I had some awareness of being there; but I wasn't totally present, hovering vaguely on the periphery of sleep. A mechanical throbbing in the background, the machine's heart beating; a rhythmic hum of the engines. A familiar scrambled sound. I felt the wheels retract somewhere beneath my seat and the aircraft started to, in my mind, tilt sideways. I drifted in and out of that darkened cabin feeling the static from the hand-out blanket, saw my mum rooting under seats to find our shoes. There were spots of rain on the windows, the sky was dove gray and people around me started to gather bags and phones. Looking ahead to train rides, taxis, connecting flights. In my half slumber I moved as if in a dream, dimly following my sister and remembering how to place one foot after the other. Leaning on the cordons at immigration and seeing the officer look at me not with contempt, but at my chubby, sleepy seven-year-old face as if I was a creature under a microscope. I felt sorry for him.
Baggage carousel. Baggage trolley. Long waits. Bathroom visit. Take note of lost baggage counter, since you never know. Watch mum haul the bags off the belt. Help sister push trolley. Customs. Anything to declare? I wanted to say I was hungry because I'd slept through the flight's breakfast and I was tired because it was now something after midnight in Malaysia but I knew that most officials at Heathrow didn't have a great sense of humour. I was coming out of my sleepy haze, I hugged that same pink Ralph Lauren sweater to myself, shocked by the cold. Arrivals hall, couples embracing, taxi drivers standing with signs, people finding buses. Look for dad, where is he?But it wouldn't be like dad to stand at the front with four red balloons, instead I waited for the "boo" behind me, or the little "tssst" from a corner from the terminal. By now I was quicker and beat him to it as he came up to our jetlagged group of three, I was still small enough to really throw myself at him, for the dad hug. He'd be there in his good leather coat, brown shoes, old school Levis. Striped scarf knotted in that Continental way around his neck, a copy of The Times in one hand. He'd take the trolley and we'd wait, buffeted by wind in that dingy multi-story parking lot. The car would be ice cold. He'd put on the heating, there'd be snacks and our favorite kiddie magazines.
Our car would move out into the drizzle, the time of year in England when it started to get dark at 3pm. Traffic would be slow, out of Heathrow and onto the forever-jammed M25 eastbound, BBC Radio 2 was the soundtrack of those drives. I never knew (and still don't know) any of the songs, dad knew a few, mostly he and mum would talk softly, Layla slept beside me. I'd look at the people in other cars, hoping they were also going home, to meet family, to see their dad again maybe. I'd wonder about all the cars on the road. Who they were, where they were going, whether they were happy, maybe they had a wedding this weekend, maybe they were putting up their Christmas tree. I liked to watch the headlights and half close my eyes to see them blur in the speed, I'd watch dad indicate to switch lanes and overtake, he's one of those people who can just drive well. I learnt something about accelerating into a bend from him, he also taught me about lochs, tie-ropes, grain silos, how to unstick a jeep from the mud, a learnt love of pancakes. Sometimes if he'd been at the office in London and only been at our house a few days before we arrived we'd stop at a 24 hour grocery store to get our favorite food, he'd tell me to wear the coat he brought even though it was probably the one that was too small; I think in his mind I am always a bit smaller than I really am.
What is funny is that now it's me who is more in Europe, waiting for dad to come home from some warm and dusty place. I'll be keeping the house warm, trying to tidy away my piles of mess on the dining table since no one really sits there when he's not around. And then I'll wait for the car, he'll bring in his suitcase wearing a pair of old-school Levis and a good jacket, and I may stay really quiet when he comes in. Step out from the living room and say 'boo', because I've learnt a lot from him.
Pancakes are the dad thing, aren't they? And since he's going to be home for a while, I made a big batch of these to freeze so he can have a more interesting-than-toast breakfast while he's here. I know, I know, more apple, but these pancakes are actually good all year round! They're packed with goodness, from the apple, spices and buckwheat flour which makes them totally gluten free. Some people say that buckwheat flour has a very pronounced flavor but I think the spices tone it down in these pancakes, but you could always substitute 1/2 the flour with another gluten free flour (I'd recommend oat flour). Either way, I hope you try them. Surprise your dad.
Wishing you a lovely weekend, hopefully with pancakes.
Spiced apple & buckwheat pancakes
makes 6 pancakes // gluten + dairy free
1/2 cup (70g) buckwheat flour (or use 1/4 cup buckwheat and 1/4 cup flour of choice)
1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon baking powder 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 large, sweet apple
1/3 cup (80ml) natural apple juice
1 teaspoon melted coconut oil or olive oil
1 free range egg coconut oil, for cooking
Pure maple syrup, honey, or similar for serving
in a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder + soda, spices and salt, set aside -in a liquid measuring cup or bowl, add the apple juice.
Coarsely grate the apple (peel is fine too) into this cup/bowl, big apple pieces are good. It will look like there's too much apple for the juice.
add the oil and egg, stir to thoroughly combine -use a spoon to form a little well in the dry ingredients, then add the apple + egg mix to dry and gently fold to just combine. You don't want to stir too much so that the leavening agents can do their thing.
let the batter rest for 5 minutes - you can heat up the pan while you wait. Turn the stove to medium and dip a paper towel in some coconut oil, then use it to brush a light layer of oil on the pan (or prepare the pan however works best for you, varies from pan to pan and cast iron skillets etc) -after the batter has rested, pour about 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons)onto the heated pan. I can usually only do one at a time (tiny pan problems), but fit however many little rounds you can without crowding. If necessary, draw the batter out into a little circle on the pan for a nicer shape (the grated apple can make them awkward) -the batter doesn't bubble too much on the pan, so after about 2 to 3 minutes, flip the pancake and cook another minute or so. it will be a deep brown on the first side, lighter on the other, but should be firm - serve warm with pure maple syrup (so good), honey or other sweetness of choice. enjoy.
this recipe doesn't make a huge stack of pancakes, but I'm pretty confident it will make the standard 12 if you double it exactly. also, the batter may initially look odd because it may look like there's way too much apple, but that's ok - use a big apple because that's what makes them poofy and almost custard-y inside. Just give them a little time before you flip them, even if it looks like the pancakes are getting a bit overdone - the fruit needs a bit of time to firm up or they'll get folded when flipped (they'll still taste amazing). If you do use melted coconut oil, try to use room temperature eggs and juice or it'll seize up.
*to keep the pancakes warm while cooking all the batter, turn your oven on very low (around 120'C or 250'F) and keep the pancakes on a lined baking sheet inside. Alternatively, let them fully cool, then freeze them with with a layer of parchment paper between each pancake. To defrost them, you can pop them in a toaster for crispness or I've even heated them in a microwave and they taste great - oven or toaster oven would work too.** one other note: I wouldn't recommend subbing in wheat flour of any kind since it's a lot more 'thirsty' than gluten free flours and the batter is not overly wet here. A gluten-free AP blend would work too.