Whisking up pancake batter this morning, I thought of Lucien Truscott IV, and how he changed my mind about making pancakes. Are people capable of true change? My skepticism may account for my crankiness around New Year’s rituals, the baptismal alcohol bath followed by penitence and promises. I prefer to go to bed around ten, the town square midnight fireworks exploding only softly into my unconscious. Lucien Truscott IV, however, changed my mind about pancakes, with a New York Times op-ed in 2002, and it has had lasting consequences.
Pancakes were for special occasions, and they involved work. I admired the Sunday morning breakfast dads who made pancakes, bacon, and coffee. My worst pancake-making experience involved cooking stacks and stacks of the things for a beach-house full of people–I ended up chain-smoking over the pan, the martyred chef who never gets to sit down while her guests linger over second coffees. Never impulsively offer pancakes!
Truscott told the story of his eight-year-old daughter Lilly asking for pancakes on a school morning. He felt flustered, dealing with bookbags and packed lunches and carpool duty, but he acceded. Within ten minutes he was serving pancakes to Lilly and her little brother, Five (I do love that nickname, Five, almost as much as I love Lucien Truscott’s name itself), and he concluded that it wasn’t so hard. At the time, I had a ten-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son. Three, a.k.a. youngest child, was on his way, though I didn’t know it yet. Soon I would be entering a frame of mind that called for a larger house, one child banging away at a piano in the living room as another ran up and down the stairs, and a parent yelled out instructions from the kitchen while waving a wooden spoon. Truscott’s embrace of weekday morning pancakes ushered in the era of generous-minded domestic chaos. Being a citizen of Los Angeles with a refined library, Truscott went on to experiment with pancake recipes from James Beard et al. that included flaming rum for the grownups. Being a person who believes in small changes, I stayed with the box mix but have offered pancakes on school mornings ever since. With blueberries, banana slices, or chocolate chips. We didn’t buy a larger house.
The whisk was invented far later than the spoon, which took the form of a shell or stone in the paleolithic era. Spoons are more basic. You realize this the moment you are forced to eat Greek yogurt with a straw. Spoons are necessary. Before it was an object, whisk was a verb (ahem, must get out the reading glasses) back in 1375: “The king…Vatit the sper…And with a wysk the hed of-strak.” It meant a brief, rapid sweeping movement. To wysk off a head must have required a strong arm and a sharp blade. A whisk had become an instrument by 1666, any bundle of twigs or wires used for sweeping, or for beating children, or eggs: “By beating the White of an Egge well with a Whiske, you may reduce it from a somewhat Tenacious into a Fluid Body.” Thus speaks the OED.
In the grocery store the checker asked me and oldest child if we had any resolutions. We had none. Resolutions should not only be made, but should be made public. Our lack of resolution did not deter her from revealing hers, which was to save money and pay more attention to coupons. This seemed admirable. I should save money, make pancakes from scratch, have my wits about me at all times, and, of course, being American, lose weight. However, since such ideas make me want to shop online while drinking chardonnay and stuffing cookies in my mouth, I shall refrain. I whisk such ideas away in a whirl-puff (a gust of wind, circa 1382).