Guerrilla pancakes

Calling all Enid Blyton fans.  Anyone who grew up reading her books will probably remember their way 'in' to Blyton-land.  For some, it will have been the capers of the Famous Five or the Secret Seven.  Others might have come to her via the boarding school shenanigans of the girls of Malory Towers and St Clare's.  For me, it was the Adventure Series.  These were the stories of Philip, Dinah, Jack, Lucy-Anne and their parrot Kiki, two brother and sister pairs who always managed to fall into an amazing adventure every time they went on holiday.  The locations varied - a mysterious valley, a cruise through the Greek islands, or a wild Welsh mountain - but some things never changed.  Philip would always acquire some bizarre and wonderful pet, the gang would constantly manage to fall afoul of nefarious men up to no good, and Lucy-Anne would invariably have occasion to exclaim, "Food really does taste better when eaten outdoors!".

A slightly roundabout way of getting to this blog, but I've had Lucy-Anne's refrain in mind after some recent adventures of my own.

Last week was Shrove Tuesday.  Otherwise known as 'Pancake Day', or the final opportunity to stuff yourself with carbohydrates and sugar before giving one or the other - or both - up for Lent.  I never do either.  I like my food too much, and I prefer resolutions of the 'taking new things up' variety.  But I'll never turn down the chance to eat pancakes when it is offered.  I haven't managed to celebrate Shrove Tuesday for a number of years; I always seem to be busy in the evening on the day it rolls around.  This year looked like it was going to go the same way, as friends and I had plans to go to an immersive theatre experience being staged by dreamspeakthink at Somerset House (worth checking out before it ends on March 30th, for any Londoners reading this blog).  Then Matt came up with the crazy? genius plan of making pancakes somewhere outside, en route to the performance.  I thought he was kidding, up until the moment he bought a portable gas cooking stove.  Then it was game on.

My role was to choose and make the recipe, so I got to insist on North American style pancakes.  None of your fiddly European crepes, thank you very much!  On the morning in question I forgot to write out the recipe we've been using in our family for decades, so I had to source an alternative online.  It had to be something pretty basic, but this one did the trick.  If you're making it at home, you can't go too far wrong with the following, which is supposed to serve 6:

  • 450ml (16 fl oz) semi skimmed milk
  • 150g (5 oz) caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 250g (9 oz) plain flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
  • maple syrup, and plenty of it (for there is nothing in the world that can't be improved with maple syrup - that's just a fact)

The logistics were a little tricky.  I had to mix up all the ingredients listed above in our terrible little kitchen at work, where there is barely the room or the equipment for making a cup of tea.  Then transfer the batter to an airtight container and pray that it didn't explode in my bag.  Later, we had to find just the right location.  Somewhere that wouldn't involve sitting under a dark bridge, but that wouldn't be too obvious either.  The Southbank it was - home to most of London's best cultural experiences.  Fortified against the sub-zero temperatures by some fancy cocktails from the BFI bar, we set up our guerrilla restaurant on a picnic table outside the Festival Hall.  And amazingly? It all worked beautifully.

Turns out Lucy-Anne was right.  Food really does taste better when eaten outdoors, with a spirit of adventure.  But only in the company of the right people.