Life in the Slow Lane: "Autumn Pancakes"

I'm absolutely enjoying this wet fall weather of ours. Cold weather means it's time for WARM food again! Give me a soup or cooked veggies over a salad any day. So, waking up to a overcast chill morning this morning instantly sparked a need for pancakes.

I'll start by saying that I've been at the stove, cooking from scratch and loving it, since my early teens. One of my sisters reminded me recently that I cooked my first complete Thanksgiving dinner (for eight, no less--I'm the oldest of 6) at 16. There's something inherently creative about making a meal. Moreover, mealtime is often the best puzzle of the day. Being a writer and not a carpenter, I guess it's no surprise that I like crossword puzzles, but am not too keen on jigsaws. The refrigerator door opens and I see a few sausages, a bit of chopped onion and a half-empty jar of olives...and, voila, pasta!

As for pancakes, they're basic and so darn easy I can't understand why anyone wastes their money on that mix that comes in a box, or the one in the bag. Talk about creative! Pancakes are the bomb. Because the batter can be thinned a little without losing flavor or cook-ability (a homemade word, I'm sure), various children over the years have eaten Teddy bears, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and certain flowers. Although I've done a Yoda, I draw the line at Transformers.

So here's the pancake recipe I've been using for the last 45 years. (Holy smokes! That's a really long time!). Before I throw the ingredients at you, I'll add some notes. If you're using CAFO eggs, you'll need two instead of one. Free-range eggs are seriously different than CAFOs. I use vanilla sugar for my pancakes. This is regular sugar into which I've stuck my used vanilla bean pods. They give the sugar--and the pancakes--a wonderful flavor. If you don't have vanilla beans, consider adding 1/2 tsp vanilla extract to the batter. I make my own baking powder because I don't want the metal. Again, it's dirt simple: 2 parts Cream of Tartar to 1 part Baking Soda. This mixture tends to clump (no additives to keep it smooth), so I run it through a small sieve if I want it as powdery as the commercial kind. Generally, clumpy doesn't make a difference, though. A "milk-like substance" is the liquid of your choice. Outside of my own cow's milk, I've used Almond milk, Rice milk, Soy milk, Oat milk (really tasty! too bad we don't have it in the US), and I bet Hazelnut milk would be delicious! This morning I used a cup of goat yogurt plus 1/2 cup of water to thin it. Salt...if you're going to use salt, make it an unrefined salt that's full of all the trace minerals the average US diet lacks: Remonds, Celtic, Himalayan, your choice. As for the pan, choose one you know heats well, whether cast iron or stainless steel. I'm not a fan of no-stick but I hear they work well enough. Me, I prefer butter, real butter and lots of it. It's worth it.

As for toppings, I suspect by now you know I'm going suggest real Maple syrup. Not Grade A, though. Grade B is not only cheaper, it's got a lot more flavor and body. I grew up on the corn syrup version of syrup because my father said Maple syrup tasted like metal in his mouth. Imagine my surprise when I first had the real stuff! I never went back. But these days I'll trade off between Maple syrup and my homemade Raspberry Shrub for a topping. Yum!

Pancakes (depending on size, makes about 8 dessert plate sized pancakes)

• 1 egg

• 2 tbsp sugar

• 1 cup of a milk-like substance

• 1 cup of flour, gluten-rich or gluten free

• 1 tsp baking powder

• 1/2 tsp baking soda

• pinch of salt

Put your medium-sized skillet on the stove and turn it to somewhere between medium-low and medium. Whisk together the egg, milk-substance and sugar. Stir in the rest of the ingredients until thoroughly mixed. Let the batter stand for a few minutes. Add a tablespoon of butter to your pan. Using a serving spoon, ladle a SMALL amount of batter in the pan. The first pancake is always a bust. I don't know why that is, but after 45 years, it's just one of those truths I accept without question. Throw away the first pancake, then spoon in more batter, filling your spoon this time. As your pancake cooks small bubbles will appear on it's surface. If you're watching, you'll see that the bubbles burst then close up until, suddenly, they burst and stay open. That's when you can flip the pancake. Once it's flipped, press lightly with your spatula and you'll see batter ooze up out of the cooked surface. Over the next moments, press lightly a few more times until batter no longer shows up on top. Remove the pancake and repeat.

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