Today is Ash Wednesday. Meaning yesterday was Shrove Tuesday, better known as Fat Tuesday or Pancake Tuesday. And I completely forgot about it until I saw "PancakeDay" trending on Twitter.
(It appears that social networking is beginning to infultrate all levels of my awareness. It's like something doesn't exist until someone has tweeted about it. I feel very sorry for myself.)
Shrove Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the official start of Lent. It's dubbed Fat Tuesday because it allows for one last day of gluttony before fasting for the forty days preceding Easter. Pancake Tuesday came about because (apparently) back in the day people used Fat Tuesday to get rid of all the items that would spoil over Lent (things like eggs, milk, lard - yes, I said LARD - which can be conducive to pancake-making, and heart attacks, but are not our concern here).
While I am a self-declared agnostic these days, I was raised in the Catholic Church AND the Catholic school system here in southern Ontario (both elementary school and high school) and so I didn't even have to look that information up. Every year, Lent and Easter were the big show for us Catholics.
I'm not sure if anyone out there does a full-on Lenten fast anymore. I'm sure some people do. When I was growing up it wasn't really a fast at all, you just weren't supposed to eat mammals or birds on Fridays. God apparently doesn't care about fish though, because you could eat all the sea creatures you wanted. Not that any of this is about God caring; it's about people sacrificing to acknowledge and mimic the struggles Jesus had while wandering the desert. Which is kind of weird, actually, because how many fish are there in the desert? And what about all the animals that are forced to sacrifice the other 325 days of the year? And why don't fish get a 40-day break too? These questions plagued me even when I was little, and long before I was a vegan.
(Tracy Jordan said it best, I think, when asked why Catholics don't eat meat on Fridays: "I'll tell you why. Because the Pope owns Long John Silvers.")
If I sound a wee bit hostile about this it's because I am. I partially blame this mentality of "You can have all the fish you want on Fridays and God will still love you, just no chickens/cows/pigs/etc." for encouraging people to be ambivalent toward the slaughter of fish AND for making people think that vegetarians eat fish, complicating our already complicated restaurant experiences (the actual term for one who eats fish but abstains from other types of meat is pescetarian). Plus, out of all of the auto-responses people contribute to vegan debates, "God gave us animals so that we could eat them" is my least favourite.
And to be silly for a mere moment, according to these rules we vegans are "fasting" all the time (not just during Lent and not just during FRIDAYS of Lent or whatever the rules of today may be). So, I'm going to to take this opportunity to equate veganism with a higher level of Catholic godliness. A small reward for having to repeatedly say, "No, I don't eat fish" throughout the course of our lives. Fair, yes?
As an aside I do know of practicing Christian/Catholic veg*ns who are similarly disturbed by this disregard for sea creatures among their religious counterparts and so I hope this will not be taken as me hating on religion. Check out the Christian Vegetarian Association for more on veg*n Christianity (they have done some amazing work). Like I said I identify as an agnostic and that in and of itself is a religious standpoint of some sort so I can't get too down on religion. I just like the opportunity to rant under the guise of sweets.
And so, back to growing up Catholic/eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. You still with me?
In elementary school we were encouraged to "give something up" for Lent, in lieu of the fast that no one really does anymore. So, on Shrove Tuesday we would not only have pancakes, but also contemplate what it was we were going to abstain from for the following 40 days. Candy was a popular choice among the kids. In the third grade I distinctly remember writing "I will abstain from watching Beverly Hills, 90210 for Lent" on the little pieces of perferated construction paper they handed out to us. That lasted all of two days. I'm fairly certain that I was destined to be irreligious from a very young age, as I also remember declaring one Shrove Tuesday that I was going to give up going to church for Lent. I got told, very curtly, that it "doesn't work that way".
While I can be a harsh critic of Catholicism more often than not, I do have some fond memories of growing up in the Catholic school system and I suppose I picked up on some religiously-based life lessons that I still carry with me today. But these days, the only Catholic thing about me is my excitement over pancakes on the Tuesday before Lent. And even that couldn't get me going this year, as I was feeling very lazy when I saw Pancake Day trending and decided I was going to skip out on it this year.
Paul, however, never misses a beat when it comes to breakfast food and took it upon himself to make some whole wheat and flax mixed berry pancakes.
And so your reward for listening to my religiously-oriented (and somewhat off topic) ranting is a recipe for the best pancakes EVER!
Whole Wheat-Flax-Mixed Berry-Banana-Pancake Batter
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, sifted
2 tbsp ground flax seeds
2 tbsp raw cane sugar
2 heaping tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups rice milk (or vanilla rice milk, or other non-dairy milk, or a combination)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup mixed frozen berries (we used blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries)
1 ripe banana (mashed)
Canola oil (for greasing the frying pan)
1) Combine all dry ingredients (EXCEPT the flaxseeds) and set aside.
2) In a separate bowl, combine the milk, vanilla and flax seeds and whip until somewhat smooth (you can do this in a blender or food processor if you want, but it's not necessary and just creates extra dirty dishes. We didn't and it turned out fine).
3) Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Once combined, gently fold in the fruit.
4) Lightly oil a frying pan over medium-high heat. Scoop about 1/4 cup of the batter per pancake and place in the pan. Allow each side to brown (each stove/pan combo works differently - be sure to keep an eye on these buggers!).
5) Serve hot, topped with agave nectar or maple syrup.
(I am of the agave school. Paul prefers maple syrup. It's a good thing we don't have children, how on earth would we raise them?)