The process starts with a 37-year-old electric griddle, almost certainly a wedding gift, received when he was 21 but looked 16, hours after walking Mom down the steps of the Naval Academy Chapel. He can tune the heat within 2 degrees, knowing just which temp creates that pure golden underside, haloed in brown as the first bubbles form on top. When the surface stabilizes, he sends a slug of butter sputtering length-wise and readies the first pour.
Portion and technique matter, but far less than consistency. The batter always decides. Too thick and the cake bunches, never finds its shape, remains soggy. Too thin and it dissipates, unable to rise.
It’s less cooking than laboratory science. Measurement, viscosity, thermodynamics, reproducibility. Dad’s an engineer’s engineer – and his pancakes know no equal.
After those first bubbles comes the flip. A single flip, with a very thin stainless spatula and an understated pivot of the wrist, keeping the cake as close to the griddle as possible.
Dad could never stoop to gimmicks: chocolate chips or clever shapes. A pancake ought not draw attention to itself. Every pour is a link in an unbroken chain, a self-same iteration, an incremental ascension of a platonic ladder, holding (if vanishingly) the possibility of the Pancake.
I’m impatient, my stovetop imprecise. My batter’s a little too thick and I maintain a reckless fascination with the mid-air flip. Sometimes I sprinkle in trail mix or lemon zest. Mostly I make it up as I go.
This isn’t a story about mythologizing my father, 0r fleeing impossible standards, or the continuing confusion that is my 30s. It’s about pancakes.
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