I squirmed down in the seat of the bus, tucking my knees up against the seatback, and in those early morning hours, slowly ate my dry cereal. Out the window, the industrial nature of the city made way for the green the country is known for, and the boys’ lilting voices conversed around me in their various dialects, some still too unfamiliar to catch all the words.
Later, on the way back from our class trip, my odd behavior of eating dry cereal was questioned, and subsequently we got on the topic of American food. Most of my Horticulture cohort, a small group of eight guys save Orla, had been to America the previous year. I was joining them for the semester at University College Dublin, and as is often the case of cross-cultural friendships, we began bonding over food. The boys raved about their experiences with American food. Even the bread, it’s so sweet, Ollie incredulated. And then he was on about the pancakes. Pancakes, in his perception, were the epitome of American deliciousness.
The others nodded in agreement, pancakes were quite nice. It was decided we’d have a class pancake party and I volunteered to make them proper American-style pancakes.
On the night of the party, a mid-week November evening, Conor, Orla and I set off for Dan and Liam’s house in Stillorgan with all the fixings. Conor and I had shopped at Tesco the night previous, and there I learned pancakes really were rare in Ireland. Though I had planned to anyway, we were to make them from scratch because the Irish grocery didn’t then stock specialty items like pancake mix.
Once at Dan and Liam’s, I entered a typical college-boy-house, much the same as here in the states. Good thing I brought ALL the supplies, I thought, as I took over the kitchen. There wasn’t much in the way of cooking essentials in the cupboards. As I whipped up the batter, Dan, Liam, and their roommates, Joe, Terry, and Tim made up a bunch of sandwiches. I’m making you all pancakes for dinner, I exasperated. Oh, those are dessert, they replied. We wouldn’t eat sugar and dough for dinner. It soon became apparent the experience would be an education for us all.
As I worked on what I endearingly call a student stove—aka any old stove that is quite fussy, has burners that shouldn’t be used, and is often found in a college apartment—I got a fair share of ribbing over those first few throwaway pancakes until the heat settings were correct. Then, when it came time to eat, I attempted to show the group the typical way to eat an American pancake, in a big stack with maple syrup. Maple syrup wasn’t exactly easy to come by, however, so we improvised with golden syrup instead. Eating more than one at a time was viewed as outlandish, and the group much preferred to roll them up like Orla, with sugar and lemon. This is the Irish way to eat a pancake, Orla explained. Some of the others smeared one or two with chocolate spread.
The whole experience was enlightening, and one for which I’m deeply thankful. Back home, I lived as part of a quartet of girls who loved to host dinner parties. At the time, though I loved cooking for them and our impromtu visitors, I didn’t get the appeal of hosting dinner parties. There was too much pressure, and I didn’t want to disappoint.
The pancake party was my first experience hosting a dinner, and though it went nothing like how I imagined (after the pancakes, it quickly morphed into the type of house party the Irish are more typically known for), it stands out in my memory as a learning experience of cultures and customs, of realizing the similarities amongst college students no matter the location. It was also an opportunity to practice going with the flow and adapting with a room full of people wanting to be fed. Most of all, it helped me to realize how much I love to entertain and cook for others.
Gluten-Free + Vegan Pancakes, adapted from Celiac TeenThe Recipe Redux asked us to share a food memory for which we’re thankful this month. The recipe below is the one we often use for gluten-free, dairy-free pancakes. They have a slightly softer texture because of the flours and are also vegan as I’ve found better results when using a flaxseed mix instead of eggs. I’ve found the flour mix to be fairly flexible and often use 2 cups of my Gluten-Free Flour Mix in place of the three flours below. I often pour the batter into the waffle iron and make waffles instead, as we’re still cooking on a student stove and there are always casualties! This recipe is the one I used back in 2008 for the party. It was my favorite for a long time and I’d still recommend it to the gluten and dairy-eating crowd. Ingredients 1 cup millet flour 1/2 cup brown rice flour 1/2 cup arrowroot starch 1/2 tsp. xanthan gum 1/2 tsp. salt 2 tsp. baking powder 1 tsp. baking soda 2 Tbs. ground flax mixed with 6 Tbs. warm water 1 1/2 cups almond milk 2 Tbs. raw apple cider vinegar 1/4 cup canola oil (1/3 cup additional almond milk, if needed)
- Whisk the vinegar into the almond milk and set aside for a few minutes.
- Heat your skillet or griddle where you will be cooking the pancakes. They’ll cook over medium-high heat.
- Whisk together the flours, xanthan gum, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a large bowl.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the flax-water mixture, milk and oil. Pour the liquids into the dry ingredients and whisk lightly until combined.
- Lightly oil the skillet, and use about 1/4 cup of batter per pancake. Flip the pancakes when the bubbles appear on top and the bottoms are browned.
- Cook on the second side until cooked through and browned on the bottom.
- If you find the batter to be too thick, or becoming thicker as you cook the pancakes up, add some milk and whisk until fully incorporated.