Chestnut Pancakes

I have a dilemma. It’s one that has plagued me all my life, or at least since I was old enough to appreciate the joy that a simple cup of coffee and a few moments of quiet and solitude in the morning can bring. Here’s the dilemma: I’m a morning person. Of course, this is not a dilemma on its own. Considering, however, that I’m also something of a night owl, this creates a bit of an inner turmoil. Add the fact that I am one of those people who just can’t function on less than 8 hours of sleep a night, and you see how I might struggle to reconcile my incompatible preferences.

I love the morning because of the solitude, the smell of coffee brewing, watching Woodley (most decidedly not a morning dog) continue to dream as he flinches and flaps his paws in his deep state of sleep. I love getting a head start on my emails, the morning headlines, the daily news shows. I love that I have a whole day left ahead of me once I’ve done all of these things.

I love the nighttime for many of the same reasons. After a hectic day, I can slow back down to catch up on emails, to return to my news shows (among other shows, mostly of the type found on Bravo). I love that Gennaro — a definite night owl — and I can sit and unwind to our favorite shows, after the dog is walked, the dishes done, the bills paid. And even those nights when we don’t have our shows, and I don’t have so many emails, and when I’m not lost in a good book, I somehow feel like I’m missing out on something if I go to bed too early. I’m like the kid who resists her nap for fear of missing out on all the fun while she’s asleep.

My need for 8 hours of sleep usually makes the night-owl side of me, by default, the winner. If I’m up too late, which I usually am, it’s hard for me to wake up early in the morning.  I’ve been lucky enough to be in school for the last seven years of my life, so I learned not to schedule any early morning classes. Though when I did have the rare unavoidably early class to attend, and forced myself to go to bed early and get a good night sleep, I learned that I had a special place in my heart for mornings as well.

Every once-in-awhile, just for the fun of it, I do wake up early on the weekends. If anything, it’s just to enjoy a hot cup of coffee and some morning baking. Pancakes, of course, are the perfect compliment to these lazy, early Saturdays. Last Saturday (New Year’s Day, in fact), was one of those, and I decided to forgo my usual weekend breakfast fare for something really special and unique. My mom sent me back to New York after Christmas with a package of chestnut flour, challenging me to find something to make with it. This delirious-smelling flour is something of an enigma. It’s like coconut flour in its ability to absorb massive amounts of liquid — so much so that you keep adding more and more until you have a batter that bears some modicum of familiarity. Which is what I did, of course. I added more and more liquid to what was intended to be an all-chestnut flour batter until I finally thought it at least resembled a pancake batter, then discovered, to my dismay, that this rendered my “pancakes” unreconizable gooey blobs once in the pan. So I tried again, this time using the chestnut flour as a compliment to a brown rice flour-based batter. Much better.

The moisture of chestnut flour makes this version slightly less “cakey” than most pancakes. But they’re too good (in my opinion) in their own right not to share at all, at the risk of offending those pancake purists who have one thing in mind and won’t accept any variations. They’re especially good drizzled with some cinnamon-laced agave nectar. Now that I have this recipe down, I have a new thing to add to my list of things I love about the mornings. Then again, pancakes make a wonderful late-night snack as well…

Yield: about 15 pancakes

Chestnut Pancakes:

½ cup chestnut flour (mine came from here)

1 cup brown rice flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons flax seed meal

1 cup unsweetened almond milk

½ cup water

¼ cup agave nectar

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil, plus more for brushing pan


1. In a mixing bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, salt and flaxseed meal. Add remaining ingredients and whisk until incorporated. Let sit for 10 minutes.

2. Brush a cast iron skillet or pancake griddle with oil. Heat over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes, until hot (to test: drop a teaspoon of batter onto the skillet and see if it sizzles). Drop scant 1/4 cups of batter onto hot skillet, a few inches apart, and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on the first side, until golden brown on the bottom and bubbly on top. Slip and cook second side for another 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Remove pancakes to a plate.

3. Repeat step 2 as necessary with remaining batter.


Red Breakfast Quinoa

While health magazines and nutrition gurus will tell you that fiber-rich breakfasts like oatmeal are the key to keeping us full until lunchtime, it’s a rare circumstance with anybreakfast that I last beyond 10 a.m. without feeling lightheaded and woozy, needing a snack. It’s true that my low blood sugar plays an unwelcome role in this phenomenon. Gennaro can attest to this. He’s long been accustomed to the wrath of Beth without her snacks, and has since initiated a campaign to get me to carry them in my purse at all times, lest “Mama Beast” (an extension of the “Mama B” nickname I acquired when I became a mama to Woodley) rears her ugly head.

So while breakfast may, in fact,  be the most important meal of the day, it’s especially a priority for me. It sets the tone for the rest of my day. If I fail to remember Gennaro’s words of warning and find myself trapped — in a doctor’s office, a classroom — without snacks and between meals, a really good breakfast is all the reinforcement I have to back me up. Thus began my self-initiated challenge to find the breakfast that fills me up the longest before my next meal. For awhile, these breakfasts were savory, as fruit tends to spike my blood sugar in the morning, only catalyzing the inevitable late-morning crash (on that note, scrambled tofu with broccoli, tamari and brown rice was a great, make-ahead-and-heat-up option). But I soon longed for the idea of breakfast. I needed something breakfasty to go with my morning cup of coffee (also probably not a great help with the crash thing…but I’m working on that). Fried rice wasn’t doing it for me anymore.

When my brother and I were young, my dad had breakfast duty. This was nice for me, not only for the fact that my dad was a surprisingly decent breakfast-maker, but also because he was sport enough to play “talking Cinderella”  many mornings (for those curious, “talking Cinderella” was a modified version of  Cinderella, in which I was Cinderella and my dad — lucky him — got to be one of the evil stepsisters. The only difference was that we talked it all out, so as not to keep my dad from his breakfast duties). One of the most memorable items in the breakfast rotation was cream of wheat, especially once we discovered the chocolate stuff. Probably loaded with artificial flavors and tons of sweetener (this likely before my mom caught wind of what was on the label), my brother and I were too young to care and too mesmerized with the process of its creation that we seldom wanted anything else.  That, and the fact that we were — gasp! — actually allowed chocolate at breakfast.

For some reason this breakfast quinoa reminds me of cream of wheat. Maybe it’s the solid-absorbs-liquid parallel that so captivated me many years ago. Maybe it’s the creamy, sometimes grainy texture of the cream of wheat that I’m reminded of now. So, yes, there’s the nostalgia element here (I’m getting a lot of that lately, huh?). But — BONUS! — this breakfast quinoa meets my personal requirements for a balanced breakfast: fiber, nutrients, protein and more protein (almond butter and quinoa being two great protein sources). I’ve officially declared this my go-to for fending off Mama Beast days.

Breakfast Quinoa:

The recipe below is for single-serving portions. Simply adjust — double, triple, whatever — according to servings needed. I like this with just a dash of cinnamon, but it would be great with some dried fruit or fresh banana as well. You could definitely substitute regular quinoa for the red, but I prefer red here for its subtle nuttiness and crunchier texture.

1/3 cup dry red quinoa, rinsed well

2/3 cup water

1/3 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk (regular will work as well)

1 tablespoon creamy roasted almond butter

12-15 drops NuNaturals liquid vanilla stevia

a dash of cinnamon


1. Add quinoa and water to a small pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Boil until quinoa has absorbed all of the liquid (keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t burn).

2. When quinoa has absorbed the liquid, add almond milk and bring to a simmer. Simmer until about half of the milk has been absorbed. Remove from heat and stir in almond butter until distributed throughout. Add stevia and adjust sweetness according to taste. Sprinkle with a bit of cinnamon and serve.