A Life in Pancakes: Pancakes in Africa

Pancakes in Africa were amazing. Like, really, really AMAZING. Africa is an absolute hotbed of pancake diversity. Anything and everything is considered suitable to roll into a pancake. Truly an eye-opening and life-changing experience..

1. I fist tried cinnamon sugar pancakes at a church function in 2008. I was very reluctant, but the smell itself convinced me that this was in fact, the way forward. It’s very simple to mix a little cinnamon into some sugar, so I can’t understand why the rest of the world hasn’t caught on to this yet.

2. My favourite place to eat cinnamon pancakes is in Pilanesburg National Park. The restaurant in the middle of the reserve allows to you eat two cinnamon pancakes with either cream or ice cream, surrounded by hornbills, monkeys, go-away birds, giraffes, warthogs, etc and all for just R12. And you get the wasps for free!

3. The above restaurant has the best pancake eating atmosphere imaginable, but terribly questionable service and quality. It takes a great deal wrong for me to send something back to the kitchen, but this place manages it regularly. Pancakes are often raw to the point of oozing batter or they don’t come with lemons. Explaining these things always involves taking a walk, because the table service is non-existent . But it’s still a winning situation. The longer you sit and wait, the longer you get to be there…

4. There’s a place at Hartebeespoort Dam called ‘Pick-a-Pancake’. It’s in the middle of a dusty, touristy market and they will put anything on a pancake. The place is love.

5. Pick-a-Pancake even makes a biltong pancake, which is only unfortunate insofar as I once had to watch a friend eat one. This pancake happens when one sprinkles raw, dried shavings of kudu and warthog onto a pancake. Not quite right, but if it brings someone joy…

6. On the flipside, the worst pancakes in Africa come from a chain of sickly ice cream shops called ‘Milky Lane’. Here, the pancakes are sugary and plasticy and the toppings are not right. On the plus side, Milky Lane for me holds lots of fantastic memories of small children doing very fun things with food- like wearing an ice cream cone, or mixing Smarties and chocolate ice cream and bits of waffle into a bright green glass of cream soda. LOVE.

7. My favourite pancake eating experience was probably Christmas 2008, when a friend had been sent some genuine American Blueberry Pancake mix from the USA. Our pancakes were topped with icing sugar. Happy happy happy…

8. I met and made a lifelong friend at Skukuza Camp in Kruger, when the two of us were trying to outbid each other on some maple syrup in a silent auction.

9. The best place I’ve ever cooked pancakes is definitely at a campsite at Addo Elephant Park.

Next up: Pancakes of Today…

A Life in Pancakes: St. Andrews University

So, continuing with my completely unnecessary and longwinded celebration of pancakes…

As I grew, I left Canada for England. My appetite diminished and I could no longer eat 21 pancakes in a sitting. Pancakes lost their significance. They didn’t bring me the joy they once did. Eventually, I ended up at St. Andrews University in Scotland, where I regrettably spent most of my time being a depressed hermit, but I did manage to re-ignite my relationship with the pancake.

1. It will first be said that pancakes are done differently in the United Kingdom. This is not a compliment. I must say that I don’t swear. I never, ever swear. I doesn’t sound nice and it doesn’t make anyone look clever. There are very few things merit one of those nasty little words. But in the UK, I quickly learned that not only do people eat pizza with knives and forks, but they’re also prone to putting something called ‘golden syrup’ on their pancakes instead of maple syrup. So here it is. Golden syrup: what the fuck.

2. It started with a pan. One day while browsing the shelves at Dundee’s TK Maxx store, I found the most divine hot pink frying pan. I loved it and it loved me. From that moment on, I decided I was going to bring pancakes back into my life, by making them for myself… for the very first time.

3. At University, I was part of the ‘Christian Union’ and the chapter based at our hall of residence became notorious for our ‘pancake parties’. For weeks beforehand, we would plaster ads all over hall (carefully omitting our affiliation to any religious organization), inviting anyone and everyone to come and have some yummy ‘FREE PANCAKES!’ Once we’d corralled masses of evil atheists into a tiny kitchen with little or no chance of escape, one of our leaders would suddenly get everyone’s attention, break out a bible and give their testimony. It was as painful and awkward as it sounds.

4. Food colouring. When added to pancake batter, you can produce a pancake of any colour. I was especially fond of the blue and green ones, which I called ‘moon pancakes’. To get a really strong colour, you had to add half a bottle of colouring. ‘A few drops’ is insufficient and silly. Despite claims to the negative, in large enough quantities, food colouring DOES affect the taste of things, and it will make you feel very sick.

5. While at St. Andrews, I regularly had ice skating lessons in Dundee. I’d often go to early morning practice at 5am on a Saturday. This would always be followed by two consecutive pancake breakfasts at the McDonalds in the parking lot. I felt I could justify it. If my best friend was with me, we’d have to decide whether we were going to ‘pleb McDonalds’ or ‘posh McDonalds’… or the ‘spa’.

6. That same best friend was one of my least favourite people to eat pancakes with. I’d watch as she would layer sugar or syrup over her pancakes. And I mean layer. She could easily smear £8 of precious, pure, Canadian Maple Syrup onto just one pancake. This irritated me to no end. But that was old Mo who got irritated. New Mo would smile and laugh about it and lovingly watch her best friend making herself one utterly fabulous pancake.

7. My pancake making days at university were often marred by a lasting debate about spatulas. That same best friend (again) insisted that pancakes were flipped with a ‘flipper’. I insisted that they were flipped by a ‘spatula’. She insisted that a ‘spatula’ was one of those rubbery stick things you used to get mixture from the sides of a bowl. Our insistence made us both hugely angry with each other. In addition to that, I was also hugely angry with the whole concept of her ‘spatula’. There should be no tool for scraping the inside of a bowl. Bowls should be scraped with spoons or tongues and the scrapings should be treasured and savoured. The ‘spatula’ debate was never settled and 8 years later, I’m still afraid to bring it up.

8. I lived at 123 North Street for 2 years with the most awesome people imaginable. Our house hosted many, many epic pancake parties

9. Pancakes at university was a much loved tradition, but in fourth year, the magic ended for me when one of my male flatmates used my precious, precious pink pan to fry something terrible and greasy and boyish. The pan was mangled beyond recognition and I refused to use it again. Luckily, I didn’t need to, because there was a pancake place on South Street called ‘The Eating Place’, which made the most awesome pancakes. It was here that I had my first brush with the ‘savoury pancake’.

Next: Africa introduces a new set of pancake ideas…

A Life in Pancakes: Pancakes of Childhood

To glorify Pancake Day on Tuesday, i’ve decided to relive my greatest pancake memories. To begin, I present my complex relationship with pancakes as a young, obnoxious child growing up in Canada.

1. I spent much of my childhood at Clarence Baptist Church. Every Easter, the noble men of the congregation would cook ‘bunny pancakes’. There was much competition over who made the most realistic bunny shapes. It was very holy.

2. I suffered terrible pancake-related cultural dissonance when as a child my preference continuously flopped back and forth between my mother’s paper-thin Bristish lemon and sugar pancakes and my very cool Grandma’s thick, fluffy, buttery American pancakes, dripping with syrup. I loved both. Publically, I sided with the American pancakes, but secretly, I just didn’t know and it caused me great distress. At 24, I learned that South African pancakes beat them both and this lifelong conflict was resolved.

3. As a young child, my parents knew I had a remarkable ability to eat pancakes. They’d always count how many I could eat in a sitting- 6, 9, 17, 23 etc… As a result, they treated me like a sideshow act. They’d take me into a pancake house (IHOP, Golden Griddle, etc…) and as we were being seated, I’d always announce to the waitress that I was “having pancakes please” and my parents would chip in, “just wait until you see how many pancakes this kid will eat!” They would proceed to order me plate after plate after plate of pancakes with no regard whatsoever for my health. And at Golden griddle, they’d always order me an extra tub of maple syrup too. When I was about to burst, they’d laugh and say, “Well, I think you’ve finally beaten her…!” to the waitress as she took my plate away. This happened every time and by the time I was 14, it just wasn’t funny anymore.

4. One of my very earliest memories involves me staying with a strange lady in Ottawa who was definitely not one of my parents. I haven’t got a clue who this woman was or why I was staying with her, but I remember she got me up very early in the morning and took me to buy a Barbie doll, and then said we were going to McDonalds for breakfast. I remember being upset (but still thankful) at the prospect of a burger for breakfast, before she explained that McDonalds did pancakes. This changed my life. My parents had withheld this information from me.

6. When I was about five, I was playing in the basement with my younger cousin (pictured), when my mom called us up for pancakes. The smell of pancakes wafted down the stairs. As she climbed the stairs, the cousin jokingly declared, “I can smell it! I can smell it! I can puke in it!” My mom completely lost her mind. In all the years since, I have never seen her so completely enraged. This is also the source of the emetophobia I suffered for the next 20 years.

7. For a while, my dad had a lot of business in Florida. We spent a few separate holidays there, but always stayed at the Double Tree Guest Suites in Orlando. On each trip, every morning at 6 or so, I’d go down to restaurant alone and sit at the bar with a huge plate of pancakes watching Gilligan’s Island on the bar TV and talking to the nice Jamaican waitress. She even fixed my broken sandals once. Good times. The photo below is from one of those visits. Note the goofy hat, which served as my Halloween costume for the next 5 years, the troll doll keychain, the hockey shirt, the huge plastic glasses and the ‘bum bag’. But note also that absolutely everyone in the background is also wearing a ‘bum bag’. That makes it okay.

8. We’d have pancake dinners at home often enough, but it’s the pancake breakfasts that were a real treat. For some reason (lazylazymother) we never had pancake breakfasts at home. I absolutely despised friends who saw pancakes as a breakfast food. I openly scoffed in their faces. I only ever had pancake breakfasts when we were travelling, so I’ve come to associate them with holidays and highway service stations and hotel restaurants and my all time love, the continental breakfast. Finding a hotel which featured pancakes in its continental breakfast was like winning the lottery. Below: Las Vegas was a goldmine for pancake breakfasts.

9. I had one of those little plastic tupperware cooking sets when I was young. My mother saw this as a chance to get me making my own pancakes. This was never as enjoyable as it could have been, because she was extremely irrational when it came to the stirring process. She believed that all pancakes were doomed to FAIL unless you cautiously dug a tiny hole in the flour in the bottom of the bowl. To this hole, you would have to add the milk drop by drop and stir a few grains of flour into the drops of milk before repeating the process again, and again, and again, and again, and again until the mixture finally became ‘pancake batter’. There is no better way to suck the fun out of pancakes.

Up next: The move to England… pancakes and university…