Life lessons, and a tip for making pancakes

I’ve clocked over 1,200 miles in the last week and a half, between my journey home from Cape Cod and the four trips I made upstate to deal with my annoying, and unwanted, house guests. All those hours in the car offered much time for reflection. Not always good when I should be focused on the road, but I mastered crying and driving in the early months after M died. There’s something about the act of driving that is very freeing. Perhaps it’s the feeling that I’m actually going someplace; the perception that I’m moving, doing something. The act of driving is powerful because it’s filled with the illusion that I’m steering my own course, instead of just standing around waiting for life to choose what happens.

Learning to drive is one of the many gifts for which I have to thank M. When we moved in together back in 1999, he proclaimed I had to learn to drive so we could share alternate side of the street parking responsibilities. I failed my first road test for supposedly making a risky maneuver with a left turn. The instructor said the car was too close, and I should’ve let it pass before turning. I remember rolling my eyes thinking, life is too short to not just take a chance when you see an opening. Anyone who’s ever tried turning onto Route 6 on the Cape understands you could be waiting for the right moment forever. Sometimes the narrowest of openings is all you need to make your move.

On my last drive upstate it hit me that I sold my home; the only real home I’ve ever known. When I came back from the Cape just a month after he died, the walls felt like they were closing in. The confines of the apartment, the place we finally picked after seeing more than 40 back in 1998, no longer felt welcoming. I made the decision to move soon after, and I believed 110% at the time that it was what I wanted, what I needed to heal. I think if I had to do it all over again (who would ever want to go through that again), my choices would be the same. That is, unless I could magically see into the future. Understand what was at risk; what I was about to give up.

That is what makes this particular journey so unique for everyone who embarks upon it. Unlike other life experiences, there was no reference point. True, I had already dealt with painful losses. My father. My uncle, who was like a father.

But my husband? My best friend? In an instant?

There was nothing that could’ve prepared me for that, nothing at all. And yet, in the midst of an emotional tsunami, I appeared to be calm and steady in the storm. Yes, I cried. I cried enough tears to fill a reservoir. I let every moment hit me, and tried to ride it out like a wave the way I imagine surfers do. I didn’t ignore what I was feeling, and yet there are still things I wish I’d done differently.

Buying the house upstate is my chance to plant roots again. Regardless of whether it stays a country house, or becomes my permanent residence one day, I’ll always have a place to call home. I felt utterly discouraged when I discovered the flea situation. All I could think was “why me”? Hadn’t I been through enough in the last two years? But the reality is “why not me”? I mean, it’s the country. There’s lots of critters, and at least this is hopefully just a short term setback, right? Once I decided not to be a victim to the biting buggers, I did my research and realized an exterminator alone wasn’t going to be enough. We’ll see how things look when I get back there this weekend. Fingers crossed, please.

backyard

It’s kind of the same outlook you need when dealing with grief. It is so easy to fall victim to the unfairness of it all, until you realize that death is not discriminating. What we think of as the natural order of events sometimes takes an unnatural turn. You do what you have to do to survive. The key being what you need to do for yourself, not what others have done that have walked a similar path.

When I look at it that way, it’s easier to be gentle and forgiving with myself. No matter how much I wish I’d done things differently, the truth is that I did exactly what I needed to at the time. My little house in the country may not be the cozy home I once knew, but with time it will get there. Time and patience, one which I’m worried will run out before I’m ready to go, and the other with which I’ve never been known to have a lot of, except in the kitchen.

In the kitchen there is no room for fear. Failures are only failures if I stop trying to get the recipe right. The kitchen is where I’m reminded there are still variables I can control. That lesson was reinforced this weekend, as I set out to cook breakfast for the first time at the house. As I measured out the ingredients to make pancakes, I discovered the baking powder I thought was in the cabinet, was not.

Carnaroli rice, check.

Dijon mustard, check.

“OO” pizza flour, check.

Baking powder, however, the holygrail of staples for a baker, was no where to be found. In all my mad dashes to and from the house, it must’ve gotten lost in the mix. That genius All-Purpose Baking Mix I created was also not on hand. Not one to give up, though, I thought about it for a moment. Baking powder acts as the leavening agent to make pancakes rise nice and fluffy. I could mimic that effect if I just separated the eggs, beat my egg white until it formed stiff peaks, and gently folded it into the batter.

The trick worked, reminding me that the small successes are sometimes the ones that matter most. Sure, they were just pancakes, but it was my years of experience in the kitchen that helped me solve the problem at hand. I’m still working on my life recipe. The ingredients keep changing, as do the techniques. I may never get it exactly where I want it to again, but what matters is that I keep trying.

New at Simple Scratch Cooking: brûléed apricots.

Fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes, Part Two

makes 12 to 16

Music Pairing: Rise by Eddie Vedder

Marc from No Recipes knew my trick the moment he saw my pancake picture on Twitter. He commented that beaten egg whites are the only way he can get his pancakes this fluffy. With that in mind, I wanted to mention that all baking powders are not created equal. I’ve used many different brands in my years of recipe testing, but always come back to Rumford. I notice a big difference in the way my baked goods rise, compared to other brands. It really is worth seeking out.

1 large egg, separated

1 cup (8 ounces/225 ml) buttermilk, well shaken

2 tablespoons (1 ounce) butter, melted plus more to coat the griddle

1 cup (150 grams) all purpose flour

1 tablespoon (16 grams) granulated natural sugar

1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) baking soda

1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) fine sea salt

Add the egg yolk, buttermilk and melted butter to a small bowl or measuring cup. Beat with a fork, until well mixed.

In a separate, small, clean bowl, use a handheld whisk to beat the egg white until stiff peaks form (this will take about 2 minutes, and is easier than you think!); set aside.

Add the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt to a medium bowl; use a dry whisk to stir until well blended.  Pour the buttermilk mixture over the dry ingredients. Using a fork, stir just until the batter comes together, and there are no visible streaks of flour—it’s okay if there are a few lumps. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold in the egg whites. You’ll notice the batter increase in volume—the egg whites are adding an airy lightness to it.

Heat a griddle or skillet over medium heat. Coat with a pat of butter. Drop generous tablespoonfuls of batter into the pan. Cook 2 to 3 minutes, until the edges look set and air bubbles form on top. Flip and cook 1 to 2 more minutes until done. Serve hot, with preserves or pure maple syrup.

Comments

  • barb mc: Hi Jennie. My husband died on Sept 5. He always made the pancakes. My kids don’t like my pancakes. Thanks for your post.

  • JulieD: I had no idea, will definitely try this.

    “The key being what you need to do for yourself, not what others have done that have walked a similar path.” What you’re saying is so true of life in general. So many people think they need to follow some path for success, for life or whatever. So not true. xoxo

  • Flavia: Your post came at just the right time for me, Jennie. My husband and I have had such a chaotic and stressful year–he was very sick earlier this year and was then diagnosed with cancer (prognosis good). Life this year has felt like we have been eternally cursed and I have been sad most of this year. Like you, I find solace in the kitchen where I can control at least some variables and turn out something homemade and comforting for me and Peter. I also find comfort in my blog–a place where I can share my creativity and “zone out” for a few hours doing something I love. I’m trying hard not to feel like a victim, but I admit, sometimes I throw myself a little pity party before collecting myself again and pushing forward. I’m someone who can’t fake emotions–if I’m angry, it shows. If I’m happy and content, it shows. I’m learning to be true to my emotions and to not be afraid or shy to let people see how I’m feeling. Thank you for sharing your lessons with us. I look forward to all your posts. XO

  • Suzanne Anderson: My late father use to love to play with recipes. He took his engineering mind and tweaked away until he felt he got it just right. I loved his pancakes; they were tall and fluffy. He put just a tiny amount of club soda in them. Perhaps not so uncommon, but I’d never heard of doing that. Thank you for the memory.

  • Anne Weber-Falk: You are growing Jenny. It’s a beautiful thing.

  • Anne Weber-Falk: Hey, about those fleas…is your place carpeted? If so, couldn’t you just pull it up to rid yourself of the little buggers?

  • Dawna Johnson: your posts are always what I need.. to remind.. to encourage.. to bring emotions to the surface that I bury. thank you for the honest stuff that just keeps coming through. I never tire of getting an email that you have posted to your blog! (:
    We are dealing with fleas right now, too, because of a Labrador that licked my son, Kobie, on the hand at camp and now $1000 later, we have a free dog (: Apparently, you can give all the meds that money can buy and nothing really keeps those buggerat bay.. aargh. Let me know what magic you find to eradicate them. (: Love to you, sister.

  • Tracey A: Good Morning Jennie,
    Ahhh.. The lesson and words I can all relate to.

    BARB MC: Gosh I am sooooo sorry. I have been through the spouse loss too. I will pray for you too, as I do for Jennie. Follow this beautiful post and journey, her words always hit right on.

    Wishing you both, hugs.
    Jennie, wishing you hugs, delightful sunrises and sunsets, no tickets and lots of cooking remedies.

    And NO unwanted guests,
    XXX Tracey

  • Dawna Johnson: LOVE the new blog, by the way! Almost as beautiful as you are! (:

  • Jennifer Perillo: Thankfully, I have hardwood floors. If I had carpeting, I would definitely need to rip it up. :)

  • Jennifer Perillo: Barb,

    I’m so very sorry to hear about your loss. Please always feel free to email me, even it’s just to know there is another person out there who truly understands, and is thinking about you. injennieskitchen@gmail.com

    Hugs—JP

  • Brande Plotnick: Mmmmmmm! I used to call them panny-cakes. And, I like to mix up all the dry ingredients ahead of time and store in ziploc bags for my own homemade pancake “mix”. Usually, it’s lazy weekend mornings when I’m craving them, and it’s exactly those mornings that I don’t want to start from scratch. I can just pull out a baggie and mix in the wet ingredients. Thank you for the recipe1

  • Jennifer Perillo: That is exactly why I created my All-Purpose Baking Mix, but alas, sometimes planning falls through the cracks. Always nice to have small victories like this, at least.

  • quick-fix, fluffy pancakes | Simple Scratch Cooking: […] Read more about my quick-fix pancakes here. […]

  • Alyse: We have used diatomaceous earth (food grade) to kill fleas. It is inexpensive and does a great job. There are websites that talk about it’s uses.
    My husband and I are experiencing devastating loss and heartache of our
    19 year-old son in his abandonment from his family and deep betrayal. We have been brought down so low and cry way too much.

  • Radhika: Jennie:
    Your writing is so wonderful. Some of these posts leave me feeling like I should be doing something to make your pain go away. But alas, I know I can’t! Instead I will cheer for you from the sidelines and wait for the post wherein I will about your new true love.
    R.

  • Lee: For fluffy pancakes, try the German style recipe – beat 1 whole egg w a dash of milk or water, add a tablespoon of flour and let sit for 10 min. If too runny, add a little flour. Melt butter in hot pan, add 1 small ladle of dough and once set, flip. You can literally see it fluff up. We eat it traditionally w. cinnamon & sugar, or with all sorts of fruit ( cherries, apple slices) or savory (bacon, cheese, salami…). You layer the toppings onto the dough before it sets, before flipping. That way it gets nestled in the pancake. End result should be 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick!

  • Jennifer Perillo: What a great recipe Thanks for sharing it with us.-JP

  • Sally: “All I could think was “why me”? Hadn’t I been through enough in the last two years? But the reality is “why not me?”
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Beautiful! This is the part I needed to hear this morning! Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful and refreshing outlook on life.

  • Sally: P.S. We make your pancakes every weekend!!

  • Rocky Mountain Woman: Car crying was my method of dealing with my husband’s death. I didn’t want to cry around my boys and I didn’t want to cry at the office so I cried on the way to the office and on the way home.

    It worked. I don’t car cry much at all any more. Hang in there, it gets better eventually….

    xxoo,

    RMW

  • Caroline: I have followed you for a little over a year now and gain strength from your posts, etc. Thank you. I lost my Mom in August 2006 and while that was 7 years ago, sometimes it feels like the first year.

  • Denise @ Creative Kitchen: I was just car crying last week due to what I found out the next day to be hormones. :( It’s funny how you can be fine one minute & sad the next. Crying can be so therapeutic as long as we don’t become dwellers permanently.

    I think you’re doing an AMAZING job!! I love your new house in the country….great idea ;) How do your girls like it? How’s school going?

  • Jeanne: First I want to thank you for getting me back into cooking again. Due to your cookbook and blog I have found my love for cooking renewed after a heartbreaking loss of my 21 year old son. He died 6 years ago tonight. I still don’t know how or if I am going to continue but somehow I keep moving. I still can’t make his favorite dinner because I didn’t get a chance to make it for him after he returned from Iraq. I thought I would have all the time in the world but he was only home 3 months before he died tragically and unexpectedly! Than you so very much for sharing you loss and delicious recipes!

  • Lisa M: Hi Jennie!
    Perhaps a silly question, but I absolutely love the dish pattern in this photo – beautiful and such a cheerful way to start the day! Can you tell me the company and pattern name?
    Your blog is inspiring on many levels and your cookbook is now on my Amazon wish list!:)

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