Pancake Tuesday

I love the quirky little British holidays that, unlike our American commercialised ‘greeting card holidays’, I actually look forward to. For instance, last Tuesday was Pancake Day. In honor of the start of Lent, the British make pancakes to use up all the sugar, chocolate, syrup, etc. they have in their cupboards. At least, that is the idea. The reality is that most people these days actually go out and buy their pancake making ingredients –totally missing the point and spending about £15!

We don’t really pay attention to religious holidays or traditions in our house, but we do like any excuse to have pancakes for dinner. So Tuesday night Husband and I were happily mixing, flipping, and topping our pancakes with all the trimmings that I had bought in anticipation over the weekend. Husband and I cook dinner together every night, and we do it because we have shared values about spending quality time together in the evening. We like to eat at the dinner table and discuss our day. We were both raised that way, and it is the way we want to raise our family.

When we were young, going out to dinner was a rare luxury – it was a treat for something extraordinary that we had accomplished (such as making the honor roll or winning the junior soccer league). I can even count on my right hand the number of times we were taken to McDonald’s when I was in grade school. But these days there are many kids whose families eat out once, twice, or even more each week!

It was only when I became independent and started working that I started to frequent restaurants and fast food joints. All throughout college, like many of my friends, I rarely cooked myself a meal. It is no surprise then that girls my age are lacking some serious cooking skills. Since college, we simply have learned to get by with take out or ready meals and have lost touch with our cook books and frying pans.

I remember when I first moved to London and I decided to cook dinner for Husband (Boyfriend at the time). I decided to make the American classic: chicken parmesan. Even though it was the first time I had attempted to cook an entire meal (with an appetizer, main, and dessert) I was confident I could pull it off. I used almost every utensil in the kitchen, somehow managed to get flour all over the place, dribbled breadcrumbs into the pot of boiling water for the pasta, spilled tomato sauce all over the floor, and burnt my wrist on the oven. It took me over 3 hours; but it was cooked, not too badly burnt, and looked edible. Husband was very polite, and he ate all that was on his plate. But the next day, he decided he would give me a few cooking pointers.

Over the next couple of months, he taught me how to make an Indian curry, showed me the way to grill sausages so they were less fattening, taught me the trick to making a great spaghetti Bolognese – a British classic!- and imparted upon me the wisdom of how to make a perfect roasted potato. During the first year we lived together, I would help him as he cooked the meals. I slowly learned what to do and eventually, after a while, I took over the cooking. I did have a few stumbling errors along the way, however. I once made a clams and linguini pasta with a white wine sauce – and seeing that there was not much sauce, I dumped a load of wine into the pot about 3 minutes before I served it. That was how I learned that you need to boil the alcohol out of sauces before you serve them – otherwise you get a bowl full of wine!

The funniest cooking disaster was about 5 years ago, on my first ever Pancake Tuesday. I was told about the pre-Lent holiday and was excited about the idea of making pancakes. I absolutely love pancakes. So, in an effort to surprise Husband, I went out and bought pancake mix, blueberries, and syrup. I read the instructions on the mix and heated up a pan. But, having followed the directions, I could see that the mix was not right: it was way too watery. So I dumped in a load more flour until it was thick enough. When I spooned some into the pan it behaved really strangely. It was getting hard and dense and there were no bubbles rising to the surface. When I flipped it, it cracked and broke into pieces. About that time, Husband had come down to the kitchen.

 “What on earth are you making?” he teased.

“Oh crap. It’s all wrong. I was trying to make pancakes for Lent, but I messed it up.” I said, defeated.

He laughed.

“You poor thing – don’t you know that British pancakes are different to the American ones?” he replied. “You used British pancake mix to make American style pancakes. The British ones are much thinner and lighter, more like French crepes.”

Feeling like an idiot who just ruined dinner, I said “Oh. Well no one told me! How was I supposed to know.”

“Come here, you silly American.” Husband said as he hugged me. “Don’t worry, we’ll just order an Indian take away. It’s not a big deal.”

These days, thankfully, my cooking skills have greatly improved and I feel confident cooking a whole range of foods – from Asian stir fry’s to Moroccan tagines. It turns out that I really enjoy cooking and I am glad to have learned to cook in Europe, where I have had such exposure to international foods. It is thanks to Husband’s French roots that he is a natural foodie. And now that he has passed all his wisdom onto me, I can say with pride that I can now cook a mean British pancake on Pancake Day.

Leila Lacrosse

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