!

Breakfast · Drink · Full Complement · Lunch

Midtown IV, Philadelphia: Like Another Rocky Movie

MIDTOWN IV is a 24-hour, ATM-providing, extensively menu-ed diner that smells vaguely of hot dogs.

The menu has plenty of options, ranging from brunch specials to hamburgers; they offer old-fashioned milkshakes and ice cream sodas. Like a Rocky movie, you know exactly what you’re getting. There are no surprises here, except for the rolling eyes of the harried waitresses, and there’s a certain comfort to be found in the familiarity.

The occasion was a visit from a college friend; five of us gathered at Midtown IV to reminisce, catch up, tease each other, and make new plans. Fitting us into a booth should have been easy enough: we added a chair to the end of the table and our conversation flowed easily over our glasses of water and coffee. But our waitress seemed to take exception to the addition, and despite the emptiness of the diner, she seemed to be put-out by our special requests (“no anchovies in the Greek salad,” for example).

But Midtown IV is open 24 hours. And it serves breakfast all day long. There’s a cocktail lounge in back, but the front restaurant space is taken up by booths, a counter, and a few wall-hugging tables. Portions are just big enough to satisfy, and the coffee pitcher comes by frequently (a necessity, as the coffee mugs are a little on the small side for my taste). There’s no need for gourmet experimentation. Like Rocky, Midtown IV is an institution in its own right and has perfected the art of its own familiar flavors.

HandsConsidering what we ordered, Midtown delivered admirably. Between the five of us, we ordered two of their specials, their french toast platter, pancakes with a side bacon, a Greek salad, fried mozarella sticks and two milkshakes (the vanilla milkshake tasted like marshmallow fluff, the strawberry just tasted pink). The Midtown Omelet Special is a frothy goat cheese and tomato omelet that comes with home fries; the Midnight Special B is three slices of french toast, 2 eggs made to order, and your choice of meat (yum!). Tallying up to just under $50 and leaving us feeling replenished and energized (except for Blake, who overdid it with the giant Greek salad, mozarella sticks and vanilla milkshake), the Midtown put in a decent showing.

Now, I have a few requirements when it comes to my french toast. I was raised on french toast. When I had sleepovers as a kid, my friends would only spend the night if they were promised my dad’s french toast in the morning. It’s that good. I’ve tried to recreate it, but somehow I always fall short.

So when I go brunching, I like to check out the french toast as a baseline for comparison. I like my french toast moist enough that syrup is an option, not a necessity. I want to be able to cut it with my fork alone; I like knives (who doesn’t?), but I also like having a hand free to gesticulate while I talk and to raise my coffee mug for refills. Thickness is a factor, too: too thick, and the fork won’t cut it; too thin, and it’s just not enough for a mouthful. Garnishes depend on the establishment, and I’m not that picky about presentation. If the menu says “french” and “toast,” I’ll pretty much eat whatever they put in front of me. But I do have standards, and a bad french toast experience can break a whole menu for me.

The SpreadLuckily for me, Midtown IV rose to the occasion. They serve diner french toast, which means homey and comforting and soft and golden. As part of the Midnight Special B, I was able to couple my french toast with strips of bacon and a side of scrambled eggs. The french toast was fluffy and light; it’s nothing particularly special, but is the kind of french toast you whip up on gray mornings that beg for comfort food, when you don’t have the energy to go that extra yard and chop up bananas for a garnish. The scrambled eggs were saved by a healthy dose of ketchup (a trick I picked up in Morocco; god bless cafeteria food). Altogether, the special is satisfying without being pretentious. It doesn’t aspire to greatness. It merely wants to feed you good, and does.

I’ll be back, I’m sure, to test out the “we never close” and “breakfast all day” creeds. But, like Rocky I, II, III, IV, V and Balboa, this one isn’t going in my permanent collection.

-bisoux