Category Archives: life

A Very Puffy Pancake Tweetup

This morning brought the monthly Pancake Tweetup, and Rick made pancake puffs, which elicited a lot of drooling from my friends on Twitter. So I asked him to explain what they were and how to make them.

First, thanks to Georgy for letting me guest post. Always fun to talk about food online.

First, a bit of background, for those who aren’t totally in the know. Georgy and several of her friends from higher education on Twitter have a regular virtual get-together called Pancake Tweet-Up. The idea is that everyone takes pictures of their breakfast and shares them over Twitter, like everyone is sharing breakfast together despite the disparate locations. I’m all for this, as I love breakfast, the idea of Internet communities doing things to come closer together, and it involves me cooking. The first couple that she participated in involved us going to one of our favorite breakfast places, Ball Square Café, but then I started cooking for them. As it happens, the most recent was earlier today, and our specific breakfast for today was pancake puffs with a wild Maine blueberry compote, oven-baked bacon, and French press coffee. As usual, she posted pics of this when it was ready, we ate it up, and then I went about my day.

So I’m working on a project I have about to be announced (sorry, not food-related), when Georgy calls me from her office. “Twitter is going nuts about the pancake puffs.” I was a bit surprised – in large part because this was the second time I had made pancakepuffs for Pancake Tweet-Up, and they didn’t get nearly as wild a response the first time. She even called me in to see the responses, which blew me away a bit. That said, I also was a bit proud; what cook doesn’t like see people raving in amazement about their food? Anyhow, Georgy asked me to write a bit about them, and what makes them so awesome.

The Puffy Particulars

First off, for those who may be wondering their connection to aebleskivers or poffertjes, yes, they are pretty much the same thing. Now, the Danish and the Dutch will certainly come up with minor recipe variations that assert as to why their dish is completely different (one distinction you’ll frequently see besides exact shape is that poffertjes are frequently sweeter before any topping is added), but it’s hair-splitting, truth be told.

As for those new to pancake puffs, they are basically a spherical pancake, which requires a specialty pan to produce. Pretty much any pancake batter recipe (or anything similar to pancake batter, really) can be used to make them; I like a sweeter batter that has a hint of vanilla extract in it. The secret to them is actually in the pan itself.

In order to make the puffs, you need a specialty pan for them. Now, you can get pans specifically for aebelskivers from many retailers – Williams-Sonoma has a pan for them, although you can get cheaper results from Amazon. That said, I actually go a slightly different route: I use a takoyaki pan (available from many Japanese markets andAmazon). Takoyaki is a savory Japanese dumpling made from a batter very similar to pancake batter, and the pan results in a much rounder appearance in the puffs, as opposed to the more oblong puffs that aebelskiver and poffertjes pans produce. That said, due to the smaller wells, there is always a catch in using a takoyaki plate – the puffs cook much faster, so you have to both be more careful about the heat you cook on (I use a low-medium to medium heat for them) as well as be quicker with the cooking time (though who doesn’t want to be quicker in the kitchen?).

One thing you’ll also need is something to roll/flip your puffs with. Now, you’ll see some (ahem, Williams-Sonoma) who will charge through the nose for specialty flippers to use in the process. Personally, I think it’s a rip-off. Honestly, I actually use a toothpick to first run down the sides of each well to loosen the puff, then quickly but gently roll the puff over to finish the cooking. A fork also works well, and those who use an aebelskiver pan may want to go traditional and use a knitting needle (wood obviously). Those going for the takoyaki plate method do not want to use the latter; the wells are too small to fit it in without making a mess or ruining the puff – or, more likely, both at the same time.

Now, for the technique I use. First, I lightly grease each well of my takoyaki plate (fourteen in mine) with butter. Then I set it on the stove’s range and put it at a medium heat. Once I start hearing a little bit of crackle from the butter, I know it’s warm enoughto get started.

Here’s the big trick to make sure things come out beautiful – only fill the wells about halfway, maybe a hair more. They do puff up quite well. Now, you can recover from overfilling; I’ll go into that below. That said, the less you spend on recovery, the quicker you get them done. Fill all of the wells halfway, then set the batter to the side. Do note the order you fill in your wells mentally – you’ll be flipping them in the same order.

The lovely part of using a takoyaki plate is that, due to the size, you can immediately get to flipping them. Using my trusty toothpick, I run along the side of the first well,until the puff comes loose. Gently roll it 180 degrees, so that the beautiful golden-brown bottom becomes the top and everything has a chance to run back into the well. Proceed with each well in order. If you have one that puffed up a bit too much (including the dreaded spilling onto the main part of the plate), don’t worry – use the toothpick to break off the excess, throw that into the well, then roll the puff back into place as before.You’ll have a slightly ragged edge, but it’ll still come out pretty much a nice sphere as the other ones, and it’ll taste just as good.

Just as before, due to how quickly they cook, once you’ve finished rolling the last one, they’re ready to come out. Once again, in the order they were put in and rolled, you can just pluck them out – I usually just lightly stab with my trusty toothpick and slide them onto a ready plate. In my takoyaki plate, the entire process probably takes less than two minutes, as I become an assembly line of pour, roll, plate. The process is remarkably smooth – just enough time to cook without burning, so I never have to watch the clock or figure out what else to do.
Now, you may be wondering about what this does to pancake batter that makes it different from a regular pancake. Basically, it makes it absurdly fluffy. All pancakes work by puffing a little on the baked side, then having the air pockets increase in size when flipped and the batter that isn’t already cooked running away from the parts thathave. Since the batter in the puffs has further to go in the wells of the pan, it produces larger air pockets for extra fluffiness. Oh, but that’s not all – because there are larger pockets of air between the cooked pancake batter, it can absorb more liquid – if you love pancakes that have soaked up syrup or fruit juice, you really can’t beat a pancake puff for its absorbing properties (this is evident in the Danish name for them – aebelskiver actually means “apple slices;” they were meant to soak up preserved apples and their juices).

One other fun part about pancake puffs is they’re much more ready to be a finger food than regular pancakes. The outside tends to be a bit more solid than regular pancakes; it’s perfectly fine to just hold one in the hand and use it to mop up syrup, powdered sugar, fruit compote, or whatever else you want to serve with them. I haven’t actually tried serving it to a child yet, but I can imagine that those mature enough to not use them in food fights would enjoy eating them like this.

So when you get down to it, they really are just pancakes you know and love cooked in a different fashion. That said, all you need is a slight variation in cooking to produce something that tastes very similar but comes out much differently.

Real-Time Rap

Some of you may have heard my story of how I won an iPad last summer while attending the Read Write Web Real-Time Web Summit. But many of you have not. It came up at dinner last night, and I thought it was finally deserving of a blog post of its own.

Man, that was quite a week. First, I won tickets to the one-day conference, hosted in New York City. (The conference was outstanding; you can read a recap on my professional blog.) While there, they announced they would be giving away six iPads over the course of the day. At lunch, they gave away four by random drawing. The last two, they said, would be given out at the closing session to whomever created the best rap or poem. Yes, rap or poem.

So, for the rest of the afternoon, I scribbled verses on a scrap of paper, muttering rhymes and rhythms under my breath. By the time the closing session began, I was as ready as I would ever be. Luckily, I was sitting next to my higher ed partner in crime, J.D. Ross, whom I was happy to have around for reassurance.

Soon, my time arrived:

And I WON! Can you believe it? (The other winner, though, probably deserved them both, as I think he is an Actual Rapper.)

Since the audio wasn’t so good on the video, here is a transcription of the lyrics:

I came down from Boston to learn about real-time

Didn’t know that I’d have to bust a rhyme

But even if I don’t win a 3G iPad

I know I won’t be going home feeling mad

I learned about trust and content curation

Speed-geeked with geeks from ’round the nation

Reputation management

I know what McManus meant

When he said the Real-Time Summit

was a great event

Had a lot of fun thanks to Read Write Web

They said it wouldn’t be great and they really didn’t fib

I like meeting experts in the world of social media

It’s more fun than editing Wikipedia

Now I gotta go catch the 7 o’clock train

Real-time web, you know we make it rain!

I’ll catch up with you all a little bit later

I’m @radiofreegeorgy on Twitter.

Autumn Approaches

This is the time of year when the trees begin to look tired. They grow weary of holding their brave, green face. What was bright and lush in the spring is faded and washed by the end of August. They are simply done. They are ready to let go.

The leaves may yellow, but they are not fearful — not of the impending chill or their imminent descent to the earth. Soon, they turn red, a parting gift to us, flaming out as they detach and drift slowly to the ground.

They abandon the branches to face winter alone, to cope with their sudden exposure and bear the weight of snow. The leaves will nestle into the earth, becoming untethered from the backbone of xylem and phloem and liberated from the guise of cuticle, seeking safe harbor in the roots that once nourished them to life. They will come to return the favor.

In the spring, the leaves will be back, speckling the branches with a spry, verdant charm we will have almost forgotten over the ardor of winter. All will be awakened, and all will be new.

Photo by clearlyambiguous / Flickr Creative Commons

They Will Survive

So, there’s this video:

It’s a Holocaust survivor, his daughter and grandchildren dancing to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” at sites such as the Dachau, Auschwitz and Terezin concentration camps. Some people have commented that this is in poor taste, it’s offensive, it’s unwatchable, etc. Others have said it represents spiritual triumph.

As someone who  in 1996 spent a week in Poland touring these very sites, and attended Jewish day schools where our substitute teachers, more often than not, were Holocaust survivors, let me say two things:

  • One of our stops on the March of the Living was the tiny shtetl of Tikocin, once a thriving Jewish village, now a nearly deserted outpost in the middle of the Polish woods. We, a horde of teenage Jews, entered the cavernous synagogue that once sheltered the prayerful yearnings of the devout, now left to hold little but its own emptiness. There, in the echoing hall, we began singing the old Hebrew folk song “Kol Ha’Olam Kulo,” the lyrics of which translate to:

    The entire world is a narrow bridge
    but the main thing is not to fear.

    The short song was repeated, eventually tapering to just the last line, building in intensity each time around. We began dancing in a circle, shouting the words for what seemed like hours but was surely just minutes. The expansive hall echoed with our song and footsteps. Several dozen voices sounded like hundreds. Perhaps it was the most sound — the most life — to have filled those walls in decades.

    When I watch this video, I think of that moment and how even for us, so far removed from the horrors and realities of what took place back then, it was redemptive and empowering. So I have seen the ability of song to reclaim and transform a place. And it doesn’t matter where the song originated. What matters is what it becomes.

  • Plus, everything else aside, Holocaust survivors have earned the right to dance wherever they damn well please.

Listening to the Universe

Sometimes, the universe decides to open up its infinite mouth and start talking. It may be in a language we don’t understand yet, or it may just be gibberish. But regardless, it’s talking. And it’s our job to listen.

Have you ever felt like things were coming to a head? Like you’re teetering on the cusp of a sea change? The barometer rises, the wind shifts, the sky turns a strange color. And then there’s that static, that garble, the message you can’t quite decipher. Not yet.

I’m not one for signs. I’m one for believing that fortune favors the well-prepared.

But this weekend, Rick met a grey kitten on the subway named Georgy. (Let’s assume it’s spelled the right way.) Today, the friendliest cat I’ve ever seen came up to me on the street and started rubbing against my leg. The cat was grey.

I’ve been rethinking the Take Five feature on this site. Today, I get an unsolicited e-mail that completely dovetails with my likely path.

Today, at a conference in Connecticut, I met someone who works at a university in New York — but lived a floor above me in my old Lower Allston three-decker from 2001-2003. I never knew her while she lived in my house.

I won a free pass to the ReadWriteWeb Real-Time Web Summit this Friday in New York, by virtue of a blog comment. The only reason I found out is because I happened to log into my website console and saw a referrer from ReadWriteWeb.

This is just today.

What happens tomorrow?

Either I’m just exceedingly well-prepared, or the universe is about to start speaking my language.

Fighting Magic with Logic

Some people, it seems, are untouchable. It is as if they erect force fields around themselves and their actions, creating a magical aura that precludes critique and shuts down debate. They wield the power, however illusory, of Right.

Oftentimes, what appears to be magic is really just bamboozlement. In those cases, the best weapon is a good question. Obfuscation is weakened by logical inquiry.

(It bears mentioning that questions are so powerful, they can also work in the opposite context. But here, let’s focus on the questions that can dissolve opacity, not the ones that shut down innovation.)

Remember those video games where, if you battered the protective shield around the villain enough, it would eventually dissolve and leave him defenseless? The same principle applies. You penetrate the shield by battering it with question after question after question,  honestly and without snark. You know the answer, or what the answer should be; you’re just waiting for someone else to have no choice but to acknowledge it.

It may seem like such efforts are in vain. Well, it’s not easy. The magic is quite powerful, after all. But if a good question is your best weapon, persistence is your best armor. Keep asking the right questions of the right people and that force field will begin to break down soon enough.

Photo by stevendepolo, Flickr/Creative Commons

Acceptance

Acceptance is weird. Or rather, the quest for it is. By putting yourself in a position of desiring acceptance, you can actually set yourself apart from the place you want to be. You are deferent to it. Simple questions or requests can be interpreted as challenges or competitions. “If I do this right,” you may say to yourself, even if the activity in question is as mundane as chopping onions, “I can gain acceptance.”

But how much is it a matter of perspective? How much is the desire for acceptance and the ensuing competitive approach a function of our own insecurity? How many times is it the case when, if we bothered to stop and look around, we’d see that we’re on the same tier as everyone else. There is no hierarchy. We are already accepted.

As you may have guessed, I’m specifially talking about it in terms of family. It’s amazing how a shift in context can disrupt that understanding. I got it this summer (both personally and professionally). But this spring, in England, it seemed different. Until I realized it wasn’t.

It’s not that you need to win a race. You just have to realize you’re already in the pack. The pace doesn’t matter. You just need to want to be a part of it, to keep moving. The race is its own reward.