February 1, 2011

pancakes and a snow day.

I don't know if this is normal, but I am a person who associates food with memories. It's similar to when an old song comes on the radio and immediately takes you back to some other time in your life when things were happy or sad. Pancakes, for example remind me of one person: Gary "Double Ugly Andre" Ellis, my dad's best friend. He earned that nickname from his famous campfire eggs that he made for me and his daughter, Emily, who is my best and oldest friend and someone I love dearly. Em and I learned from a very early age how to set up a tent, steer a canoe, tell ghost stories, not ask what time it was (answer: "it's daylight"). But my fondest memories of the Ellis family were Gary's famous pancakes. Not only were they perfectly cooked and buttered, but the piece de resistance was the fact that Gary made them into intricate shapes. An Eiffel tower for me, a cat for Em. In my young mind, it was something close to magical.

As I write this, the whole Midwest is being covered up with, by some accounts, the worst snow storm in 100 years. While meteorologists are busy scaring the crap out of everyone, I'm cozy at home with my dog and my husband, watching the blizzard outside.

Gary never would tell me his secret pancake recipe, although I have my theories (it's called butter). So instead, I consulted my cooking bible, How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. Whatever you need to make or bake is in this cookbook, which makes it my go-to when I need a recipe for something. Because of the "snowmageddon" going on outside, I didn't have a lot of fancy ingredients on hand. Luckily it didn't matter because these pancakes are incredibly simple and perfect and made with normal stuff. The only thing I ask is that you use real maple syrup if you're going to go to the trouble of making pancakes from scratch. Please do this thing that I ask, ok? Ok.

Basic Pancakes
adapted from a recipe by Mark Bittman

Mr. Bittman writes this about these pancakes: "Americans must have been sadly alienated from the kitchen for pancake mixes to ever have gained a foothold in the market, for these are ridiculously easy to make."

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon of baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons of butter melted and cooled, plus more for cooking
1 cup real maple syrup

Preheat a griddle or skillet over low heat while you make the batter.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients and set aside. In a smaller bowl, whisk the eggs into the milk and add the melted butter.

Gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, mixing just until moist and combined. It's okay if a few small lumps remain. If the batter seems to thick, add more milk. If you're using a non-stick pan, you may not need additional butter for cooking. We have stainless steel cookware so butter is definitely needed. Melt about 1/2 tablespoon of butter in the pan before adding the pancake batter. Turn the heat up to medium-low and add pancake batter to the pan using a 1/3 cup scoop. Resist the urge to flip the pancakes before they are ready. You can tell readiness by bubbles in the batter on the top side, or when the edges start to brown slightly. 

Repeat with all the pancake batter. You can keep pancakes warm in a 200 degree oven. Serve hot with real maple syrup and a little pat of butter.


  1. awwwwwwww...thanks for the walk down memory lane. and thanks for making me crave pancakes! happy snow day, lovely!

  2. Hey, didn't I share the 'recipe' with Colleen? It's only Original Aunt Jemima Mix ... just don't follow their recipe, use your eye and gut ... and use extra egg ... and, yeah, BUTTER 'til you die.

    For the shapes, that's my mom. Try and believe. At camp, 'trial' and mainly 'error' rule the day. Wood fire best--always. Rotate pan OFTEN. Take off and replace on heat habitually. I do remember a wonderful Clipper Ship-shape at a MoMo ... and, of course, some obscene creations.

  3. I finally know all your secrets Gary! Thanks for sharing. Yours are still the best.