Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Pancake By Any Other Name…

My dad called them pancakes.  His dad called them flapjacks, and his mom called them hoecakes.  My mom called them griddlecakes.  Her dad called them johnnycakes, and her mom called them skillet cakes.  I called them breakfast.

In the mid ‘sixties I discovered a restaurant devoted to pancakes.  I sampled my way through the menu over the course of many weeks, and I came to the conclusion that some pancakes are better than others.  Not just at that restaurant, but anywhere I had a pancake.  What is so difficult about making a pancake? I decided to find out.

The first batch of pancakes I ever made was from the memory of watching my grandmothers making them.  Did I ever have a lapse of memory!  I couldn’t call them pancakes, but I did have another name for them.  Into the trash they went.  My next batch was from a box with the picture of someone’s aunt on it.  It was much better, but my pancake cooking skills needed developing, so I began to make a lot of box mix pancakes.  Finally I reached a place of being comfortable with the cooking process.  Now I needed a good recipe.

I tried to make pancakes the way my grandmother’s did, but I just couldn’t get it right.  I had watched them for years, and I knew I had the right ingredients and about the right proportions, but something wasn’t right.  I asked my grandmothers about this and even made pancakes right beside them, but theirs were good, and mine were not good.  Mine looked as good as theirs, but the taste was completely different.  They both said they made pancakes by ‘feel.’

I’ve heard this many times by seasoned cooks.  A recipe is just a guideline, after that it’s intuition.  After all these many years of cooking, I finally understand.  And I’ve developed several kinds of pancakes I really like.  One of my favorites is a cornmeal pancake.

Cornmeal Pancakes
Serves 6.

2 cups all purpose flour                                       
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal                                        
1/2 cup blue cornmeal                                           
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar                                        
2 tablespoons baking powder                                    
1 1/4 teaspoons salt                                           
3 large eggs                                                    
2 teaspoons Home Made Pecan Flavoring*                          
2 cups milk                                                    
3 tablespoons melted and cooled butter                         
3 tablespoons corn or canola oil                                       

In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, Home Made Pecan Flavoring, milk butter and oil; stir into dry ingredients just until moistened.

Pour batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto a lightly greased hot griddle. Turn the pancakes over when bubbles form on top, and cook until the second side is golden brown.

I serve these with butter only or butter and jam.  Occasionally honey or molasses finds its way onto the pancakes, but never syrup.

*Home Made Pecan Flavoring:  Fill a jar with pecan halves or pieces.  Cover with inexpensive vodka.  Tighten the lid on the jar and set aside in a cool dark place for about 6 months.  Shake the jar from time to time.  Strain through several layers of cheesecloth into a clean jar and allow to settle for a few days.  Strain again being careful not to disturb the sediments.  It's ready to use.  Do not try to use the pecans for anything else.  Just toss them.  They’ve done their job.

I’ve tried this pancake recipe with vanilla extract, pecan-butter flavoring, and no flavoring at all.  There is no substitute for the Home Made Pecan Flavoring.

Monday, June 10, 2013

I Dare You

There are a few things a person can say to me that will cause me to lose all rationality.  One of those things is “I dare you.”  Another is “I double-dog dare you.”  Probably the number one thing on the list is “that snake is about to bite you.”  But that one is a story of its own.
In the late ‘sixties an acquaintance of mine had heard that I liked to do things outdoors.  He heard correctly.  I enjoyed fishing, hiking, hunting, canoeing, etc.  I didn’t enjoy baseball, skiing, football, golf, etc.  It seemed that Hank was a lot like me, if it connected with nature, it needed exploring.
Hank and I decided we needed to talk about this obsession of ours in a fishing boat.  We drove out to my grandparent’s lake home and launched one of the boats and motored over to the tulles where bass were known to hide.  Unfortunately we had a third party in the boat with us—my Uncle Sam.  I’m just glad Hank turned out to be blessed with an abundance of patience.
Sam was the first and last word on everything fishing.  Come to think of it, he was every word in between also.  Sam knew that I could fish, so he devoted his time to teaching Hank how to fish.  And Hank went along with it.  But the reality is that Hank caught a lot of fish that day just because he listened to Sam.
On the way home that evening Hank commented that I was very lucky to have a fishing partner like Sam.  It was the one thing he longed for but could never come up with.  I said I’d be more than willing to go fishing with him anytime.  This was the start of four years of adventure.
Hank was one of the fortunate few with absolute financial stability.  He worked, but not for a living.  He just wanted to be part of “normal” society.  So it was that anytime I could spare to go fishing, Hank was usually available.  But Hank wanted to do more than go fishing.  His draw to the outdoors was as big as mine, but with a small twist.  On one fishing trip Hank mentioned we should try mountain climbing.  Mountain climbing??  What did this have to do with fishing?  I told him that I just couldn’t see any reason to climb a mountain unless there’s a fish at the top.
“Where’s your sense of adventure, David?  I think it will be fun.”
“I don’t.”
“Oh, come on.  I dare you.”
That did it.  No one dares David without seeing David go into action.  “Okay, I’ll do it but let’s place some money on who will chicken out first.”
“Ten bucks.”
Three or four weeks later we were enrolled in a climbing school in Colorado.  My job prevented me from pursuing the education full time, but over a period of several months, I completed the two-week course.  Hank, naturally, completed it in two weeks.  Then we started looking for something to climb.
We found a few low cliffs along the riverbanks, and we even rappelled down the side of a building in downtown Fort Worth.  We sought out anything we could go up or down on, but the first real climb for us was near Farmington, New Mexico.  Shiprock had been a climbing destination for some fifty years, but only thirty years earlier it had been climbed the first time by a team of Sierra Club members.  We gathered together a team of very experienced climbers to join us on this ascent, and each and every one of them tried to talk us out of it.
“It’s too difficult for novice climbers.”  We must have heard this fifty times, but no one refused to go with us.  So we did it.  I look back on that ascent and subsequent decent and think to myself, “That was one of the dumbest things I ever did.”  But Hank and I made it just fine, and we liked to think we pulled our own weight the entire time.  The following year (1970) Shiprock was closed to all climbers by the Navajo Nation.  I don’t know for certain, but we may well have been the last group to legally make the climb.
Since neither Hank nor I backed down from the climb, we had to find another way to settle the wager.  I challenged Hank to a climb up Yosemite’s El Capitan.  Near the foot of this edifice was a campground where for several years some of the best climbers around would gather to work out new routes to the top.  We joined them and soon we were making a two-day climb with a sleepover about half way up.  That climb made Shiprock seem like a stroll in the meadow.  Well, I’m writing about it, so I must have made it to the top.
Hank and I moved on to other challenges.  We spent some time learning to Scuba dive.  White water kayaking became first and foremost for a while.  We did some hunting, and of course we did some fishing.  Then came the challenge to skydive.
The lessons were pretty basic.  We had to learn to pack our own parachute.  We had to practice jumping off an eight-foot platform and rolling when we hit the ground.  I really don’t remember much else.  I’m sure there were more instructions, but for years I’ve tried to push this entire memory out of my mind.
Then it came time for the first of the three jumps we were to take.  The plane took off and in a few minutes had reached the altitude for first time jumpers.  We hooked our static lines to a bar near the doorless opening in the side of the plane, and when he got the signal, Hank jumped.
I stepped into the door and froze.  I wasn’t going out of the plane for any amount of money.  I planted one hand and one foot on each side of the opening, and when the signal came to jump, I didn’t.  The jump captain began to push me, but I was well planted and determined to stay on board.  Then the pilot turned the plane on its side and shook it like a can of spray paint until I fell out.
I fell for a lifetime, and then the parachute opened.  I continued to fall, just a bit slower now.  I watched the ground get closer and closer, and when I hit, I dropped and rolled just like the instructor had taught me to do.  I unbuckled the parachute, gathered it into a bundle, and climbed onto the waiting jeep where Hank was sitting and watching the show.
“Man, I can’t wait for my second jump.”
I grabbed my wallet and pulled a twenty from it and handed it to Hank.  “Here’s ten for the bet, and ten more to keep you from making any more challenges.”
Yes, I lost the bet.  If that company is still in business, I have two jumps coming, but something tells me I’ll never take them.  I enjoyed the other challenges and would probably still be doing them with Hank, but a few days after he took his final jump, he died from a brain aneurysm.