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. 

Friday morning in New Hampshire

by Lorin Michel Friday, November 7, 2014 8:30 PM

Nump’sha. That’s how the people who live here pronounce the name of the granite state. This little slice of New England, nestled just to the west of Massachusetts fits like a perfect puzzle piece to its other neighbor Vermont. They have a tendency to drop consonants in this part of the country and to contract words that you wouldn’t ordinarily contract. Thus New Hampshire becomes Nump’sha. I actually wrote a screenplay called Numpsha back when I wrote screenplays. I recently dug it out. It was a decent story; I even had some interest from several producers. Ultimately it didn’t go anywhere and it has languished for a number of years. I’m thinking of turning it into a book.

The weather here is cold, the sky gray. The glorious leaves that just two weeks ago painted the trees, the landscape in shades of brilliant orange and red, have mostly fallen to the ground, floating down through the days to lay atop one another in the yards, along the road. When it’s dry, and cars drive by, the leaves swirl up, another chance at life. Eventually they’ll all decompose and the snows will come to bury the state in white.

In the winter, New Hampshire is all shades of gray. It was one of the things I didn’t like about living here. Once the fire of the fall dissipates, and the trees are bare, the weather comes. Those trees stand starkly against a white sky tinged with storm, and become gray. The paved roads, especially after being sanded, become gray. The houses, never colorful, take on the same tinge. The people, always conservative, walk through the days in faded jeans, gray pea coats, collars turned up. This is not a diverse state, nor an especially young one. The faces are white, faded. Gray.

Just about the time you can’t stand the cold and the gray anymore, the trees begin to the bud. The snow recedes, mud ensues and within weeks, the grass peers out from underneath. Timid at first, unsure if it’s OK to come out. Often that’s when winter will heave one last blast before it’s safe for spring to appear.

But winter is still a few weeks away. Last weekend, a storm puffed some flurries along the coast of Massachusetts; it snowed briefly at Foxborough before the Patriots/Broncos game. But it quickly dissipated. All it did was rain here.

It’s not raining now, but the sky is overcast. There’s a slight breeze rustling the pine trees. I’m sitting at the table in my mother’s great room. Her house is small, just under 1000 square feet I believe, but it’s open. For a house built in 1926, it has a surprisingly fluid layout. The side porch, which my mother is having redone, is enclosed. It opens into a nice kitchen which in turn opens into a large room. The dining area is at one end, the living room at the other. A brick fireplace separates it. My mother has electric logs in the fireplace. Great ambiance, decent heat. There is an archway that leads back to a short hallway with two bedrooms at either end, a bathroom in the middle. It’s cozy, comfortable. And perfect for her.

My mother tells me they used to call it The Legion. In the 1930s and 40s, perhaps the 50s, they held American Legion meetings here. The couple that owned it before my mother were the same people who had it built. He was an artist. There is a studio with a wood stove, separate from the house. It has no plumbing but it’s a cool space. My mother calls it the shed.

Soon I’ll shower. I’ll take my cup of Keurig coffee and get ready for the day. My sister is coming around 11. Then the girls are all heading out for lunch and to visit. This afternoon, I’ll borrow somebody’s care and I’ll drive to see my brother. I spoke with him last night. I haven’t seen his new house and I know he’s anxious to show it to me, and to have some good old-fashioned brother and sister time. Then we’ll all head to my sister’s for dinner. I’ll see my brother-in-law. I’ll see Lucky and meet Lindy. We’ll visit some more. There will be wine. It will be cozy and wonderful.

There’s an easiness about Nump’sha. A slower pace. It always takes me a day or so to acclimate. Everything looks and feels different than the way I live, and have lived for 30 years. It’s a lovely difference, especially when surrounded by my family, people I don’t see often enough other than in my heart. In Nump’sha this weekend, I’ll be celebrating them as we all live it out loud.

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