In a long and quite epic career of culinary failures, I am proud to announce that I think I have possibly reached my zenith of under achievement in the kitchen. It is only fair to admit that it was at the end of a trying day, using completely different ingredients than I have ever used before – but this should not detract from the unappetizing look and sheer inedibility of supper tonight.
It was pancakes. Simple pancakes that I have made many many times before and which my family have, perhaps not with relish, eaten. It is a comfort food – or as near as I can get to string the words ‘food’ and ‘comfort’ together.
The twins are ill, again. Georgie with a very sore throat, Ben with croup/asthma. As many of you know, Ben is very prone to all things chesty due to his allergies and weakish chest – which brings me to the ingredients of tonight’s fiasco.
So a pancake is made of three basic items: flour, milk and egg. Pretty plain stuff that most of us (even I) have in our pantries/fridges. However these are the self same ingredients that extort raised eyebrows and tut tutting in the (dare I say) new age healthy-eating fraternity. So I substituted cow’s milk for soya as I have had dire warnings about old-fashioned milk. Apparently our bodies are not made to deal with cows’ milk and this can cause huge problems for everyone – especially Ben. I also substituted the flour with gluten free flour as I have been told that Ben could be allergic to gluten and this can cause any amount of behaviour issues. Lack of concentration is one and right now I am a little desperate. So out with the gluten as well.
With apologies to my vegan friends, I did not go so far as to substitute the eggs and fully admit that a chicken (or two) may or may not have been exploited in the making of tonight’s pancakes.
Of course at this point I must say that I use the word pancake in its loosest form – for what I served up this evening had no real relation to the world of pancakes, as we know them. Jim.
I probably should have been alert to a disaster in the making when the ingredients had a really hard time getting to know each other. The ‘flour’ positively repelled all moisture. Which you would think would make it excellent in the non-stick department. Alas not so, once I had got the divergent parts to form a weird glutinous mass – that every now and then disconcertedly burped a huge air bubble -and put a blob of it in the pan, it proceeded to stick with a tenacity that was nothing short of admirable.
Once I managed to dislodge the blob with a crowbar and flipped it, the sides burst open (have I mentioned that it had puffed up like a very puffy thing?) emitting white goo that spat in the pan. As it has taken me some time to flip and it was indeed smoking rather alarmingly by the time I did, I was surprised to note that the flipped side was still a whiter shade of pale and hadn’t browned at all. I pressed down the puffiness and it smoked and spat happily. Flipped it – white. More heat. Flip. White. Press down. Flip. White. Suddenly, one push too far, black ash. Vaporized…Jim.
It was around about then that I began to wonder what the hell manufacturers do to flour to make it gluten free….? The stuff I was dealing with seemed holy unnatural, defying the basic laws of nature. One additive that seems to be needed in most shop bought gluten free flours is xanthan gum, and I quote bobsredmill.com here:
“Technically speaking, xanthan gum is a polysaccharide, which is just a fancy way to say “a string of multiple sugars.” To create xanthan gum, the Xanthomonas campestris bacterium is allowed to ferment on a sugar. The result is a gel that is then dried and milled to create the powder substance.
“Xanthan gum has a number of powerful properties. First, it works as an emulsifier, encouraging liquids that normally don’t like one another to mix together. Second, it works as thickener, increasing the viscosity of liquids and batters. Third, it can create a creamy texture.”
Emulsifier? Not so much. Thicker with increased viscosity? Check. Check. Creamy texture? *Sigh* maybe it was the soya ‘milk’ that I used….?
Seems I am not alone in worrying about the shop bought stuff. One wholesome looking – possibly Amish? – mother suggests making your own by grinding various nuts or legumes. I don’t want to be negative, really I don’t, but seriously?!? Grind your own?? Yeah. Cos that’s gonna happen. Even if I didn’t have a job, had thrown in the towel on our commercialized world and lived in the middle of butt-f-nowhere in a mud hut, I can’t see me grinding my own flour. Really. I just can’t. By the way, she can’t be Amish; she posted this dangerous propaganda on the Internet. Oh and of course it’s a bit of a pill if your child happens to be allergic to nuts as well.
I digress hugely. At the end of all this hilarity I was left with a plateful of pale and interestingly shaped, puffy…things. I tried one. Huh! It tasted quite literally of nothing. Nothing at all. Not cardboard as I first suspected. Not disgusting (that was left to the texture). Just. Nothing.
Well it was what it was, I had hungry five year olds to feed, time to whip up the magic and disguise the hell out of the things. With, with, with….what? Cheese? Nope, that’s dairy. Honey? That’s high GI. Cinnamon and sugar? Sugar, are you mad? Do you want to kill your child?? Jam? More sugar. And preservatives. So I guess it is fruit (not too much as that is sugar too) or vegetables. With a sprinkling of Xylitol (that most natural-sounding sugar substitute*) because that is going to get your children champing at the bit at dinner time.
As I said, it has been a long day. Perhaps I will feel better in the morning as I face the non-dairy, no sugar, low GI, gluten free smorgasbord that is out there to entice five-year olds. But somehow I doubt it. If there is anyone out there who knows of, or is willing to write a cookbook that covers the above, and doesn’t involve giving up work in order to have time to prepare meals, or a map to find the forsaken store miles away run by an interesting-looking beatnik, or costs you a kidney to buy the ingredients once you are there – I will BUY your book. In a healthy (?) heartbeat.
*Apparently this is a natural product found in low concentrations in the fibers of many fruit and vegetables, and can be extracted from berries, oats (does that mean it has gluten??) and….birch. Taken from my good friend Wiki: “industrial production starts from xylan (a hemicellulose) extracted from hardwoods or corncobs, which is hydrolyzed into xylose and catalytically hydrogenated into xylitol. A study in rats found that xylitol had reduced or nonexistent side effects compared to other artificial sweeteners, and lower caloric value and carcinogenicity than sucrose.” Well that’s a relief, I must say.