Measuring out my life in pancakes
I moved to Chicago when I was 22, and I got my first job out of college. I lived in a little studio right on the border of Evanston and Wilmette. I was miserable. During that unbearably cold winter, I found solace in baking and gained 15 pounds. And as this was just a year or so before Pinterest would even be in beta, I would find recipes online and copy and paste them into a Word doc. Somehow, somewhere, I stumbled upon a recipe for cinnamon pancakes. This will be important later.
Pancakes hold a special place in my memory of childhood. The first thing I remember learning how to cook by myself was pancakes. It was Kindergarten, and we had some kind of food day. The teacher let me pour the batter onto the electric skillet, and told me when it was time to flip it over with the spatula. I think the pancake was about only two inches wide and burnt to a crisp, but it was my delicious accomplishment.
When I first started dating David, during that cold Chicago winter, I was over at his apartment one Sunday and he asked me if I wanted pancakes. He was the first person I knew who was gluten-free, and he made us giant buckwheat pancakes cooked in coconut oil. Instead of syrup, we put Nutella on them. If I wasn’t madly in love before, I was now.
After we got married, David and I moved to Seoul, South Korea where I got a job teaching English at a preschool. Before leaving, I decided to write down my favorite baking recipes onto index cards, held together with a metal ring. I had hoped to bring some of the carbohydrate-y comforts of home with us.
Living in Korea was really hard for us — we were newlyweds living in a tiny studio apartment, we barely spoke the language, I hated my job, and David couldn’t find a job. For all the magic of being in a foreign country, it was mostly mundane days, disorienting bureaucratic bullshit, and not being able to read between the lines.
We didn’t have an oven, but we did have a tiny stove. I found buckwheat in the grocery store (메밀), plus all the other readily available pancake ingredients, including cinnamon, and got a jar of Nutella at one of the foreign food markets in Itaewon. So, we made cinnamon pancakes one freezing Sunday morning.
And at that moment, it didn’t matter that our landlady would go through our stuff when we weren’t home. It didn’t matter that her husband would constantly shout at us, “What time is it?” because that was the only English phrase he know. It didn’t matter that my favorite student switched schools because he was too smart for our school, or that I had to wear my coat to the bathroom all winter because my boss was too cheap to heat the hallways. It didn’t matter that David and I were literally thousands of miles away from our friends and family. All that mattered at that moment was that we were here together, and that being together was home. Cinnamon pancakes became our anchor, our little piece of home.
After Korea, David and I moved to Oakland. I always tell people that it was either San Francisco or New York, and I just had a feeling about Oakland. I don’t know if we’ll be in Oakland forever. I doubt it. In the six years we’ve been married, we’ve moved four times. We’re not too attached to any place. We’re digital nomads, going wherever opportunity and fortune favors.
I’m not too attached to any of my things either— everything I need is on the Cloud — music, photos, documents. Backed up in two different places. And even then, if I lost them, I’d go on. There’s no need to be saddled down with things. All I need are an Internet connection, David, and a stove.
I still have my recipe cards — caked in batter and smeared with butter. I use them often, even though I have a digital version saved on my computer. By now I’ve memorized the cinnamon pancake recipe, since I’ve made them so many times.
In the Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Eliot wrote, “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons,” and while I’ve definitely done that, I think I’ve also measured out my life in pancakes.