Often it is the simple pleasures that create some of the most memorable moments. A couple of eggs, few handfuls of flour, some sugar, a pinch of salt, melted butter and milk; add baking powder if you like them fluffy and don’t if you like them thin and translucent. Whisk, heat a pan, melt some more butter, pour, sizzle, watch the bubbles form, flip, stack, layer, roll or fold. Add your favourite topping, taking this particular treat to ultimate heights. Lemon and sugar, chocolate spread, peanut butter and bananas, cream, syrup, sauce, berries, apples and cinnamon, coconut and palm sugar, the varieties endless and not limited to the sweet palette. Instead of sugar, add spices, a pinch more salt, strong cheese, soft cheese, spicy sausage or cured ham, fresh spinach or asparagus, fill them with béchamel, mince and mozzarella. Eat them hot, cold, flambé, baked, shredded in soup even… They are your store cupboard secret that bring sunshine to a rainy day and turn a frown upside down.
Pancake day brought on a bunch of fond memories, particularly of my childhood when the sweet smell of melting butter drifted through the apartment, winding its way through the hall and into my bedroom, luring me out to the kitchen. Standing impatiently by the stove, watching the silky smooth batter pour onto the hot iron pan, air bubbles forming on the surface as the underside turns a beautiful golden hue. Piping hot and barely cool enough to touch, my brother and I take it in turns to sprinkle them one by one with sugar and lemon juice, rolling and eating them instantly, trying to keep up with the speed of which the delicious treats are sliding off the pan. Sticky fingers, cheeky faces, full tummies and a tower of wafer thin rounds ready to be devoured in round two. Fast forward 20 years and I wake to a similar scent as I am visiting close friends in San Francisco. Stacks of buttery, fluffy rounds are piled up on my plate and the sugary, auburn coloured maple syrup trickles over the edges of each layer, forming droplets as gravity exercises its pull and creates pools of bliss. Topped with blueberries and bananas, the morning light breaks through the hot steam that rises from the perfectly round stack of delicious treats. My hands wrapped around a warm mug of coffee, the cool, fresh morning breeze rushing in through the open patio door and caressing my bare feet, we chat and laugh about the evening past, planning the day ahead. It feels like a lifetime ago that I sought refuge in a small Balinese warung to pause and ponder where my travels should take me next. Turning pages of my travel guide, scrawling the endless inspiration found on the worldwide web, the company I sought was that of the traditional Dadar Gulung. A thin, crepe like pancake coloured in the florescent green of the pandan leaf, filled with grated coconut and palm sugar, served tightly rolled and no larger than a regular snack bar, it was the perfect accompaniment for this daunting decision. The endless chatter of people squeezed tightly next to one another in the small outdoor dining area was drowned out by the eminent sense of satisfaction that little sweet delicacy brought to that moment. Deciding to move on to Japan, little did I know then that I would soon find myself sitting in a bar in Osaka about to eat my first savoury Japanese pancake – the famous Okonomiyaki – cooked in front of my eyes; a combination of eggs, flour and cabbage, served straight to my plate with a topping of bacon and mayonnaise. Freezing cold feet are a tiny price to pay when following the waft of French savoury Galettes, and sweet Crepes stood in line at the Crepes stand in Hampstead on a weekend. And like cooking up the tantalising Crespelle – an Italian savoury pancake, filled with spinach and ricotta, baked in tomato sauce – is a way to allow yourself to drift away to the Eternal City, Florence or Venice; setting those hot orange-buttery pancakes alight is a means to indulge in a moment of luxury, as the grand marnier evaporates and floats through the air.
Unable to travel at the moment and desperately wanting to create new experiences, I find solace in the memories that rise and connect my past to the present, making the here and now even more meaningful. On this special day today I am grateful to have had the joy of making banana peanut butter pancakes, the senses heightened and fond memories triggered through nothing more than some store cupboard staples.