Dawn of the Dads
The Friday newsletter does more before 9am than most people do all day.
Before I start today, a brief preface:
It feels strange to be writing about breakfast sandwiches, cocktails and dogs in what’s become a deeply concerning and legitimately heartbreaking moment in world history, and I honestly don’t know what the right approach is. Like many people, I feel powerless in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine: anguished and fearful for the safety and freedom of innocent people, and at a genuine loss to identify a good course of action to demand of our leaders.
I know that consuming news and information on a situation like this from the firehose of the internet can be taxing, and ultimately bad for one’s mental well-being. If this newsletter can provide you a brief break from that, then I’m grateful to have that chance.
I never used to be a morning person.
When I was in high school or college—heck, most of my twenties and early thirties, even—I wouldn’t go to bed until 1 or 2am most nights, if not later. The mornings had nothing for me; nighttime was where interesting things happened. Where fun things happened.
Well, times change, and I’ve changed, too.
Much to the shock and chagrin of my younger self, I’m now firmly a morning person. Maybe it’s just because I’m not interesting or fun anymore, but mornings suddenly have a lot to offer me. Mornings are when things get done—they offer time to prepare for the day ahead, time to get an early workout or some reading in, time to brainstorm a new project or simply time for a cup of coffee and some overseas sports while the rest of the family sleeps in.
Yes, early mornings are the domain of Dads. Now, as always, I use this term not to refer literally to men who have children, but to a mindset that doesn’t hinge on gender or dependents. It’s for people who love to make things overly complex simply for the fun of it; people who appreciate a firm handshake, a well-mowed lawn, and a terrible joke from time to time. Mornings are when we thrive.
And what better way to thrive than to take on a ridiculous project?
This week on the Action Cookbook Friday newsletter, I’ve got for you:
A home edition of a modern-day fast-food classic!
An elegant morning cocktail, because it’s 7am somewhere!
Delightfully pleasant choices in book, music and viewing!
A topical discussion of minor diversions!
A visit from the earliest-rising members of our pack!
Welcome to Friday, friends. Let’s rise and grind.
7) [to the Tune of “Hey Jude”] Take some fast food / and make it better
It’s practically a rite of passage for a food blogger.
If you write about food on the internet, at some point, sooner or later, you’re going to have to attempt making a home version of a familiar fast food item. It’s always done with an implied ironic smile: a tacit appreciation of the absurdity and utter needlessness of taking a widely-available mass-produced food item and recreating it in a home kitchen. The process inevitably takes far more time and costs far more money than just going through the drive-through and getting it from the source would, but that’s not the point. The journey is the point.
Well, I don’t make the rules of food blogging, but I faithfully abide by them.
I’d recently gotten the yearning—as I often do—to make a big mess in the kitchen, to engage in the the kind of use-every-mixing-bowl-and-three-appliances big to-do that causes family members to roll their eyes and keep their distance until it’s time to eat.
I decided to make my own McGriddles.
Introduced in 2003, McDonald’s Frankenstein’s monster of a breakfast sandwich remains one of their most delightfully ludicrous creations, even in the age of TikTok-inspired abominations. Upon its introduction, its structure made the venerable Egg McMuffin look positively quaint: eggs, meat and cheese served between two distinctly maple-flavored pancakes, each stamped with the fast-food giant’s iconic Golden Arches logo. It’s a greasy belly-bomb of a sandwich, and I eat exactly one per year and enjoy and regret it in equal measures.
My version would—as these things often do—improve the quality of the ingredients used, starting from scratch and adding some depth of flavor. It’d also give me the chance to take on two parallel kitchen experiments: first, a good, hearty, sandwich-structural-strength maple-flavored pancake, and second, a mouth-watering homemade breakfast sausage, in addition to the eggs and cheese of the original.
2 maple ricotta pancakes (recipe below)
1 pork sausage patty (recipe below)
1 slice thin omelet
1 slice smoked gouda cheese
For the pancakes, I decided to fancify McDonald’s griddle cake while maintaining the maple flavoring; I modified a recipe for lemon ricotta pancakes by eliminating the lemon and swapping in maple syrup for the sugar.
(I briefly considered finding a way to stamp “AC” on the pancake, but I’ve learned to recognize when I’m getting out over my skis, and thought better of it.)
Maple Ricotta Pancakes
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces ricotta cheese
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
3/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Separate the eggs into yolks and whites.
Combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt) in one mixing bowl, and the wet ingredients (ricotta, maple syrup, milk, egg yolks, vanilla extract) in another. Using a whisk or (preferably) a stand mixer, vigorously beat the egg whites in a third bowl (see, I told you this’d make a mess) until they form stiff peaks.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet, mix well, then gently fold in the stiff egg whites using a rubber spatula. Ladle the mixture onto a lightly-greased electric skillet set to 350F, or a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. This is a thicker batter, so the usual pancake technique of “flip when bubbles start to form” doesn’t really work; after a few minutes tap the sides with a pancake turner, and if they feel set, flip them then.
Now, on to the sausage.
I love breakfast sausage; given the choice, I’ll pick it over bacon nine times out of ten, something that really held me back in the internet of ten years ago. It’s one of those food items that we encounter all the time and rarely make at home, simply because it’s so omnipresent, and that’s a shame. It’s delicious, and it’s not that hard: it’s mostly a matter of getting the seasonings right. Alton Brown’s recipe is a banger, but I wanted something a bit less greasy, as heretical as that might sound, and my approach is a lot simpler—no meat grinder, no fatback; just ground pork, herbs, spices and sugar.
1 pound ground pork
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1-1/2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
a couple grinds fresh black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly by hand until the spices are well-incorporated throughout. Divide into eight balls, and flatten into patties by hand. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.
When ready, lightly spray an electric griddle set to 350F or a non-stick pan over medium-high heat, and gently but firmly press the patties down on the hot surface, smashing them to about 1/4” thick. Cook for 4-5 minutes, and using a thin spatula, carefully flip; ideally you’ll have some nice crispy brown spots on the surface, but it won’t be overcooked.
For the eggs, just cook a simple, thin omelet, and cut to size with a pizza cutter once set.
Once every component is complete, layer a pancake, a slice of smoked gouda, the still-warm omelet, the smashed sausage patty, and cap it off with another pancake. Heck, toss a little hot sauce in there, too.
[extremely Green Day singing “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” voice]
For what it’s worth, it was worth all the while…
Joking aside, this was a great learning venture; the pancakes were killer, and ravenously devoured by my pancake-connoisseur children. (I served the individual components a la carte for them.) Likewise, the sausage was superior to any store-bought version, sweet and savory without being too greasy. It was delicious all together, but there’s plenty to take from the individual parts.
7B) Hey, are you enjoying today’s content?
I don’t often send out these Friday newsletters to the full email list; that’s really where being a paying subscriber to The Action Cookbook Newsletter pays off. You get three newsletters a week, every week, including this stalwart lifestyle guide. You’re also eligible for various promotions, including sticker giveaways, gift card drawings, and the occasional Action CookBox prize package!
Today through the end of February, you can save 20% on an annual subscription to the ACBN by clicking this big, red button:
Who doesn’t love clicking a button? I know I do. Ah, crap, I just subscribed to my own newsletter. Anyways, you should totally do it, too.
Not convinced? Let me pour you a drink while you think about it.
6) Soak it up
I’ve been on a real brown liquor kick for the last couple wee— er, mont— okay, fine, the last 19 years or so. What can I say? I didn’t move to Kentucky because I don’t like bourbon.
A couple weeks ago, though, I was over at a friend’s house, and was served a delicious vodka tonic. It was a helpful reminder that vodka—which I often ignore—can be a delightful change of pace.
Of course, it’s also a blank slate perfect for infusion.
Blood oranges are in season right now, and they’re among my favorite citrus. They look like normal oranges, but they’re goth inside! What’s not to love? Paired with a few sprigs of fresh rosemary, they’d make a lovely infused vodka.
Blood Orange-Rosemary Infused Vodka
1 cup vodka
1 blood orange, thinly sliced
2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary, rinsed well
Layer the sliced oranges and rosemary in a jar with a tight-fitting lid, and pour the vodka over. Seal the jar, shake well, and let sit for 3-4 days, shaking once a day. At the end of the infusion, strain through a cheesecloth and discard the fruit and herbs.
Now, to make a proper drink.
Blood Orange Spritz
2 ounces Blood Orange-Rosemary vodka
1/2 ounce Aperol
4 ounces high-quality tonic water
Blood orange slice and rosemary to garnish
Pour the vodka, Aperol, and tonic over ice, and garnish.
This is a drink that dreams of springtime on a chill winter’s afternoon; a flash of the warm days ahead, but built on the fruits of the current season. It’s crisp, refreshing and light, and it’s pretty darn attractive, too.
Almost makes taking a week off bourbon feel natural. (It’s not natural.)
5) I don’t wanna run away / forever’s just a long long way to go
We’re having a pleasant morning so far, aren’t we? We’ve made a mess in the kitchen, poured a handsome drink, and we’re stealing a few moments of calm before the obligations of the day creep in.
A morning like this calls for some equally-pleasant music, and for that, I turn to Pittsburgh-based folk group Buffalo Rose.
They’ve got a new EP, Rabbit, out just this week, and the release finds them collaborating with folk legend Tom Paxton on a charming quartet of songs, including “Runaway”:
4) What do humans need?
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I enjoy a dark sci-fi concept. Apocalyptic / dystopian stories are right in my wheelhouse, whether it’s reality-grounded speculative fiction like Claire Holroyde’s The Effort, hard sci-fi like Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem, or science-fiction-fantasy like NK Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. The common thread in all of these? Grave, end-of-the-world problems.
But, y’know, sometimes that’s just not what you need. Even if you enjoy the creative freedom that sci-fi and fantasy concepts can allow authors, there are times—especially when things are dark enough in the world—that you need something a little less stress-inducing.
This is where Becky Chambers excels.
The author of such lovely books as To Be Taught, If Fortunate—which I featured in a previous Friday newsletter—Chambers excels at a sort of pleasant, if slightly anxious form of utopianism. She crafts fantastical, richly-imagined worlds often without clear antagonists, stories where the central conflict is more philosophical or spiritual than physical or existential.
Her latest, A Psalm For The Wild-Built, is a slim novella, the first half of a duology that will be completed with the release of A Prayer For The Crown-Shy later this year.
This first volume introduces us to Panga, a society where robots once served the needs of humanity much as they do for us now. Several hundred years ago, though, the robots gained sentience and laid down their tools. A departure was negotiated, and one day, the robots walked en masse into the woods, and have not been seen by humans for centuries.
One day, Sibling Dex, a solitary monk who travels the roads of Panga serving tea and comfort to the humans of Panga, unexpectedly encounters a robot who has returned in search of the answer to a difficult question: what do humans need?
It’s a quick, low-stress read, and while it’s whimsical, it’s by no means flimsy; it’s the kind of work that can make you think without making you sweat, and I eagerly await the second half of the story.
A reminder that all the books I’ve recommended over the past few years of Fridays can be found at my Bookshop affiliate shop. (I receive a commission on these sales, and none of the money goes to putting Jeff Bezos on the moon.)
3) In praise of Abe Weissman, the best character on television
The first few episodes of the fourth season of Amazon’s period-piece comedy series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel dropped this week, and though it’s too early to review the season as a whole, I’m enjoying its return so far. It’s got all the retro charm, Borscht-belt humor, and sharp, witty, completely-unnatural banter I expect from a show by creator Amy Sherman-Palladino (Gilmore Girls, Bunheads). Season 4 picks up where Season 3 left off, with rising-star comedian Miriam Maisel suddenly ditched, Lane Kiffin-style, on an airport tarmac just before what was to be the biggest opportunity of her life, opening for a hugely-popular singer on his European tour.
It seem promising!
Most important, though, the show’s return marks the return of Abe Weissman, Miriam’s fussy, eccentric and opinionated ex-professor father, portrayed by veteran comic actor Tony Shalhoub in his finest role in a long career of terrific characters.
Abe is a delight. Abe is a riot. Abe is my hero.
2) A short and non-exhaustive ranking of the best Wordle knockoffs
Like many people, I’ve quite enjoyed playing the smash-hit word-guessing game Wordle the past several months, even if we can all agree there is entirely too much discourse out there about a simple little web game.
Some people are mad at the omnipresent squares clogging up their social media feeds, while others scowl at the fact that the creator sold his game to the New York Times. Personally, I think it’s neat that he made something people liked and got a seven-figure payday for it, especially when a whole cottage industry sprung up practically overnight trying to cash in on it without him, including some shameless clones like this effin’ guy, who was eventually forced to relent after ripping off the game wholesale.
Beyond scoundrels like that, and beyond a number of snarky parodies, there actually have been some pretty good riffs on the concept.
The beauty of Wordle and the biggest source of its success is its simplicity. It’s not full of bells and whistles and flashing lights, and it’s not designed to reward endless play in the way that many mobile games are. It’s just a thing you do once a day and move on. Other developers have started taking this approach, and though there are probably too many imitators, a few stand out to me, including:
Crosswordle: my love of crosswords is no secret, and this game challenges you to guess two intersecting words, something that can be trickier than it sounds.
Quordle: if one game of Wordle is good, why not play four at once? You get nine tries instead of the original’s six, but you’ve got four words to work on simultaneously. Here’s a reenactment of me playing it:
Absurdle: this one takes the form of a game of cat and mouse; like Wordle, you’re guessing five-letter words, but unlike the original, the answer isn’t set in advance. Instead, after each guess, the computer resets to a word that can be made from the remaining letters, requiring a strategy of careful elimination. You’ve got to figure out how to corner the game, and it’s awfully tricky.
Worldle / Globle: I’ve always been a geography nerd; I’d read atlases as bedtime stories as a kid. (Seriously.) These games each offer a chance to guess the country of the day, in slightly different formats (Worldle tells you the direction and distance your guesses are off by, while Globle plays a color-coded version of hot-and-cold.
Semantle: Okay, this one is just insane. Instead of guessing a word letter-by-letter, you’re guessing a word based on how semantically-similar it is to your guesses. I am terrible at this game, but I am determined to conquer it, at least once.
Have you encountered any good ones I haven’t mentioned? Let us know!
1) Who’s up early with you, anyways?
Okay, so… fine. I’ll admit it. Most of the reason I’m up early is because Olaf, my handsome idiot shepherd mix, begins whining to go outside at 5am. The early bird gets the worm, and the early dog knocks me over while I’m still rubbing sleep from my eyes. But how else are you going to start your day?
Let’s visit with a few of your early birds.
First up, Dave A—winner of a Homefield Apparel gift card in one of my many recent promotional giveaways—has a big boy to share with us:
This is Boulder, our 1.5 year old, 105 pound Akita. He goes from being a highly-attentive and vocal watchdog to taking up space as a lumpy shag rug/fuzzy end table at a moment's notice. Loves walks, exploring the backyard, all kinds of toys (especially round ones he can kick like a soccer ball), receiving treats or ice cubes, and falling or drifted snow. Dislikes/is wary of most strangers, neighbors, visitors and extended family members he goes months without seeing. Indifferent toward most other dogs and the two cats with whom he shares our house.
“Highly-attentive and vocal watchdog” sounds like something I would hear John O’Hurley narrate during the National Dog Show as a euphemism for “boy is this guy a handful”. Get a load of the head on this guy. This dog’s 40% skull. I love him and fear him in equal measure. Great dog.
Next up, Alex S. has [Dr. Venkman voice] cats and dogs, living together:
Here is two:
1) a classic tale as old as time: an older cat (Diva, the black one) immensely hates it when a younger cat (Zorro) gets brought in to the house. She constantly wants to end him. He’s now bigger than her and doesn’t take her mess anymore. It’s glorious.
The simmering rivalries of pet world always bring me such delight. Great cats.
2) here’s my dog Max. He’s the goofiest smart golden I’ve ever met. Has been spoiled to the point that he absolutely loves snuggling under a blanket on the couch for indefinite periods of time… unless he heard you peel a banana.
I was so fascinated by this character detail that I followed up in a subsequent email with Alex to confirm that this dog actually enjoys bananas, as the time we gave my childhood dog Shadow a piece of banana has gone down in Hines family lore. She just walked around with it in her mouth, completely baffled but unwilling to either eat it or spit it out, for the better part of an hour. It might’ve been the worst day of her life and I say that despite her being a roadside rescue. Alex clarified:
He does!!! He absolutely loves them — like, he will legitimately drool over the chance to have a banana.
They're healthy for dogs in small portions, so the humans in his life tend to split our bananas with him when we're around, so he gets about half of one a day.
What a time to be alive.
Finally this week, Amy D. has a dog who accurately reflects my own personal vibe in a way I didn’t think possible, and brings today’s newsletter full-circle in the process:
I forgot to send this in last year so thank you for PET PIC PLEA today.
In early December I was called to watch Winston just for the weekend and we went on an epic walk to get a breakfast biscuit. He and I couldn't get inside, natch, but we sent Joey in to save our hungry souls and I snapped this pic that I think sums up the situation perfectly. Shout out to the best breakfast sandwiches in the neighborhood, L&M Fine Foods. I know you have a soft spot for corgis.
He’s perfect, and he deserves a breakfast sandwich.
Thank you to everyone who submitted (and everyone whose pictures are still in the queue). I hope you have a restful, safe, and restorative weekend, and I thank you for making The Action Cookbook Newsletter a part of your week.
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)
If you have issue with the sale of Wordle to the Times, you should take it up with the lawyer who brokered the deal, who may or may not be a dear old friend of mine and may or may not also read this newsletter. (Hi, Bill.)
The breed standard for beagles says they 'need not be exercised to exhaustion to rest' and every time I read that I swear quietly under my breath as Gimbal literally tries to leap over my head.
My day is already better knowing that Max loves bananas.