Little things like strawberry buttermilk pancakes

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 4, 2015 8:38 PM

I am not a pancake person. I always think they’re heavy, that they just sit in your stomach forever and make you feel fat. But every once in awhile they seem to be just what’s needed. Such was the case this morning. We woke up early, as is the norm these days as we don’t yet have window coverings and are seriously considering never having them. We had a bit of coffee, then went for a walk. It’s the first Saturday we’ve had in over a year and a half when we didn’t have anything we absolutely had to get accomplished. We have unpacking to do, sure; and I had to go to the grocery store since we’re getting low on just about everything. But nothing was urgent. It was about stuff we wanted to do.

After our walk, we trudged up our very steep drive – we’re going to be in great shape in a month or so – and decided we were hungry. I always make a big breakfast on Sundays. It’s become a bit of a tradition, with some sort of egg dish, turkey bacon or chicken sausage, fruit, coffee. Kevin sometimes makes Bloody Marys. But as it was Saturday, and I still wanted to do eggs tomorrow, we decided to make pancakes.

Two years ago for Christmas my mom sent a care package. It was filled with a number of goodies from New Hampshire, including the best caramel corn we’ve ever had (we’ve reordered it several times) and a buttermilk pancake mix. As I said, I’ve never been big on pancakes. That was a Kevin and Justin thing. Many times when Justin was growing up and had a buddy or two sleep over, Kevin would man the kitchen the morning after to whip up some of Dad’s World Famous Pancakes. I would sit quietly in the other room with coffee and the newspaper. Let the boys have their time and gluttony together.

Perhaps my aversion to pancakes stems for the Infamous Parker’s Pancake Incident that my mother often recounts but that I have chosen not to recall. Evidently when I was a senior in high school and my Aunt Barbara was visiting, we all decided to go to a pancake place in New Hampshire called Parker’s Maple Barn. I don’t really remember Parker’s but I have heard over the years that they are located in Mason, some half hour or so from where we lived in Amherst, and that they make a mean breakfast, and specifically pancakes.

Being a teenager I was surly to begin with. I hated going anywhere with my family, especially early on a Sunday morning (which was probably closer to 11) and evidently I was missing my boyfriend. I hadn’t heard from him, and I was being taken away from the phone and so I behaved badly. To the point where everyone piled back into the car, took me home and then all returned – sans the offensive one – to have pancakes.

There’s a reason I’ve chosen not to remember the Infamous Parker’s Pancake Incident. If I did, I would be mortified. As it is, I’m horribly embarrassed.

So pancakes and I have history and it’s not pretty. Nevertheless, this buttermilk pancake mix that my mother sent and has re-sent several times, is killer. Light, fluffy, lovely. While Kevin was working in his office, I started breakfast. I mixed up the batter which only needs water but if you want them extra fluffy, calls for one egg as well. We had some strawberries so I sliced some up and mixed them in. Melted some butter on the griddle, got some syrup warming, some sausages sizzling, and proceeded to make pancakes. They weren’t Mom’s World Famous, and definitely a far cry from Dad’s but they weren’t bad.

Parker’s might even let me back into the building should I ever choose to show my face there again. Because after all this time I've realized, it's the little things in life that are sometimes worth celebrating the most. 

Is it wrong that I find the fashions of the Civil War period so intriguing?

by Lorin Michel Saturday, September 13, 2014 8:16 PM

One of the time periods in this country’s history that intrigues me most is the Civil War. I am, of course, fascinated by the politics of it; by the black and whiteness of it, literally and figuratively. I used to find it nearly incomprehensible that the country would and could break into two sides to protect the right to own and enslave people and to fight against it. I don’t find it as incomprehensible now, given how polarized the country is once again. Interestingly, one side today is mostly white and often wealthy; the other side isn’t. The more things change.

I love to watch medieval dramas with swords and armor, but the Civil War is what I am drawn to. Maybe it’s because it’s this country at its earliest, when we were experiencing tremendous growing pains, and trying to decide who and what we stood for. Yes, we had signed the Declaration of Independence and instituted the Constitution, but this was different. This was primal. But I think it’s much simpler than that. I think it’s the clothing. And as much as I abhor what the South stood for in the 1800s, I absolutely adore the outfits, the adornment, the opulence of it all.

I read the book Gone with the Wind long before I saw the movie. My Aunt Beryl was a huge fan of both. It took me several attempts before I was able to finish the rather extensive novel but once I got into it, I was hooked. I’ve since read it several times. I don’t remember when I finally saw the movie. Nor do I remember if it was in one of its re-releases or if it was on television. I suspect it was on TV. From the opening scene with Scarlett O’Hara sitting on the rather expansive veranda of her family’s plantation – the equally famous Tara – I was riveted. Of course, Vivian Leigh, the British actress, could have been born Scarlett O’Hara. She had the impishness, the ability to tease, the sexiness, the mean streak. And she could wear the clothes.

From the undoubtedly uncomfortable corsets to the hoop skirts and the impossibly fitted short jackets, to the stunning gowns, I was in love. Even the supposedly shoddy dresses were interesting.

In the 1980s, the historical novelist John Jakes released a trilogy of books about the battle between the north and the south, but more about the people on each side. The first was entitled, appropriately, North and South, the second Love and War, the third Heaven and Hell. I became a big fan.

North and South is about the enduring friendship of Orry Main, a southern plantation and slave owner, and George Hazard, a northerner who owns a steel factory whose workers are in many ways treated no better than the slaves in the south. The Mains treat their slaves well. But they are still slaves.

I read the books when I was in college. When the miniseries’ were broadcast in 1985 and 1986 (for the first two books), I didn’t miss an episode, mostly because of Patrick Swayze. Even then, I just loved him. His impossibly deep voice. His incredible swagger and precise body. He wasn’t a great actor, but he had great screen presence.

Still, it was the clothing. The precision of it. The buttons and brocade. The layers. The ascots and gloves. The tailoring. It always seemed to be too much for the undoubtedly overbearing heat of the south, but at least in the films, the only people who tended to sweat were the slaves in the fields. The rest seemed cool, refined. Sexy.

I realized while recently watching the first installment of North and South (again), that it wasn’t just the clothes. It was the men’s clothing specifically. The attire of the proper southern gentleman, whose manners matched his buttoned and frothy shirt, his perfectly fitted jacket, the pants that seemed always part of a tuxedo; the boots; the gloves.

I could watch Rhett Butler or Orry Main strut across my big 55” flat screen all day long. It probably helps that ultimately they were both decent men who didn’t mistreat their slaves. They were creatures of their time, but they understood the futility of their cause. And they looked so fine in that understanding. It just serves to make my intrigue of that time and place even stronger. I know it’s not at all politically correct but every once in a while, I have to acknowledge my southern sympathies. I don’t condone the prejudice or the politics, but oh the outfits. Those I celebrate. And yes, drool over. But just a little.

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