Just a salad and pancakes. Or palačinke as they were called in Slovene. That was our go-to dinner, my mom and I, when we didn’t want to make a fuss, and tried to be somewhat healthy but still satisfy our sugar cravings. A nice romaine lettuce with a simple vinaigrette and dozens of hot, rolled-up palačinke filled with apricot jam. My favorite meal ever.
Both of my parents came to New York City from Slovenia (via a short stint in Brazil) in the 1970s, where they settled and eventually had me. My dad was a chef and my mom a dentist. Both extremely hard working, extremely dedicated to their family, and extremely Eastern European in their ways. Apart from a penchant for store-bought ice cream and Pepperidge Farm cookies, they still really don’t understand much of the American way of life or customs and have steadfastly stuck to what they know. Which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Running a restaurant kept my father out of the house more often than not, so my mom and I would depend on each other for dinner. I learned to cook at a young age and often surprised her with elaborate meals when she got home from a 12-hour day. Cookbooks were my everything, and we had tons: searching for new recipes and interesting cuisines was a daily after-school affair.
Both my parents were great cooks, but my mom was the dessert maven. Just thinking about her flourless chocolate cake or buttery apple torte still makes my mouth water. But the palačinke were really her thing. They’re like a thicker version of a French crèpe, rolled up with sugar and butter, chocolate, fruit, or jam. You can never eat just one. Or two. Or three. I’m sure I’ve eaten 20 in a sitting.
And part of the joy was helping my mom make them. In our narrow galley kitchen, she cooked them and I rolled them up as they came off the griddle. As they piled up in a beautiful little pancake pyramid, we would start eating. And keep cooking. And eat some more. We never ended up leaving the kitchen during these palačinke sessions. We’d scarf them all down, clean up the kitchen, and go watch re-runs of I Love Lucy and Bewitched on TV Land. She taught herself how to speak English watching those shows. They were her absolute favorites and became mine too.
As the years went on, our special dinners became less frequent. My relationship with both my parents, especially my mom, is now strained and practically non-existent. It hurts me beyond words to admit that, but it’s the unfortunate truth. She instilled in me a love for sweets that led me to the career I’m in today, only she’s not in my life to see it.
Most people have never heard of palačinke; I love making them as a snack at work and introducing people to my world of apricot-filled nostalgia. Here’s to hoping I’ll be rolling them in the kitchen with my mom again sometime soon.
Thea Habjanic (@ theahabjanic) was the Executive Pastry Chef of La Sirena Ristorante at The Maritime Hotel in New York City and is now the Executive Pastry Chef at Mercado Little Spain by Chefs José Andrés and Ferran Adriá.
1 c. milk
1/3 c. seltzer or club soda
1 c. flour
1/2 t. salt
1 T. sugar
Whisk the eggs and milk together in a bowl.
Add the seltzer or club soda.
Sift the flour, salt, and sugar together and incorporate it into the liquid until there are no lumps.
Let the batter rest in the refrigerator for half an hour before using.
Heat an 8- or 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat.
Add a small amount of butter to cover the bottom of the pan.
Ladle about 1/4 cup of batter into the pan and tilt and turn the pan so that it spreads evenly. (The pancake should be semi-thick, not as a thin as a French crèpe.)
Cook for 2 - 3 minutes and flip. You're looking for a nice golden color and some brown spots.
(The first one tends to be the ugliest. The more you make, the better they look.)
Continue cooking and stacking on a plate.
When ready to eat, they can be filled with jam, melted chocolate, fruit, or whipped cream, or smeared with butter and sprinkled with sugar and lemon juice. The possibilities are endless.