Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Dependence (July 4th Pancakes)

Maine lake and piney woods

        Jane was only home from Cambridge a few days before leaving for summer camp in Maine.  She’s never been to sleep-away camp before and wanted to try it out.   Some other local girls attend this camp, which looks like a splendid place for our energetic, athletic daughter and, apart from the satisfaction I hope to take in making this further contribution to her development as an adolescent and independent person, Caroline and I will travel to Maine to visit her mid-way through her summer, which will be nice. 

State of Maine -- Admited to Union in 1820;  Capitol city is Augusta

        Despite the long planning that preceded her departure, it still seemed sudden and rushed to me, with a lot of loose ends dangling, including the sizeable amount of unused pancake batter Jane left in the refrigerator.  Caroline, who has been suffering with a dreadful flu-like illness that we suspect Jane brought back from the UK, discovered it when she finally rose from her sick-bed yesterday looking for something to eat.

Chocolate-chip pancakes

       As a child (despite her budding maturity and rich and sophisticated sense of sarcasm, THE age-appropriate attitude and rhetorical device), Jane likes to make chocolate chip pancakes, something most adults do not prepare for themselves.  Recently, she has progressed from using the Bisquick packaged pancake preparation (which is extremely good) to the traditional basic Joy of Cooking recipe.  It was this batter Jane left behind, but with the key difference that her recipe this time included a quantity of excellent cut-up, locally grown Pennsylvania  strawberries

Maine blueberries

        Seeing Jane’s bequest, and also spying some unused, still fresh local blueberries adjacent to them, Caroline combined that fruit into the batter and prepared a remarkable, original (to us, at least) breakfast, one that combined various dark, light, sweet and bitter notes.  After nourishing herself and retreating to bed, I tried the what remained of the pancakes while clearing the kitchen and formed the same, still unspoken and not-yet-shared thought that she had  – that this would be a very good summer dessert recipe combined with some vanilla ice cream.  

Glorious strawberries

        When we actually spoke about our telepathic menu union, we found that although we were basically on the same page (we both agreed, for instance, that the quantity of dark chocolate chips needed to be reduced from Jane’s generous levels), there was one salient difference between us.  Caroline thinks we should stick with the Joy of Cooking recipe, but I think a lighter, “French-ier” crepe recipe would be better for dessert purposes.

French-style crepes

        We have been married for so long (and happily) that we are extremely familiar with each other’s personalities.  Therefore, on many occasions I have found that there are really no subjects that are too trivial to argue about, so this discussion went on for a while.   Finally, we agreed to try both recipes (with chocolate chip and fruit quantities remaining approximate; really, that’s a question of personal taste) to see which version works best.  Should any reader care to essay for themselves this comparison/taste test, please let me know which preparation you prefer.  Given the red, white and blue elements in the dish, I would definitely say that this is fare suitable for July 4th celebrations.

Charles de Gaulle, President of France and First Lady of the United States, Jacqueline Kennedy, Paris, June 1961

        I’m distraught and somewhat despondent not having my daughter around, but I am doing the best I can to cope.  Everywhere I visit, people ask about her.  It has become extremely clear that I have faded into the general woodwork of my own life. When I’m around Jane, I feel like President Kennedy must have felt when he said "I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris",  as he began his June 2, 1961 press conference in Paris.  

Maine summer camp waterfront

        We’ll be visiting Jane in Maine toward the end of the month.  Based on a couple of Maine visits during the past decade – the first since my own dreadful summer camping youth – Bob Dylan must have had me in mind when he wrote "I Shall Be Released"  -- I’m looking forward to the trip.  Maine is really beautiful.


[1]   Basic Pancake Recipe This Mark Bittman pancake recipe, which was published in the New York Times, is very close to the Joy of Cooking recipe.  I've chosen to use it here because Bittman's recipes are generally excellent and extremely clear:

An important thing to remember about the cooking part is this -- that you have to preheat the skillet or griddle, or the first batch will be nearly worthless.   To determine when the pan is hot enough to take the batter, heat it over medium heat until a few drops of water skid across the surface before evaporating.  A well-seasoned cast iron pan will need little or no butter or oil, but if you choose stainless steel or aluminum pans, use plenty of butter, the net result will be that the pancakes will taste better.


2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon of sugar, optional
2 eggs 
1 1/2 to 2 cups of milk
2 tablespoons melted and cooled butter (optional) plus unmelted butter for cooking, or use neutral oil.


Heat a griddle or large skillet over medium-low heat.  In a bowl, mix together dry ingredients. Beat eggs into 1 1/2 cups milk, then stir in 2 tablespoons melted cooled butter, if using it.  Gently stir this mixture into dry ingredients, mixing only enough to moisten flour, don't worry about a few lumps.  If the batter seems thick, add a little more milk.

Place a teaspoon or two of butter or oil on griddle or skillet.  When butter foam subsides or oil shimmers, ladle batter onto griddle or skillet, making pancakes any size you like.  Adjust heat as necessary, usually first batch will require higher heat than subsequent batches. Flip pancakes after bubbles rise to surface and bottoms brown, after 2-4 minutes.

Cook until second side is lightly browned. Serve or hold on an ovenproof plate in a 200-degree oven for up to 15 minutes.

Yield: 4-6 servings
Time: 20 minutes

[2] Basic Crepes Recipe (from Bon Appetit)


2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flout
1 1/4 cups (or more) milk (do not use low-fat or non-fat)
Melted butter 


Whisk eggs and salt in a large bowl.  Gradually whisk in flour, then 1 1/4 cups milk.  Strain into medium bowl.  Let stand 1 hour.
If necessary, add more milk by tablespoonfuls to batter to thin to consistency of heavy whipping cream.  Heat 8-inch diameter non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  Brush with melted butter.  Pour 3 tablespoons batter into skillet and swirl to coat bottom evenly.  Cook until top appears dray, loosening sides of crepe with spatula, about 45 seconds.  Turn and cook until brown spots appear on second side, about 30 seconds.  Turn crepe out onto plate.  Repeat with remaining batter, brushing skillet with butter and stacking crepes onto plate.

Makes 8 crepes

Note:  Although this piece is clearly drafted in a slightly "misty" (as Maynard G. Krebs would say) mood, I live in expectation of Jane's return, showing her how to make crepes and then standing aside as she masters the skill and begins, as I know she will, to surpass the great masters of the art.  She's very good at this sort of thing.  I will also tell her about my father, who was something of a crepes suzette king, a talent, other difficulties notwithstanding, that lands clearly on the credit side of the ledger.

Credit side of the ledger (and its "other"). 

Preparing crepes suzette at Restaurant Laserre, Paris

No comments:

Post a Comment