The fear of death follows from the fear of life.  A man who lives fully is prepared to die at anytime.
~Mark Twain

Just seems there should be little demand to visit venues in Santa Barbara or even Southern Cal, as a whole, where the in crowds frequent. You know, where people say “like” repetitively and thoughtlessly as if the word is a linguistic filler.

So many glorious campsites with scenery that is flat breathtaking, serenely overlooking the Big Blue where the plethora of marine mammals exist — pastoral stuff. There is a campus of radiantly hued tents, and above that are the parked RV’s usually hooked to electricity inlets/outlets (none of which can be seen from the cloth huts).

Almost each foggy or overcast morning, before she departed to the “glamping” joint across the way, we crawled out of our tent and after morning ablutions, promptly began the fire and heating the tortillas so the meal completo could be packed inside. Donned in aprons (I likely looked absurd) we grilled each tortilla feast on state-provided, round, grated, dug-in, barbeque pits after just barely scrambling the eggs and cooking the meat aside ever so assiduously on a pan. Rosemary sprigs from nearby plants were plucked and dropped into the fire when ready. Then, there were exquisite avocados plucked by friends from close sprawling ranches and, of course, tomatillo sauce, salsa verde, salsa rojo, queso fresco, crema, cilantro, radishes and rekindling the goods...with several cups of joe. Our grub for the day.

The skies cleared, it warmed as the sun shone through in mid-morning just slightly toasting the eucalypti leaves so their scents diffused, then she disappeared for work, and I tried to heal thyself (often by watching dolphins graze).

This post may prove trivial to some, but it was the boon of our existence every morning.

EGGS, BACON & AVOCADO TORTILLAS

3-4 T unsalted butter
3 T cream cheese
6 fresh, local, free range eggs
1 T whipping cream or creme fraiche
1/8 T sea salt
1/4 T freshly ground pepper

Small pinch of cayenne pepper
Small amount of herbes de provence and/or thyme

Melt the butter and cream cheese in a heavy nonstick skillet or a iron cast pan. Combine the eggs, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, white pepper, herbes de provence and/or thyme and a dollop of cream or creme fraiche in a glass bowl and whisk briskly.

Pour egg mixture into the skillet, with the heat on medium low. With a flat, wooden spatula, gently stir the eggs, lifting it up and over from the bottom as they thicken. Stir away from the sides and bottom of the pan toward the middle. Continue to stir until the desired texture (a mass of soft curds) is achieved. They thicken, dry out and toughen very quickly toward the end, so if you like them soft, fluffy and moist, remove them from the heat a little before they reach the desired texture — the eggs will continue to cook after being removed from the heat.

(As an alternative, try fried eggs covered in the skillet top cooked in a smearing of olive oil with salt and pepper only).

Gently cooked guanciale, pancetta, bacon, serrano or proscuitto

Avocado slices, alluringly fresh

Salsa verde and/or salsa rojo
Queso fresco and/or fine goat cheese
Crema

Radishes, sliced
Cilantro leaves, chopped

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How do you like your eggs in the morning?…I like mine with a kiss.
~Dean Martin

I have ever been a morning person. Admittedly, being pert, even ebullient, alertness at daybreak has not always endeared me to bedmates. Yet, somehow with all that solitary sunrise time on my hands, I don’t dine in the morning. Coffee and laptop newspapers are the staples. Not until lunch rolls around do my buds tend to rouse. Despite my dawn start, in the evening I often paradoxically morph into a night owl. Self imposed sleep deprivation, sometimes with a positive bend and occasionally pernicious.   Sort of a lark & owl dyadic discordance, but I tend to play both roles — perhaps to my chagrin though.

The first meal of the day, the English word “breakfast” is a verbal fusion of break + fast. A meal that ends the nightly fast. The benefits of breakfast have been ever heralded by nutritionists. For a warped example, Michael Phelps begins his 12,000 calorie daily quest with three fried egg sandwiches laden with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise. He follows that elfin opener with two hefty cups of coffee, a five egg omelet, an ample bowl of grits, and three slices of French toast dusted with powdered sugar. Not to be forgotten is the finish of three large chocolate chip pancakes. One nut up, carbo loaded meal to start a day…that is, if you are a finely honed athlete who ritualistically spends his days performing route compulsion in a pool.

Now, transport your mind across the pond for something more to my morning liking. Le petit déjeuner, translated as “small lunch,” is a light, unhurried affair eaten while seated — not walking, standing, commuting or driving. For the français moyen, breakfast consists of sliced fresh artisanal bread, such as a baguette, with butter and honey or jam* (aka une tartine), and occasionally a croissant or pain au chocolat. Add a cup or two of espresso, dark coffee or black tea, perhaps a small cup of yogurt or fruit and, of course, that everloving sweet kiss. Unlike in the states, hams, eggs, omelets and other savories are reserved for lunch or dinner. So, if you desire a bulky meal or cornucopian brunch to start your day, you’d best head toward Calais and board the Chunnel.

So, suffice it to say, these blissful bottoms have a lunch or dinner post time.

ARTICHOKE HEARTS WITH DUXELLES, POACHED EGGS & BEARNAISE

Artichoke Hearts
2 fresh lemons, halved
4 artichokes
3 T extra virgin olive oil

4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/3 C fresh lemon juice
1/3 C chicken broth
1/2 t sea salt
Freshly ground black or white pepper

Fill a large bowl about two thirds of the way with cold water. Squeeze the juice of the halved lemons into the water to acidify. Working with one artichoke at a time, cut the stem off the base of the artichoke. Then, peel back and snap off the first 1 or 2 layers of leaves. Cut off the top third of the artichoke. Starting at the base, peel back and snap off the tough outer leaves until you reach the pale green inner leaves.
Cut off the uppermost part again, and trim around the base to make a smooth surface. The choke will be removed after cooking. When done with each, drop into the lemon water. When completed, drain and pat dry.

In a heavy, large sauté pan heat the olive oil over medium high. Add the smashed garlic cloves and saute until lightly golden. Discard the garlic. Then add the artichokes and sauté until just lightly golden. Increase the heat to high, add the lemon juice and deglaze the pan. Add the broth, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until tender when pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes. Shortly before using them, scoop out the choke with a spoon, so a smooth, curved cup is formed.

Duxelles
5 C mushrooms, cleaned and finely minced
1-2 small shallots, peeled and finely minced
3 T unsalted butter

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large sauté pan over a moderate heat, melt the butter and add the shallots. Sweat the shallots for about 5 minutes in the butter until soft and tender.

Add the finely minced mushrooms, a pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper. Stirring occasionally, cook over moderate heat until the mushrooms throw off their liquid and then reabsorb it, leaving no liquid in the pan. It may be necessary to add additional butter, and care must be taken that they do not get crisp. They must remain soft. This process can take up to 20 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

When done the mushrooms will resemble a dark brown, mealy, almost paste-like texture. The quantity will also have been reduced by about half.

Bearnaise
1/4 C white wine vinegar
1/4 C dry white wine
1 T minced shallots
1 t dried tarragon
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

3 large egg yolks
8-10 T unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon

In a medium heavy saucepan combine wine vinegar, wine, shallots, and dried tarragon and simmer over moderate heat until reduced to 2 tablespoons. Cool and strain through a fine sieve.

In an ovenproof bowl whisk the egg yolks until they become thick and sticky. Whisk in the reduced vinegar mixture, salt and pepper. Place the bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Whisk until mixture is warm, about 2 minutes. The yolk mixture should be thickened enough so you can see the bottom of the pan between strokes.

While whisking the yolk mixture gradually pour in the melted butter, a tablespoon or so at a time whisking thoroughly to incorporate before adding more butter. As the mixture begins to thicken and become creamy, the butter can be added more rapidly.

Season to taste with chopped tarragon, salt and pepper. To keep the sauce warm, set the bowl over lukewarm water.

Poached Eggs
4 large fresh eggs
1 T white wine vinegar

Fill a large, heavy skillet deep enough to cover the eggs with water. Bring to a simmer, and add the white wine vinegar. Crack each egg into a shallow bowl or saucer to assure they are not broken. Then, using a slotted spoon, spin the boiling water into a sort of vortex. Once the water is spinning rapidly, gently drop the egg from the bowl in the center of the whirlpool, where it will spin around and coat the yolk in a ball of egg white. Cook until the eggs are barely set, about 3 minutes. Remove the eggs, draining well with a slotted spoon and dab the bottom with paper towels to dry.

Assembly
Place two artichoke hearts on each plate. Top with a heaping spoonful of duxelles, and place the poached egg or eggs on top (depending on the size of the hearts). Then, drizzle bearnaise over the duxelles, hearts and eggs. Sprinkle freshly chopped tarragon on top to finish.

*Pourboire: speaking of jam (confiture), I cannot resist mentioning mi figue, mi raisin—literally “half fig, half grape” or figuratively “between unpleasant and pleasant.” The combination of these two fruits is not trivial. In France, the fig historically had negative connotations because of their resemblance to animal droppings, while grapes have always been revered. So, the phrase reflects an ambiguous situation or person…being in two different worlds or places, or hovering between two antithetic expressions. A mixed bag. If you find a local source for this luscious mi figue, mi raisin jam, glom on to a jar. It is available online as well. (I have my source).

The concept of rugged individualism (valuing self sufficiency above all) was coined by Herbert Hoover in the 20’s, but was culturally nourished years earlier by New England writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Thoreau. Of course, the oft harsh climate and occasionally unyielding lineage were the early shaping forces. You can even see this noncomformism working at the griddle. When the first International House of Pancakes recently opened in the state of Vermont, the franchise owners requested a company variance in order to offer customers the real deal — pure Vermont maple syrup instead of the artificial swill offered in the some 1,400 other IHOPs in North America. IHOP upcharges for the genuine stuff, which seems a tad shameful, especially for the unaware.

Although the precise origins of the recipe are unknown, French toast originated as a means to use day old bread. Mention of a similar dish was made in Apicius’ 4th century collection of ancient Roman recipes. Some suggest that it dates back to medieval Europe when battering and frying many foods came into vogue. In French regions, it has been christened pain perdu, or “lost bread”, since it is a simple way to reclaim stale bread.

FRENCH TOAST

3/4 C whole milk
3/4 C heavy whipping cream or buttermilk
8 large organic, free range eggs
1 T organic honey
A pinch of sea salt
A grating of nutmeg
1/4 t vanilla
1/2 t ground cinnamon

16 slices of baguette, croissant, brioche, ciabatta or challah
Ground cinnamon
Freshly crushed black pepper
3 T unsalted butter

In a mixing bowl, vigourously whisk together the milk, cream or buttermilk, eggs, honey, salt, nutmeg and vanilla. Douce slices in custard for 30 seconds or so, and allow the excess custard to drip away some as you move them to the waiting pan.

Over medium heat, melt some of the butter in a heavy saute pan. Place a few slices of bread at a time into the pan, very lightly sprinkle one side with cinnamon and black pepper and cook until golden brown, approximately 2 to 3 minutes per side. Repeat with remaining butter and custard coated slices.

Serve immediately with pure maple syrup (my fav), confectioners’ sugar, preserves, honey, crème anglaise, whipped cream or fresh seasonal fruit/coulis.

Pourboire: in some versions, the milk and cream or buttermilk can be placed in a bowl separate from one with the eggs, and the bread can be dipped in a two step — first in the milk bowl, then the eggs.

I remember when I was a kid I used to come home from Sunday School and my mother would get drunk and try to make pancakes.
~George Carlin

Is Kansas truly as flat as a pancake?

A few years ago, three geographers compared the flatness of Kansas to the flatness of a pancake. The findings of these scientists from Texas State and Arizona State Universities were published in the Annals of Improbable Research. They used topographic data from a digital scale model prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey, and they carefully culled a pancake from the International House of Pancakes. If perfect flatness were a value of 1.00, they reported, the calculated flatness of a pancake would be 0.957 “which is pretty flat, but far from perfectly flat”. Kansas’s flatness however turned out to be 0.997, which they said might be described, mathematically speaking, as “damn flat.”

One of my now grown nieces asked for the pancake recipe which we often made on Saturday mornings when everyone was young—a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. For good measure, a recipe for their more delicate French cousins, crêpes, is posted as well. By no means are these flat delicacies limited to breakfast fare.

BUTTERMILK PANCAKES

Dry Stuff:
3 C all purpose flour
6 T sugar
3 t baking powder
1 t sea salt

Wet Stuff:
4+ C buttermilk
6 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 eggs

2 T coconut or canola oil
1-2 T unsalted butter

Unsalted butter
Maple syrup
Preserves or jam (optional)
Berries (optional)

Whisk dry ingredients in one bowl and whisk wet ingredients in another bowl. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and with a spoon gently mix them together until just combined. You may need to add more buttermilk to attain the proper batter consistency. After mixing, the batter should have some small lumps. Make sure you do not over mix the batter, or the pancakes will be tough and rubbery, as gluten is created.

Heat a griddle or large cast-iron skillet over medium low heat — until a few sprinkles of water dropped on the griddle or skillet dance about (a lesson mother taught me). Then, place some coconut oil and put a tablespoon or more of butter on griddle or skillet. When oil & butter foam subsides, ladle pancake batter onto griddle or skillet, using a ladle or 1/3 measuring cup, directing the batter into rounds and making pancakes of any size you desire. But, do not overcrowd.

Cook until bubbles form on the top of the pancake and turn until the underside is light brown. Adjust heat as necessary; usually, the first batch will require higher heat than subsequent batches. Almost invariably, the first batch will be of lesser quality. So, as with all cooking keep the faith.

Pancakes can be served in many ways: by rolling them around a curtailed sweet preserve filling; presented flat with butter and real maple syrup; or with just a simple dusting of powdered sugar.

For blueberry, blackberry or other berry pancakes: using restraint, sprinkle fresh berries on the tops of the pancakes just as bubbles start to appear on the top surface of the batter, then turn when ready.

Serve.

Pourboire: Pure maple syrup is far superior to the artificial varieties, which are often made with corn syrup and maple flavoring. Maple syrup is graded based upon USDA regulations according to color and flavor. Grade A Light Amber, is quite light and has a mild, delicate maple bouquet and flavor. Grade A Medium Amber, is a tad darker, and has a more pronounced maple flavor. Grade A Dark Amber, is darker yet, with a robust and hearty maple flavor. Grade B, sometimes called Cooking Syrup, is made late in the season, and is very dark, with a very strong maple flavor, as well as some caramel flavor. Finally, consider topping a small stack of fresh pancakes with a healthy dollop of fine ricotta.

CREPES

1 C whole milk
2 large eggs
1 C all purpose flour
2 1/2 T granulated sugar
3 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/4 t salt

Unsalted butter for cooking

Jam or preserves (your choice)
Confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 200 F

Blend milk, eggs, flour, granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons butter, and salt in a blender, scraping down side once or twice, until batter is smooth, about 1 minute. Let batter stand at room temperature 1 hour which allows the bubbles to subside and helps prevent tears during cooking.

Add butter to a heavy nonstick skillet to coat bottom. Heat over moderate heat until hot, then pour 1/4 cup batter into skillet, tilting to coat bottom evenly. Cook until the underside is pale golden, 1 to 2 minutes, then loosen crêpe and flip with a spatula. Again cook until the underside is pale golden, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Transfer to a heatproof platter and keep warm in oven.

Again with restraint, spread with your favored jam or preserves, roll them up and dust lightly with confectioners’ sugar.