I hope no one was expecting a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner of, say, beef Wellington and strawberries dipped into chocolate fondue, which would of course end up seductively licked off our fingers. A friend emailed me today, concerned with these public dinnertime duties and consequent pressure to cook an amazing romantic meal, and suggested I cook nachos, paired with a fine Kokanee and a Safeway apple pie. But the best part was her suggested narrative (obviously she watches Nigella):
My heaving bosom was barely concealed by the lace doily covering them. The heat of the oven door caused a fragrant drop of perspiration to roll playfully down my neck. I was immediately taken by the spicy hardness of the roasting chips. The succulent velvety texture of the avocado wrapped itself tightly against the awaiting firm black olives……
Seriously, I’m thinking this website should have guest authors.
So since the teacher’s convention is on and my sister is a teacher, my 9 year old niece, Emily, and 5 year old nephew, Ben, are here for two days, including a sleepover. Plus Mike has band practice tonight, so I’m cleared of any V-Day pressure that might have otherwise been. Beyond that, the extra bodies pose a slight obstacle at dinnertime because, among all the other mealtime prejudices (only orange cheese, no weird bread) Emily is lactose intolerant. When I asked them what they wanted for dinner, both (and this doesn’t often happen) answered the same: pancakes!
No, you can’t have pancakes for dinner.
Yes we can! We want pancakes!! Please can we have pancakes?
Well, it would be easy. And there’s the matter of maintaining my Cool Aunt status. But when I stopped to think on it, I realized that pancakes made the proper way, notwith a box of soapy-tasting ultra-refined mix, aren’t really a bad thing. Grains (I use mostly whole wheat flour, ground oats, some flax seed, and they have no idea), eggs, soy milk or yogurt, a drizzle of canola and flax oils, batter scattered with sliced banana and/or berries, actually does deliver complex carbs, healthy fats and protein. Phew. So they’re happy and I’m not guilty of baking animal-shaped chicken nuggets or ordering pizza. And with the miracle of modern freezers, breakfast is taken care of too.
Good pancakes don’t require a recipe, if you can remember that to make them you need two of everything: 2 cups flours and grains (this can be all one kind; I use a combo of whole wheat flour, sometimes some oat flour, sometimes some quick oats or oats that have been whizzed in the food processor, sometimes some oat bran, always a sprinkle of ground flax seed), 2 Tbsp. sugar, 2 tsp. baking powder, 2 cups milk (or soy milk or thinned yogurt), 2 eggs and 2 Tbsp. (although you could use more) oil – canola and flax are my pancake oils of choice. Mix the dry ingredients (adding a pinch of salt if you think of it) and the wet ingredients separately, then whisk them together.
The secret to good pancakes is keeping the heat fairly low, and if you want to simulate that first pancake that never turns out quite right and gets thrown away, drizzle the pan with oil and then wipe it out with a paper towel. Cook until bubbles are starting to break on top, not until they have all already broken through the surface. You don’t want to exhaust all leavening potential. Scatter berries or sliced bananas on the surface before you flip it; the fruit is more evenly distributed that way, and won’t risk turning your pancakes green with berry juice. Another way to get them in is to simmer a handful of fresh or frozen berries in some maple syrup until they burst, turning the syrup a brilliant heliotrope (love that word).
Mike and I had yesterday’s leftover couscous, and yes, a few pancake pickings.
(P.S. If I was so inclined to make a special dinner for Mike, I might have chosen braised lamb shanks with mashed potatoes and Pavlova with cream and partially smushed fresh berries for dessert.)