By Bonnie Fishman
For many of us who are “of the age” to be blessed with grandchildren, the pandemic has wreaked havoc on our ability to visit them in person. Many months have passed since we’ve been able to hug those delicious little humans. I have 2 grandsons, 4 and 7, who live in Los Angeles. I haven’t seen them for six months now. During this formative time in their lives, much growth both physically and emotionally has occurred. And I missed it. We all missed it. Next week, my husband and I will have the good fortune to stay in my son’s guest house in Santa Monica where we can squeeze the kids all we want. They may think it a bit much, but hey, I don’t really care! We have been vaccinated and we’re ready to go. Will the boys still squeal with delight when Baba and Nana arrive at their door? Will we pick up where we left off?
I know one thing for sure: the way to anyone’s heart is through their stomach. And grandchildren are no different. What they know about this Nana is that we make the best pancakes together on Sunday mornings. The four-year-old hears “Nana”, he hears “chocolate chip pancakes,” his favorite. The kid has a major sweet tooth, particularly for anything homemade, just like me. It was no accident that I opened my Patisserie. I loved being surrounded by the aromas, the cinnamon buns, the brownies, the coffee cakes. You get the idea.
On Saturday, we will walk up a few blocks to a delightful Farmer’s Market, with stalls brimming with beautiful produce. We will also see many other offerings: honey, olives, nuts, fresh fish, breads. Nothing gets my fingers itching to cook more than this. I would imagine it’s like a painter going into an art supply store or a gardener trotting up and down the aisles of a plant nursery. At the market, the boys will pick out juicy berries to put in the pancakes. Sometimes they go rogue and want chocolate chips instead. No matter, this is a Nana-grandson ritual every time we are together. The boys have been helping me make the batter since they were old enough to hold a whisk. Their task is beating the eggs and measuring in the flour. I would have to set them on the kitchen counter and put the mixing bowl next to them. So what if it’s messy and flour and egg is all over them and the kitchen? Let it go. I have found that if you ask children to participate in preparing their meal, they now have a vested interest in its outcome, a sense of pride, and a good basis for future cooking endeavors throughout their lives.
One tradition in our house has been to make shapes out of pancakes. This takes a hot, lightly oiled pan and a deft hand. Favorite shapes are snowmen and Mickey Mouse. We use blueberries or chocolate chips for eyes, buttons, a smile. This adds another layer of excitement to the pancake cooking ritual.
There are pancakes and there are pancakes. Ask 10 different people for their recipe and you’ll get 10 different recipes. It doesn’t matter! Who doesn’t love pancakes, right? This Pandemic Pancake recipe is a standard buttermilk batter. I always have buttermilk in my fridge pantry because I use it for pancakes, muffins and salad dressings. I’m prepared! It lasts a long time; I have even used it a month after opening. It’s already sour so don’t worry about it spoiling any time soon. If you don’t have buttermilk, do not run to the store. You are prepared: measure out regular milk and squeeze in about a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice. The acid in the lemon resembles the acid in the buttermilk when it comes in contact with the baking powder and soda. If you like a heavier, fluffier batter, the batter should be thicker. If you like a thinner pancake, then a thinner batter. To thin the mixture, just add more buttermilk. It’s really best to let the batter rest about 30 minutes before cooking. This will result in a more delicate crumb, because the glutens in the flour will relax. However, if you have two hungry boys waiting at the table for breakfast like I do, just use the batter right away. If you have leftover batter, cover and refrigerate. The next day, you may need to add some more buttermilk to the desired consistency.
Even though we are are a blueberry or chocolate chip pancake family, other possible additions to pancake batter include strawberries, raspberries, bananas, pecans or any combination. True confession: one of my favorite ways to eat pancakes is to make them plain, pour on some pure maple syrup and top with either a poached or over-easy egg. Season egg with salt and pepper and you end up with a rich, slightly sweet, slightly salty dish.
One last idea for making pancakes: If you are lucky enough to have several people in your household, make a pancake bar. If you have an electric griddle, this is the time to haul it out. Have your batter ready in a nice pitcher. Put a variety of ingredients in small bowls near the griddle. Have ready the syrup, butter or other toppings. Your guests can design their own pancake as you make it right in front of them. We used to do this at our catered events. It was a nice touch when serving brunch.
I know there are many Insider readers who will be having their own post-vaccine get-togethers with their children and grandchildren. I would love to hear about your family’s favorite meal at your reunion.
Nana’s Pandemic Buttermilk Pancakes
Yield: 10-12 4" Pancakes
1 lg. egg
1 c. buttermilk
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 c. flour
1 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
vegetable oil for the pan or griddle
fillings of your choice–berries, chocolate chips, nuts, bananas
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the egg. Whisk in the buttermilk and oil. Pour in the dry ingredients. Blend until just combined. Add buttermilk to desired consistency, more for thinner pancakes.
Put enough vegetable oil in a large skillet or griddle to barely cover the bottom. Heat over high. When the oil is hot, pour in enough batter to make 4” diameter circles. Put the fillings on, scattering them over the batter. When the bottom of the pancake is set and golden, flip to the other side. Cook another 1-2 minutes. You may not need to add oil for each batch.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.