Saved by the Big Pancake

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In the seven years since my first marriage exploded, I have lost many things I loved: homes, my dream of an intact family, my son. Especially my son, who has been forced to take sides in our high-conflict divorce.

But with loss comes transformation and I have also gained things I love: my husband, our blended family, a new career, new friends. Three cats.

Still, as grateful as I am for my personal renaissance, I am haunted by the broken life narrative caused by both my adoption and divorce. Family constellations have shifted, tangible and psychic legacies have been diverted, snapped apart like fibers of a frayed rope. My efforts to give my children what I never felt growing up—a cohesive foundation—failed. I ruminate about the impact of this fragmentation on them and often feel desperate to find a constant, something solid they can grasp hold of and carry forward.

As I reflect on the choppy last several years, one such constant, blessed in its simplicity, comes to mind: The Big Pancake.

Dutch Baby Pancake

A sublime concoction of mostly butter and sugar, The Big Pancake, as it has been named by my children, has become our weekend morning ritual. Although Luca is no longer with us on the weekends, my daughter Francesca, almost nine, and stepson Kevin, almost seven, clamor for it with regularity.

I smiled this Saturday morning, comforted by the habitual rhythms the kids and I have fallen into. Our dance steps go something like this:

Around 7 a.m. I come downstairs to make coffee. Francesca and Kevin are already awake, sprawled on the cushy family room couch, watching TV. Francesca greets me with, "Mom, can you make The Big Pancake?"

I preheat the oven and take out my pink mixing bowl. I gather the seven ingredients: flour, butter, milk, eggs, nutmeg, confectioner's sugar, and lemon. I melt half a stick of butter in my cast-iron skillet, pour the batter on top, and when the edges brown, stick the skillet in the oven.

At least once during the 15 minutes required for The Big Pancake to billow to perfection, the kids call out: "Is it ready yet?"

When it's done, sprinkled with confectioner's sugar and lemon, the pancake sinks down to a delectable crust: chewy-crunchy, sweet and tart, swimming in butter. The kids jockey for position with their plates, remembering who got to choose the first piece the weekend before, and whose turn it is this weekend. When it's Kevin's turn, Francesca tries to steer him away from the biggest of the four slices. He's onto her now and points to the piece that appears the largest.

Francesca cuts Kevin's slice into bite-sized pieces, yet before he's done, she's back for Round 2. When she tiptoes into the kitchen to sneak a third slice, I give her the eye that means you've had quite enough, Missy. She grins like a busted Cheshire cat, then skulks off with a resigned, "ohhh-kay."

I discovered Amanda Hesser's recipe (see below) soon after my divorce, while reading the New York Times Sunday Magazine. I didn't know then how powerful these seven simple ingredients would be; that this prosaic offering now known as The Big Pancake would gradually ease into my family's consciousness as if it had always been there.

And I hope it always will.

The Big Pancake

2 eggs

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup milk

Pinch of ground nutmeg

4 tbsp. butter

2 tbsp. confectioner's sugar

Juice of half a lemon

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the flour, milk and nutmeg until blended but still slightly lumpy.

2. Melt the butter in a 12-inch skillet with a heatproof handle over medium-high heat. When very hot but not brown, pour in the batter. Bake in the oven until the pancake is billowing on the edges and golden brown, about 15 minutes.

3. Working quickly, remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle with the sugar. Return to the oven for 1 to 2 minutes more. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Serves 2 to 4.

Image Credit: NourishingCook on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license


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