"Highlights and Interstices" by Jack Gilbert + Whole Grain Vanilla Pancakes

Whole Grain Vanilla Pancakes

Henry and I were in his room, where a few bookshelves still live, looking at the spines. The Great Fires by Jack Gilbert was in my sightline, so I pulled it down and flipped through a few pages. I landed on the poem below.

I've been thinking about the ordinary moments that make up our days. Like the times I spend sitting on the couch with Henry tucked into my lap.

He reaches for pages in a book or pushes buttons on his toy dump truck while I rest my chin on his head, smell his hair.

He smiles at himself when we walk by the mirror in the dining room. I'll look straight into the eyes he most certainly inherited from my husband, still surprised he was once inside my body.

He is currently entranced by the silver mixing bowl attached to my KitchenAid.

He nibbles on broccoli and cucumber, delighted by the texture in his mouth, and is trying his very hardest to crawl.

These are the kinds of moments today's poem wants you to hold on to.

Oats in the Blender
Pancake Batter

Highlights and Interstices

By Jack Gilbert

We think of lifetimes as mostly the exceptional
and sorrows. Marriage we remember as the children,
vacations, and emergencies. The uncommon parts.
But the best is often when nothing is happening.
The way a mother picks up the child almost without
noticing and carries her across Waller Street
while talking with the other woman. What if she
could keep all of that? Our lives happen between
the memorable. I have lost two thousand habitual
breakfasts with Michiko. What I miss most about
her is that commonplace I can no longer remember.

from The Great Fires (Knopf, 1996)

So many of the poems in this collection are about his late wife. There are tender moments of beauty and love, and also a twinge of fear that all the "commonplace" memories he once held are slipping away.

If "our lives happen between the memorable," I suppose it would benefit us to refocus our efforts. The most obvious memorable moments will surely come as the months and years go by, but it's in our daily routines when our lives are truly lived, moment to moment. 

Whole Grain Vanilla Pancakes

Saturday is a memory-making kind of day, when we have a ritual of making pancakes. It's done so often now that whisking flour and eggs and buttermilk has become second nature. Just last weekend I told Henry I'd teach him the basic recipe one day so he can have it when he goes away to college.

It might be a little early to start passing along kitchen skills, but what I was trying to say just then is we will be making pancakes for a long time. We will eat them often enough to make uncommon memories.


A bit of vanilla extract perfumes the pancakes just enough without being overpowering. I often mix several flours together for pancakes. It adds variety, and is a great way to utilize all the bags I amass in the pantry. 

Makes about 9 pancakes

1/2 cup spelt flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup oat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup maple syrup, plus more for serving
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
2 tablespoons melted butter, plus more for serving
Coconut oil, for cooking

Whisk the dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a glass measuring cup or small bowl, whisk the buttermilk, maple syrup, vanilla, and egg. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients; gently stir until combined and only a few traces of flour remain. Drizzle in the melted butter and mix until incorporated. If the batter seems thick, add up to 2 tablespoons more buttermilk. 

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat for several minutes. Melt a small knob of coconut oil in the pan. When the oil is glistening, add a scant ¼ cup of batter; press the pancake lightly with the bottom of the measuring cup to help it spread slightly. Cook until the surface begins to bubble and the bottom is golden brown, about 3 minutes. Flip and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Serve with butter and maple syrup.

Alone in the Kitchen with Quinoa Pancakes

Recently, I took a day of quiet.

Not particularly intentionally, it just turned out that way. I had already scheduled time away from work to hit the reset button after a consuming four-month project, but so far my first two days away were filled with errands. Some of them good (pedicure!), and some not as fantastic (dentist!), and I was craving a day at home with absolutely no obligations. None. I didn't even want to plan out what I was going to cook.

When I'm home alone, I usually like to have some music on in the background (or Downton Abbey reruns playing) to keep me company. Of course, there's also the dog who follows me from room to room, but as the morning unfolded and I sipped chamomile tea I found I quite enjoyed the silence. So this day turned into a day of utter quiet. 

Zoe Nathan's Quinoa Pancakes / Eat This Poem

Instead of writing, I filled my morning with other activities: yoga, checking Instagram, ironing, getting dressed, taking said dog outside to sit in the sun, blending smoothies, making tart crust, and finishing the chicken stock I started the night before. Also, pancakes. (We'll get to those in a minute.)

It was just me and my thoughts as I vacuumed, put magazines in their bin, and cookbooks back on the shelf. But there was always a gentle, persistent nagging that I should really be writing something I didn't want to write. Or that I did want to write, but didn't feel motivated to write because no one cared. Or I assumed no one would care. Either way, no one caring is not actually a good reason to not write, but alas.

In conclusion: Sometimes we simply need a day. 

On a productive note, though, I finished reading Laurie Colwin's book of essays about home cooking, and she said something I rather like.

"No one who cooks cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers." -Laurie Colwin

It's comforting that even in our most isolated moments, when we stand in front of the stove or the cutting board making something out of nothing, we are perhaps the least alone we could ever be.

Zoe Nathan's Quinoa Pancakes

Shopping at Costco in the great city of Los Angeles is not for the faint of heart. From our old neighborhood, it was a 2 hour roundtrip adventure that you needed to be mentally prepared for, and if you didn't arrive a few minutes before the store opened at 9 am on Sunday morning, the parking lot would be so full it would give you a headache trying to navigate. So our visits became less and less frequent, and eventually, we stopped going all together.

After we moved in May, we realized our neighborhood Costco was in closer proximity, and since we needed swiffers, decided to venture in once more. I came out with a giant bag of ancient grains (a mix of quinoa, millet, and amaranth) and have since been making a version of Zoe Nathan's quinoa pancakes almost every weekend since.

Zoe Nathan is the baker behind Huckleberry, one of the best bakeries in Los Angeles. Seriously. The long lines speak for themselves. And don't even start with the pastries. Thankfully, a Huckleberry cookbook just came out, and I can't wait to dig in. 

Recipe adapted from the version published on The Chalkboard.

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup oat flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon wheat germ
2 teaspoons chia seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups milk or buttermilk
2 eggs
4 tablespoons melted butter, plus more for cooking and serving
1 cup cooked quinoa (or a mix of quinoa, millet and amaranth)

Stir the whole wheat flour, oat flour, cornmeal, sugar, wheat germ, chia seeds, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Pour the buttermilk into a large glass measuring cup, then crack in the eggs and whisk; slowly add to the dry ingredients. Whisk in the melted butter and cooked quinoa. 

Melt a pat of butter or coconut oil on a skillet over medium heat. Drop 1/4 cup batter into the pan. Flip pancakes once bubbles appear on the surface and the bottom is golden; flip and cook for 1 minute more.

Serve immediately with additional butter and maple syrup.

"Blueberry" by Diane Lockward + Blueberry Buckwheat Pancakes

We have little choice in the matter when it comes to food memories; they choose us. Of what we do remember from childhood, inconsequential details rise up from our subconscious when the nerves are triggered, whether we're prepared or not.

When there are blueberries, I think of Christmas morning. Before my brother and I would arrive bleary-eyed and still in our pajamas to the living room, my mom had baked blueberry and poppy seed muffins. I also think of my grandmother. When I took a food writing workshop with Dianne Jacob earlier this year, a writing exercise focused on one object we could see from our chair. I chose blueberries, and they became the color of my grandmother's eyes as I remembered her in the kitchen, making goat's milk ice cream on a hot summer day.

This is what I wrote.

"Two blueberries lean together on a white napkin. They are the eyes of my grandmother, piercing me from the doorway in her small kitchen, gesturing that the ice cream is ready. Icy, freshly churned in the wooden bucket, we eat it together on the porch at dusk, and in the first, sloppy bite, is summer's entirety. The long season sloshing around in my stomach, like a caged bird longing to be free."