Friday, January 28, 2011

Dutch treat

The tension was more than he could bear. As soon as Mrs. Hall had come down that morning, Mr. Hall knew things were going to be bleak. Her terse little remark about the anemic color of the morning brew, the way she flicked the newspaper as she perused the published obit she had written the night before; even the way she stood and looked down, in that disappointed way that she had, at her usual morning bowl of bran and blueberries- all these were signs Mr. Hall knew and recognized. All was not going to be right at the Hall. He put down the WCNY programming magazine he had been reading (the one with the bio of the Halls featured in it) and gently suggested that perhaps Mrs. Hall would like to take a personal day today, and stay home. A wave of relief seemed to float over her and she said that perhaps, yes, she would.
As soon as he left, she had engaged in a flurry of household activity, but by 11:00 am Mrs. Hall decided it was time for A Little Something. A couple of weekends ago, Mr. Hall, while scanning a recent copy of GQ, had run across a recipe . “Isn’t this thing called a ‘Dutch Baby’ what you ordered in Chicago last summer?” he asked. Mrs. Hall swept the magazine out of his hands- it was indeed the recipe for one of her favorite breakfasts, the raison d'ĂȘtre for its inclusion in the men’s quarterly being its ease of preparation. So easy, in fact, that it (loosely) implied that even a gentleman who was perhaps the worse for an evening’s entertainment, could make it and impress his breakfast companion(s), while still in the throes of recovery. She had purchased the issue on the spot.
“Mmm…. Dutch Baby….” Mrs. Hall let the idea simmer in her head for approximately ten seconds before she hastily began assembling the necessary ingredients. For years, Mrs. Hall had been shelling out considerable scratch for her breakfast fix at the few dining establishments in Chicago that actually made this specialty. She had assumed it was some keenly held and long guarded family secret, known only to trusted employees who had been sworn to lifelong secrecy (presumably involving some sort of blood ritual, but that was the romantic in her). She was aghast to find that with the merest collusion of egg and liquid she, too, was able to create kitchen alchemy. It was an epiphany long desired.
The aroma emitting from the oven was a Tantalus; she struggled to busy herself with other chores downstairs where she might not be subject to her desire to open the stove every five minutes and disturb its progress. With the reverence of an Asian tea service she carefully laid out the requisite lemon wedges and powdered sugar. At last, the timer blared and in a puff of heavenly fragrance, the Dutch Baby appeared: brown and airy and perfect.
In the custardy stupor that followed, all sense of time and worry dissipated. Pharmacological progress over the last hundred years may be judged to have taken strides undreamt of by our forefathers, but nothing within the annuals of medicine could have transported her like the Dutch Baby. It was the perfect opiate.
When Mr. Hall returned home that evening and inquired of her day, she found that while she could recall, in detail, the events of the morning prior to the indulgence, the rest of her day remained an impenetrable blur. “Probably fighting off a cold,” he shrugged, as he hung up his coat. “It’s a good thing you stayed home. Would you like me to get you an aspirin or something?” but she waved him off. “Better not to over-prescribe,” she slurred. Floating upstairs to her room, she left Mr. Hall deeply puzzled.

For the Gentle Reader's own enjoyment:

The Dutch Baby
2 tablespoons butter
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Garnish: Lemon wedges, powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Put the butter in a 9" or 10" pie plate, place it in the oven, but remove as soon as the butter is melted. Mix the remaining ingredients together with a whisk; pour into pie pan. Immediately return to oven. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes until even browned. Remove (you should be able to just lift the pancake directly out of the pie plate easily), squeeze some fresh lemon juice over the pancake and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Slice (or tear, if you wish) and serve immediately.

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