Having something to celebrate is particularly important when the great outdoors is providing little in the way of merry moments. This week we are fortunate in having two events to choose from.
Today is Groundhog Day, time to bundle your nearest and dearest into warm clothes, pack a picnic breakfast, lunch and dinner and head for the nearest groundhog hole, where all can while away the breathless hours waiting to see whether the groundhog will emerge and spot his shadow.
(Since a groundhog by any other name is a woodchuck, it is also an opportunity to see how much wood a woodchuck would chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood.)
All that lies between the outdoorsiness of Groundhog Day and the gluttonous feasting of Shrove Tuesday is a good night's sleep. Traditionally, tomorrow is a day of partying, the last chance for excess before Ash Wednesday and the austerity of Lent. In some places it is Mardi Gras or carnival, a true bacchanalia. More widespread are the smaller celebrations centering on the custom of eating pancakes, which contained both fat and eggs, two things forbidden during Lent by an earlier and stricter church.
In some places, pancakes were not only eaten, they were carried in races, and although the practice has spread to some American communities it would probably lead to disaster in Washington's wintry streets.
If you do not wish to go all out with a full-fledged, costumed bacchanalia, you can still celebrate Shrove Tuesday by making and serving pancakes -- American Johnnycakes, Russian blinis with sour cream and red caviar, French crepes or, my choice, German apple pancakes.
This is a rich, custardy concoction which I was first served in the Red Star Inn, a famous German restaurant in Chicago which had been in the same place, serving the same pancakes for many years. Then urban renewal came along and tumbled the restaurant and its justifiably famous pancakes into rubble.
I next encountered it under the name Berkshire Apply Pancake at the Red Lion Inn in Stockridge, Mass., and there, to my pleasure, they had had the good sense to print the recipe: 2 eggs beaten 2 cups flour 3 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon melted butter 1 1/3 cups milk 1/2 teaspoon vanilla 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 2 apples
Peel, core and slice the apples. Mix all other ingredients, except the butter, together until moist. Melt butter in a medium-sized frying pan. Place apples in pan and cover with batter. Bake in hot (450-degree) oven,, turning once, 10-15 minutes. Serves 2. (Very generously.)
They suggest serving it with brown sugar sprinkled over the top and with maple syrup, but I prefer it sprinkled with confectioners sugar. Don't use a smaller pan or the pancake will cook dry on the edges and run in the center, and, lastly, it is easiest to turn the pancake if you place a good-sized plate on the stove, up-end the pancake onto it and then slide it back into the pan.