At first glance, my academic and professional choices align neatly with first generation Asian American parents' preferred routes - I majored in physics, then worked in finance for three years before switching recently to technology. My upbringing certainly has something to do with this, as I was frequently told that quantitative fields were pragmatic choices with high probability of conventional success. But that didn't start in earnest until high school, and only after I started showing some aptitude for math and science. I've always been a bookworm, and early on it was toward English that my mother directed her encouragement and attention.
In elementary and middle school she would regularly take my sister and me to the library; we'd return with bags of books that rivaled Matilda's readings in scope and scale. (That's not an exaggeration - sometimes it'd take a couple trips to move them from the car.) I devoured these books and ruined my eyesight by reading everywhere: our dimly lit basement, moving cars, blanket tents. Later on, my mom also read everything I wrote with genuine interest - including, mortifyingly enough, my teenage Xanga ramblings. She said she enjoyed it as good quality work! That assessment must've taken a serious stretch of imagination and motherly love.
So while my Asian classmates were skipping levels in math and joining science fairs, I was reading and occasionally writing. It's likely that my mom gave up on the former approach after years of quantitative ineptitude on my part. I was slow to count; I flunked the admission tests for an accelerated math program twice; percentages were completely abstract to me for a while, made no more concrete by the coins and dollar bills my parents used as study aids.
At some point, to everyone's great relief, it all did start to click. I can't remember at all what made me gradually begin to understand and even enjoy math. But I do remember the books of my childhood, vividly - even the most juvenile ones. One series I was obsessed with was Nate the Great, which featured a boy detective and his loyal dog Sludge. Both Nate and Sludge are super-sleuths powered by round-the-clock consumption of syrupy pancakes; as I read each story I'd invariably start craving some of my own, and dig out Eggo packages from the depths of our freezer. In solidarity with these fabulous prodigies I'd toast and butter a stack, then quickly dispatch it.
Maybe it's the association with Nate and Sludge, but to this day I think Eggo pancakes are tough to beat. There's a gradient of texture that runs from crispy edge to a thick creamy center encased by a perfectly smooth pancake shell. Between the two extremes lies an expanse of airy sweet bites. They're perfectly browned, attributable mostly to artificial coloring rather than caramelization, but satisfying nonetheless. A pancake unsurpassed! - until now.
These misugaru hotcakes are taller than your average pancake, and it's this height that allows for the range of consistency that I so loved in my Eggo and Nate the Great days. After flipping, some of the uncooked batter spreads slightly, creating a thinner lopsided fringe that crisps up perfectly. The rest is plush yet airy; since misugaru powder is gluten free, these pancakes run very little risk of becoming tough. And texture aside, the ten-grain misugaru makes the pancakes delicately nutty and fragrant. The subtlety of flavor pairs well with yogurt and berries, but honey or butter wouldn't go amiss either. Whether you're solving mysteries or math problems, I can't imagine a better brain food than this.
Misugaru Hotcakes / Pancakes Recipe (serves 2-3)
- 1 cup misugaru powder
- 3/4 cup flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1-3 tbsp sugar *
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 tsp vanilla
* My misugaru powder came already sweetened so I only added 1 tbsp; check the nutrition facts to see how much added sugar is in each cup of misugaru. 12.5 g = 1 tbsp
Make the batter: Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl (misugaru powder, flour, baking powder, salt, sugar) and mix thoroughly. Beat the eggs until well combined and frothy, then mix in the milk and vanilla. Form a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Mix lightly until all the dry ingredients are moistened but large lumps may (and should) remain - they will help create a fluffy texture. Let stand for a few minutes until the batter is a little bubbly. It should be quite thick.
Cook the pancakes/hotcakes: Heat an oiled pan or griddle over medium heat. When a drop of water fizzes across the surface and evaporates immediately, it's hot enough. For regular pancakes, drop ladles of pancake batter onto the hot pan and let spread. For hotcakes, lower the heat to medium low (so the hotcakes don't burn before the center is cooked). Grease a round biscuit cutter or other similar mold (I used the ring from a 4 inch diameter springform pan) and lay it on the pan. Pour hotcake batter in up to 1/2 inch height. The pancakes/hotcakes are ready to flip when bubbles start forming on the top surface and they release / move easily when a spatula is slipped underneath. Flip when ready, and allow the other side to cook through - should take a minute or two less than the first side.