Cinnamon. Hewn from the cinnamon tree, curled, a heart shape, the color of my daughter’s eyes. Grated into powder, like pigment. Color of burnt sienna, earth, umber. But it’s the scent that lights his face as he asks me to grate some into the cup. I take the cinnamon stick into my hand and the grater with the other.
I know what I am doing.
We are alone at the table, the afternoon light shimmers outside. I want to kiss him under the tree in the backyard, while all of our girls are running through the house with handfuls of Barbie dolls and shrieks of laughter, as my son is coming through the hallway with his best friend, basketball in hand to go shoot hoops in the driveway.
He brought the cinnamon sticks and grater as a gift for my new house. The cinnamon and grater came from a company called Cinnamon Hill. I immediately fell in love with the grater and began using it.
I grate the stick like a gypsy, giving my lover that halfway smile, my bare shoulder suggesting seduction.
“You know---” I drawl out from my lips with the "oh" while looking into his eyes, my right eyebrow arched up, my left hand offering him the fresh ground cinnamon, “the scent of cinnamon is an aphrodisiac.”
"Oh?" he replies.
But I didn’t have to say that. It may sound cliché, and who cares. The smell is heavenly nonetheless.
He puts the freshly grated cinnamon to his nose. Inhale. I can almost feel his senses tingling, as his mouth curved in pleasure, surrendering to the scent, eyes glittering. My bare feet climb the shins of his legs, I wiggle into my chair.
Suddenly I get a spark of an idea. I take his hand and lead him into the bedroom, but we know we aren’t alone, we won’t be left alone, it’s as though we are teenagers again.
“Come, kiss me in the bathroom,” I whisper. We softly close and lock the door. Kiss. I slide upon the bathroom counter as I did the chair, and giggle. He embraces me, arms curving around my waist, back, hips. We kiss again, more. I rubbed the powdery remnants of the cinnamon on my hands just behind my ears and all over my neck. I touch his face with my two hands, cupping his cheeks, and draw him in closer. The scent of cinnamon lingers.
He doesn't understand when I say, I am the cinnamon peeler's wife, smell me, because he doesn't know the poem. I caress his face with the cinnamon scent on my hands as we kiss a little more.
If I were a cinnamon peeler I would ride your bed And leave the yellow bark dust On your pillow.
Your breasts and shoulders would reek You could never walk through markets without the profession of my fingers floating over you. The blind would stumble certain of whom they approached though you might bathe under rain gutters, monsoon.
Here on the upper thigh at this smooth pasture neighbour to your hair or the crease that cuts your back. This ankle. You will be known among strangers as the cinnamon peeler's wife.
I could hardly glance at you before marriage never touch you --your keen nosed mother, your rough brothers. I buried my hands in saffron, disguised them over smoking tar, helped the honey gatherers...
When we swam once I touched you in the water and our bodies remained free, you could hold me and be blind of smell. you climbed the bank and said this is how you touch other women the grass cutter's wife, the lime burner's daughter. And you searched your arms for the missing perfume and knew what good is it to be the lime burner's daughter left with no trace as if not spoken to in the act of love as if wounded without the pleasure of a scar.
You touched your belly to my hands in the dry air and said I am the Cinnamon Peeler's wife. Smell me.
When I was a girl, as a dessert I'd have cinnamon mixed into a bowl of freshly halved strawberries, white dollops of sour cream, and sprinkled with brown sugar. Canela, the scent of churros in the park, the heat of summer. Cinnamon buns hot from the oven, eaten at night with a glass of cold milk. The crystals of brown sugar specked with cinnamon spread into the white thick of sour cream, like watercolor paint bleeding into paper. The beauty of its warm golden brown color reminded me of these many things. Sometimes, as a young girl, I’d stare deeply into something until it changed. The aroma of cinnamon reminds me of bedtime, of summer, of baking in my kitchen.
Cinnamon. A spice known to seduce and enchant, to give comfort and pleasure. In this modern world we forget how powerful spices can be. Sri Lanka, the place where cinnamon trees grow, Malay for “sweet wood,” we delight in sprinkling this on the froth of milk, icing of pastries, and sweets. Chai tea, curry powder. Chinese cinnamon, cassia, five spice.
Pears poached in wine and cinnamon, apples and cinnamon, apple pie spiced, pumpkin pie, French toast, cinnamon and nutmeg. Cinnamon can remind us of fall in pumpkin pie and winter in spiced coffees, lattes, and cookies.
When I inhale the scent of cinnamon, I think of warmth, happiness, and pleasure. It’s a comforting aroma. Along with breakfast and pastries, cinnamon is the scent of sticky buns just out of the oven.
Animal pancakes were very special creatures during my childhood. They were only to be eaten during vacations on the beach at my grandparents’ friends’ condominium during summer when my grand-uncle made them hot on a real pancake griddle. He used Bisquick pancake batter and Aunt Jemima pancake syrup. Each animal was carefully and dexterously poured by his steady hand. An elephant, a horse, a dog, a mouse, and perhaps a giraffe.
The bubbles were the tell tale sign for flipping over the pancake. I’d watch his every trick and pancake creating skill, for those were the marvelous days of summer vacation, and I was determined to know every kitchen secret. Fascinated as I was with animal pancakes, I never asked to help. Being shy and introverted as a young girl, I went through life as an observer, not one to interfere, watching those magical pancake animals as they landed on my plate. “May I have another mouse pancake, please?” Mouse ears were delicious.
As a mother myself now I wonder if my children will remember my own pancake skill in the kitchen, and if those blueberry lemon pancakes or banana pancakes are just as special to them. My youngest doesn’t want the blueberries or bananas for that matter, she wants plain pancakes swimming in oceans of syrup. She loves to make an island of her plain pancake and surrounds it with a moat of maple syrup-- real maple syrup--- which causes me to hover around her with my hand grasping for the sticky bottle like a basketball player, swiping the syrup before it becomes a soup of excess wasted on one pancake. Maybe wasted syrup isn’t the correct usage, for my daughter, soon to turn six, will drink the syrup with the glee of a pig in mud or the simple exuberance of a Labrador retriever lapping up water after a run around the park.
My fourteen year old son loves any kind of pancake. He’s easy to please. My nine year old daughter loves lemon and blueberry, and is happy with the combination. She loves banana pancakes the most, however, and it is entirely possible she loves the rhyme of her name--- Hannah--- with banana that causes her to chant “pancakes, pancakes, pancakes,” until I get the pan out, the batter made, and the whole shebang happening while I sip my morning tea.
Ladle, dip into batter. Scoop up. Carefully eye the amount. Skillet is about that right temperature, not too hot. Wait for the batter to spread, stop. Wait for the center to bubble, flip.
And I have held a long-standing theory that making pancakes is like making love.
When we make that first pancake, it isn’t perfect. Most of the time that first pancake is a warm up for the better pancakes that come after it. The pan needs some time to season, and we can gauge the heat better, understand the batter-to-heat ratio, we get a feel of the body of it with the ladle, soon knowing just how much to pour into the pan. You get the hang of making pancakes after you’ve made a few of them, and then you’ll know when to turn it over and slide it on your plate. It’s warm, tastes good, even better with syrup. Just like the first time you make love with someone you are madly in love with, pancakes are a good way to explain those first-time jitters.
If your lover is nervous the very first time you both make love, just whisper, “Darling, it’s just like making pancakes.”
Cinnamon Banana Pancakes
2-3 ripe bananas, mashed – save ½ for decorative slices
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (or dairy-free alternative -- soy or coconut based)
1 tablespoon light brown sugar (or coconut sugar)
1 tablespoon (a splash) bourbon
2 tablespoons freshly grated Saigon or Ceylon cinnamon (I used Cinnamon Hill’s cinnamon grater and one beautiful Saigon cinnamon stick)
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup all-purpose flour (quinoa, oat bran, coconut and other flours)
2 tablespoons light brown sugar (coconut sugar)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup milk
splash of water
1 large egg
2 tablespoons vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons melted butter (or alternative, such as coconut oil), cooled
grapeseed or coconut oil, for the pan
In a pan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add bananas, sugar and cinnamon--- agitate until bananas are coated well. Turn up heat. Splash in the bourbon. Sauté for a few minutes until the bananas are light golden brown. Remove from the heat, set aside. They will be mashed up right before they go into the pancake batter.
In a medium bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Measure the milk into cup and add a little water to the amount. Add the egg, bourbon, melted butter and vanilla. Whisk together.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until combined. Do not overmix. Make sure your mixture is a thick consistency, a little ribbony and not at all runny. You can add a little more dry mix to the wet rather than all at once until you get the right balance.
Mash the bananas and add them to your batter. This smells amazing. I always add more vanilla than I should, but why not? Madagascar Bourbon vanilla is perfect for this recipe.
Preheat your pan at a medium heat. Add oil. Ladle batter onto heated pan. I wait for bubbles to come up from the pancakes to know when to flip, but here’s another thing I do when making pancakes: I think about something happy. I use my favorite green cake spatula that looks like it might melt but never does. It’s silicone. I have my wacky pancake making methods. Whatever works for you is best. Mimosas are a good idea too, or maybe just straight champagne. There’s a good way to begin your Sunday morning.
Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook on each side until golden and ready.
Place the pancakes onto a platter. Serve immediately with more grated cinnamon and warm maple syrup. Enjoy with pleasure.