Dancing and Lemon Scented Polenta Pancakes with Blueberry Thyme Syrup
Mornings feel like dances to me, the kitchen my dance floor. Weekday mornings start well before the sun is up. They’re fast paced like a cha-cha or maybe a clumsy tap dance. Shuffle, ball change, slice the bread for toast. One hop and the jam goes on the table. Another hop for the peanut butter. A toe stand as I reach for the plates. The dance continues in this way. Vitamins. Kombucha tea for two. And a black coffee for me. The music seldom changes though I never tire of it. The creaking floor overhead. The faint buzz of Greg’s electric razor. The hum of running water in the shower upstairs. The toaster oven dings always reminding me of the bell on the pink Huffy I had as a kid. The spurt and gurgle of my twenty-year-old espresso maker (Yes, Jen it’s still working–thank you!). Clink, clink go the heavy glasses on the stone counter. The tinkling of silverware as it’s gathered from the drawer. This is my weekday soundtrack. I’m wide awake even before my first sip of coffee, yet I could easily do this dance in my sleep.
A brief intermission comes as Greg joins me at the table for breakfast. We sit. We sip. We savor. It’s all done with a well-rehearsed efficiency. One eye on the clock another on the suet bird feeder just outside the window. Our resident woodpecker, “Woodette”, takes her spot at the feeder, so close we could touch her if we weren’t separated by the cold glass. It’s over too fast, always. Greg is out the door. I finish the dance the way I started it–alone. The music fades as I close the dishwasher and exit stage left, making my way to my office upstairs.
On weekends, Greg and I dance together, slowly. I mix the batter–pancakes, maybe waffles. My partner warms the griddle, the waffle iron. All is quiet overhead; today my partner is by my side. This is our adagio, each step slow and deliberate. The crossword puzzle waits at our table while we dance. We glide through a languid cloud of browning butter and lemon. I reach to stir the burbling syrup. Our arms graze as Greg flips the first cake. The teapot whistles, a low pleasant hum. I twirl reaching for the warming plates. Greg’s steeping Earl Grey tea, a weekend only ritual, mingles with the lemon butter perfume. Our dance speeds up a bit at the end: hot tea, steaming hotcakes, and simmering syrup–it all comes together at once.
At last we sit alongside Woodette, today without an eye on the clock, without reviewing our calendars. We lose ourselves in four-letter words for finito and Oscar winners from the 60s until at last our mugs are cold and empty and our bellies are satiated. The final part of our dance begins as we clear the table. Greg’s thigh brushes against mine. I rinse. He stands at my left and loads the washer. I’m touched by a familiar sadness as the remains of our dance washes down the drain. Come Monday, I’ll be back to dancing alone.
Lemon Scented Polenta Pancakes with Blueberry Thyme Syrup
These silky little cakes were inspired by a recipe in Food and Wine Magazine for Cornmeal Pancakes–the brainchild of chefs Daniel Patterson and René Redzepi. The cornmeal lends a subtle crunch to the creamy but cake-like centers. The slight tartness of the blueberries keeps the dish from being overly sweet.
BLUEBERRY THYME SYRUP:
1 cup maple syrup (Spoil yourself and use the good stuff if you can.)
2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
a few fresh thyme sprigs (If you don’t have any thyme on hand, make the syrup without it.)
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 1/4 cups cold water
1 1/4 cups milk
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
zest of 1 lemon
unsalted butter, for the griddle
- Put the syrup, blueberries, and thyme springs, if using, into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer while you make the pancakes. Remove the thyme sprigs just before serving.
- In a medium saucepan, combine the cornmeal and cold water. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Simmer over medium heat until thickened, about 4 to 5 minutes.
- In a small bowl, beat together milk, egg, honey, and vanilla. Add to the polenta.
- In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest. Make a well in the center and stir in the polenta custard.
- Heat a large griddle and brush it with butter.
- Ladle enough batter onto the griddle for 4-inch cakes. If the batter is too thick to spread on its own, add a bit more milk. Cook the pancakes over moderate heat until bubbles appear on the surface and the top of the pancake looks dry. Flip the pancakes and cook until puffy and browned on the bottom, about 2 minutes.
- Transfer to warm plates and repeat with remaining batter. Serve with warm blueberry syrup.
Makes 12, 4 to 5-inch pancakes.