Monday is not a pancake day. I knew this, yet recently I defied the odds and common sense, and made pancakes on the first day of the workweek.
The results were predictable. The pancakes themselves were fine. They were fat, fluffy and full of buttermilk. But that warm feeling of munificence that normally washes over a pancake eater as he sets down his knife and fork just wasn't there. Instead I felt uptight, the exact opposite feeling that a man who had polished off a plate of pancakes would expect to experience.
Pancakes need good karma. Neither their consumption nor their preparation can be hurried. A good pancake cook takes his clue from the deliberate pace of the bubbles on the pancake dough. The bursting bubbles are a sure sign that it is time to flip the pancake over. But there is an even, all-is-well-in-the-world tempo to the bursting bubbles. Nothing sluggish. Nothing frantic. Just a steady, pop, pop, pop.
Similarly, the pancake eater should leave the table with a satisfied stomach and an unruffled mind. Pancake eaters do not -- out the door. They mosey, shuffle or maybe even meander. But they do not --. Dashing ruins digestion.
All this came back to me on that recent, odd Monday morning. It was odd because the kids were out of school.
You might think a holiday, when the kids do not have to be herded out the door, would be easier than normal on the family psyche. You would be wrong.
Now when holidays like the birthdays of Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln and George Washington are celebrated on six different days by six separate school systems, it means that when the kids are off, their parents aren't.
This, in turn, means a "holiday" becomes an exercise in logistics. Early in the morning, parents shuttle kids to the homes of friends or to their sibling's day-care camp or to an unsuspecting relative.
Then early in the afternoon, there is a re-alignment of children. Kids who were visiting a friend's house return home with the friend in tow. The older kids at the day-care camp call to complain that they are bored. The relatives who volunteered to watch the children suddenly have to see a doctor.
And so all over the city, parents spend the "holiday," picking kids up and dropping them off.
I knew the recent Monday was going to be one of these logistical struggles, so I tried to take the edge off the day with a pancake breakfast. My kids love them, in part because the appearance of pancakes is a sure sign of liberation. Ordinarily pancakes only show up on Saturdays, Sundays. So if the kids smell pancakes, they know they aren't going to school.
I even went to the trouble of making the dough on Sunday night. I believe all pancake dough, and most problems, get better after sitting untended overnight.
I used the basic pancake recipe from "Joy of Cooking." It required that I sift the dry ingredients -- 1 cup of flour, 1 teaspoon of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 3/4 teaspoon of baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda -- then add a beaten egg, 2 tablespoons of melted butter and 1 cup of buttermilk.
The only "exotic" ingredient is the buttermilk. But it and the salt give the pancakes a distinct flavor.
With a few swift strokes of a wooden spoon I combined the dry and wet ingredients in a big bowl. Then I covered up the bowl of batter and put it in the fridge.
Monday arrived early. So did the workmen who were painting the kids' bedrooms. Also on the agenda that Monday morning was a trip to the orthodontist, an impromptu piano lesson, a choir practice and a few loads of wash.
The kids ate their pancakes and bolted upstairs to bother the painters.
I burned my pancakes. I was waiting for the frying pan to heat up (another secret of successful pancakes is cooking them on a hot griddle) when I decided to go in the laundry room and toss a load of shirts in the washer.
I was dumping in the bleach when I smelled the smoke and remembered the pancake pan. It wasn't on fire, yet. But it did spend the rest of the morning cooling off in the backyard.
Eventually I got another pan and cooked up a couple of cakes, but things weren't right.
I couldn't find the Vermont maple syrup, it was hiding somewhere in the fridge. My coffee was quickly turning cold. And I was eating in a hurry because I had to drive a kid to choir practice. I was running late.
As I barked orders at the kids, my stomach growled. I made myself a promise: No more pancakes on Mondays.