In a tiny corner of my mind lives a memory of total peace. A timeless golden glow where my parents are young and happy and laughing with their friends, drinks in hand as they sit outside next to the water, and my sister and I and an army of other kids play endless games of tag and hide and seek with little notice from the adults.
In this place of total peace, I'm eating corn pancakes.
The memory is of a Big Chill-like vacation arranged by my parents and their old college roommates. I was probably in third grade, and my sister and I were beside ourselves in anticipation. We were going to a cabin. On a lake. And there were going to be other kids there. We never took vacations like this; we usually just visited our grandparents.
We drove from Hanover, Indiana, where my father was a professor at Hanover College, to Bloomington, Illinois, where his onetime roommate was a professor at Illinois State University. The plan was to spend the night, then drive the next day to the cabin. The party started as soon as we got to Bloomington, with the kids eavesdropping on the old college stories, then running off to explore the house. In the middle of the night (well, probably not, but it seemed like it to a third-grader) everyone decided, "Why wait until tomorrow?" and we piled into cars and headed up the highway.
Hours later, the sun coming up over the horizon, we piled out of the cars, bleary-eyed, faces smooshed into weird lines resembling the car upholstery. The mothers set about cooking breakfast, and it was, as you may have guessed, corn pancakes. I had never tasted anything so amazing. We ate them on picnic tables, looking across the steel-blue undulations of Lake Michigan. It made an impression.
Now, these corn pancakes are a staple at the annual Big Chill gathering of some of my dearest friends, amazing journalists I met at a Stanford fellowship more than a decade ago who still get together each November at a big beach house in Oregon.
It's a week filled with wine, food, walks on the beach, more wine, bitching about work, bitching about too much work, bitching about lack of work (all of which is pretty standard in journalism circles these days). We share "downloads" on the year's developments from each in attendance, including the now-grown children, along with solitaire wars that shake the house, ping-pong tournaments, and the dictionary game, in which we all try to trick each other into voting for our made-up definitions for obscure words chosen out of the dictionary.
After one of these raucous, word-nerd, hours-long, hard-fought contests, and a subsequent long discussion on the remaining amount of wine and whether we needed to drive to town to get more, the children came up with a new word: disvinaphobia -- fear of lack of wine. I think it should be added to Webster's immediately.
For these gatherings, the families who live in Oregon do most of the heavy lifting on the wine and food front, planning, shopping and schlepping, and the out-of-towners just hotfoot it from the airport to the beach house. But my contribution is corn pancakes, which always give me an endless-time, golden-glow, loose-limbed-relaxation, belly-laughing feeling.
I made some corn pancakes last Sunday, just because. Because it had been a long week, a long month, a long semester, and everyone was in need of some glow.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Here's how to get it: Make your favorite plain pancake recipe. These days, I'm using the one on the back of the Gluten-Free Bisquick box. Add creamed corn. I used half a can for the recipe that uses one cup of Bisquick. You can adjust for your taste. Adding more will make thinner, more corny pancakes. Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes it suits my mood. Cook them like you always do.
The corn will caramelize where it peaks through the pancake, and will provide a nice, chewy texture inside. I serve these rounds of amazement with maple syrup. Nothing else needed.
Dig in and feel the glow.