When I married Santa Maria, I knew that she didn’t like to spend much time in the kitchen. She once stunned me by taking a twenty-six-step Moosewood Cookbook recipe for an Ethiopian stew and reducing it to about a half dozen steps. It was delicious. (A nice online version is here; skip steps at will). I never would have had the gall to disregard the recipe.
She is also a fantastic baker: When she puts something in the oven, I’m assured that something sweet and tasty will come out. There are just two problems—I don’t like to eat pie for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and as the working mother of one, now two children, baking is the last thing on her mind. (Santa Maria would like the record to reflect that last week she made husband’s favorite organic banana walnut bread, one loaf still in the freezer, along with a stash of plain banana mini muffins for fruit-hating, nut-allergic Nina).
So, I started making most of the meals once we had Nina and Pinta. I found it fun to do, and as a new father, I found it easier to slice onions than try to quiet a fussy baby. In fact, for a long time I preferred to work in the kitchen than to deal with the kids. Then they started to grow up, and now they are great fun to be with. I’m torn between cooking and spending time with them.
The conventional response to this situation is to have the children cook help make the meal. But this ignores the fact that cooking with children is rather like taking a shower with monkeys. If a recipe normally takes ten minutes to prepare, it will take half an hour if the kids are involved. Measuring a cup of flour will take five minutes, not including the time spent wiping up spills. It might be heretical to say, but only the insane try to cook with kids.
Of course, in retrospect one might call it insane to ever become a parent, but this is such a widespread collective delusion that the human race is in no danger of dying out. People adapt, and I’ve learned that there are times when it is very useful to have the children in the kitchen with me.
Take last Saturday morning. I went for a run, and when I returned, Nina and Pinta were running their mother ragged. “Pfannkuchen! Pfannkuchen! Pfannkuchen!” they were chanting. Santa Maria had taught them how to say “pancake” in German, and now she was reaching her limit. I could tell by the tone of her voice, and by its volume. Even though I was in the shower and the water was cascading down around my ears, I could hear her starting to yell.
I was feeling very good after exercising, and I thought to myself as I toweled off, time to throw myself on top of the grenade, and invite the kids to help me make breakfast. Pancakes are one of our old favorites.
I gently engaged Nina and Pinta, who settled down and were thrilled to join me. Pinta ran to get her Hello Kitty apron. The two took turns measuring the dry ingredients. We beat the egg whites to glorious peaks. We didn’t mix the batter too much after adding the wet ingredients. And then the batter just sat on the counter while we waited for Santa Maria to return. I had sent her out for a bike ride (apparently exercise can even moderate anger).
Letting the batter rest before making the pancakes is one way to ensure that they are light and tasty. Mixing the batter too vigorously can activate glutens in the flour and result in chewy pancakes. It’s best to leave the mixture lumpy, and let Fick’s law do the work of diffusing the ingredients.
We all enjoyed a peaceful and scrumptious breakfast. Nina said the pancakes were like pizza. What? She explained that she liked them as much as pizza. They are one of her favorite things.
That was last weekend. This Saturday we had pancakes again, only this time it was just Pinta and her Hello Kitty apron keeping me company. I learned something. I don’t have to go to such effort to make great pancakes. I’ve always been proud of how I like to beat the eggs, and then fold them into the batter. This weekend, I broke a yolk into the whites and couldn’t beat them. No one noticed the difference. Much like Santa Maria and her magic with the Ethiopian stew, it can be possible to cut corners.
Basic Pancake Recipe
- 1.5 cups flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspon salt
- 1.75 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 to 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 to 1.25 cups milk
- 2 eggs
Combine the dry ingredients and mix well.
Mix the eggs into the milk.
Melt the butter, and add it to the milk and eggs.
Combine the wet and the dry ingredients, without mixing the batter too much. Leave some lumps.
Heat a frying pan and add a little butter. Ladle out the batter in small amounts and cook until bubbles form on the surface. Flip and cook a moment longer. Enjoy.