In addition to watching my sister and I during the day, our new babysitter initially promised Mom a good lunch for us. She didn’t know we were a pair of extreme picky kids, no fault of our own. Blame it on Dad who knew more about cooking, from a chef’s perspective, than most people who brought into the fast, processed food craze starting in the late 70’s. Good lunches meant a bologna and American single cheese sandwich with bleached white flour bread that never spoiled. If mayonnaise or mustard were added to my sandwich, I would rather starve. Hot dogs weren’t a good option, too. Most people served it with ketchup and mustard. Maybe a little pickled relish. After a few weeks of my sister and I refusing to eat, the sitter told Mom; we are too picky to feed. However, we would spend the next few years playing and growing side-by-side with her three lovely kids. She was tough love.
One summer she couldn’t watch us. Mom who’s busy, working during the day, frantically found another sitter. This new sitter and her family had a deep Southern tang in their voices. She was a young mother of two babies with a husband in the Air Force, and they were financially struggling. Her house was in disarray. The babies screamed all the time. Her apartment didn’t have an air conditioner. The kids in the neighborhood were too rough to befriend. It was the type of environment, in which life moved at a crawl. People sat on their couches watching daytime soap operas, waiting for the father or husband to come home. If he was on active military duty, families waited months. Back then; the postman was the ‘email,’ and families knew preciously the time the mail arrived at their address. They anxiously waited for love letters sent from around the world.
Our mom was a rare military wife, for she had a business degree. Her battle was being a member of the first generation of women working weekdays from 9 to 5. In addition to missing and waiting for Dad to come home, she waited for equality in the office.
Mom quickly made the decision to drop us off at this young lady’s apartment every weekday morning at 7 a.m. I don’t recall her interviewing anyone else. That was the summer; my sister and I couldn’t wait for school to start. We wanted to be in our neighborhood. Live in the comfort of our cooler house and play with friends from school. We missed the familiar babysitter, who had become a second-type of mom to us with a daughter the same age as I. However, we would watch Mom exit and enter the new sitter’s apartment with the sound of her high-heels quickly clicking on the wooden floors and the screen door slamming behind her.
This time, Mom was well versed in providing us with lunch carefully packed in brown bags. However, around noon, the sitter would get a large mixing bowl to whip up cornmeal pancakes. The smell of the griddle would lure each kid into the kitchen. For one of the few times in our lives, my sister and I wanted what the other kids had for lunch: Those cornmeal pancakes doused with too much syrup. After a while, the sitter served us a plate of thick cornmeal pancakes, too. Our picky appetites went out the window.
Fast forward to many years later into today. It’s the middle of summer, and we’re in the midst of a heat wave. Our bedroom is the only room with an air conditioner, which is turned on at night. The year has been quite an emotional journey. I’m waiting and preparing for a chance to move on. One grocery-shopping day, I decide to treat myself to the season’s blueberries. These summery berries are sugary with a tart flavor, and they’re cheap. I remember there’s cornmeal in the back of the refrigerator.
These cornmeal pancakes are not as thick and condense like the sitter’s version from years before. They’re lighter and airier. The cornmeal is an earthy flavor cut with tart blueberries. For an extra indulgence, tiny strawberries from the farmer’s market are puree and drizzled over the pancakes. Knowing these pancakes are super sweet, walnuts are added to the batter to balance the sugary flavors.
Recalling the summer of staying with the younger babysitter and screaming babies, I wonder what became of them. The last we heard, she was getting a divorce. Mom said she was too young. Eventually, we would return to school in the fall to hear our classmates stories of travel. Today, I recognize that young sitter’s lifestyle, in which she waited and longed for change. It’s a sort of depression and hopelessness. That summer, my sister and I joined the young mother’s household and waited with her. In our case, we waited for Mom to pick us up in the evening. Come rescue us from these people’s misery. Except during lunch, that’s when cornmeal pancakes were served.
Blueberry Cornmeal Pancakes
1 large egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2-cup yellow, ground cornmeal
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 tbsp. sugar
1-1/2 cup buttermilk; more as needed
3 tbsp. olive oil; plus more for the griddle or skillet*
1-cup or 8 oz. fresh or frozen blueberries
(Optional) 1-cup chopped, toasted walnuts
Garnish: Strawberry Puree (Recipe Below) and warm Grade A/Dark Amber maple syrup
1. Preheat oven to 150-200°F. Warm 1 tbsp. of olive oil in skillet or griddle over medium-high heat.
2. In a large bowl, lightly beat egg and vanilla.
3. In a separate bowl, lightly toss the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Add to the egg and lightly mix.
4. Add the buttermilk, 2 tbsp. olive oil, and walnuts. If thinner pancakes are desired, add more. If thicker pancakes are preferred, add less. Mix the batter until just incorporated, for a few lumps are okay.
5. Ladle about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of batter on to a hot skillet. Depending on the size of the skillet or griddle, ladle a few more. Drop a few blueberries on top of each pancake.
6. When the edges look dry and the top have bubbles, flip pancakes over to cook the other side.
7. When pancakes are done, place them on a paper toweled-lined plate. Place plate into the preheat oven to keep warm. Continue cooking more pancakes. If the skillet/griddle becomes too dry, add more olive oil.
8. When the batter is done, turn off the stove and oven.
9. Serve pancakes with strawberry puree and warm maple syrup.
*Note: Alternatively use butter for the griddle or skillet.
8 to 10 oz. fresh strawberries
2 tsp. sugar; more or less depending on the sweetness of the strawberries
1. Puree both ingredients in a food processor or blender.
2. Serve over pancakes, ice cream, or your favorite dessert.
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