I am amazed daily by how busy I am. This was not something which I expected – another indication which demonstrates that I was paying little attention to the mundane details of life. Eunie was so competent and took care of so many things so efficiently and transparently that she seldom seemed to be busy. Oh, what an illusion that was! As part of my self-reprogramming to appreciate once again the potential humour of life situations, I’m trying to understand how this highlights my basic lazy attitude when it comes to things which I perceive as “work” compared to things which I find more amusing, such as “play”.
So, these days I wonder how she did it all, how she did it without seeming to be doing much of anything. I hope that I’ll learn to manage my time better. I can’t believe how much time I waste doing things which are not productive. In the meantime, while I’m absorbing this and readjusting my priorities, I’m making some moves in the direction of creating opportunities to combine work with play. My first target is cooking.
Last night, I came home from work an hour early because I had guests coming for dinner. I had been thinking about making pancakes, because it’s safe. Some people think that it’s strange to have pancakes for dinner, but I felt willing to take the risk. I’m making a concerted effort to have guests to dinner at least one night a week. It softens the loneliness and gives me opportunities for enjoyment instead of working all evening until I find that it’s two o’clock in the morning and I haven’t felt sleepy yet. Yes, there is something funny in that, when I stop to think about it. Funny-stupid. The work will be there in the morning, but the sleep can’t be retrieved. It’s better to lay down with a really bad book and allow myself to be bored into slumber.
The thing about making pancakes is that you can’t use just any old recipe. Since I can’t smell anything any more, I have to depend on recipes. I have to have something which tells me exactly what to add, because I can’t judge seasoning, especially aromatic spices. Pancakes are dead easy if you have a good recipe. I have the finest on the planet.
This is Eunie’s ancient, venerable Betty Crocker Cookbook. Of course, there never was a real Betty Crocker. She was a fictitious person made up by the marketing gurus at General Mills. Over the years Eunie had several editions of the Betty Crocker Cookbook on her cookbook shelf upon which rests, as I counted last night, eighteen volumes of cooking magic. It’s too bad that I’m not very adventuresome. I couldn’t appreciate most of it anyway:
I remember one Betty Crocker Cookbook which Eunie had years ago which was a giant three-ring binder with a similar cover to the one above. This book was widely known as “The Big Red.”
On page thirty of the cookbook above you will find the best pancake recipe in the world:
I’ve reproduced it here with enough pixels that you can read it or print it out, if you want to try it.
Since there is a slim possibility that you are an even worse cook than I, here are some elementary instructions to help you along the road to pancake nirvana. First you have to gather your ingredients. I was making a double batch of batter. That explains the two eggs. I have already added the flour and milk to the mixing bowl. So far, the mess is minimal:
Very efficient, eh? Give it time. It will become progressively more messy.
Okay , now it starts to get serious. I’ve added the eggs, baking powder, oil, salt and sugar. The table is getting cluttered and blobs of egg white and puffs of flour are already attracting my herd of ants. My bare feet are sticking to the floor. Sheba is standing in the kitchen door whining. She knows there are tasty spots to be licked:
My dad taught me that one secret of making pancakes is not to over mix the batter. He always told me to leave a few lumps. So, that’s the way I have always done it. I don’t know if it really makes any difference. I do cheat a little also on the recipe. I put in twice as much sugar and twice as much salt. I use a whisk instead of an electric mixer because I’m far too lazy to get the thing out and plug it into the wall:
I like Teflon skillets, because I don’t have to wash them. I just put them under the spigot, rinse and wipe and then dry. As you can see, I’m also making scrambled eggs. I have onions, tomatoes and Colby cheese cubes ready to add. I’ll fry the onions a little first, then add the egg, milk, salt and pepper mixture. When it is almost finished cooking – not too dry, I’ll put in the tomatoes and cheese and give it a final stir.
So, the pancakes and scrambled eggs are cooked now and it’s time to sit down and (hopefully) enjoy the meal. I’ve even managed to enjoy the cooking experience, since I waited until my guests arrived and allowed my new friends from the highlands to help out as they wished. But, wait! Pancakes are not so fine without some sort of syrup, eh? Maple syrup is my favourite, but I can’t abide an artificial taste – ugh! One can occasionally find Real Maple Syrup here in Madang, but it is far too pricey to fit into my new austerity budget, a necessary concession to my enormous, recently incurred debt load. Well, that will go away with time. I refuse to fret about it any longer. It’s such a waste of valuable time. I tell myself twenty times a day, “Stop thinking about that. Money is not your security.”
So, what to do about syrup? I pulled out another trick from my hazy memories of youth, most of which I’d rather not revisit. I cooked up a batch of home-made syrup before my guests arrived. One can make a very tasty caramel syrup so easily and inexpensively that I can’t imagine why anyone buys the stuff. Here is an example:
I hope this doesn’t bore anyone, but I’m forging on nevertheless. I have come this far. I may as well finish it.
Put a cup or two or three of plain sugar into a saucepan and turn up the heat. After a while, you will notice that it is melting. Amazing! Sugar melts all by itself. Now comes the tricky part. You have to stir and stir and stir while it’s melting until the whole mess turns into a very hot amber liquid. This is the part when you want to be very careful. It will burn you until the tears flow if you get any on you, especially on your tummy if you cook as I do as bare as is appropriate considering the sensibilities of my guests. I find this necessary to tolerate the mini-hell of my kitchen in the tropical heat.
So, being careful, you allow the sugar to go all gooey until it’s mostly melted, possibly allowing for a few stubborn lumps. Do not, please, allow it to become too dark. If you do it will quickly acquire a burnt taste which is not at all pleasant. You will have to feed it to the pigs. Once it is sufficiently melted and has the darkish amber colour which is desirable you add some water. How much is anybody’s guess. Add enough to turn it all into a syrup. If you add too much you will have to boil it down, which takes too much time. Be very careful adding the water as it is going to boil up like crazy because the melted sugar is blazing hot. I recommend that you stand back.
Keep stirring until all of the hard-candy like sugar is melted into the water. You should end up with something like a thin syrup while it is still hot. You can test the viscosity of it by putting some in a spoon and then carefully holding the bottom of the spoon barely touching some cold water. The contents of the spoon will thicken and give you an idea of how syrupy the final concoction will be.
At this stage it is very sugary and has no flavour except the caramel. I usually like to add some flavouring after it cools. I happened to have some home-made vanilla extract. It worked a treat. It is a blessing that we are able to get vanilla beans here at a very modest price. Soaking them in vodka for a few weeks makes an excellent vanilla flavouring. We have another advantage here in PNG because the quality of our sugar is very poor. It’s more like raw sugar – very strongly tasting of molasses. It actually makes a better syrup than completely refined sugar.
I didn’t take a picture of the finished meal, because I was too busy enjoying it and the fine company. I was hungry, too.