Careers: Orange and Poppy Seed Pancakes

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

-Is pancake maker a legitimate career choice? It should be if it isn't.-

When I was a child I knew that I was going to grow up to be a world famous brain surgeon. Or Cyclops from the X-Men. I considered both to be exceptional career paths. Regardless, it was plain to say that my aspirations were loftier than the attic in my mother’s house.

With time my ambitions changed. I had the grades, handgun accuracy (thank you afternoons at the range with dad), and language skills to become an FBI officer and so for a while I dallied with that idea with a small nod of inspiration from the morose and comely David Duchovny. However, a realization that putting me in a place where I could legally start knocking mothef***ers out probably wouldn’t benefit anyone, least of all myself.

The brain surgeon idea persisted through all of middle school and the early years of high school. I enjoyed human anatomy and the concept of medicine, but my heart didn’t seem in it. This stemmed in whole from the fact that while I was fine looking at the pulsing meats of a human being, the fact that a broken nail or wiggling baby tooth icked me out seemed a portend eventual problems in the surgical field.

In the end that dream, like my dream of shooting concussive blasts of energy from my eyes in order to protect humanity, was put aside.

-With my penchant for clumsiness it was probably for the best. (Both in regards to medicine and concussive eye beams.)-

Instead, I found myself rather engrossed in marine biology. I took a special class in high school on the subject that culminated in week long trip aboard a research ship off the coast of Catalina. I was fascinated by the inner working of starfish and read up on how book gills functioned. I was engrossed by the biolumiscent organisms that sparked in the toilet when you flushed it on the ship (it flushed with local saltwater) and perused the ship’s library for more information on the chemical processes that made it happen.

Eventually, I dragged my mom with me to a scuba class where we were both, after some tribulation due to some asshole having a panic attack 40 feet underwater during my scuba final and ripping off both breathing regulators from my air tank (and this only an hour after someone stole my wetsuit and left me wearing one three sizes too small), certified. My mom used new talents of ours both as a means of adventure for herself and as a way to encourage me to pursue a possible career. Of course, entrenching yourself in the center of a 60-foot tall funnel of swirling purple fish off the coast of Nevis certainly possess a rather memorable aesthetic of its own.

I began to apply to colleges under a double major of Marine Biology and Genetics. While U.C. Santa Barbara, my first choice due to it’s Marine program, turned me down. U.C. Davis with it’s rather world renowned genetics laboratory, did. With time I began to lean more towards genetics.

I blame an instance where I was meeting with a professor who let me use an electron microscope to look at a strand of recombinant salmon DNA in its raw form. Let me tell you, actually looking at the raw structure of life, the very various chemical bonds and the elements that make them strung together by such primordial but world-making forces that can’t be seen by the unaided eye, well, it has an impact on you.

-An image of poppy seeds up close is a near second, though.-

Unfortunately, science requires math and chemistry courses. While I studied and stumbled my way through math courses such as Advanced Trigonometry with all the grace and certainty of a Yorki in a bobcat cage, Chemistry was my Unmaker. While I rocked chemistry in high school, the college course covered all of my high school knowledge in the first week. After that I was made into its bitch where unbalanced chemical equations whipped me like a pack mule till I was bloodied. An insufferable semester along with the realization that I simply detest lab work and graphed and borderline-but-accepted-plagiarism sans any creative or personal outlook that made up scientific “writing” made me realize that this was not the place for me.

As a perfect straight A student I saw the writing on the wall. I changed the class from conventional grading to a Pass/Fail course that wouldn’t hurt my GPA and, with that, I didn’t even bother to show for the final. Even a perfect score wasn’t going to salvage that wreck.

I went into English because I enjoyed reading and writing, though I doubt I was any good at either at the time. I also picked up a minor in Social and Ethnic Relations (there were 6 of us in the whole college for this keychain degree), because I was a young radical of sorts and nothing matches a dog collar and purple hair like an obscure minor in social justice.

But, then again, I liked writing. With some practice I found I was actually getting - dare I say it – not terrible. I also found that I enjoyed teaching. A few years later and a few student teaching internships as the middle and high school levels and suddenly I had an English degree.

Then the rest happened. Grad school, more student teaching at the college level, etc. I’m now ready to teach at the college and private school levels. (Now if only the economy would turn around and some jobs in that sector would open, we’d all be set.)

-So then, Dear Reader, what did you want to be when you grew up?-

The only thing I had never planned was the career as a food writer, or freelance recipe developer, or cookbook writer. I also didn’t expect to use food as a medium for teaching writing. Heck, I never would have guessed that my CV would look as it does now. I expected a lot more medical conferences or published studies on neural process of nudibranchs to be up on there.

Who would have thought that starting a food blog one day out of boredom would blossom into that? But, then again, life has seen stranger things and I’m sure that stranger still has yet to occur.

I wouldn’t change anything of course (well, I still wouldn’t mind super powers). I love having a career that lets me explore food and all its recesses. I get to investigate, interview, and examine the world and (sometimes) get paid for it. I have a creative outlet that never leaves me wanting. I get to do what I love and get to eat amazing food in the process.

What other job than that of a food writer lets you take pictures and write and make a fluffy skyscraper stack of orange and poppy seed pancakes? I'd argue that you'd be hard pressed to find one quite as rewarding - at least in monetary terms that are both fluffy and dreamy on a cold winter morning with a side of tea, jam, and honey.

Eye beams don't get you poppy seed studded goodness towering high on a plate, and a medical degree doesn't promise you fragrant citrus so much as the smell of another person's humours permanently woven into your skin.

But then again, why dwell on the road not taken? Especially when there are far better things, such as the path you're on now (assuming it's a good one) to reminisce over at the breakfast table instead?

Orange and Poppy Seed Pancakes
Makes about 12 4-inch pancakes

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
3/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
finely grated zest of two oranges
1/4 cup orange juice
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda and powder, salt, and poppy seeds. In another bowl mix together the sour cream, milk, zest, juice, butter, egg, and extract. Add the liquid to the dry and stir until it just comes together.

Heat some oil or butter (about 2 tablespoons) in a skillet over medium-high heat. Spoon about 1/4 cup of batter onto the skillet and cook about 2-3 minutes before flipping and cooking for an additional minute.


  1. Looks delicious :) I may try it with a replacement of chia for poppy :)

  2. Argh, I did the medical school MD career thing, before realizing after 25 years that I was basically a tool for the hospital, who's number one goal (never included in smooth professional ad campaign) is MAKE MORE MONEY. Looking forward to retirement, hopefully in a rural area with as little human contact as possible.
    I like your career path. Want a picture of the purple hair and dog collar.

  3. I have a PhD in molecular biology.
    I'd rather have your job.
    I'm also with burnttoast; pics of the dog collar and purple hair or it isn't true.

  4. I destroyed all those pictures of the hair and dog collar long ago. However, I was a Resident Advisor in the dorms at UC Davis. If you can track one of the Tercero Freshmen down then you'll have verification. (I do have scars from the seven piercings I used to have, and I still own the collar.)

  5. What would you have done if you had to dissect a praying mantis in lab? I think you chose the right path in the end. ;) Nice story--and those pancakes sound perfect for the season.

  6. This was such a wonderful post! I'm a junior in college who has begun to look at PhD programs in marine science, partially so I can have an excuse to dive all of the time. However, English fills my soul in a way that science can't quite. I couldn't live without both. Or without food! If Santa Barbara rejects me as well...I dunno, a career in literary analysis? Pastry school? I may be changing careers as well.

    I love your blog, it brightens my Tuesday!

  7. Sophie: Just go with whatever makes you happy. If that's being a marine biology reporter or writer then go for it! =D

    Fidn ways to combine all the passions into one thing.

  8. I changed my ambitions so many times while growing up... I still don't really know what I should be doing, but I hope I eventually get it. Awesome that you're doing so well career-wise! :)

  9. Terrific post! I'm always immensely curious to see where your writing takes me as I go along, reading and thinking, sometimes musing, sometimes giggling. It is a journey I happily look forward to. (Usually hungry by the end and jonesing to get in the kitchen as well- that's good too :) Glad you found the path you're on- thanks for sharing with all of us!

  10. Now I feel better about my own aspirations; hell, I waited almost ten years to even bother to go to college. So far, I've changed majors only once: from Information Resources to History, and I doubt I'll move again. Maybe minors in ethnic studies or anthropology, but History is where it's at.

    Plus, it's easy for me. Give me a paper to write, and I'm golden. Math equations make me cry. I don't care what they say, algebra is not logical.

  11. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post and laughing out loud many times. I loved Chemistry in school and wanted to do Materials Science...let's just say mine is a sad story...let's not talk about it! Love your blog and look forward to hearing more about you.k

  12. Wasn't it just last year you were saying you'd never write a cookbook? ;) It's funny how quickly plans change and your life moves in an entirely new direction, isn't it?

  13. Hilarious post - as a person in the middle of (yet another) career shift, I sighed and nodded a lot (A LOT) while reading it.

    But then I made these pancakes. And my world is completely rocked. "Pancake" doesn't really start to describe the heavenly pillows of amazingness they are. This morning I couldn't stop to savor them properly, and ate all of my serving while cooking up the rest of the batter, without benefit of further butter, syrup, or jam. JUST the Heavenly Pillows of Amazingness!

    I now have the urge to make them for everyone I know. :-)

  14. Steph: Somedays I still don't want to write a cookbook. LOL.

    Mairsydoats: I'm so overjoyed you liked these pancakes. Yes, they do rock quite a bit (with lemon or grapefruit as well). Congrats on your many career changes. It's never easy, but usually quite rewarding. =D

  15. Steph: Somedays I still don't want to write a cookbook. LOL.

    Mairsydoats: I'm so overjoyed you liked these pancakes. Yes, they do rock quite a bit (with lemon or grapefruit as well). Congrats on your many career changes. It's never easy, but usually quite rewarding. =D

  16. Being fifteen, i have many many ideas for what i want my life to look like. I have gone through a multitude of possibilities over the years, from pro female baseball player to rocker with a mohawk to living in a hammock in a jungle somewhere to living in a yurt and writing...or a box on the new jersey turnpike...and, well, you know how it goes. Now, as a teenager, I feel more lost than ever, but i am looking forward to the years when i get to choose what I am studying! (AKA no algebra!!!!) The pancakes look phenomenal, (like if poppy seed cake and pancakes had a lovechild) and your story was wonderful!

  17. Absolutely loved your post. I have not tried the pancakes yet, but I might have my ten year old try them with her brand new griddle she got yesterday from her Godfather. Sorry about UCSB, I had a great time there for a winter session of their ESL extension program! It was also my first home in the US although that time I came back home before fully immigrating a few years later. Now I should get back to writing my project :o), nice diversion, though...

  18. Such a shame you cant protect humanity with blasts from your eyes, you'd be really famous. Still and all you are not doing too badly, you are after all funny and sarcastic and that almost equals super human. Lovely pancakes by the way

  19. Hmm you are like me! I too had ambition to be doctor.. But later changed mind and now love recipes :)

  20. I have enjoyed perusing your Blog today! My friend and I are in awe over photography on your site. Do you take them yourself? If so, what kind of camera are you using?

  21. Amark: Yes. I use a Canon Rebel and a few lenses, such as a 50mm, 60mm, 30mm. Plus a few of various props.

  22. Garrett, I have had this recipe on my list to make since you posted it. I finally got the chance to make them this morning and they are amazing!!!
    Very delicate, so it takes some skill getting them flipped, but awesome!
    I did replace the sugar with some zero calorie sweetener and the butter with applesauce. Absolutely divine! :)

  23. I prepared it yesterday. It is really delicious. Thanks for recipe!


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