Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Pancakes

At the time when your most gainful means of employment was delivering the Los Angeles Examiner to a route extending just north of the Wilshire Boulevard Miracle Mile, one of your perks was a monthly pancake breakfast, hosted by the portly, mustached district manager, known to you as Mr. Raskin.

For someone your age, before girls became a factor to be associated with romance, a pancake breakfast was an occasion if not the occasion of romance tinctured with adventure, trumping in its culinary way the Saturday afternoon double-feature-plus-serial-plus cartoon matinee at the Ritz Theater where, even were the double features a dud, there was in mitigation an enormous banister on which to slide, extending from the mezzanine to the ground floor, splendid in its shiny mahogany luxury.

The pancake breakfast was an opportunity to out-eat your peer cadre of Examiner delivery boys, earning the opportunity to sit at the table with Mr. Raskin, who always wore a tie, then later to assist him with handing out such prizes as discount tickets to the Bimini Baths at Third and Vermont, or miniature golf at the course between the Pan Pacific auditorium and the Gilmore Gasoline Self-Serve on Beverly, or possibly a few point of ice cream at any Thrifty Drug.


Part of the romance of the pancake breakfasts was the venue, The Log Cabin, which among other things was the LA version of White Castle and the ten-cent hamburger. Long before International House of Pancakes was a batter blob on the chef's jacket, The Log Cabin featured a stirring menu of pancakes and waffles, including one offering of "our famous buttermilk griddle cakes that doesn't quit until you do."

Your mother was properly suspicious of these restaurants, primarily since the finished product was quite a bit larger than hers and was reputed to contain the most suspicious element known to mankind, Crisco. The Log Cabin also presented its syrup in a log-cabin-shaped tin, unlike the pristine dispensers at Du-Pars or indeed the home-use favorite, Vermont Maid, which came in an oval-shaped bottle featuring on its label a woman who was your first crush before you began to recognize the concept of crushes. She had long, amber hair, a noble visage that somewhat reminded you of Prince Valiant's wife. To show the absolute fickleness of your pre-puberty ethos, you were willing to throw her over for Log Cabin syrup.

Your mother was, you recognized early on, a superb cook, her weaknesses limited to coffee, which she insisted in boiling, then reheating just to make sure, and all things related to pie and pastry. You were by no means cheated; her cakes, cobblers,fruitcakes, floating islands, pandowdy, strusel, peche Melba, angel charlotte russe, and puddings of all sorts were only the tip of the culinary iceberg; her goulash, pasta, roast, fish, and a particular flair for the chop and the skirt steak left little to be desired, nor was she remiss in the lunches she prepared during your early years, as though to make sure that when the university cafeteria beckoned, you would remember whence you came. Just as you once crafted a short story about a man whose acquaintances were interested in him because of his dog, you had friends of each gender who, you realized, were more drawn to your mother's table than your conversation.

It is difficult to think of pancakes without thinking of the Log Cabin or of the syrup for the pancakes without thinking of that cabin-shaped tin.

Much of this reflection is a historical landslide that was dislodged by a friend extending you the wish that a current book project sell like hot cakes, a metaphor that invariably captures your fancy by wondering how hot cakes sell, then leading you over the falls of history and your own past with thoughts of your own experiences with hot cakes and such delightful side trips as latkes, sopapillas, beignets, and not to forget hush puppies.

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