My boyfriend went to boarding school in England. As a result, he has a tendency to say things like 'jolly' and 'horrid' in a completely unironic way. This is something I've always been aware of (and frequently joke about) but I learned something entirely new yesterday, something which means his memories of Pancake Tuesday are completely different to mine.
"We used to have to get up early in the morning and go for a ten-mile run," he told me, with a wry smile. "It was called the Pancake Race. All I remember of Pancake Tuesday is running through mud in the cold. We didn't even get pancakes when it was all over."
I know the aim of English boarding schools used to be to make men of whimpering little boys but depriving children of pancakes is grim. It's also a total contrast to my memory of Pancake Tuesday.
I remember coming home from school to find my mum standing in front of the range, a huge pitcher of pancake batter in one hand, a hot frying pan in the other and an ever-increasing pile of pancakes by her side. On the table, there would be lemons and caster sugar.
Us greedy children would help ourselves to a pancake, sit at the table, sprinkle on some sugar, squeeze over some lemon juice, roll the pancake, gobble it down and then line up for another one. We'd do this over and over and over again until the batter had been used up, our mother was exhausted and we were delightfully stuffed with pancakes.
To compensate my boyfriend for his lack of such warm memories of pancakes, I was going to make him American-style pancakes with bacon and maple syrup this morning. However, he needed to leave for work quite early and thought they'd be too heavy for breakfast. In fact, he said he'd prefer to have pancakes as brunch at the weekend.
"Can we put Pancake Tuesday off for a few days?" were his exact words.
I may have told him we could but I didn't really mean it. I'm not going to have pancakes for breakfast and I won't have pancakes for dinner but I didn't say anything about lunch. For lunch, I'm going to have the most amazing pancakes of all.
I'm not going to have pancakes the way my mum used to make them. This is because today I want spicy food instead of sweet. I want food that challenges the taste buds instead of comforting them. I want something excitingly exotic instead of reassuringly traditional.
You may think that pancakes couldn't possibly provide what I'm looking for but according to Yotam Ottolenghi and his wonderful cookbook Plenty, they most certainly can. This is his vegetarian version of Vietnamese Bánh Xeo; traditionally sold from family-run street kitchens. It's full of fresh flavours and crunchy textures. It's spicy. And it's absolutely what I'm looking for.
200g rice flour
1 small egg
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp turmeric
400ml canned coconut milk
A little bit of sunflower oil
40ml lime juice
1 and 1/2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp kecap manis (sweeted soy sauce)
2 tsp grated fresh root ginger
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
1 mooli, peeled and shredded *
4 spring onions, sliced at an angle
1 fresh green chilli, sliced into long, thin strips
80g mangetout, sliced into long, thin strips
15g coriander, roughly chopped
15g Thai basil, torn
15g mint, roughly chopped
100g mung bean sprouts
100g enoki mushrooms*
*I was unable to source the mooli and enoki mushrooms at short notice and made mine without. It was still delicious.
My boyfriend is really missing out by not having these. But I'll make up for it by making him pancakes with bacon and maple syrup on Sunday. I'm also craving some blinis with smoked salmon so I might just make those at some stage too. Pancakes aren't just for Tuesdays, you know. There's one to suit every day and every occasion.