Mar 15, 2012

Pancakes

She's pregnant now, finishing her first trimester. Her taste for food is all out of whack, but she still loves pancakes.

It's Sunday morning. We slept through both church services. Or rather, she did. On my lap. While I read a book on the couch for two hours. I've finished now, but I can't bear stirring her. Even when my legs fall asleep, I don't move.

It's 11 a.m., and she's hungry. I ask if she wants anything, but nothing sounds good. We are both used to this drill by now.

Eggs? She gives me a cross look.

Leftovers? She mumbles something about eating Mexican in the morning. Sounds like "no" to me.

Pancakes? This is a long shot, but I ask anyway. She nods approvingly. My wife always was a sucker for pancakes.

I get right to work.

Pouring a huge glob of vegetable oil into the pan, I turn the burner dial to "5". I am still getting used to the electric stove. The pan heats up. Using a paper towel, I wipe off the excess oil. Today is one of the many days we don't have Pam. But we always have pancake mix.

Stirring the mix with a long wooden spoon, I notice the consistency is off. So I water it down and stir some more. Then I add more mix, stir again, splash in some water, and there—it's perfect. The trick is to not stir too much or too fast, to allow space for air and lumps. Lumps make the cakes fluffy—that's what the back of the box says, anyway.

With a ladle, I pour two circles of batter into the pan. I decide to look for the spatula—why I do it in this order, I'll never know. Opening the door to the dishwasher, I move around some utensils. Nothing. I shut it. Pulling out drawers and slamming cupboards, I frantically search for anything that will flip.

My quest quickly ends in futility.

This is our new house. Full of new things. And I can find nothing.

Air bubbles begin to form along the edges of the first two cakes. "That's when you need to flip them," my mom used to tell me. "That's your way," I said one morning, cooking breakfast for my family. I had my own way now.

Looking through the dishwasher another time yields the same results as last. Starting to get nervous, I pull out drawers, check under the sink, pace back and forth—from kitchen to breakfast nook back to kitchen again. Still, nothing.

Calling to Ashley in the next room, I ask if she knows where it is. "I have no idea," she shouts back. I can barely hear her over the exhaust fans. Staring at the cakes, I start to sweat. Desperate, I grab a wooden spoon I bought at the Dollar Store. It's for rice, I think. It'll have to do.

Attempting to scrape two crusty cakes from the sticky part of the nonstick pan, I sigh. They won't budge. Somehow, I am able to force them over in the worst flip of pancaking history.

The cakes make it to the other side, but they are mangled beyond repair. The first batch is always ruined. I'm a messy cook, but that's the beauty of pancakes: you expect loss. It's part of the process. You're making something wonderful, and what feels like waste is just how it works.

As I scrape the cakes into the garbage, I start again.

This time, I leave more canola in the pan but don't yet pour the batter. Opening the dishwasher a third time, I rummage around with a little more patience this time. And there it is. That stupid spatula — buried beneath several plates and bowls. I could cuss right now. Instead, I emit a half-sigh, half-chuckle.

The next batch is perfect. With spatula in hand, I watch intently. I am ready. No pacing, no frantic searching. The bubbles form, and some steam rises. Even with fans whirring, a wonderful smell fills my nostrils and then, the room. Ah, yes. This is what I was waiting for.

When they're done, I stick the cakes in the microwave to keep them warm. I continue this process for fifteen minutes. Pour, flip, smell, smile.

When the final batch is finished, I remove the pancakes from the microwave and replace them with the plastic syrup bottle. As the syrup warms, I lather each cake with butter. Then, I pour the gooey mass of maple on top. Finally.

After a laborious process of friction and frustration, I look around the kitchen. It's a mess—a battlefield of chaos and triumph. Drops of batter cover the countertop—would-be pancakes fallen in the fight—smoke fills the air, and there is a sink full of pots, pans, and last night's dinner dishes.

We're ready. Or are we?

I've been cooking pancakes my whole life. I'm pretty good at it, too. But each time is like the first time.

Before we take the first bite, Ashley and I look at each other. I wink, she grins. No words exchanged. None are needed.

And I wonder, as we quietly lift our forks to our mouths:  Will we ever have mornings like this again?

Image by Xavier Encinas. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by Jeff Goins, author of Every Writer's Dream.

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