08/30/2012 08:21AM ● Published by Style
Illustration by Aaron Roseli. © Style Media Group
My favorite meal of the day has always has been breakfast, and it’s my dad’s fault.
Now, he was no chef. Men of his era were not “foodies.” He knew his way around a barbecue – being a fisherman, his grilled salmon fillets were better than any five-star restaurant – but that was about it. The only time you saw him in our kitchen was to sit at the table for a meal prepared by my mom or to do bills.
With one exception: on occasional weekend mornings, he’d rise at the crack of dawn and become the king of pancakes. He called them “daddy hotcakes,” and when he was in this pancake-making mood, you knew things in his life were going well. Maybe his boss was off his back. Or Mom was talking to him again. Or the sun was out. Something.
The other thing he did when he was in a good mood was sing, and the guy had an unbelievable voice. He was an old-style crooner, so he’d choose a classic from Frank or Tony or Dean-o and then start working our kitchen the way those guys worked a nightclub. As he sang “That’s Amore,” he would open and slam shut various drawers and cupboard doors, subtly improvising, making the song his own. The clang and clatter of utensils lay down a rhythm for, say, “Because of You,” and mixed together, the sounds would pinball down our narrow hallway, finally reaching my bedroom door. Behind it, I’d lie there cursing – my head beneath the pillow as I tried to block it out for a few more minutes of sleep. But the sounds kept coming: the sharp snap of an eggshell provided a perfect percussive fill for “Mack the Knife”; the thack, thack, thack of a wooden spoon inside a mixing bowl kept time for “De-Lovely”; the hiss of batter striking the hot griddle sounded like applause as Dad finished off “Summer Wind.”
Eventually, the first golden whiff of pancakes encircled my nose and served as a vaudeville hook, dragging my lazy butt out of bed whether I wanted it or not. And just in case you still weren’t quite awake, he’d bellow cheerfully down the hall like a carnival barker: “DADDY HOTCAKES! EAT ‘EM WHILE WE GOT ‘EM AND WE AIN’T A-GONNA HAVE ‘EM FOR TOO LONG!” Whether I was 6, 12 or 18 years old, I’d shuffle toward the kitchen and sit down to a stack of pancakes waiting on a plate, a swatch of butter already melting down the sides, another song wafting through the air.
His approach to the recipe was a little like his approach to singing. He’d simply take something familiar – in this case good ol’ Krusteaz pancake mix – and where he could have just stuck with the conventional (add water and stir), my dad improvised, using an egg and a cup of genuine buttermilk to make it his own. The ensuing carb-loaded gut bombs didn’t so much sate your hunger, but obliterate it for the rest of the day. But oh my God, they were delicious!
I’ve tried recreating the magic on random Saturday mornings for my own kids, but I almost always forget to buy buttermilk ahead of time. Plus, my voice seriously sucks. In moments like that, I really miss the old man and find myself wishing I could go back, just one more time; not so much to taste those pancakes again but to listen to him sing.