Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Original Mardi Gras

When planning my weekly dinners I always try to incorporate any "special days" into the schedule. Things like Sp-BOO-ghetti and meatballs for Halloween or enchiladas on Cinqo de Mayo help to create family tradition as well as learning opportunties.

This week was one of those days. Although not well known, it was always a treat in my house when I was growing up. I'm talking about Pancake Tuesday, of course.

The pancake can go by several names. Pancakes, flapjacks, hot cakes, griddle cakes, crepes. Similiarly, as you may not have heard of Pancake Tuesday, I can all but guarentee you have heard of one of it's other names... Mardi Gras!

Mardi Gras literally translates into "Fat Tuesday". It is the day before Ash Wednesday, and Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent... a period of fasting and self sacrifice to prepare the soul for Easter, as Jesus did for 40 days in the desert. In the days preceeding Mardi Gras, Christians would be trying to use up all the non-essential items so they wouldn't go to waste. By the time Fat Tuesday can, typically all that was left was flour, eggs and milk - so what they made was pancakes. I can't be certain, but I believe this started in Canada with the Acadians and followed them to Louisana when they were expelled from Canada by the British in 1755.

So I can imagine in the days preceeding Ash Wednesday, great feasts and parties being prepared to empty the cupboards for Lent. And through evolution, transformed into the New Orleans festival of Mardi Gras.

So, pancakes for dinner? Sure. Why not? It's quick, easy and kids love them. I added a little bacon and a fruit salad to round things off.

You could use a pancake mix - that is totally acceptable. In fact, most times I make pancakes that's how I do it. To add a little healthy kick to it, I'll add a little ground flax seeds and oat bran to the mix. Just adjust the water to the right consistancy. But, if you wanted to make "From Scratch" pancakes here's a recipe that was given to me by my friend's mom several years ago.

Homemade Pancakes

2 cups flour

2 cups milk

3 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

2 eggs

You can substitute different flours, use buttermilk instead of regular, even soy milk would be good. But this is a good place to get started. If you want to try a traditional Acadian pancake (ployes) here's a recipe I found. It used buckwheat flour instead of all-purpose.

For something extrordinary, try this Cinnamon Bun pancakes. They are truely worth it.

If you have never cooked a pancake or are unsure; here are some tips.

1. Start with a hot pan

2. Use butter or some sort of fat to coat the pan. This will help the pancake not to stick, but also help to carmelize it.

3. When adding things like bananas, chocolate chips or blueberries, I like to add them in the pan. Pour the batter to the desired size, them sprinkle your additions on top. This way you can ensure even distribution.

4. Watch for bubbles. When the bubbles come to the top, and stay; and the edges of the pancake start to look dry, it is time to flip.

Whether you call them pancakes, hot cakes, johnny cakes or flap jacks flip your family's dinner over with this original Mardi Gras tradition.

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