Cooking in the time of COVID-19: The Pancake Smile.

It is the second week of lock-down as we try to stop the spread of COVID-19. I woke to more bad news of it’s impact around the world and I was disappointed to learn there are still people gathering in large numbers, refusing to heed the advice of medical officials, begging them to stay at home.

MIAMI BEACH, FL – MARCH 17: People eat at a restaurant along Ocean Drive on March 17, 2020 in Miami Beach, Florida in spite of warnings from government and medical officials worldwide. Raedle/Getty Images/AFP

Opening up the curtains in my kitchen, I looked up at a perfectly blue sky; white wispy clouds like puffs of cotton drifting by. It is business as usual for Mother Nature as spring blooms. I could see shoots of my annuals pushing skyward from the earth, little chickadees popping in and out of our birdhouse and a pregnant robin and her mate, perched on a nearby branch of the massive Russian Olive tree in my yard. Yep, that’s my girl, Mother Nature, the greatest force, doing her thing in spite of the pandemic that is raging through every country on the planet.

I may be disappointed in mankind, but I was uplifted by the beautiful day and wanted my family to wake up to something welcoming. So, I decided to make pancakes. The recipe is etched in my mind after watching my mother make them for us every Sunday for years. I remember she would set up her special Teflon pan. It was a Sun Beam and it had it’s own power source and stand and she had special cooking utensils she used to prevent the surface from scratching. Seems like she had that pan forever – I think it may have made the trip up to Toronto when our family migrated. That pan is a significant part of my childhood memories and I liked that it was a big deal, even though there is nothing easier than making pancakes from scratch. I remember her telling me that making it from a boxed mix took the same amount of time than making it from scratch and why would one want to sacrifice taste and texture by a heavy box mix? Oh Mom, you are so right and I am so happy I have never made pancakes from a box or poured my family’s dinner ready-made out of a can. Thank you for extending your sweet hand to both your girls and just so you know, it is a pleasure for us to cook alongside you. This recipe I am about to share I have also taught to my son, Logan and I have to say, they guy makes a damn good batch of pancakes, ensuring that granny’s recipe is still being extended through the generations.  My mother always had a smile on her face when she made pancakes for her family because she was making them with so much love. I wanted to smile today in spite of all that is unfolding around us, so I gathered the ingredients on the counter and got to work.

Since there is no school or sports to get to, I decided to make a smaller batch that yields about 20 mid sized pancakes. Usually, I can make about 30 to 40, so this morning, this will be quick. Sift 1 1/2 cups of unbleached flour with a teaspoon of baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda into a bowl. Add a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of brown or white sugar and mix. Throw in a pinch of nutmeg and cinnamon if you have it and mix again. By now, you should be smiling.

 

Next, add a tablespoon of olive oil (or vegetable of whatever oil you have available), a splash of vanilla and an egg to the dry ingredients.

   Measure out 1 cup of almond milk or regular milk (we use lactose free milk) and add to the other ingredients. Mix well with a whisk, adding a little more milk or water if batter seems too thick.

 

Place a seasoned pan on stove on high heat for about a minute. As mentioned in a previous post, I like The Rock line of cookware because food never sticks to it and it is so easy to clean. I usually use the Rock mini griddle pan for pancakes but I think it grew legs and left the house, so today I am using a big frying pan which means I’ll be done sooner because I can make 3 at a time if I want to.

(A seasoned pan is a pan coated evenly with butter or olive oil. Pan must shine without having excess oil that could change the consistency of the batter)

    

Once the pan is hot, lower burner temperature to medium/low heat. Place a small amount of batter in pan and wait for it to bubble before flipping it. This is the runt pancake.

    It will either be too light and look under-cooked or it will be too dark and spongy. Such is the plight of the runt pancake which used to be called the “doggie” pancake when we had a dog. The runt pancake is very normal. It happens every time. The next pancakes come out perfectly – they rise a bit, are nice and tender and are are a nice medium brown colour with a lighter brown, smooth underside.

  

Continue to spoon the batter into the pan, wait for all the bubbles to appear then flip.

  Repeat this until you run out of batter. The kitchen will have a gorgeous inviting smell and I guarantee you will catch yourself smiling, especially when it comes time to plating and serving it to your family.

   If you have fruit of any kind, now’s a nice time to serve it up. I usually have frozen raspberries or frozen strawberries or pitted cherries.Today, I decided on raspberries, so I took them out of the freezer before I started making the pancakes, so they thawed and juicy by the time I was ready to plate. Like my mom, from time to time I like to make a small production of the presentation of my pancakes.

As you can see, I served the pancakes with a few raspberries on top, a drizzle of maple syrup and a light dusting of icing sugar to make it a little special with some sliced banana on the side.

The pancake scent wafted throughout the home and soon, I heard the thundering of feet up the stairs bringing hungry bellies to the table. With smiles on their faces, the only words said were “Pancakes! Thanks, Mom.” They were smiling, I was smiling and there was a feeling of warmth, comfort and love inside my home this morning in spite of the harsh reality of the pandemic outside.

During this time of isolation, make comfort food for your family, check in with each other and try and enjoy this time as we slow ourselves down, hunker down at home and contribute to the efforts being made to bring this virus down. Stay at home, leave only for supplies and limit your time in public. Wash your hands, wipe down and clean all surfaces and do all you can to stay healthy.

 

From Home Straight to Heaven, Making No Stops in Between.

*(This piece was written yesterday, September 9th, and just as I was about to post it, I had an emergency with my younger son.  He is okay and now that I am home and all is said and done, I thought I would post this, as the whole time I was sitting with my own child, my mind was also on someone else’s.)

I had so many plans for this morning, yet I find myself sitting here in my living room, my house quiet, my heart broken and a million questions and thoughts in my head.  I suppose I am fortunate to be able to write freely.  Words swim in my head all day long, ideas, memories, phrases, dialogue.  I have been like this all my life, so to me, it’s as normal as the dizziness and the neck aches that accompany the endless movement of words in my mind some days.  I am sitting here, tears flowing down my face and I can’t stop them because of the news I read on Facebook – that maddening forum that updates me on everyone and everything way too often, interrupting my day like chronic hiccups, yet I cannot leave it. I have had to pare down my friends to the people in my life who I need to stay in touch with – my friends who live in cities where I once did, my dear sisters from my high school Alma Mater, St. Joseph’s Convent, my cousins, my Trinidadian friends, some people from Syracuse University and Ryerson and a smattering of people in the community where I live.

Today I read that the son of one of my SJC sisters passed away.   I have known this woman since we were children in Maria Regina Grade School on Abercromby Street, Port of Spain, Trinidad.  She had always been this artistic, tall, beautiful creature with a huge smile and bubbly personality.  I don’t remember Leisel upset in school.  Ever. She was fun! She was life! … One of those unforgettable people and it was wonderful to be able to reconnect with her after all these years.

Time did what it does and we all grew up, some of us moving to different places, some of us staying in Trinidad, all of us going our separate ways, yet thanks to a 30 year reunion and two remarkable women who stop at nothing (Carla and Debbie) we were all connected by Facebook in a matter of months. Though we all could not attend, many of us did and the connection on Facebook strengthened the bond between those present and those present in spirit.  We were in each other’s lives again at an age when we were all fully women – no longer high school girls but women with lives that had history and stories of good times, hard times, times of real struggle, failure and success.  We were mothers, aunts, some were grandmothers, career women, friends, wives, ex-wives,care givers and no matter where we were, or what we did with our lives, we all had a common approach to handling the journey that is life.  We turned out to be an army of the strongest women I will ever know, whom, I feel I can count on always and as maddening as Facebook is for me at times, it has allowed my true friends…my sisters, to be just a click away.

I thought I’d be done sobbing by now, but I can’t stop, it seems.  In my head right now, I see us sitting in class in Form 1M, with a ceiling fan struggling to oscillate to keep us from melting in the Caribbean heat.  I can see Leisel next to Lucette facing the giant patio style sort of French doors that allowed them to look onto the school of our male counterparts at CIC (St. Mary’s).  I can see Lorna and if memory serves me correctly, I think Karlene was in my class too. In my mind I see us in the white blouses and strange sea blue, greenish ( I think gabardine) skirts we wore in our first year, before the material changed, white belts, our “washikongs” powdery with Whitening and white turned down socks.  Young girls dressed with so much white, perhaps to maintain some purity of spirit and mind as we teetered on the brink of becoming young women.  Who knew that in one class 4 of us would mother children who were special.  Knowing what I know of people’s lives, who knew one girl in our year would not live long into adulthood, or that others would have to fight terrible illnesses, deal with difficult marriages, deal with judgement from loved ones, would lose a spouse and another girl just a year ahead would lose her adult daughter in the most tragic of ways.  Where was that crystal ball?

Life is a strange, perplexing, meandering river.  As we float from bend to bend, we sometimes bounce off the rocks and miss out on some things.  Other times we bank safely on the sand and achieve greatness and everybody, everybody hits the rapids and capsize once in a while, getting something that they have to deal with for a longhard time.   In life, there is no answer to the question Why me?  No answer to Why us? …Why my child? … Why my sister(s)/ brother(s)? … Why my husband? … Why my parents? … Why my friend?  When you get the hand you are dealt you have to get out of bed, rub your eyes, take a breath, get to your feet and start the day and the next and everyday from there on end because even if you didn’t sign up for it, the life you have is the one you got, every damn day and you just have to make the best of it and make it work.  Every single one of us who went to our school, (and I am sure women attending other schools in T&T will feel the same about their camaraderie) …all of us posses the mettle to stand up and deal with our lives and move forward. While a situation might really rock us, none of my SJC sisters ever crumble. No matter what our faith or beliefs are we are strong and when we are not not, we acknowledge the moments when we are weak, we accept them and we find strength in others and in our God, knowing “this too shall pass,”.

I am perplexed by life all the time and particularly today.  As a mother of a child with special needs, I wonder what it must feel like for my friend now that her boy is gone.  Today she must be very busy as there is a lot to do when a person passes away. It will be punctuated by tears and sadness, but what is she going to do a few days from now after he is laid to rest.  There is a routine with special kids. Mind you, her journey with her son was so much more involved than I could ever imagine.  I cannot fathom the things she had to do to care for her boy while raising her other children.  I can only imagine she needed more than 24 hours in her day and that there was never enough help and not enough dates when her and her husband could just go out and have a coffee and were there ever enough moments when she could just sit and be still for a decent amount of time?  The routine she once had is gone and a whole lot of stuff that she had to deal with will gradually not need her attention, and while it will provide some relief to her, and her husband and allow more time for them and their children, it will be a huge void after years of doing all that they did for him.  I wonder what will she do now? How does one go from doing so much to not doing it anymore?  But, she is one of us and she will know what to do.  There is one consolation I will mention here but I must warn you, reader, I am not being insensitive.  I am speaking as a mother who has a child that will always need me albeit not physically or emotionally all the time, but he will need me to make decisions for him, major decisions for his whole life, beyond my grave.  I feel that if there is any consolation in the loss of her son, my friend can always know that he passed surrounded by parents who were there the day he came into this world. He was ushered into the world by love; he left it in love.  My son is a physical phenomenon.  It is part of his autism, actually.  He will out live us and it will not surprise me if he outlives his younger brother and younger cousins.  I will not be there to usher him out of the world and if there is no family to do so, I can only hope we set up our Will effectively enough that at least a compassionate stranger will be there for him at that time.  We live in a world that has shown me time an again that good struggles to trump evil.  Kindness is not as abundant as it used to be and there is little time for anything, especially for those of us who need just a bit more time.  When my thoughts go to that day,  I occasionally wish that my husband or I could be with him, because no one will ever know him or love him the way we do.  No one will know the right things to say to him, or how he likes his arms squeezed or remind him how to breathe deeply so he can deal with pain.  No one will know the right song to lean in and sing quietly into his ear, that will ease his anxiety.  If life goes the way it should, I will not know who will be there. I can only hope it’s a relative … someone who loves him or at least cares a little.

The world of special needs is so involved and heart wrenching, so crazy and frustrating and draining yet so rewarding and filled with love. Reading my friend’s post today is the stuff that shakes my faith. On days like today, I do not understand why people say God does not give you what you can’t handle. On days like today, I don’t understand what I am supposed to do on this journey or why special children comes to some people and not others, or why after years of difficulty, pain and hard work fueled by love and determination, my friend’s son could not get better?  Why could their family not have a fairy tale ending?  I read of miraculous outcomes all the time.  Why couldn’t he be cured miraculously?  Well, “that’s life”, right?  I will never know why and I will leave it at that.

My heart aches for my friend, her loss and all the days ahead that will be so strange and difficult.  I know she will feel release and I hope she will feel a sense of calm come over her in time.  We connected occasionally (as much as time allowed) and I know she worked so hard at raising her kids, caring for them and she put her all into her job… she is a force of nature and when I learned a bit about her life, all I have is an abundance of admiration and respect for her.  She does it all and she does it with such grace.  Her beautiful boy is at peace now. No more discomfort.  No pain.  I wish her peace over time to heal her sadness.  I wish her joy in his memory, in his spirit and the spirit of her other two young ones and I wish her and her husband endless love to strengthen their bond for years to come.

Like every child, her son was s a gift and a source of love and a a beautiful opportunity. He went from his home on Earth, straight to Heaven, making no stops in between. He went to rest in peace and joy knowing he was loved throughout his journey and if heaven is what we think it is, he will watch over his family for the rest of their days.

Leisel, it is such a simple statement that does not do justice to the way anyone feels right now, but we are all so sorry for the loss of your son and we are all just a click away.  Blessings to you and your family my darling.  ~Danie

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