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Fluffy pancakes and rogue Toyotas

I have two problems.

First problem: Kathy decided to engage in a rousing game of racquetball. With another man.

She broke her knee. Fractured the tibial plateau. Tough luck, but there’s a lesson in it, somewhere.

Second problem: I can’t make a decent pancake.

What is a fracture of the tibial plateau?, you might ask.

It is a fracture at the top of the shinbone, just below the knee, involving the cartilage surface of the knee joint. There are displaced and non-displaced fractures. With the displaced fracture, some guy or gal in a mask is soon shooting screws into you in order to put bone fragments back in place. In a non-displaced fracture, healing is often possible without surgery, but requires a very long time with no weight put on the joint — as in a month and a half to three months.

Kathy suffered a non-displaced fracture, with the verdict still to come on whether she tore her anterior cruciate ligament.

In other words, Kathy cannot walk for the foreseeable future and, therefore, cannot do any of the ordinary things that require use of both legs, i.e. nearly everything she does at home or at work.

In other words, someone has to look after Kathy.

Guess who?

I am trying to be the best nurse possible. After all, Kathy took care of me following my cancer surgery last year. She pulled some pretty nasty duty (catheter bag maintenance being typical of her chores) and she didn’t take a hard right onto Cranky Avenue until the second week into the process.

I figure I owe her the same.

I fetched a pair of crutches for Tiny Tim and, two days into her exploration of this mode of transport, Kathy skidded on one of Banzai’s toys and she swears she ripped her rotator cuff in her shoulder.

So, no more crutches.

Next up, a walker, graciously donated by a fellow patient at physical therapy.

No go for all but the most dire of circumstances. The Princess of the Pea’s shoulders and elbows can’t tolerate prolonged walker use.

So, a wheelchair it is.

Now Kathy wheels around the accessible portions of the first floor of the house. Her turf is limited and she is going stir crazy. Thus, she focuses on my duties.

My duties?

Oh, I don’t know, where to start?

How about … doing it all!

I’m cooking, washing the dishes, shopping, vacuuming, doing the laundry, changing the bedding, tidying up, fetching ice bags and toting baskets of stuff, watching the Bonz when he comes over (taming the bobcat in a bag when it comes time to change a diaper), ferrying Kathy to her therapy appointments. Oh, and going to work.

It tuckers a person out.

Thankfully, I have Kathy around to give me advice. I am stunned by how many things I do wrong, how many things I fail to do. I can’t believe my lack of awareness of fabric softener is that big a deal. And, to me, the occasional addition of a red garment to a white wash load is a pardonable offense.

But, stiff upper lip, Karl. Remember, she took care of you for two weeks before she started sneering at you.

And, no Karl, it’s not right to imagine her in a crosswalk with you behind the wheel of a defective Toyota. Take a deep breath, Karl, think calming thoughts. Be saintly.

So, the other morning: the ultimate mistake.

“What can I make for breakfast, darling.” (Note the caring, compassionate tone and studied choice of words.) I am hoping against hope she wants a massive breakfast burrito, eggs, spuds and chorizo rolled in a grilled flour tortilla and smothered with the leftover green chile I have stashed in the fridge; or a steep pile of chilaquilas blanketed with melted cheese, coated with a slurry of salsa. Maybe corned beef hash with a couple eggs over-easy, with biscuits. That would be a swell way to start the day, don’t you agree?

She doesn’t give the situation the thought it deserves.



“I want pancakes, with banana slices cooked into them.”

She looks up at me from her perch on her wheelchair, moonfaced, an orphan begging for coins on a snowy street corner.


OK, let’s see … pancakes. Kathy is our pancake and waffle wizard. Prior to this accident, she made one or the other every Saturday. Good stuff.

But, me? Pancakes?

Crepes, yes. Pancakes …?

Gotta be easy, I figure. It’s just a sweet batter. So, two cups of flour and a couple teaspoons of baking powder. A flutter of salt, a couple tablespoons of sugar. Sounds good as far as dry ingredients go.

For the wet ingredients: melt a couple tablespoons butter, beat an egg, add both to some milk. Perhaps a teensy splash of vanilla extract would zip things up, eh?

Mix the wet ingredients into the dry, blend well. Add a bit more milk. Slice half a banana, and press the slices into the cakes after they go in the pan.

“Don’t forget to add flax seed.”


“Flax seed. And some wheat germ.”

Not a chance. I rustle a cellophane package to make it sound like I am tossing in the health-nut ingredients and I go on my merry way.

That merry way leads to some of the worst pancakes I have ever eaten; they are thick, doughy, tasteless and tough. I pour a tree’s worth of maple syrup on mine and they are still nearly too dry to eat.

I gaze over at Tiny Tim. She is making a game try of it. She has slathered her dough wads with butter, syrup, jam and blueberries. Each bite is clearly a struggle.

She manages a weak smile. “Mmmm.”

You gotta love her. At heart, she is a kind person.

A damaged, kind person.

I am going to face the breakfast dilemma again in a week.

I am not going to ask her what she wants. I am going to announce the menu in an unusually cheery tone: “We’re having pancakes!”

I have a week to do something that is completely against my kitchen principles: I will find and follow a recipe. The disaster makes it clear that a certain amount of precision is required when it comes to ingredients and technique.

I take to the Internet and read up on “fluffy pancakes.”

There’s plenty of info and I quickly discover what I did wrong in my attempt at this classic, simple breakfast treat.

First, I completely misjudged the flour-to-baking powder proportions. Second, I completely misjudged the wet-to-dry ingredient proportions. Third, I botched the mixing technique. Fourth, I cooked the cakes over the wrong level of heat.

Next time around, I will sift two cups of flour. Sifting equals fluffy.

Into the flour I will gently mix two tablespoons of sugar, four teaspoons of baking powder, one teaspoon salt.

I will separate two eggs and beat the yolks. I will add the yolks to 1 1/2 cups milk.

I will beat the egg whites until stiff (the egg whites, not me).

I’ll melt half a cup of butter and add it to the milk and egg yolk mix, then add the whole mess to the dry ingredients, mixing only until I get a coherent batter. (In my first, pathetic pancake adventure, I beat the batter mercilessly. Not a good idea.)

At this point, I will fold the beaten egg whites into the batter.

I will cook the pancakes over medium low heat. When the top of a cake bubbles, I will turn it and cook the second side until it is golden brown.

These should do the trick. Nice and fluffy.

And, if Kathy doesn’t like them ... I will warm up the Toyota. Two weeks are up.