Ode to Pancakes

I like pancakes.

No really, I do. I really enjoy pancakes. Breakfast ‘o’ champions, in my book.

Now that I make my own pancakes from scratch, I love pancakes. Strong, healthy, hearty pancakes are warm and filling to begin with. Krusteaz and Bisquick ain’t got nothin’ on good old fashioned whole grain flour (whether the grain you’re using is wheat or anything else). Add to that the triumphant feeling one obtains from mixing her/his own flour and baking powder and other pancakey whatnots into a giant metal bowl and you’ve got a breakfast to be proud of.

I like waffles too. We even have a waffle maker floating around somewhere in the garage. There was a point in time, maybe eight to ten years ago, when my family would make pancakes at least every weekend, because dad gone it, we had a waffle maker, and we could. That waffle maker taught me an interesting thing about the vital differences between waffles and pancakes.

While the convenience of having a machine do the cooking for you is, honestly, incredible, that doesn’t mean that your waffles will turn out perfectly. Waffles are a finicky bunch with unpredictable personalities. You have to measure your batter perfectly or you’ll end up with thin, brittle, waffle-like biscuits that will make your breakfast plate cry tears of condensation. God forbid those crispy misfits actually have holes in them. It’s one thing to have a waffle that fails to be crisp on the outside while soft on the inside—the waffle ideal, for sure. It adds insult to injury when your waffle is cardboard and won’t even hold your syrup in its admittedly clever square-shaped basins. Oh, the pain of watching perfectly good syrup dribble straight through your food, pooling beneath your waffle’s steamy underbelly.

No, it’s in those ways that waffles fall short of their syrup-coated cousin, the pancake. True, waffles have an ingenious syrup-reserving design. The late comedian Mitch Hedberg once said it perfectly: “I like waffles better than pancakes. Because waffles are like pancakes with syrup traps. They say to syrup, ‘You ain’t going anywhere, don’t even be trying to creep down the sides. Just rest in these squares, if one square is full, move on. When you hit butter, split up.’”

Syrup traps. Touché.

But how can one resist the subtle, seductive curves of a perfectly round, perfectly brown pancake? How does one refrain from salivating at the sight of an amber-colored drizzle sliding gently… gently down its smooth exterior?

This isn’t to say I always make the perfect pancake. I’d say I have a 40/60 percent chance of burning one of my pancakes, usually the second one since the pan’s already so hot at that point. Since I only make two, I pour them thick, and since it’s hard to check if a huge pancake is done on one side, I tend to overcook that side. It’s a bad habit, I know. If I worked in the kitchen at an IHOP my behind would be on the curb by now.

These days I like my pancakes best with agave nectar, Earth Balance, and a tofu scramble on top. Oh wow. Yeah, that’s a treat. That’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner right there. I only recently learned how to make a tofu scramble worth the effort. It’s not the seasoning that makes the tofu, like in other tofu dishes. It’s not even the tofu that makes the tofu scramble suitably scrambley. It’s the other stuff inside the pan. I used to think that well seasoned tofu was enough. Lightly seasoned eggs were enough, back when I ate eggs. Simple seasoning might fine be for other tofu dishes, but no. No, no, that is where I was misled. Tofu scrambles need glorious heaps of vegetables in order to be worthwhile. They make for a good opportunity to clean out the crisper. A sausage substitute or pan-fried soyrizo goodness will also serve you well. Add that, plus good seasoning, plus a carefully planned approach to what goes in the pan and when, and then tofu scramble sings.

I mention all this breakfast stuff because I bought agave nectar for the first time a few months ago. And wow. Wow. That stuff is delicious. It pours better than honey and maple syrup, works as a sweetener in lots of different ways, and it tastes milder (and in my opinion better) than honey. The only drawback is that it’s kind of controversial—some say that because it’s supposedly insanely high in fructose, it shouldn’t be consumed at all and to call it a healthy substitute for anything is completely wrong. Hm. Disturbing. There doesn’t seem to be a perfect sweetener out there. Until I manage to buy some brown rice syrup or some other alternative, it’ll still be better than so-called “maple syrup”, which is mostly high fructose corn syrup anyway unless you’re buying the super-pricey fancy-schmancy stuff that I really can’t afford right now. The happy medium, of course, was comparably inexpensive agave nectar, which you can now find in two-packs at Costco!

The bottom line was that I really needed something to put on my pancakes. The last time I made pancakes, I failed to realize that I’d run. Out. Of. Syrup.

Tragic.

That’s one of the drawbacks of both pancakes and waffles, at least your typical breakfast ones. They must be eaten with something. Trying to eat a couple of pancakes alone. It’s like the whole “seven saltines in a minute” scenario. After a while you just can’t stuff any more into your mouth. There gets to be a point of Peak Pancake. This is why I only make two moderately big pancakes at once, rather than a stack of them. I never have to feed that many people anyway. There’s another Mitch Hedberg joke about pancakes that I must admit is completely true: “As a comedian, you have to start the show strong and end the show strong. …You can’t be like pancakes. You’re all happy at first, but by the end, you’re sick of ‘em.”

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