Author: James Cooper

The Nantucket Hotel and Resort

The Nantucket Hotel and Resort

The (relatively) new Nantucket Hotel on Easton St is group of buildings that aspire to being Nantucket’s Grand Hotel.  We spent 5 days there recently and want to tell you some of the really nice things about this hotel as well as a few omissions.

Connection between buildings

One way to tell a Grand Hotel is by the room price, and this hotel is suitably expensive.  The hotel has 44 rooms of various sizes and layouts. The smallest room is the Islander Junior, with 225-260 square feet and  a Queen sized bed. The next one up is the one we rented, the Carriage Room with a King Sized bed and 260-280 square feet. This room rents for $550 a night in early June and $800 thereafter. In July, it is $1225. But, by mid-October, the rate is back down to $425.

 The bed is very comfortable, and the bath and shower are spacious, but speaking as a writer, I note that the room lacks a desk. In fact, you have to go up about 5 more grades to get a desk, or even a second chair.  I would note that there are tables with chairs in the game room and on the front porch as well as in the Business Center. The larger bedrooms and suites have a kitchenette, while our Carriage Room has but a simple, rather retro-looking  fridge.

Part of the game room

While the specs mention a coffee maker, we didn’t have one, but the hotel provides free coffee and tea in the lobby from 7am to 10am each day, which is ideal if one of you gets up earlier than the others. They change your bedding and any towels you want changed every day. And they leave a cute little rubber whale toy on the rolled-up bathmat. We named him ”Fudgie.”

Our whale

The summer Suite rates run from $1425 to $2995 a night and the cottages from $3495 for 2 bedrooms to $5995 for 4 bedrooms. We would note that we rented a 3-bedroom ocean view house in Madaket for 2 weeks for only a little more than that daily rate.

The Staff

The staff is incredibly friendly and helpful for almost anything you want to do. They have several drivers to take you to about any mid island destination or restaurant, and a concierge to make restaurant recommendations and reservations. When I asked for some dollar bills in change to pay for the bus route out to Madaket, they gave us free bus passes. And when I ran out of disposable razors, they gave me some, gratis. When I was getting my spouse some coffee, the carafe ran out, but the waiter was right there to replace it on the spot. We even got a ride to Stop and Shop to buy a case of soda; they even waited for me! And we did get a free ride and pickup to dinner at Straight Wharf and to and from the ferry.

The Breeze Restaurant

The Breeze Restaurant

The hotel’s restaurant, the Breeze, is open for breakfast every day. 7-10, except Sunday when it serves Brunch from 11-2. They serve lunch and dinner every day except Sunday and Monday. On those two nights, the hotel provides a free wine and cheese hour from 5-6pm.

Not enough to replace dinner, though. We have already written about the restaurant, but note that there isn’t any room service.

You can have breakfast there every day, even if you aren’t staying in the hotel, but if you get tired of it, you could walk down to Black-Eyed Susan’s  (now, sadly closed) on India St, or pick up a couple of cruffins or muffins at Born and Bread, at the corner of Centre and Broad streets. In this later case, we brought the baked good back to the hotel porch, where there are nice little tables and chairs, and brought out coffee and tea from the lobby.

The front porch

There is also a Breeze Bar, but it is only open on Friday and Saturday nights from 5-9pm. Late night socializing is not on the agenda.

In fact, the little gift shop carries no snacks of any kind, except a few Pepsis. It is this one omission that takes the Nantucket Hotel out of the Grand Category. You’d need to walk a mile or so to the Brotherhood of Thieves or the Juice Bar to get that snack.

The gift shop has no daily newspapers, but the hotel gets one copy daily of the Times, the Globe and the WSJ that you can read in comfy chairs nearby, but not to take to your room. This is actually pretty nice, since the free coffee and tea are just steps away.

Despite these small issues, this is a lovely hotel that we unhesitatingly recommend. Consider it in your plans.

Tower in moonlight
Nantucket Breeze Restaurant for breakfasts

Nantucket Breeze Restaurant for breakfasts

With the sudden non-opening of Black-eyed Susan’s, the number of downtown restaurants serving breakfast has dwindled to the Counter on Main Street (for takeout), and the Born and Bread bakery. So, you might want to consider a short walk over to the Nantucket Hotel and Resort on Easton St. Their Breeze Restaurant is open to the public, and serves breakfast daily from 7:30-10:00 am, and Sunday Brunch from 11-2. We stayed at the hotel last week and had most of our breakfasts there.

Their menu is limited, however: there are no Danish, croissants, or muffins available, but they offer eggs any way, omelets, 4 variations on Eggs Benedict, pancakes and French toast. They also have granola and Scottish oatmeal.

Eggs over easy

Our first day, we ordered 2 eggs over easy, and they were quite good, although mine seems to have had one of the yolks broken. We enjoyed them in any case. The toast was a single thick slice, unbuttered, but they did provide some wrapped butter pats.

French toast
Scotch oatmeal

We also enjoyed the French toast served with fresh berries and whipped cream, and the Scotch Oatmeal served with blueberries. Both very satisfying and well-presented and served.

Pancakes

But the day we got Buttermilk pancakes, we were kind of disappointed, because the three pancakes in a stack were so flat they couldn’t have been more than ¾ inch high. Clearly, they were using a mix whose leavening had expired.

On the right, you will see the buttermilk pancakes I make nearly every Sunday, to show how much they should have risen. Since the actual recipe has only 6 ingredients, it is silly to be using a mix. And if they aren’t, they should have seen that their baking powder was DOA.  Their pancakes came without the promised “whipped butter,” but the server quickly brought me some wrapped butter when I asked.

The sausage they offer is chicken sausage, and it isn’t really very sausagey: needs more spices.

Eggs Benedict

There are four varieties of Eggs Benedict on the menu: Regular ($20), Salmon and Kale ($23), Crab Cake Benedict ($26) and Lobster Eggs Benedict ($30). All of them are served on a tough, uncuttable “Portuguese muffin.”

Breeze’s Eggs Benedict
Our Eggs Benedict

If you look at their Eggs Benedict, shown on the left, you see perfectly round eggs covered with hollandaise. We call these “Industrial Poached Eggs,” because they are cooked by steaming in a round mold, which produces little “egg pucks.”

Since poaching means cooking eggs in gently simmering water, these really don’t qualify: not only is the texture different, they don’t cook uniformly. In fact, the whites of their eggs were not fully cooked, while this never happens in traditional poached eggs. These were served with a “lemon hollandaise,” meaning that they added a lot more lemon juice, nearly enough to curl your hair. Here is our recipe for making Eggs Benedict, shown on the right. Theirs were OK, but we’d probably skip them in the future.

You can get a good breakfast at the Breeze restaurant if you skip the pancakes and Eggs Benedict. And, if you want to walk  a little farther, the White Elephant serves breakfast, too, 8-11am.

Is Black-eyed Susan’s gone for good?

Is Black-eyed Susan’s gone for good?

We were surprised that  Black-eyed Susan’s wasn’t open for breakfast this week.  The windows show no sign of life and

  • the web site still says “Closed for the season. See you in April, 2022.”  They missed that one.
  • The answering system says they will not open for Daffodil Weekend. (April 22-24,2022)
  • They don’t answer messages on their Facebook page
  • The equipment behind the counter looks to be cleared out.

The best we can find out is that they lost their chef and decided to close permanently.  This a real shame and hope they find a way to revive this lovely business.

This has been a terrible year for restaurants on Nantucket. We lost 58 Union, Keepers is closed for the season, Boarding House and The Pearl may open next year, and we really need this one to stay!

The depressing interior
In better days
Straight Wharf Restaurant

Straight Wharf Restaurant

Straight Wharf Restaurant

Straight Wharf Restaurant  is one of Nantucket’s absolute gems: an excellent seafood restaurant with four star food and service overlooking the harbor. It is great for special occasions or anytime, considering the prix fixe pricing structure they introduced this spring. For $78, you get the choice of any appetizer and any entrée from their extensive menu.  There are a couple of items with supplemental charges, like their famous clambake, but they are worth it. It is still a terrific bargain. Dessert are extra, but not terribly expensive.

Our service began with a bluefish pate as an amuse-bouche served with excellent crackers

Bluefish pate

followed by some excellent bread and butter.

On this visit we each had to again experience their (shell-less) clambake of lobster, littleneck clams, spicey chorizo, fingerling potatoes (as potato chips) sweet corn (as a delicious emulsion) for a $17 supplemental charge. This is nominally a half-sized portion, offered as an appetizer, but it is still a fantastic (and filling)  dish, as shown in the photo above. This is their signature dish and we’ve had it several times in the past, and it never fails to amaze.

Scallops

For one entrée, we had scallops. Now scallops are usually presented as just sautéed and served with little else. But here, in this outstanding restaurant, the scallops were served on a sunchoke mole`, that is a puree of sunchokes with some unsweetened chocolate added for richness, and served with green beans sugar, snap peas and some more sunchokes, along with a mango and gooseberry salsa and some bits of oranges as well. What a delicious and imaginative presentation.

Salmon with tarragon toum

It’s hard to get decent salmon in restaurants, as it is often dry and overcooked. But this salmon was slo-poached, and incredibly juicy and tender. It was served with a tarragon toum, a sort of tarragon-based mayonnaise, roasted beets, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, fennel, arugula, garden herbs and a preserved lemon vinaigrette. It was outstanding, and our only regret that after that capacious appetizer, we couldn’t finish it all.

Chocolate cherry tart

Finally,  for dessert, we had a delicious warm chocolate-cherry tart. The pudding itself was actually hot, right out of the saucepan, served with a bit of vanilla ice cream, to top it off.

The amazing thing is that including two cocktails and two sodas, our bill, including tax, was only $289. Compare that to some other restaurants and you’ll know what a terrific deal this was. And the service was warm, friendly and attentive.

American Seasons — on Nantucket

American Seasons — on Nantucket

One of Nantucket’s long running restaurants, American Seasons has been serving imaginative meals for some years, and opened this year on May 5. The friendly neighborhood style restaurant is on Centre Street, not far from downtown and a very short walk from the Nantucket Hotel and Resort.

Glasses stored near the tables

Nearly every restaurant on the island has had struggles with their supply chain and finding sufficient staff. But, while the staff was friendly and knowledgeable, the menu was shortened, with just six appetizers (chicken liver parfait, herbed greens salad, roast sea scallops, daily crudo, green bean salad and a duck egg)  and six entrees (roast pork shoulder, Giannone [that’s a brand name] roast chicken, honey roasted halibut, salmon filet, rainbow carrots, and Muscovy duck breast).

Chicken Liver Foie Gras Parfait

Our choice of the Chicken Liver Foie Gras Parfait ($23) with house made vegetable pickles and brioche toast was a real winner. It was smooth, rich and delicious, although we admit we really couldn’t finish it all and still have room for the entrée.

But remember Restaurant Rule 1:

You don’t have to clean your plate! Eat what you want and leave the rest!

Island grown greens

Our other appetizer was Island Grown greens and Herbs ($19) with apple-walnut oil vinaigrette and Pecorino cheese. A lot of it. In fact, all the grated cheese brought back the old joke about “dust my wets,” referring to pasta dishes. The salad was pretty good, though, if a bit less than we expected.

Halibut

Our halibut dish, Honey Roasted Halibut with wild mushrooms and sunchoke puree, topped with a hazelnut crust had better be good, since it cost $50. And indeed, it started out that way, but once we’d managed to eat all the sunchoke puree, it was dry and not all that tasty. So we observed Rule 1.

Roast chicken

Finally, our other entrée was the roast chicken ($44) with mushroom cream, fingerlings, trumpet royals and a sherry vinegar jus.

This brings up Restaurant Rule 2:

Never order chicken in s restaurant. They (usually) have more interesting things than that.

It was not particularly impressive. It was bordering on dry, and really didn’t have a lot of taste. Our bill was $179 including tax, but before tip, and included two $15 gin-and-tonics.

We hope that they polish up their menu, because this Is usually quite a good restaurant.

The Proprietors is still Outstanding

The Proprietors is still Outstanding

The Proprietors remains one of Nantucket’s gems. Owned by Michael and Orla LaScola along with partner Anna Worgesss, the restaurant continues to serve outstanding and imaginative food. While the menu may change radically, from year to year, it always consists of a number of small plates and a few larger entrees. You can mix and share these any way you want, and even add another dish for the table while you are still having the previous course. And every one will be both surprising and delicious.

Spring onion pancakes

In last night’s visit, we chose two small plates , one sort of medium sized and and one larger portion.  We started with an unusual but absolutely outstanding portion of Sourdough Spring Onion Pancakes ($26) with Tallegio, Black trumpet mushrooms, with Everything Bagel seasoning.  We called it “stunning,” it was so good, and certainly a surprising combination.  

Robast beet salad

Our other appetizer was a really creating Beet Salad ($24)  , with roasted beets, chickpeas, feta, strawberry molasses, mint and bulgur wheat. Again, an unexpected combination of flavors resulting in and outstandingly successful dish! That taco-like shell surrounding the beets was made from chick peas! The textures the bulgur wheat provided along with the feta raised this far out of the  ordinary.

Salt and pepper shrimp

The medium-sized dish we order was called Salt and Pepper Shrimp ($36) with house-made chili crisp and   sesame mayo. The waitress mentioned to another table that this is one of their most popular dishes. There were 3 large shrimp, head and tail included, but with quite a lot of shrimp in   between. The chili flavor was part of the shrimp crust. But it didn’t overpower the delicate shrimp flavor. Despite the medium designation, based on price, this was more that we could eat., meaning there was some to share.

Roast duck with blackberry sauce

Finally our other main course was roast duck with blackberries, sour crea, polenta, local grilled bok choy and a radish ($47). The duck was tender, moist and perfectly seasoned and a delight to drag through the blackberry  sauce, (hidden under the bok choi in the photo.) Simply outstanding!

Chocolate tart

Our dessert was sort of a chocolate tart, with blackberries over a kind of bread pudding with almond brittle, and a scoop of coffee-chocolate ice cream. All of those toppings were delicious, but the tart itself was rather hard to cut.

Our bill with 2 glasses of wine and one soda was $222 including tax, but before tip, and considering the prices some other places have been charging on Nantucket, this is nearly a downright bargain as well as being one of the best meals we are likely to be having this week.

Chicken stir fry with candied walnuts

Chicken stir fry with candied walnuts

Here’s a stir fry you can make in less than half an hour and serve as a festive weeknight dinner. You can use almost any vegetables you like in the stir fry along with the chicken, or you could add more veggies and omit the chicken if you want.

  • 1 lb chicken breasts or boneless thighs
  • Cornstarch
  • Olive or vegetable oil
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 6 oz walnuts
  • ½ lb snow peas or sugar snap peas with strings and ends removed
  • 3-4 green onions, cut into short lengths
  • ¼ lb mushrooms, sliced
  • Teriyaki sauce, bottled, or any other favorite sauce
  • Rice
  1. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and shake with the cornstarch. Shake off the excess cornstarch into a bow using a colander.
  2. Saute the chicken in a wok or pan with some oil. Set the chicken side and wipe the pan clean.
  3. Heat several more Tb of oil in a pan or wok and saute the mushrooms, onions and peapods. The pods should remain somewhat crunchy.

  1. In a smaller cast iron pan, add the sugar and heat over medium high heat until the sugar has melted. Stir in the walnuts.

  1. Add the chicken to the sauteed veggies and stir to warm through.

Warm the walnuts in their pan so the sugar softens and add them to the chicken and vegetables.

Add about half a cup of Teriyaki (or other ) sauce and stir and heat to soften the candied coating on the walnuts.

Serve over rice.

Stephen Spielberg’s Slum Clearance Story

Stephen Spielberg’s Slum Clearance Story

Stephen Spielberg’s take on West Side Story seems to be about a slum clearance project rather than a modern take on the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. I will assume that you are familiar with the story: this article contains plot spoilers.

I am not sure exactly why Spielberg made this movie other than perhaps to comment on the evils of urban renewal. While he claimed that this was closer to the Broadway production than to the 1961 Robert Wise movie, it really isn’t true. Gone is the ballet sequence and Laurents’ dialog has been replaced by Tony Kushner’s talky speeches which make the movie drag when it should soar. And the destruction of upper West Side tenements was never part of the plot of the script devised by Arthur Laurents, Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein.

Only part of the opening sequence is really choreographed as a dance number, and it eventually devolves into a brutal fight. And the dialog that follows has some pretty cruel lines that seem unnecessary. In the original show, Lieutenant Shrank (Corey Stoll) and Officer Krupke (Brian d’Arcy James) come on for just over a minute and deliver 5 lines about cooperating with them and leave. In this version, Shrank’s nasty comments on the Jets and Sharks go on for about 4:45, and includes this winner:

“By the time you get out, this will be a shiny new neighborhood of rich people. With Puerto Rican doormen to chase trash like you away.”  

Filmed in sets more like a bombed out city than the Upper West Side housing projects it is really depressing to watch and is possibly a major indication of why audiences are staying away from a movie which, though problematic, has real merit in many other scenes.

Kushner also took it on himself to invent backstories that don’t add much of interest. Tony, in Kushner’s version, had spent a year in prison for nearly killing a boy in a gang fight. Just the guy you’d want your sister to marry!

And for no reason, both Bernardo (David Alvarez) and Chino (Josh Andres Rivera) are amateur boxers. While playwright Arthur Laurents described Chino as a sweet-faced young boy, whom Anita and Bernardo want Maria to marry, Kushner piles it on, making Chino not only a boxer, but a student studying accounting and (snort!) “adding machine repair.” Why do we need to know this? It explains why this Chino wears glasses?

You probably have read enough about this movie already to know that the character of Doc, who runs the drugstore where the Jets hang out has been replaced by Valentina, the late Doc’s wife, played by Rita Moreno, who was Anita in the first movie. This gives her a chance to comment on the story from the Puerto Rican point of view as well as advise Tony. It works quite well.

Laurents, in his book Mainly on Directing, praises the economical use of lines as a technique he learned working on radio. He points out that only 2 lines separate Anita’s discovery that Tony had just left Maria’s bedroom and the beginning of the powerful song “A Boy Like That.” Kushner observed that precept in that scene but unfortunately not in many other scenes in this overly long movie.

There is a lot of other parts of this movie that deserve praise: unlike the first movie, all the performers do their own singing, and they are far better actors than in the Wise film. (In his book, Laurents notes that the acting in that movie was terrible.) And further, the Sharks are actually Latinx actors, not white guys and girls painted brown.

Tony and Maria, the star-crossed lovers, are played by 27 year old Ansel Elgort and 20 year old Rachel Zegler, although neither matches Larry Kert or Carol Lawrence in singing ability. Both sing well enough to seem convincing in their roles. Zegler as the rather young Maria clearly has fallen for Tony, but there is only one place where that intense love shows in her singing: in the power duet with Anita (Ariana DeBose), “A Boy Like That,” that to me is the best musical number in the show.

Elgort has a light, pretty tenor voice, but he never really cuts loose with passion either in his singing or his acting. In fact, he is the only actor whose lip synching of his performance during sound recording seems off. This is possibly because he was singing more strongly in the studio than he was on the set, and his mouth movements didn’t quite match his singing. For comparison, here is Aaron Tveit singing Maria with real passion.

Ariana DeBose has received a lot of praise for her acting, dancing and singing, and it is much deserved. “A Boy Like That” is certainly her top number. However, in this duet with Maria, she doesn’t hold on to her notes as long as she should to blend better with Maria. But her performance leading the big dance number “America” is outstanding.

To me the strongest acting by far came from David Alvarez as Bernardo. He communicated a strong, powerful gang leader ready to take on anyone. You can’t take your eyes off him!

Justin Peck’s choreography was certainly different from that of Jerome Robbins, but while the Prologue was rather straightforward, the dancing in the Mambo sequence at the Dance at the Gym was truly thrilling. On the other hand, the Rumble wasn’t ballet. It was just a violent fight with Tony eventually holding Bernardo down and hitting him repeatedly until someone stopped him. This was recapitulating the violence he was imprisoned for and was in terrible taste. Of course, he eventually stabs and kills Bernardo after Bernardo knifes Riff and that would have been more than enough.

The original orchestrations were by Irwin Kostal and Sid Ramin, but with Bernstein editing their work so he gets an orchestration credit as well.  Orchestrations for this film were by Doug Besterman, Michael Starobin and Garth Edwin Sunderland. Nearly all of the music sounded like Bernstein’s originals except Tonight. Bernstein marked this number as “Moderate Beguine Tempo” in other words a dance rhythm. Part of that is the repeating Da-da da-Da-da-da-da in the accompaniment. But in the Broadway cast recording, there is also a bass line that is off-the-beat—on-the-beat that is completely missing. This helps move the song along. There were also a few odd orchestral passages in the Prologue that I never heard before.

One of the most powerful numbers in Act I is “Cool,” where Riff and the Jets sing about keeping their tension contained until the forthcoming rumble. But instead, in this version, Tony sings it. Riff has bought a gun from a bartender and the song seems to be about tossing the loaded gun around among themselves. Again, this was nothing envisioned in the original LRB script, and considering that the gun did not need to be cocked to fire, was rather stupid.

Musically, my favorite part of West Side Story has always been the Tonight Quintet, featuring Tony, Maria, Anita, Riff (Mike Faist), Bernardo and the Sharks and Jets.  On stage this can be very effective, grouping them to suit the music. In the film, this is harder to do, and revolving shots between the five groups just doesn’t work as well. The vocal sound, however, was outstanding.

Usually, the Somewhere Ballet is included in WSS productions, where Tony and Maria and a couple of the Jets and Sharks battle out the Rumble again in ballet form, while an offstage soprano sings “There’s a Place for Us.”  It’s a shame that this was lost and giving this song to mezzo Rita Moreno to talk her way through didn’t have the same kind of effect without the ballet. But it was nice to give her this honor.

“Gee, Officer Krupke” was inserted in the first act to give some comic relief but the tragedies hadn’t happened yet. Honestly, this was one of the least funny stagings of this number that I’ve seen.  Needs more vaudeville, I guess.

You may have read that Sondheim hated his lyrics to “I Feel Pretty” and wanted to cut the song, as did Spielberg. But fortunately, Kushner intervened because he felt that the suspense of Maria not knowing that Tony was dead was important. And it is a good thing they didn’t, because this number is a standout in this movie, performed by the women who work nights cleaning Gimbels, including Maria, of course.

The ending is close to the original, where Chino finds Tony and shoots him just as Maria arrives. In the original they sing a bit of “Hold my hand and we’re halfway there,” from Somewhere before Tony dies. I missed that but when both gangs walk off together, it was still extremely effective.

So, overall, a mixed bag. I wish they had lived up to their promise to stay close to the original, since the cast would have done it well.

Lemon ricotta pancakes compared to Grandma’s

Lemon ricotta pancakes compared to Grandma’s

Several weeks ago, Genevieve Ko published a fascinating recipe for Lemon Ricotta Pancakes in the Sunday New York Times. She used superlatives like “most tender,” “fluffy,” “light” and “comforting,” and we just had to try them.

The pancakes are light because the recipe has 3 eggs, buttermilk, ricotta and only ¾ cup of flour. And the unique part of her version is that the batter also has some grated lemon zest. To counter that, she recommends serving them with a blueberry sauce.  Here is her recipe:

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup flour
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • ¾ cup whole milk ricotta
  • ¼ cup buttermilk
  • 2 tsp melted butter
Lemon zest in sugar
Bubbles forming on lemon pancakes
  1. Heat a griddle to “medium low.” We chose 350˚ F.
  2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.
  3. Put the sugar in a large bowl and grate the lemon zest into it, Work in with your fingers.
  4. Mix in the vanilla
  5. Add the eggs and whisk until foamy on top.
  6. Add the flour, ricotta and buttermilk and whisk until uniform.
  7. Butter the griddle generously and drop ¼ cup portions onto it. Cook 2-3 minutes until bubbles begin to from. Turn each pancake gently and cook about 2 more minutes.
  8. Serve with butter and blueberry sauce.

Blueberry sauce

  • ! pint blueberries
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 tsp cornstarch

Place all ingredients in a saucepan, mix and heat to a boil. Cook for about 5 minutes, until thickened.

Stack cut open

There is no doubt that these are light, delicious pancakes. Ko says the recipe makes 12-14 pancakes, but since they are so small and not all that filling, this recipe serves just a bit more than two people. We each ate two stacks of 3 pancakes without any trouble. You could have to double it to serve four. And, of course, you could omit the lemon zest if you wanted to serve them with maple syrup.

Grandma’s recipe

This is our old family recipe that was handed down from my mother’s mother, Edna Neely, who probably learned the recipe in the latter part of the 19th century. The copy I got came from her daughter, my aunt Elsie, many years ago. It is a simple recipe that you can remember as 2-2-2-1-1-1/2:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Tb sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Buttermilk

Over time, I’ve reduced the baking soda to about ¾ tsp so that the buttermilk flavor comes through more strongly.

  1. Mix the dry ingredients together.
  2. Break the eggs into the mixture and add buttermilk to make a “thickish batter.”
  3. Cook on a griddle at 375˚ F until bubble form and then turn them and cook another two minutes.
Buttermilk pancakes rising
Stack of buttermilk pancakes

How they differ

We usually make bigger pancakes, using maybe 1/3 of a cup of batter each, but you certainly can make them smaller like the ones in Ko’s recipe. They are nearly as light as Ko’s and much less work. It is also easy to make, say a 1-1/2 recipe to serve more people, but the basic recipe will serve 3-4.

I’ll probably make Ko’s recipe from time to time because they are really good with blueberry sauce, but it is so much more work than Grandma’s recipe and if you put a stack of 3 ¼-cup sized pancakes from each recipe side by side, the difference is relatively small.

We tried cooking this recipe at the lower temperature as Ko recommends, and this works fine too. They just take slightly longer to cook. However, we did find that the lower temperature cooked those frozen sausage patties more uniformly without burning them.

Why were my scones so flat?

Why were my scones so flat?

We make scones for breakfast fairly often, because as we showed earlier, you can make them quickly and they are quite delicious.

But, a couple of days ago, we made some of the worst scones we’d ever made.

As you can see, the recent scones were a flat-out disaster. We had used new baking powder and everything, but they were a flop.  What had gone wrong?

Well, the immediate suspect was the baking powder. Baking powders sometimes fails because it was stored improperly: in a hot warehouse or truck, for example. Let’s explain how this works here.

Baking soda is just sodium bicarbonate, NaHCo3. You use it when acidic ingredients such as buttermilk, sourdough or yoghurt are included in the batter. The baking soda will react with any of those acids to release carbon dioxide, CO2, which causes bubbles that make the dough rise.

Baking powder is sodium bicarbonate mixed with one or more acids in dry crystalline form, such cream of tartar  (tartaric acid), monocalcium phosphate, sodium aluminum pyrophosphate, or a couple of others.  Double acting baking powders (and most of them now are) contain two acids, one that reacts immediately when liquid is added and one that reacts only when heat is also applies. In all cases, the baking powder also contains cornstarch, to help keep the mixture dry and add bulk to make it easier to measure.

But you can easily test baking powder by putting a couple of teaspoons in  a bowl, and adding boiling water. Just microwave a cup of water in a pitcher for a minute or so until it bubbles a bit, and pour it over the baking powder. It should foam up right away as you see below.

New baking powder foams up in hot water

But let’s look at that suspect baking powder: no foam at all, it scarcely breathes a word!

Suspect baking powder

In fact, it doesn’t really look at all like the other sample. In fact let’s look at the package:

Oh!