There is no ‘P’ in ‘Short Stack’

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‘Who knew a pancake could be so Proustian?’

I was thinking a lot about pancakes this past weekend. For one thing, it was Father’s Day — a day, like Mother’s Day, when the ole pancake griddle (or frying pan, which is what was used when I was Growing Up Lutheran) can get a real workout.

I can remember a time, not that long ago, when, as a young(ish) mom myself, I would rustle up a batch of pancakes not just for Father’s-or-Mother’s Day, but almost every Sunday morning, winter and summer — pretty much all year ’round.

My Garland, all shined up at that. This is the same stove that Julia Child owned, I'll have you; the one that's in the Smithsonian. Not this exact one, of course

My Garland, all shiny and ready for pancake-making. This is the same stove that Julia Child owned, I’ll have you know; it’s in the Smithsonian. (Not this exact one, of course)

I’d man (woman?) the griddle on my impressive Garland six-burner-and-griddle-topped stove, spatula and coffee cup in hand(s) while The Child polished off an impressive number of pancakes (five? seven? ten?) without benefit of butter, syrup, or even fork. The experience was rather like watching my Oldest Younger Brother Scott polish off sweet corn. (His talent for this inspired my Swedish Grampa to give him the nickname Scott ‘Sweetcorn’ Henry.)

Sweetcorn, by the way, deserves its own story, which you can read about here. But back to pancakes. The demand for them chez Whitmore was so great that my Garland griddle bore two sort of pancake-shaped outlines on its surface.

The Child (seen here with Cousin) at her Pancake-Polishing Peak. With pig. (alliteration, you know)

The Child (seen here with Cousin) at her Pancake-Polishing Peak. With pig. (Alliteration, you know)

Speaking of pigs and pancakes, there is a great breakfast place in Seaside, Oregon, called ‘Pig and Pancake’. Just about sums up your basic breakfast pleasures now, doesn’t it? My Mom and Dad decamped to Seaside from the Midwest back in the Aughts. On the rare and wonderful occasions when we Grown Kids would meet there for family gatherings, we’d send the hapless Dads to P & P with all the youngsters so we moms could hang out, not making pancakes, drinking coffee in peace.

In later years, The Child still had an affinity for Pigs if not pancakes (or not so much, anyway)

In later years, The Child still had an affinity for Pigs if not (to such a great extent, anyway) for pancakes

But back to the Proustian Thing. Since The Child has grown, we (sigh) have relatively few occasions to crank up the griddle. For pancakes, anyway. (Those pancake-shaped griddle markings have morphed into grilled-cheese-sandwich shapes.) This makes me rather nostalgic. Just the sight of an article like last weekend’s in the Times about how to make pancakes sends me into a tasting-the-madeleine-reverie.

I love that the Times devoted a whole special section to making pancakes

I love that the Times devoted a whole special section to making pancakes

I am hoping, though, that the Times dedicating a whole food section to pancake-making doesn’t trendify them. You know, like when there was a croissant shop (remember Au Croissant Chaud?) on every NYC corner in the Nineties. Donuts, too. Remember the Krispy Kreme Kraze? And a couple of years ago I wrote about a croissant/donut war in Williamsburg (Hipster Williamsburg, not Colonial Williamsburg).

I mean, what if the Williamsburg Hipsters get involved in a pancake war? I can hear the discussions now. Debates about ‘heirloom’ pancake flour, ‘locally-sourced’ baking powder, not to mention ‘farm to table’ butter and eggs. In the quest for best — and most unique — pancake, heck, they might even invent some cronut-like abomination like, god forbid, a ‘pwaffle’.

But, again, back to pancakes. I can’t end this post without passing along a few pancake-making tips. (After all, I spent many a Child-formative year whipping them up, and without benefit of a Times Guide.)

First thing. Don’t underestimate the power of BisQuik. (I can’t help but notice that, not once does the New York Times mention BisQuik. Well. La-di-da, la-di-da.) My personal pancake formula is to use BisQuik, but, since our family likes a little texture, to substitute cornmeal for half. Being of Swedish heritage, I also like my pancakes a tad on the thin-not-fluffy side, so I also use more milk than called for. But that’s a quirk, not necessarily a recommendation.

As for the actual cooking, I read somewhere that singing ‘Happy Birthday’, then flipping, makes for perfect timing. Although I could be mixed up and be thinking about how long people in the Coast Guard get for an onboard-ship shower. Whatever. As Scott (our generation’s Pancake Expert) would say, just watch for the bubbles on the ‘raw’ side to burst, then flip.

One last thing. Avoid mixing things into your pancakes. Blueberries might be okay. But once my mom, probably inspired by one of her ‘women’s magazines’ (Redbook? Ladies Home Journal? Woman’s Day?) put slices of hot dog in the pancakes. This idea was about as popular as you might imagine.

But not nearly as dreadful as something I heard from my First Husband. (Yes, there was a pre-Dude dude; you can read about him in ‘My Polio Shot Marriage’.) Apparently — and I honestly don’t know if this is true — one of The Guy Before Dude’s college buds was working at an IHOP (International House of Pancakes, as it was known then) and actually peed in the batter once. (At least I hope it was only once.)

Hmmm. Maybe I’ll stick to waffles from now on.

Amagansett, New York. June 2016

‘Oh, no. It’s (gasp) them. And they’ve got (bigger gasp) him!’

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‘Tales, some rather scary, of Other People’s Children.’

First, let me state for the record that The Dude and I like children. After all, we actually went to a great deal of trouble to have one. It’s just that, sometimes, now and then, really not all that often but often enough, we run into some pretty frightening examples of Other People’s Children. And I bet you do too.

There were the Kids Who Ran Around The House Screaming While Smearing Brownies Into The Furniture And Rugs. The Kids Who Dropped The Cat From A Height. And my personal favorites, The Kids Who Threw Rocks — inside the house — at the dining-room table.

But hey. Let me pause in my semi-rant to share a snap of a Kid Who Can Come Back Any Time. True, this kid is still at that can’t-do-much-harm phase. For one thing, he can’t run around, much less run around smearing. And, as for screaming, heck. Even when he cries at the top of his lungs, all that comes out is a sound sort of like the world’s tiniest baby elephant.

On a scale of 1 to 10, just how cute is this baby?

A decidedly cute, incredibly benign, example of an Other Person’s Child

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t expect kids to be perfect. Kids are kids: messy and noisy, even whiny and smelly. Why, I remember the time I came home from a ten-day shoot in Rome to a warm (and ripe) welcome from my own personal Child, who had taken advantage of my absence by not bathing for the duration. (The Dude didn’t notice, bless him.)

And, as for noisy, The Child once had a tantrum that was so bad — you know the kind; where the kid makes him or herself stiff as a board and shrieks — that The Dude had to extract her from the scene (we were in a restaurant in North Beach with a friend). There he was, trying to hail a cab on the streets of San Francisco while carrying a flailing, kicking, red-faced little girl who was screaming ‘I want my mommy! I want my mommy!’ at the top of her toddler lungs. Child abduction, anyone?

In fact, my threshold of kid tolerance is actually pretty low. As with many things, I let my own mom be my guide. As you recall, there were five of us Henry Kids, and none of us was what you would call a Shrinking Violet. We were, in fact, pretty messy, noisy, whiny, and smelly. But I do recall that we could be taken pretty much anywhere. See, that was the deal. Mom (and Dad too, but it was really Mom making the rules) expected to be able to take us somewhere — and that we’d act in a manner that meant we could actually go back.

Other People's Children who can come back any time: Just-Two and Almost-Five

Other People’s Children who can come back any time: Just-Two and Almost-Five. Incidentally, they are featured in ‘What’s in a Name?’ from a couple of weeks ago

Pictured above are two shining examples of Kids Who Can Come Back. No, they are not perfect (though perfectly cute, as you can see). They run around squealing, but they do so outside. They’re kind of messy eaters, but they keep it (pretty much) to the kitchen. And, so far anyway, they don’t throw rocks. At least not in the house.

Speaking of rocks, I once announced to my mother that ‘I didn’t throw rocks at the house’. I was four. But why on earth would I bring this up if I actually hadn’t been ‘throwing rocks at the house’? Kids. Whattaya gonna do?

But about that kid who inspired the title of this piece. He was (and no doubt still is, I imagine) the son of one of my mother’s cousins. The one who used to make the incredibly bizarre jello salad concoctions. (I recall one made with green jello, cottage cheese, celery, and, I kid you not, chopped raw cabbage and onion.) Non-welcome kid. Weird jello salad. Coincidence?

This kid was, rather famously, not welcome anywhere. Once, at a family reunion, he bit me. I know, I know. Kids do that. But he was about eight at the time. And I was an infant — an infant with a big ole chomp mark on her tummy. This kid was so naughty, that when my Swedish Grampa would see their car pull in to the driveway, he would say: ‘Oh, no. It’s them. And they’ve got him.

But let’s end on an up note, shall we? This past weekend we got to spend some Quality Time with the Kid Pictured At The Top of This Post (and, um, his parents). He was a big hit, as you can see:

Come back any time, Kid. You too, O Fabulous Readers!

Come back any time, Kid. You too, O Fabulous Readers!

Amagansett, New York. June 2016

 

To pick. Or not to pick.

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‘A story about a lady out standing in her (strawberry) field. Oh, and a dog named Snoball.’

It’s getting to be That Season. When signs like these are sprouting along the highways and byways: ‘Pick Ur Own Strawberries’. ‘Pick Ur Own Raspberries’. Even ‘Pick Ur Own Rhubarb’. Later on this summer you’ll be seeing ‘Pick Ur Own Corn’. (Which I do love in its already-picked state; see my ‘To Hell with Kale’ for the Best Corn-Cooking Method on The Planet Earth). And come Fall, there will be, you can count on it, ‘Pick Ur Own Pumpkin’ signs.

Nah. I'd actually rather U did the picking. And I did the eating

To be perfectly honest, I’d much rather U did the picking. And just handed me a nice box of berries

In case you miss the ubiquitous highway signs (sometimes, for grammatical variety, spelled ‘U-Pick’, as above) there are data bases for locating Pick-Ur-Own places in your area. I ‘picked’ (hah) this highlighted one, because it’s Southern Illinois berry-picking we’re going to be talking about.

By the way, I’ve also seen ‘Cut Ur Own Christmas Tree’ (see example below). One can only wonder when we’ll see invitations to ‘Chop Ur Own Wood’? ‘Slaughter Ur Own Beef’? ‘Split Ur Own Atom’?

At least they know how to spell 'your'

At least they know how to spell ‘your’

But back to the strawberry story.

Back in the day, my mother thought it was great fun to pick ur own. (She probably still does.) She was, I might add, the only one in our family who thought it was fun. The rest of us hated it.

To her, it was a nice day out, selecting your own glorious fruit, which she would then make into glorious jams and shortcakes and pies. To us, it was a long ride in a hot car with your shorts-clad legs sticking to the vinyl seat and your sweaty little brother crawling all over you. (No seatbelts in those days, kids; no air-conditioning, either.) And then it was hours in the steamy Southern-Illinois heat making like an antebellum field hand. Followed by an even-hotter strawberry-infused ride home with your now-exhausted (read ‘whiny’) little brother getting his sticky red paw prints all over you.

This kid looks about as excited as my little brother to be picking some berries

This kid looks about as excited as my little brother to be picking some berries. At least he (or she?) has a ‘kids’ field’, whatever that means

The promise of all the strawberries we could eat when we got home didn’t help much. (Though I have to admit Mom’s strawberry pie was darned good.)

But, since Mom was the Grownup, and in charge, guess what? Strawberry-picking we would go. On the occasion of this story, my Littlest Brother Doug and Only Sister Laura were the designated pickers. The rest of us, being older, had graduated to other summer jobs. My brothers were probably toiling away on Dad’s survey crew (he was a civil engineer). And I may have been doing a stint at the Carlyle Union Banner (stories to come).

Anyway. Laura and Doug had been dutifully filling their berry baskets all morning — did I mention that it was hot? And that there was often poison ivy? And bugs? And sometimes even snakes? — when Doug spotted something special hidden there among the strawberry plants: a nest of baby mice. (I found a photo of a nest of baby mice, but, to be perfectly honest, they sound a whole lot cuter than they actually look, so never mind.)

Doug jumps up, all excited, and calls ‘Mommy, Mommy! Baby mice!

Now, our mother had been taking a berry-picking break and was chatting with the U-Pick Proprietoress (who rather eerily resembled  that Walker Evans photo of the Depression-era farm wife).

Upon hearing Doug’s excited cries, the Strawberry Lady yelled ‘Snowball!’ (Which was, I’m thinking, probably spelled ‘Snoball’, and was yelled more like this: ‘Snooooooobaaaaaallllllll!!’)

And this great big white dog came out of nowhere, bounded over to where Doug was standing, and proceeded to eat the baby mice. All of them. Right in front of Doug’s astonished, horror-stricken, kindergarten-aged eyes. It’s a wonder he didn’t grow up to be an ax murderer. Or a strawberry-hater, at the very least.

My animal-loving Littlest Brother Doug, pictured here with Major, the World's Smartest Cat (who probably would have done a number on those mice, too, given the chance)

My animal-loving Littlest Brother Doug, pictured here with Major, the World’s Smartest Cat (who probably would have done a number on those mice, too, given the chance)

Happy Strawberry (and baby mice) Season, everyone! Now get out there and pick me some fruit.

The way I like my berries -- already picked

Strawberries, just the way I like them — already picked, and by somebody else

New York City. June 2016

 

What’s in a name?

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‘The story of a girl (almost) named Zeus’

Our Memorial Day tradition is to have our two super-adorable grand-nieces (yup, grand-nieces), Miss Just-Two and her older sister Miss Almost-Five, come down from the Boston area to help us celebrate the first official weekend of summer. Oh, okay. Their parents get to come too.

Last night we were polishing off our umpteenth bottle of wine (with the parents, not the adorable grand-nieces) and got to talking about how kids get their names. I guess things have changed a bit since we named The Child, because these parents confessed that Miss Almost-Five went four days without a name. Even more startling (to us, anyway) was the fact that Miss Just-Two went nameless for four whole months. During this time, she was known to all and sundry as Baby Girl. Or, for officialdom, as Baby Girl Last Name.

The Dad (The Dude’s older brother’s son) said he finally had to give in and name Baby Girl because, without a name, she could not get a social security number, and without a SSN, she sort of, well, didn’t exist. So, name her, they did. At least they didn’t let her name herself, which was Picabo Street’s parents’ genius idea. (Poor Picabo didn’t have a name till she was three years old.) Continue reading

Gender identity is for the birds

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‘How to tell the ornithological girls from the boys’

Take a moment (before reading on in amusement) to check out the flock of bird-watchers pictured at the top of this post. Just how hard is it, on a scale of one to ten, to tell the males from the females?

Well. As someone who has actually been on more than one ‘birding’ trip and traipsed around many a field a-flutter with fellow ‘birders’, I’m here to tell you that it can be a tad difficult to distinguish the sexes. No, I’m not talking about the sexes of the birds. I’m talking about the sexes of the people watching the birds.

That's Mr. Scarlet Tanager on the left. With Mrs. on the right. Interesting how she gets to keep the name 'Scarlet', tho there's not a trace on her

That’s Mr. Scarlet Tanager on the left. With Mrs. T on the right. Some pretty marked sexual differentiation going on here, wouldn’t you say?

By the way, I’m not crazy about the terms ‘birding’ and ‘birder’. Almost as much as I’m not crazy about other nouns-turned-into-verbs-and/or-adjectives: ‘parenting’, ‘crafting’, ‘kidding’. (I’m kidding about ‘kidding’.) Continue reading

Yachts: many many boats

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‘A few salty sallies from the pages of New York Magazine.’

Last week’s post was sort of a Reader’s Digest of amusing Metropolitan Diary entries written by, um, me. Since you Readers seemed to get a kick out of it, I thought I’d regale you this week with a few examples of stuff of mine that got into New York Magazine. (If I ever get anything into the New Yorker, like my pal Ken, you’ll never hear from me again.)

Remember when I told you that Ad Folks are the funniest people ever? This famous New Yorker Cartoonist used to work at Ogilvy. And I actually KNOW him!

Remember when I told you that Ad Folks are the funniest people ever? This famous New Yorker Cartoonist used to work at Ogilvy. And I actually know him. Fun fact: he also wears blue glasses (!)

To be honest, I’m really doing this stuff-from-New-York-Magazine thing because I played hooky away from my computer all weekend. I was on a birdwatching trip (honest) to Cape May, New Jersey, and it was kind of hard to think about my blog while I was trying to concentrate on warbler wing bars. (I promise to share wacky birding stories soon; stay tuned for my views on how “birders” are practically sexually indistinguishable — and much much more!) Continue reading

Walking the goldfish

Goldfish
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‘And other Dear (Metropolitan) Diary entries’

A couple of weeks ago, my story (‘The time I had a blind date with an eye doctor‘) came by way of a suggestion by my friend Mary Ann. (Thanks again, Mary Ann!) This week’s is thanks to an idea from another friend, Jim. (Who writes a very cool blog called ‘Forged in Buffalo’. Plug plug plug.)

Jim reminded me that my stories used to appear fairly regularly in the New York Times. Honest. There is this column that appears on Mondays called The Metropolitan Diary. As the Times website puts it, ‘Since 1976, Metropolitan Diary has been a place for New Yorkers, past and present, to share odd fleeting moments at Bloomingdale’s, at the deli around the corner, in the elevator or at the movies.’

You can well imagine that I’ve overheard my fair share of ‘odd fleeting moments’ (emphasis on ‘odd’), and that I haven’t been shy about sharing them. Only now I share them with dozens of followers of my blog rather than with thousands of readers of the New York Times.

Hmmmm. Continue reading