Thursday, November 17, 2011

Wicklow Pancake





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Carrying on with my non-Thanksgiving-themed meals, I bring you the Wicklow Pancake.  Today’s entry is decidedly non-Irish, although this recipe for a not-quite-a-pancake, not-yet-an-omelet* comes from one of my favorite regional cookbooks, The Country Cooking of Ireland.  This cookbook is a real pleasure, and I have not one but two recipes from this book already filed on this blog.  However, the entry begins in Ireland and ends in Oakland, with a stop on Virginia Woolf's Bond Street in between. 

(Yes, the Brittney pun was intended, but has no bearing on the rest of the post.  I just couldn't resist.)

I turned 21 in Wicklow in the little border town of Bray.  Famous residents of this seaside vacation spot south of Dublin include James Joyce, Bono, and Oscar Wilde.  Count me in their company for a short while and merely by geography.  However, I will take the company any chance I can get.  When I first arrived in Ireland in the fall of 1995, I stayed with a family near Bray Head.  The mother of the family would sit in the afternoons with her pot of tea, teaching me Irishisms, and the two little boys in the family clamored to ride piggyback as we hiked to beautiful overlooks to watch the sunset.  

The top of Bray Head (some pictures from 1995.  The hillside was badly burnt, but the views were gorgeous.)

On the night of my 21st birthday, the entire family was kind, the boys making me a card, the mother tying the house key around my neck before sending me out to celebrate with my newfound friends.  That night, I swam in the Irish Sea and sang tunes in the local pub.  When I returned “home,” the mother of the family was waiting up, and she kindly put me to bed.

Later that year in Ireland, I moved to the West coast and studied in Galway, where I took 10 literature classes, I kid you not.  For one of them (forget which—was it Women Writers?  Modernism?), I read Mrs. Dalloway, a book I am reading for book club next month and teaching this coming spring.  I just reread the book this past week, but that fall I cracked the spine on my first copy of Mrs. Dalloway: I remember being in love with it the moment I began on somewhat unsteady feet.  I didn't quite understand the structure of the book, but my first copy of this book is dogeared and underlined every couple of pages, and the final page is covered in notes.  This is one of those books that ranks up there with Ulysses (even though Woolf thought the book and its squalid, little goat writer to be unimpressive, smutty, and a bit boring), Beloved, Jane Eyre, and The Great Gatsby for me. 



Sure, Virginia said to Vita Sackville-West that To the Lighthouse was her best book—but she said it ironically when she sent Vita a dummy copy of the cover with the interior of the book filled with only blank pages.  Virginia worried that Vita would not get the joke and sent a follow-up letter to clarify.  Deep down, I am convinced, even Virginia knew that Mrs. Dalloway was her best book.  Or at least it was the book that most beautifully affirmed life.  Yes, Clarissa “always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day.”  And yes, she confronts the courage and beauty of Septimus’ death as it enters her party.  But she begins the day, watching sky writing, thinking, “overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June.”  And in the end “there she was,” her identity not fixed, as fluid as it ever was.  But she is as much in life at the final moment of the party as she was when at the opening moment of buying her own flowers.  “I meant to write about death, only life came breaking in as usual,” Woolf wrote in her diary on the 17th of February in 1922 as she was writing this novel.  I do feel it with this book—the life breaking in as usual.   



There is this sense that in the midst of horror for Clarissa (the aftermath of war, the encroaching madness, the news of a suicide, the loss of a daughter’s affection) and for all of us that life does, indeed, break in.  I find this beautiful book strangely and hauntingly hopeful in the end, as Clarissa reenters the room after having faced death and as old friends Peter (her once-rejected love) and Sally (the woman whose kiss marks the happiest moment in her life) gaze upon her and know that she is indeed there, or as there as she ever was and ever will be.  Maybe it’s the act of this fiftyish woman re-entering a room to her lovesfirst, current, and taboo—who know her in a way that she does not know herself and whom she knows in ways they do not know themselves that pleases me.

All of this brings us to Oakland, some 16 years after a fall and winter studying in Ireland and some 86 years after the publication of Mrs. Dalloway (86!).  This morning, I have been reading a Virginia Woolf biography, and I have fantasies of going to Cornwall to stay at Talland House, where Woolf spent much of her childhood summers. While I am not making the food mentioned in the novel (chicken in aspic, anyone?), I whipped up this little breakfast goodie.  Clearly, this breakfast was a way to use up day-old bread.  The texture is smooth like a pancake, but the taste is more like a frittata.  I tried to invert it, but the bottom (now the top) stuck a little to the pan.  But it turned out alright in the end.  


My attempt to turn the pancake on its head.

So I sat to eat my Wicklow pancake and think back on the time in Bray.  Like Clarissa, I find the past weaves with seams exposed into the present.  And now, as much as I would rather garden or cook or write or run, it's time to start grading those final exams.  In the mean time, enjoy...

See you can even see the stack of finals that I need to grade.


One Year Ago: Homemade Granola (I make this recipe ALL THE TIME now without the oil and with varying grains, seeds and fruit.  I sometimes use agave syrup instead of honey.  Seriously, this one is good.)

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Wicklow Pancake

Yield:
4 Servings

Ingredients:  
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream  [I used 1/4 cup cream, and 1 3/4 cup milk, because that's what I had.  The world did not stop turning]
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs [preferably fresh ones that you have made yourself from day-old bread]
4 scallions, trimmed and minced
2-3 sprigs parsley, trimmed and minced
1 tsp fresh thyme, chives, rosemary [whatever herbs you have handy]
salt and pepper
4 tablespoons butter

Instructions:
1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2.  In a large bowl, beat the eggs lightly, then gently beat in the milk and cream.  Stir in the bread crumbs, scallions, parsley sprigs, and thyme, then season to taste with salt and pepper.

3.  Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium-low heat in a large, heavy, ovenproof skillet, then pour in the egg mixture.  Cook fro 5 to 8 minutes or until the bottom of the pancake browns.  Put the skillet in the oven and bake until the pancake puffs slightly and the top browns, 20 to 25 minutes.

4.  Turn the pancake out onto a large plate and garnish with parsley leaves.  To serve, cut the pancake into 4 wedges.  Put a pat of butter atop the pancake if you wish.

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