By Bill Diem
Our book club is reading A Book of Delights by Ross Gay, a 42-year-old poet who thought it would be nice to write about something that delighted him each day. He wrote 102 in the year-long experiment.
We decided in our club to write about a delight. Here is mine:
When the grandchildren are in the house for a day, life is a mad rush. I seldom have time to shave my whiskers on the Wednesday when Rose and Pia don’t have school. I wake up about 7 and quietly slip out of the bedroom so my wife can get another hour of sleep. Rose has slept all night on a couch, but she comes out before 7:30, as she would if she had to go to school that day, and she gives me a hug, and takes my hand and leads me to my computer so that she can watch Barbie or Thunderman on YouTube while I prepare breakfast.
But this morning, my old PC is taking forever to load the software that will later claim all of Rose’s attention. I ask if she would help me make pancake batter while we wait, and she said she would.
Rose likes my pancakes and always chooses them over oatmeal. Thursday night at a pretend restaurant at which she was the chef, my wife the customer, and me the sous-chef, she said how much the customers like the pancakes of Bill, and one little girl wants none other than Bill’s.
I anticipated the demand for pancakes several days earlier, and I had a liter of lait ribot in the refrigerator. In America I was well acquainted with buttermilk and used it for pancakes and some other baking. When you need baking soda instead of baking powder, it’s because you are using buttermilk, which despite its name has less fat than regular milk. I like the taste of a glass of buttermilk, which in France is lait ribot.
In France I met lait ribot at my sister-in-law’s house in Brittany. Yolande makes her plate-sized galettes one at a time on a big grill from buckwheat, salt, an egg, and water. Then she folds them into a bowl and drowns them with lait ribot.
I have since learned that the fermented milk called kefir is also a favorite among Arabs, so you can find buttermilk almost anywhere in France. If I think ahead, I will have it on hand when it comes to pancakes. Lait ribot is a delight on its own, and more so in pancakes because it makes them lighter and tastier, and even more so when the pancakes are shared with Rose and Pia on a Wednesday morning, slathered with butter and maple syrup we brought back from Mackinac County.
Rose learned the pancake basics. Three scoops of flour, the hollow in the palm of her hand filled with salt, and then again with baking soda, and then enough lait ribot to have a batter thin enough so that when it is poured onto a griddle it flows out into a circle. The downside of the pancake cooks until bubbles on the up-side stay open. Then you flip. Pancakes made with regular milk and levure chimique or baking powder tend to dry out on the upside by the time the bubbles open up. When they are flipped you see the beautiful A-side, but you are later disappointed when the other side is never so tan.
Pancakes made on a Wednesday with Rose’s lait ribot batter have very good B-sides.