Pancakes are amongst the simplest and yet most satisfying desserts around. Admittedly I go for the classic lemon and sugar topping every time – a habit from years past – but my kids are a little more adventurous with combinations like nutella and banana, or fresh cream and jam to name a few.
So why am I writing about pancakes?… Well pancakes, as many Brits will tell you, are the symbol of Shrove Tuesday, or as known in the UK, Pancake Day which this year falls on 12 February.
For many British, Pancake Day is more cultural than religious. Originally, it marks the last day before the 40 day period of Lent when practising Christians fast – or nowadays – give up one or several rich food items for forty days until Good Friday.
So pancakes were the perfect way of using up foodstuffs such eggs, sugar and milk. You might have heard the day being referred to as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras in other parts of the world.
I usually give up the two ‘C’s that I have a constant love-hate relationship with – caffeine and chocolate! and try to tweak a few things to be (an even) better person during these forty days. I recognise there are many differences, but as a practising Catholic I do see, and feel, parallels between Ramadan and Lent.
Indeed, living in the UAE over the past few years and experiencing Ramadan first hand has made me think differently about doing my bit at Lent, and other parts of the year. This is because I see the discipline in others – proving to themselves they can do it – so I tell myself that I have no reason not to try my utmost in being disciplined too.
I am grateful to my many Emirati friends for being so welcoming of me and my family at Ramadan. I find these are times of the year in which we generally give ourselves more space to talk about shared beliefs and values such as justice and tolerance – which are at core of both Islam and Christianity, and many other faiths.
Pancake races on Shrove Tuesday (or more likely, the weekend before) still exist across the UK – the tradition is said to have originated when a housewife was so busy making pancakes that she forgot the time until she heard the church bells ring for the Shrove Tuesday service.
She raced out of the house to church whilst still carrying her frying pan and pancake. I participated in a couple of these races in my village as a child and have to admit that I was fairly hopeless at tossing pancakes then… and unfortunately still am now!
I’m always struck by the true cosmopolitan nature of the UAE, celebrating festivals of every colour and kind from all corners of the globe. So it comes as no surprise that I’ve seen that a variety of cafes and restaurants across Abu Dhabi and Dubai are marking pancake day with special activities for the kids, and there are recipes galore on the many ex-pat blog spots around– although of course you don’t need to be an ex-pat to have a go.
Like me, if you find a mess of sticky flour, eggs and milk all over your kitchen floor, well at least you have tried!
Enjoy the pancakes!