Since he died 3 years ago, I’ve avoided making my husband’s favorite pancakes. The pandemic’s isolation made me want to try again.
After the accident, cooking became too painful. Alone, under lockdown, I remembered an old hunger.
Food was not something I worried about at the beginning of this. I had plenty—pasta, rice, beans—and bought more, including a large jar of olives for the martinis I knew I would make. Unexpectedly, as the weeks went by, I found that I was eating less and less. Somehow, I have reverted to the self I was nearly three years ago, after my partner died—when I could barely eat at all, when I went to restaurants because I could not bear to cook for myself alone. Perhaps the aloneness is exacerbating his absence. Whatever the reason, the act of eating has become harder and harder.
Then I wake up with the thought: pancakes. We used to make them nearly every weekend, a full batch. I would make the batter from my mother’s copy of Joy of Cooking, and he would cook them all up, patiently standing by the stove as you must with pancakes, a task I never liked. We’d enjoy a few fresh and eat the rest throughout the week, to be warmed up for quick breakfasts before work. When the accident happened, on a Sunday, I still had a full container of our pancakes in the fridge. I put them in the freezer, these flat cylinders we’d cooked together only the day before. It was months before I ate them, and only then because wasting them would have felt worse.
I have not made pancakes since.
I have reverted to the self I was nearly three years ago, after my partner died—when I could barely eat at all.
Now, though, I vacillate—should I, shouldn’t I?—before finally pulling out the old cookbook. Pancakes are better made by two, I decide. I have no patience to stand there and get them perfectly golden as he did. But I keep at it, though a few are slightly scorched.
When I get close to the end of the batter, I feel something close to regret—a quiet sorrow that the task is nearly finished—and I wonder if I’ve actually enjoyed the cooking. But, at last, using a soft blue spatula to scrape the dregs from the stainless steel mixing bowl into the pan, I am relieved to be finished with this emotional, churning chore. The resulting cake is small and misshapen, two near-ovoids joined, and when cooked and removed to cool I find a depression underneath, as if a teaspoon had been pressed in to form a pond. On goes a slice of butter, and a few bites in I fill the pond with maple syrup: cool sweetness, warm salty fat, cake. I eat it on my feet, with my fingers. Then I eat a larger one, on one of the plates we bought together after inviting a bunch of friends over for Christmas dinner, and realizing we had nothing half-way decent to serve them on; they are bright and colorful and still bring me joy.
There are plenty more cakes, but I decide to pop the remaining ones in the freezer. I don’t know when I will eat them. But somehow, I’m comforted to know they’re there—a reminder of an old ritual to last me through this long, uncertain time.