I went to San Francisco this weekend! I ate. I shopped. I walked. I ate. I walked. I ate. I shopped some more... My wallet came back lighter, my nose came back frecklier, and my calves came back stronger (sweet lord, no one gave me adequate warning about those hills). It was lovely.
It started beautifully on the plane ride, when I was seated next to a buxom elderly lady with a thick Eastern European accent. She spent the first five minutes of our flight jabbing impatiently at the in-flight entertainment system with her thick, crooked fingers; nose to screen, eyes squinted, muttering in what I guessed was Polish. I cheerfully helped her navigate back out of the French pop music radio channel. Then she politely informed me that's what she had wanted. Oops.
She told me she had lived in Belgium and that's where she had learned French. I told her I had lived in Belgium and had learned French, too! Instant friendship. The rest of the flight, we gabbed back and forth in our imperfect second languages, rolling our R's luxuriously and sounding quite glamourous, as we exchanged stories about our lives. She was 85 years old. Had been imprisoned at 19, was a refugee at 21, and later became a professor of sociology teaching in French, her third language. Wowza.
For the duration of our two hour jaunt down the Pacific West coast, she shared her thoughts about sex, gender roles, female fashion and how it has changed women, the family and how it has evolved in her lifetime, rape, divorce, dating etiquette... it was the most interesting conversation I have ever had with a stranger. At the end of the flight, I squeezed past her knees to get out while she waited for her wheelchair. She grabbed my hand and said very sincerely, "I always wonder who I will sit next to on the plane. Today, it was a very good choice". Looking into her clear blue eyes that sparkled without any suggestion of her age, I felt really touched by this connection. I felt sad that this woman's body was so much older than her mind. I wished we could be friends and that I could come over for tea and we could talk in French together for many more hours... friendship unfazed by culture, language or age.
And then there are pancakes. Completely unrelated to my lovely friend on the plane, but I felt the need to tell you about both anyway. Well not completely unrelated. I think pancakes and friendship are quite compatible, don't you?
These breakfast treats are based on the Joy of Cooking basic buttermilk pancake recipe. Perfect pancakes every time, and adaptable to whatever flavours you fancy. You know what is my favourite thing about them? They freeze beautifully! Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet until frozen, then pack into freezer bags to store. Pop in the toaster for pancakes on a Tuesday. I guarantee it will be a good day.
Some tips for incredible pancakes?
1. Measure your flour by spooning gently into a measuring cup and then leveling off with a knife. If you just scoop from the flour bag, it will be much more compact, meaning more flour, meaning tougher pancakes.
2. Use buttermilk. If you don't already buy it, humour me and buy it just this once. You can use up the rest in muffins, cakes, scones, or more pancakes. It creates the most tender texture in baked goods. Try it, you won't regret it.
3. Use a light hand! Stir ingredients together gently; boys, don't be busting out your massive muscles to impress your breakfast guests. The more you stir, the more gluten is formed, which is the "muscle" of flour. Desirable in bread, not desirable in pancakes. Too much gluten = tough cakes. Stir only until dry ingredients are moistened.
4. Heat the griddle (or pan), but not too much. Flick some water at the preheated surface - if it jumps and sizzles, the pan is ready. You want to keep the temperature at medium or slightly cooler - to get browning, but to allow the bubbles to form on the surface before the first side gets too dark.
Today's take home messages? Talk to strangers. Make unexpected friendships. Then make pancakes.
Banana Pecan Pancakes
Adapted from the Joy of Cooking.
Makes about 12 pancakes.
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
3 tbsp butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup banana slices
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Preheat griddle or nonstick pan. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk, melted butter, eggs and vanilla. Pour the buttermilk mixture on top of the dry ingredients and gently stir to combine. Fold in banana slices and pecans.
2. Spoon 1/3 cup of batter per pancake onto hot griddle. Do not overcrowd pan. When bubbles start to form on surface of pancakes, flip them to the other side and cook till golden brown. Keep warm in the oven while you cook the rest. Serve with butter and maple syrup.