Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Size of Pancakes

As David and I shared our breakfast of pancakes and bacon the other morning, I had a flash memory of my childhood breakfasts. I asked David, “what size were your mother‘s pancakes?”

Used to my randomness and unusual questions, he said, “she made ‘em about that size,” and he pointed to the quart jar lid sized ones that were currently on the griddle and our plates.

I said, “My daddy used to make gigantic ones, bigger than I-Hop -- the biggest I have ever seen.”

David, with his mouth full, just nodded.

Because my mother worked, my daddy stepped in to help with the cooking, and the meal he prepared most  was breakfast and Sunday lunch. Even though my dad loved food, he was not a good cook, and my mother blamed it on his “being waited on as child” by a doting aunt who came to live with them and help when daddy’s mother became an invalid. His mother would die when Daddy was fourteen.

Daddy cooked because he needed to help out, and as he prepared breakfast, he just wanted to get it done, get us on our way, so that he too could get off to his own job.  It was a means to an end.

Over the years as Daddy continued to cook even though we came of an age where we could make our own breakfast, he never really improved as a cook -- he had some memorable, signature dishes that we still crave -- his Sunday roast with potatoes and vegetables, his Thanksgiving bread stuffing, and his mayonnaise biscuits, but for breakfast, he was pretty uninspired.

He was the morning parent, the one who woke us from our beds before daylight [by flipping on the overhead light -- there is a story in that itself -- traumatizing to be awaken that way -- like the paparazzi just barreled into my bedroom with a camera], hurried us through our dressing and use of the bathroom, ushered us into the kitchen, fed us, and then pushed us out the door to school.

We were a hot breakfast family: fried eggs, oatmeal, toast, and pancakes. My mother's famous and  wonderful egg concoction, that we called “toast eggs" and involved a soft boiled egg, is still a fond memory with my siblings, but she only fixed that for us on special occasions.

Since Daddy, as maker of breakfast, cared little for quality control, he could gum up some bad oatmeal. Made the old-fashioned way in a aluminum sauce pan on the stove, he ultimately either mis-measured the oats or water or salt, turned up the gas too high, got distracted by the news on WSB, the radio station that he listened to every morning, or just didn’t stir it enough, and ultimately the porridge stuck to the pan like glue {hated washing that pan -- hated looking at it too --  as many an afternoon it would be still soaking in the sink -- the oatmeal grossly adhered to the sides of the pan}.

The saving grace for the oatmeal was that he didn’t care how much butter or sugar we put on it to make it edible.  I think the word for what we added would be heaping. Heaping teaspoons of sugar. I still don’t eat oatmeal without sugar.

Our dog Susie ate a lot of oatmeal as we scraped the thick gunk that we found "ugh" into her bowl from ours. Our dogs always ate our leftovers; I don't remember us ever buying dog food.

If breakfast was toast, Daddy prepared it using the oven’s broiler. With four children, this expedient way allowed him to butter eight pieces of bread, place it under the broiler, toast it, and then we all could be fed at once  --- this eliminated fighting for a place in line at the toaster.  Actually, for all I know, we might not have had a toaster. We were kind of poor in that frugal way  -- as in -- our parents really remembered The Great Depression. Note the capitalization -- I learned that when I was two.

Daddy sometimes in his haste or his distraction by the news that spewed from the small radio above the refrigerator burned the toast. Because we didn’t throw food away [unless it was spoiled], he scraped the black cinders of the burned top of the bread off with a knife, and then handed the toast to us like it was awesome. Even with his scraping, the toast still tasted burned.  I still can hear that scraping noise the knife made against that burned toast; in fact, I think I can still taste that burnt bread. 

My favorite toast was cinnamon. Made with white bread and only toasted on one side, my daddy put cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl, stirred it together, and then with one dollop of butter in the center of the bread, he sprinkled the mixture all over the top and toasted it under the broiler to a high brown.  As the heat hit the cinnamon toast, the butter melted and spread across the bread mixing with the cinnamon mixture and making the middle this yummy, gummy, butter laden bite of heaven. I could easily down four slices.

If he toasted it just right, which meant that Daddy had to bend low to the floor to flip down the broiler door and check it several times [the oven was temperamental], this delightful breakfast, the smell wafting through the house, brought even the sleepiest child to the table.  When I smell cinnamon now, that memory of that hot toast in our warm childhood kitchen on winter days makes me nostalgic to capture the security and love of those moments of eating breakfast with my siblings and dad.

Another toast that we had of our own variety was French toast. Made with white bread as well, Daddy sopped the bread in an egg mixture with milk, which was never measured or done the same way twice, and cooked these on both sides in frying pan.  Sometimes, the egg mixture adhered to the bread in a weird way, and other times, the bread had hardly any egg mixture at all.  His French toast never seemed to come out the same way. Ever. The pan held about four pieces of bread at a time, so we each got a single piece. As he prepared the next round, we spread our single piece of  French toast with grape jelly or piled it high with teaspoons of confectioners or refined sugar. Sugar. It masked even the worst of Daddy's missteps in the kitchen. With all that sugar, it’s a wonder we didn't have the attention spans of fleas.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned that some people, not just the Yankees, put maple syrup on French toast.

On Saturday mornings when Daddy had  a little more time and was enticing us to get out of bed and get started on our Saturday chores, he prepared pancakes. Using the electric frying pan, he would mix up the batter in a huge bowl and fry up these gargantuan pancakes. Usually the size of dinner plates, these pancakes could vary in done-ness. If he paid close attention to his fry duties, daddy’s pancakes came out the color of honey; if he lost his focus, then they could be either light brown, with an undone middle, or dark brown with a crispy exterior.  Regardless, we ate them.

What cracks me up, in retrospect, is how ridiculously huge these pancakes were. Daddy would fill the bottom of that fry pan with batter, sometimes the batter thick, sometimes thin, let the cake cook on one side [he determined when to flip it by the number of bubbles in the middle of the cake as it cooked], and then turn  it once, the cake so big that it hung off all sides of the spatula like some kind of other worldly thing.

I don’t know how he flipped those guys so easily.

Sitting at the table, our forks in the air in anticipation, these pancakes were a kid filler. We had to wait patiently for them as he could only cook them one at a time. After daddy placed this humongous hot cake on our plates, we slathered them in butter and then covered them with home made syrup, a mix that my mother heated up on the stove in a saucepan. Made from sugar, water, and maple flavoring, that hot syrup just made those pancakes, regardless of color, perfect.

I  loved those giant pancakes. I loved my daddy's pancakes -- the good, the bad, and the ugly. *sigh*
When we went to Lynchburg for an extended stay, the aunts also made us pancakes. The difference was that their pancakes were the size of silver dollars, and one of them, usually Aunt Ava or Eleanor, would stand patiently at their griddle, pouring the batter into the pan in small quantities, and then flipping the pancakes until they were perfectly done.  Each of us could eat ten or twelve of them to our aunt's surprise: after all, we had been trained by the best.

BTW: The aunts had this cool syrup dispenser too -- by sliding back this little lever on top, it would pour out the syrup in a smooth stream.  We used to fight over that thing. Their pancakes always came out the same while Daddy’s pancakes -- well, we never knew anything for sure about them except that they would be big.

Very big.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Dog Survelliance

Beach morning.
 Me no see.


I have watch.
Dog watch.
Dog come bounding.
Roll on back.
Feet in air.
For human attention.
He needs cat lesson.
Never perform.
Try to teach Gigi, dog of Nan Friend.
 Ignore me.
Nan have crack cookies.
I  no fall for that.
I Cat.
Gigi dog.

Last night.

Dreaming of lizards.
Small birds.
In dream.
Lizards limping.
Birds slow.
Really slow.

 Senses kick in.
Know dog coming.

 I watch.
Barely swatting my tail.

He showed. 
Knew it.
Of beach house.
He looks.
I stare.
Because of my awesomeness.
He leaves.

Where dog is.

Pretty sure.
Beach dog Nick has.
Cookie addiction. Like Nan Friend dog.
More later.

If I get my Garbo time.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Suite Francaise

Suite Francaise by Ukrainian-born Irene Nemirovsky is yet another novel written about World War II, [and as I told my nieces as I chatted with them on Skype recently -- “I need a break from Holocaust fiction”], but this book interested me two fold: its author and that it's incomplete.

Blog readers: You read a book knowing that it was incomplete?


Neimirovsky’s wealthy banking family emigrated to France during the Russian Revolution.  After she attended the Sorbonne, she began a writing career that quickly turned to success. In the early 1940s, she began work on what would become Suite Francaise -- the first two parts of a planned five part novel --  and “dreamed of a book of a thousand pages, constructed like a symphony, but in five sections, according to the rhythm and tone.” While she and her husband remained in Paris, they hid their two young daughters in a small village in central France in a “vain attempt to elude the Nazis.”

The first section of Suite Francaise, “A Storm in June,” begins in 1940 as the Nazis invade France. Parisians, from all walks of life and in different levels of panic, attempt to get out of the city and into the country in order to survive. The interactions between the classes as well as the selfishness that surfaces interweave as Neimirovsky portrays the fear of the individual as he walks away from all he has known, obviously a situation in which Neimirovsky herself had a front row seat and well narrated from a third person point of view.

“Dolce,” the second part, shows the conflicted and complex lives of a German occupied village in France. As the German army set up their officers and soldiers in private homes, the relations between the aristocrats and their neighbors and the merchants and their customers escalate into an atmosphere full of suspicion and jealously as well as a network of resistance and compliance.  Neimirovsky again writes with the details and precision of someone who knew this experience well.

When I finished “Dolce,” I wished for the other three sections, but at the end of the novel, the translator provided an appendix with Nemirovsky’s hand written notes on the situation in France and her plans for the rest of the novel, taken from her notebook. Not as satisfying as the work would have been maybe, but her notes were chilling as she “denounced fear, cowardice, acceptance of humiliation, of persecution and massacre.” These notes eerily illustrate how she willed to stand up and put in writing what she called ‘the state of France.” Like so many others, her life snuffed out, the painful awareness of the horror of that time comes to life yet again in the personal, intimate notations made by Nemirovsky.

Arrested in 1942, Jewish  writer Irene Nemirovksy would die at Auschwitz, her book unfinished. Her husband would suffer the same fate, but her daughters, protected by a network, took the manuscript into hiding. The novel finally was published in 2006, sixty-four years after her death.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Poetry Out Loud 3.0

This past week I once again traisped over to my former work place to judge the 2012 Poetry Out Loud contestants.

I ran into old friends, but not a single student [not countin' you Boyd] I knew. Alas, those that I taught have all graduated, and a new bunch taken their place --- younger than ever they are, older than ever I am. Such vitality, such youth, such energy --- made me wanna come home and take a nap.

Regardless, here's a shout out to KMHS and these fine students who had the nerve and the presence to stand up in front of an audience and recite poetry.


 the winners -- first is on the left
 the judge [for the record, that pencil does not hold the power of the red pen]
 my friend, Debbie [retired], another judge
all contestants
 during the scoring interlude, Kyle [in white shirt to the left] performed his poem titled "Monsters"----with help from a few of his friends...[twas very funny]
*holds up lighter*
 the man in the middle, Coy Dunn [not-retired], is KMHS's drama teacher
BTW: he is currently in competition for Georgia's Teacher of the Year -- Good luck, Coy.

For more information: Poetry Out Loud.

 Not pictured--- good friend Nan [not-retired], media specialist, and organizer of this competition for KMHS