Making versus having
A story of pancakes.
“Daddy makes better pancakes,” my son says as he begrudgingly ate what as on his plate.
The bummer at 7:15am on a cold morning was that the little tot spoke the truth. His father would patiently and consistency make the fluffiest pancakes.
I wish I could have said I smiled, but I didn’t thinking it would have been so much easier to pop some bread into toast and call it a day. I had enough humility to say, “He does,” and keep up my spatula flipping.
Over the next several weeks, I turned the heat down on the pancakes and slowed from warp speed in making them. I conceded that the pan I was using didn’t make it easy and switched back to the old faithful, cast iron and that helped. We kept along on our morning routines.
Over the summer we hit up Uncle Bill’s of Ocean City (40th Street for those of you who know), and were enjoying their pancakes: me, blueberry; my son, chocolate chip.Neither of us use butter, but generous with the syrup.
“They are so good,” my son squeals in his T-Rex sun shirt and shorts, ready to dive into the ocean afterwards.
“They are. They really are,” I smile. And they have been, forever. They are the lightest and fluffiest and no matter what time of year, their blueberries are the plumpest. I have stood in line over generations of our family after Church, sometimes twenty of us waiting outside on Uncle Bill. I can see my grandfather’s long gait to the table, and the way his hand waved away contributing cash as he pulled out his money clip, and peeled off the payment, scrutinized the bill before ensuring a kind tip. The same rhythm every time.
I blink back to the present moment, and I see my son enjoying this thirty-plus-year tradition; I smile. I know part of the flavor is the memories, but honestly the pancakes do melt in your mouth.
When I looked towards the upcoming fall rhythm I relegated pancakes to the weekends. You cannot make fluffy pancakes rushed. See I have this habit of doing things, with the best intentions, rather than being honest with what is available. It shows up in me thinking everything is 20 minutes way, and that I can find a way to do it all.
In whatever way I was currently, overthinking things, I was setting up unrealistic expectations in the kitchen, too. I realized—as I was whisking Pamela’s pancake batter together and reaching for the oil—that I was well on my way to a better rhythm, when…f@$!….I looked at the bowl and to see that the herbal vinegar I had made was poured in, not the oil.
Small sidetone, I had started organizing my often used ingredients in these handy bottles to streamline and beautify—and the herbal vinegar looked similar to the oil and I felt like I had repeated the pattern of not being present, but I also hate wasting food. Frustrated, I made the pancakes anyway.
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You know what happened? I’ll tell you. They were the best pancakes I ever made. The vinegar makes a homemade buttermilk situation. It lifts the pancakes. My son and I are chomping away when I venture, “These are good right?”
“Best ever,” my four year old confirms. “Like Uncle Bill’s. Like Daddy’s.” What they weren’t were flat and burnt. What they were was my best.
I think there is a bit of a recipe here, aside from the one I linked above. I knew my previous pancakes weren’t great, but part of the problem was that I was unrealistic about what I had the capacity to do. I am directing this line especially at women. It’s not that I couldn’t, it’s that I couldn’t and do the other thousand things I had lined up in that one day. It’s that I needed to be a bit more spacious, rather than swamped by own expectations. It’s about drawing in what you are capable of and improving within the parameters of what is possible. It’s about finding and deepening the rhythm, something we can’t do from overwhelm.
So, first ingredient is space.
Second ingredient is malleability. I changed the pan and the heat. I looked at the tools that were available and I modified ever so slightly.
I changed how many days pancakes were on the menu, I made some—say it with me—boundaries. This is a crucial ingredient for excellence, boundaries. You know what boundaries did? They created even more space, the space for magic, the secret ingredient, the missing wink: vinegar.
This is why we need both structure and flow, in our cooking, our planning, our parenting, our writing, and in our bodies.
I am so proud of my fluffy and gluten free pancakes now. You should be here for a morning when I make them with fresh apples. As I tell you this, I remember standing in a corner kitchen, as a twenty-something in a Manyunk row-home; I was an avid pancake maker then (banana and walnut was my favorite). I had forgotten about her.
Make room for what once was and let it evolve. Let your making be the reward and your nourishment come from your own persistence, but be certain to warm the syrup. It’s worth the effort.
Pass this on to another who needs a little magic. We are being nudged out of the self-satisfying practice of rhythm and patience. We can reclaim it quite easily; we are indeed that power-filled.