The day before Lent, if you're from the Mediterranean or South American worlds (or even other parts of Continental Europe), means a raucous good time fueled by alcohol. If, however, you're from the the British Isles, it means pancakes. Because that's, apparently, how you tie one on in England. Knowing me, it should be obvious which manner I choose to celebrate in.
So, here's my breakfast from today:
Growing up, we rarely had regular pancakes. I'm not sure why this is. Instead, we typically ate "flat pancakes". That's what my family called crepes. My parents excel at making these paper-thin and perfectly browned, something I have never been able to manage. My dad seemed particularly skilled on this front (he is also preternaturally talented at slicing apple very, very thin. Translucent, even.) I remember flat pancakes with incredible fondness. Getting them right as they came out of the pan, slathering them in butter and liberally sprinkling with cinnamon and sugar and then rolling them tightly. I could eat them as quickly as they could be made.
In later years, I learned, somewhat alarmed, that people put other things on crepes. I have tried this a few times, but neither jam nor nutella nor anything else satisfies me in quite the same way that the blend of pliant pancake, runny butter and crunchy sugar does. It never occurred to me that eating crepes with the regularity that we did may not have been typical, in that way that whatever your family does when you're young seems wholly natural.
Regular pancakes, or as my family called them fat pancakes, have always left me feeling slightly disappointed. They're not crepes, is really their problem. They are also much more work than what we ate even more regularly than crepes: puffy pancakes. I understand other people call these German pancakes, but I prefer the description of the peaks and valleys created as if by magic while they bake. There was always, at least in my mind, a sort of strategic battle for the corners of the pancakes, where the edges were crispiest and the butter pooled under the fold. Getting that piece was a little taste of heaven. And doing so required pacing yourself so that you'd be gong for seconds at the ideal point to take it without looking greedy.
Puffy pancakes, I'm pretty sure, were the first thing I ever made on my own. There are, therefore, ground zero for my love of making food. I remember vividly discovering that the recipe for flat pancakes and puffies was identical (6 eggs, 1 cup flour, 1 cup milk). Back then, it seemed like a beautiful lie. How could the same materials produce such obviously different products? I'm still not entirely sure how this works, but it does. Which is why every time I make a batch of puffies, I am always awed when I pull them out of the oven.
For me, then, puffies are a wonderful way to kick off Lent. I'm saying, "Here, God. Here's the eggs, and flour and milk of my soul. It's not much right now. But, take it. I'm sure you'll make it into something delicious and magic." Here's hoping that's true.