When I offered to make my three-year-old pancakes for breakfast, she said, “yes! And mangoes and apple juice to drink…no, waffles!”
It had never occurred to me to try my pancake mix in my waffle iron. I hesitated, unsure if it would work. Then, even though I left my skillet on the stove preheating, ready for potential disaster, I walked to the pantry, stood on my bucket filled with wheat, and reached up to the top shelf where my waffle iron rested dormant. Honestly, I couldn’t remember the last time I had made waffles; I certainly had never made them for my toddler. And as I pulled the waffle iron down, I realized that if I didn’t try it, I’d never know, and now was just as good a time as any to give it a go. I plugged in the iron, and my toddler asked, “Why did Maga [aka Grandma] bring that here?”
I smirked and replied that Maga hadn’t brought it here; it was mine. I plugged it in, waited for the green light, and scooped out a half cup of my puffy pancake batter. I use this recipe for pancake mix from King Arthur Flour, and I love it. I first found it from my go-to recipe blog, Mel’s Kitchen Cafe, from where most of my dinner recipes come. I use freshly ground wheat, skip the white flour, and keep a bag in my refrigerator (and often a back up in my freezer). I whip up pancakes at least once a week, and I feel good about serving my toddler and myself whole grain pancakes that taste delicious and are perfectly light and fluffy. It’s so tasty that I often eat them plain, without any adornment whatsoever, but they are equally delicious topped with pure maple syrup, or with cinnamon and mini chocolate chips mixed into the batter. We also make “pancake sandwiches,” spreading peanut butter and jam on before folding them up. My little girl can tuck in at least four, sometimes five.
My daughter (aka Sous Chef), watched the waffle iron as it cooked the first waffle, and pointed at the steam. “What’s that fire?” she asked. I told her all about steam and how it means something is very hot, to which she replied with an understanding “Ooohh” that she somehow turned into multiple syllables and used as much inflection as she could muster. We waited, patiently, and she told me all about how Maga likes to make waffles, too.
The talk about Maga and her waffles continued as we ate piles of waffles (I didn’t need my skillet, of course). As I listened to my very verbal three-year-old tell me all about how much Maga loves waffles, I remembered so much of the scholarship I referenced as I researched and wrote my thesis, particularly a very salient quote by Lucy M. Long from her article, “Learning to Listen to the Food Voice: Recipes as Expression of Identity and Carriers of Memory.” She wrote, “food speaks. It tells of memories, relationships, cultural histories, and personal life stories.” [full bibliographic information available upon request.] I listened to Sous Chef pontificate about her memories of waffles, and I knew she was feeling happy inside, remembering all those sleep overs at her grandmother’s house. She was trying to tell me about it, and in doing so, was proving how very true Lucy M. Long’s words are. Those waffles, even though they were quite different from Maga’s waffles (which, due to her Celiac Disease, have to be gluten free), reminded my daughter of something special. They spoke of memories and relationships, and they narrated a part of her very brief personal life story. Already, at only three, she is developing a relationship with food as a narrative device. Many people lose that instinct, forgetting how important food is to them and how communicative it can be. Similar to Lucy M. Long’s quote, Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson wrote in the Introduction to their book Getting a Life: Everyday Uses of Autobiography, “through our consuming habits, we circulate our own personal narratives.” I like to think that my Sous Chef won’t lose sight of that, even if she doesn’t recognize the significance of it now. After all, we bake together often, and we often treat food as a ritual as much as it is a meal. I hope she never forgets how to listen to her food. In listening, we foster good relationships, both with the people around us as well as with food. I believe having a good relationship with food is critical to a healthy lifestyle and if we as a society could understand that, if we could understand what our waffles are saying to us and about us, I think we’d be a lot healthier. It’s not my job to fix the country, though; Michelle Obama has taken on that task. My job is to watch out for my little Sous Chef and her sister and make sure they are healthy, physically and emotionally. I think we are getting there, one whole wheat waffle at a time.