Poor man's pancakes

and the politics of breakfast

Many, even in my own country of Canada, might think that homemade pancakes every morning would be a dream come true, but after two and half weeks, I’m glad I have more variety again! It’s not just because I was making the pancakes for myself, alone during a pandemic, or that for the last few days I’d been reduced to substituting water for milk (well in my case almond milk, because I am lactose intolerant), but I just need to change things up on a regular basis. Pancakes, after a bit of a break, will remain one of my favourite breakfast foods, but right now, I’m happy for a change.

Ironically, if you make them from yourself, from scratch, pancakes are an inexpensive food, far more so than the majority of North American breakfast foods. So as someone who is currently on a low income, homemade pancakes are not a ‘special treat’ that I’d pay ridiculous amounts of money for someone else to make for me, but something that I can both afford and enjoy — in moderation.

The recipe I have is on the back of a used page from a printout of an online course outline, has more than it’s share of spills, and a generally disreputable appearance. I think it’s time I recorded it somewhere safe (like a public blog ?!).

1½ cups flour

2 ½ tsp. baking powder

2 tbsp. sugar

¾ tsp. salt

1 egg

1¼ cups milk (or substitute)

3 tbsp. butter, margarine, or (in a pinch) oil

  1. In a bowl, sift dry ingredients together.
  2. In another bowl, beat the egg (both white and yolk).
  3. In liquid bowl, mix well egg with milk.
  4. In liquid bowl, beat in margarine until smooth.
  5. Pour liquid ingredients into dry bowl, stirring just enough to incorporate (batter will be ’lumpy’).
  6. Using a prepared frying pan (e.g. oiled, margarine, cooking spray, or such to avoid batter sticking to pan) on a stove top burner, warm pan as you would for frying eggs (i.e. until warm enough to sizzle on contact).
  7. Add the amount of batter for the size of pancake you want — do note that it is traditional to make thin pancakes as they cook thoroughly more quickly and easily. Having said that I prefer a thicker pancake, which takes a bit of care to ensure one cooks the entire pancake to 74°C (minimum internal temperature to kill bacteria such as salmonella which may be present in raw ingredients, especially the eggs).
  8. Server and enjoy (real maple syrup is more expensive but is very tasty; another popular sweet option is jam. If one is not tied to tradition you can try practically any spread you wish (although some might call that sacrilege!)

You can, of course, modify the basic recipe by adding things like blueberries, raspberries, chocolate chips, nuts, flavourings, or other ways of creating variety in a staple food.

Something really wild (for something that was born as a Canadian pancake) that I want to try is eliminating the sugar and trying various combinations of herbs and/or spices. I think I did that once long ago, and was okay with the result.

Before I get into the politics of concept of a “poor man’s pancake”, I’m going to pass on another recipe, this one a dessert, that has many of the same basic ingredients.

This one is labelled as a ‘brownie’ recipe but the way I cook it, it ends up as more of a cake. Truth be told I’m not generally a baker and not really sure of the difference between a ‘cake-like’ brownie and a chocolate cake (although fudge brownies are another matter altogether).

1 cup margarine

1½ cups milk

3 eggs

1½ tsp. vanilla

1¾ cups sugar

2½ cups flour

6 tbsp. cocoa

1½ tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

  1. Preheat an oven to 350°F or 175°C.
  2. In a bowl, sift flour, cocoa, and baking powder together.
  3. In another bowl, cream margarine and sugar until light and fluffy.
  4. Beat eggs, one at a time, into sugar and margarine mixture.
  5. Stir vanilla into wet mixture.
  6. Beat in flour mixture alternately with milk, until batter is smooth.
  7. Prepare a large baking pan (e.g. oil, margarine, cooking spray, or such to prevent batter sticking to pan)
  8. Pour batter into pan. (I suppose for ‘brownies’ you should really create 5-6cm (2") blobs of separated batter, but I haven’t tried it).
  9. Bake in preheated oven (175°C/350°F) for 40 to 45 minutes.
  10. Make sure centre is fully cooked (should be ‘cake-like’ and have an internal temperature of at least 74°C).
  11. Allow cooked brownies to cool. It is recommended to cover with a clean cheese cloth or similar fabric while cooling (to avoid possible contaminants).

While I called this “Poor Man’s Pancakes” it illustrates the extent to which, despite having a very low income, I am in fortunate circumstances (even in Canada; it would be trivial to point out how ‘it could be worse’ if I was in a less fortunate country, and at the same time be of little meaning to most reading this post). While I live in a house owned by a relative — such that, I do not have control of the house and there is a lot here that is not mine, I can’t do what I wish wish the house (someone actually renting a house can, within certain limits), and when we don’t have covid lockdown and/or safety concerns, I regularly am not alone in the house, whether by choice or not — it’s a lot better than being in a boarding house, motel, or even apartment with poor sound proofing. For instance, unlike a motel (and some boarding houses), doing things like cooking pancakes and baking brownies is an option I have.

For that matter, there are certain basic assumptions in even a simple pair recipes like the ones above — like access to soap and water, and a sink, to effectively wash dishes, and safe and plentiful eggs, flour, sugar, and so on, not to mention a reasonably sized refrigerator (unlike a motel) from which food doesn’t magically vanish (like many boarding houses). Many people forget that, even in Canada, these are not givens.

I think ‘couch surfing’ can be even more of a challenge because then one doesn’t even have a formal agreement, and may or may not have one’s own ‘fridge / pantry space’ or the option of cooking one’s own meals on one’s own schedule.

And of course, at least pre-covid, there were more than enough people willing to assume it was ‘your fault’ you were in such dire straits. (I still like the meme that points out the hypocrisy of large businesses claiming they need bailouts to not go bankrupt, when many of the same people as operate those companies accuse those who end up poor because of health bills (especially in the US) or other ‘bumps in the road’ and would use lines like “didn’t they put aside money for a rainy day, or maybe they should lay off the Tim’s coffee every day” by turning it around and using the same language on the ‘corporate welfare bums’). If there is any solace to be found in misery, I hope that one valid one is that folks are more aware of just how much of a fallacy is the ‘Just World Hypothesis’.

In any event, I’m aiming to get out of poverty by finding work that suits what I decide to make goal or purpose for the next 20-30 years. I’ve already reached reached out for supports on this, and am doing both ‘high-level’ thinking about this (what am I passionate about, what do I have already going for me and what can I add, and so on) as well as more practical, what sorts of employment is currently either in my area, or remotely in the sorts of jobs that I think I would both want to do and would be highly skilled at (either already, or through further education).

I’m not very keen on the idea of moving away from the town I’m in (Midland, Ontario), despite not necessarily fitting into the expected mould for the area, in part because I have a family connection to the area, in part because this is longest I’ve lived in any area as an adult, partly because this is were my support system is, and quite a bit because I’ve become averse to fast and dramatic changes to my life. Perhaps that is a sign that I’m getting older, or maybe just that I’ve had more than enough stress in my life to date.

Even once I am better off, I think I will still enjoy making my own pancakes, just mixed in with other, perhaps healthier, options.