With pancakes, I learn to forgive myself

In this pandemic-stricken world, where restrictions are slowly becoming the norm, pancakes give me a sense of control over my life

I shuffle through the flour and sugar in the kitchen cabinet, trying to remember the pancake recipe of my grandmother, but memory can be faulty, so I begin by cracking two eggs into the bowl. 

The anxieties I have been pushing to the back of my mind—online classes, quarantine, and death rates—whisk themselves away as I beat the eggs. 

I add the milk, then the dry ingredients, until I have a thick batter. Mixing the batter feels like a five-minute workout for the arms, which is the closest thing I can get to any physical activity. Making pancakes keeps me moving inside the house, and in some way, protects me from catching the deadly virus.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, I never bothered to cook. There is not enough space to cook in the dorm where I live in Manila. The single bed I sleep on serves as my sofa and dining area, and the rest of the space is for the restroom and study table. 

I complained about never having enough time to study or eat breakfast, let alone interest myself in cooking. Now, I can tell the difference between baking soda and baking powder while holding a rubber spatula in my right hand and a mixing bowl in the other.

Next, I grease the pan with a cold stick of butter. This old trick makes it easier to flip pancakes. I pour a small amount of batter into the pan and wait until bubbles appear on the surface. 

I remember, when the government announced the lockdown in Metro Manila, I almost stayed behind because of my upcoming exams. The news made my chest tighten with emotions. The pandemic crisis started with panic buying and a face mask shortage in the city. Then, the infected cases ran high. When death became a part of everyday conversation, I packed my things and went back home to the province. 

I flip the first pancake, which is a pale yellow, then transfer it into a small plate. It needs more time to cook.

I flip another pancake, and voila—it has a soft, golden-brown top, just like how my grandmother did it when I was a little girl. 

A month ago, I did not pass my online exams—and they were crucial because I am a graduating student. If I do not pass the removal exams by November, I will be delayed until next year.

But it is in cooking pancakes that I learn to forgive myself, to take another spoonful of batter, and try again. A chunk of bruised ego would not hurt more than a lump of excess baking soda in a pancake mixture. If the first pancake comes out bad, it does not mean the rest of the pancakes would. I can do better. 

In this pandemic-stricken world, where restrictions are slowly becoming the norm, pancakes give me a sense of control over my life. Unlike exams, there’s no right or wrong way of doing it. I can invent my recipe if I want to by, say, adding one more egg or a cup of cane vinegar.

There is also something to be said about pancakes and the bitterly disappointing realities of life. While I roam lazily around the kitchen, some people can’t because they need to brave the world outside, to beg for money and look for ways to feed themselves. Others grieve for their lost jobs and families. Others labor on the front lines to cure infected patients and implement safety protocols out in the open.

Guilt crawls all over my body when I realize there are people who can’t make their pancakes, but I can. Pancakes, a childhood favorite of mine, are not as sweet as I thought.

Once the frying is finished, I stack the pancakes on top of each other. I butter the top and sprinkle some brown sugar. The sweet smell wafts through the house, taking me back to simpler times—times when I didn’t have to worry about college, the supply and demand of face masks, and a future that seems so bleak.

I cut some of the pancake with my fork, creating the shape of a slice of pizza. I take a small bite and let everything melt inside my mouth, hoping that more people can make pancakes someday, to feed their hunger and eventually, to forgive themselves.

Artwork by Rikki Segovia

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