A helping hand creates a pancake genius

"Sure you can," Liam insisted. "Come on. Anyone can." My grandson handed me the pancake flipper. I put it back in the drawer.

"How about scrambled eggs?" I said. "Or polenta?"

Liam opened the drawer. He pulled out the spatula again.

"I told you," I said. "I am not a pancakemaker. Your mom is. Grampie is. But I can't make pancakes. Seriously."

"Have you ever even tried?" he asked.

"I did try. Well, once. But it was such a big mess, no one could eat it."

Liam blinked at me. "Once? You tried just once?"

I shrugged. "It was a disaster, Liam. I'm telling you."

I was staying with Liam while his parents were off on a little trip, and we were negotiating food issues. For example, the polenta. Liam had been aghast that I'd served him yellow polenta instead of white. He wanted only Parmesan cheese on his cheese sandwich, not cheddar. He liked his cold cereal without milk, thank you very much.

Now I opened the refrigerator. "How about a smoothie?"

"Once is just practice," Liam said in his most reasonable voice. "Trying something once barely counts. You'll never know until you do it at least one more time."

Well, it was impossible to argue with that bit of wisdom straight from the mouth of a 7-year-old. What was I going to say: "Persistence is nothing in this world, Kid. Give up early and give up often"?

I sighed and said, "OK, I'll try."

Liam handed me the spatula. He pulled a cookbook off the shelf and flipped it open. "Here's the recipe Mom uses," he said. "You can do it, Gran. I know you can."

Right. I remembered the smeared batter and the blackened edges of my one and only batch. I shuddered.

"I'll get the syrup out," he added.

"OK, you little optimist, you," I muttered as I set to work with flour, eggs, milk, and butter.

"That looks good," Liam said, peering into the bowl of batter. "Perfect."

"Let's see how the cooking goes," I said quietly. I didn't want to tell him that deciding when to flip the pancakes had been my Waterloo on the previous try.

Not wanting to sound as negative as I felt because of that whole role-model issue, I added, "We'll give it our best try, right?"

"That's the spirit, Gran!"

With my cheering section watching, I ladled the batter onto the hot griddle. I read, yet again, the part of the recipe about waiting until the bubbles break and turn dry before flipping the pancakes. I looked at the pancakes and then back to the recipe.

"It's time," I said. Feeling as graceful as a hippo at a tea party, I advanced on the bubble-edged pancakes.

"You can do it," Liam said. "I know you can."

And ... I did. Shocked and amazed, I soon piled fluffy, golden pancakes on Liam's waiting plate. He buttered them, drizzled on syrup, and then bit into one.

A slow smile spread across his face. "These are the best pancakes I've ever had," he declared. "You are a pancake genius."

I took a nibble and had to admit that - although far from the best I'd ever eaten - I had made rather fine pancakes. My grin matched Liam's.

At school, he introduced me as "my grandmother, who makes the best pancakes in the world."

When he talked to his parents on the phone, he gave them the same story. When friends visited, he exclaimed, "Gran's pancakes are the best!"

For the next few days, I obliged Liam's requests ... to the tune of breakfast pancakes, after-school snack pancakes, and dinner pancakes. Yikes! I'd created a Pancake Monster.

Desperate for a change of pace, one day I pleaded with him to go out to get Mexican food with me.

He shook his head. "I want your pancakes for dinner," Liam declared.

"I'll tell you what," I said in what I thought was a reasonable tone. "Eat a couple of tacos, and if you still want pancakes afterward, I'll make them."

After the tacos were finished, I was soon flipping pancakes.

When he went to bed that night, Liam smiled dreamily. "I ate 13 pancakes today. That's the most I've ever eaten. They were sooo good."

Two years have passed. Last week Liam visited - and it was the first time in those two years that he didn't request "Grancakes" for breakfast. He didn't even mention them, happily digging into Grampie's blueberry waffles instead.

I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I know it's time to move on. On the other, I relished my reign as the Pancake Princess, the Best Pancake Maker in the Entire Universe. I'd begun to consider it my calling in life.

But whether I ever toss another flapjack or not, one thing I'll always remember: When it comes to flipping them, it's all about watching those bubbles around the pancake edge.

Oh. And also: Never underestimate the power of a good role model. Liam, thanks for being mine.

Grancakes

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1-1/4 cups milk
1 egg
3 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted and cooled slightly
3/4 cup fresh or frozen (unthawed) blueberries

Preheat large frying pan or griddle over medium heat. Grease lightly.

In a medium-size bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

In a small bowl, whisk together milk, egg, and melted butter until blended.

Pour liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients. Stir just until flour is moistened. Stir blueberries into batter.

Pour about 1/4 cup of the batter onto the hot pan. Cook until bubbles form and begin popping on top of pancakes; edges should appear dry. Turn pancake with spatula, to brown other side. Note: You should turn pancakes only once. (Liam and I wish you well. We know you can do it!)

Makes about 8 pancakes.

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