By Robert St. John
The Meridian Star
I’ve been running hard for two weeks.
The book-signing tour for “An Italian Palate” is different than ones in years past in that it is concentrated into a jam-packed four-week period, and is more hectic than usual.
Last night I pulled into my driveway after an eight-signing-events-in-six-days week and my 16-year old daughter cooked pancakes for my supper.
A lot of great things happened last week— there were long lines of people who hoped to have their book signed, bookstores were regularly selling out of books and creating waiting lists for the arrival of the second edition on December 13th. My co-collaborator Wyatt Waters and I met fans, shook hands, and talked to others about travelling to Italy. Through all of the fast-paced craziness and ego-fueling madness of the week, nothing happened that was more meaningful than my daughter making pancakes when I finally reached home.
Pancakes are love.
It’s true. Think back, has anyone ever cooked pancakes for you— outside of a restaurant— who didn’t love you? Have you ever been served pancakes by someone you didn’t love?
My pancake history goes all of the way back to my maternal grandmother. She was originally from Nashville but the first 10 years of my life she and my grandfather lived in New York. My mother, brother and I visited often. They lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and took us to restaurants all throughout that neighborhood, but the culinary highlight of those trips were not from cutting-edge restaurants, delicatessens, or exotic ethnic cafes, but from the pancake breakfasts we enjoyed every morning in their apartment.
I am picky about pancakes. The bar has been set high. Most restaurants that serve pancakes offer nothing more than bland, bread-like discs that become more of a vessel for syrup and butter than anything else. My grandmother’s recipe is different. The flavor profile is deeper and more complex and the end result tastes much better.
In 1970, my grandparents moved from New York and settled into a small house near the zoo in Hattiesburg— pancake central. I went to bed at night hearing the Kamper Park lion roar, and was awakened in the morning to the smell of a well-buttered griddle full of pancakes.
All relatives seem to have an overall “place” in the family dynamic. In my family there was the grandfather who took us fishing, the uncle who told war stories, the other uncle who dispensed financial advice, the grandmother who hosted elaborate lunches, and the grandmother who made pancakes. We called her Muz.
I don’t know where that name came from, but since my brother was the oldest grandchild, he must have had something to do with it.
Muz made pancakes. That was her most memorable function in the family dynamic. She was a funny, headstrong lady who was a keen card player, a devoted church volunteer, and a woman who accomplished many important things over the course of her life. But being remembered for making the best pancakes on the planet ranks pretty even higher my book.
She made them in her kitchen and she made them in our kitchen when my mother was out of town. She packed Zip-loc packages of the dry mix and made them on vacation, and she shared the recipe with my other grandmother who could never quite nail the technique.
Muz’s pancakes were legendary in my family. They still are.
So after a long, finger-numbing tour of bookstores, I finally arrived home and sank into my chair ready to watch Sunday Night Football and zone out for a few minutes. An hour later my daughter walked in the room with a plate of Muz’s pancakes. She had gotten the recipe from my wife and made them from scratch all by herself— a first.
Actually, other than cereal and slice-and-bake cookies, it might be the first real cooking she has ever done. She nailed it. The pancakes were perfect, the timing was impeccable, and the gesture filled my heart with love, appreciation, and pride all at once.
Show someone you love them. Make a batch of pancakes. Breakfast or supper, it doesn’t matter. Pancakes are love.