The Pancakes that Cured Cancer

And they are available to you for a co-pay of only $3475 per pancake. Toppings are extra.

I know the title of this post may come off as just a tad flip. As someone who lost both parents to cancer (breast and colon) by age 26, who had cancer herself (Hodgkin’s Lymphona) in her teens, and who expects a second helping to hit any day now, I feel entitled to whip out my “Get-Out-of-Being Flippant About Cancer Jail Free” card for this occasion.

Despite the impact that breast cancer has had on my life, I despise the whole “buy this pink crap to cure cancer” bullshit. Buying pink crap doesn’t cure cancer, it puts more money into the pockets of people who manufacture and market pink crap – most of which probably dumps cancer-causing toxins into the environment, thus perpetuating the cycle of teddy bears wearing pink sweaters.* Granted, I don’t think that participating in the LiveSTRONG with a Taste of Yellow Event will cure cancer either, but at least it’s an excuse to eat pancakes.

*If you want a pink blender because you really like pink, buy a pink blender.  But if you want to help women with breast cancer, donate directly to a place like Breast Cancer Action.  Or help an actual woman with breast cancer to get through a chemo session or go grocery shopping or clean her house.  

If you want more on the Pinkwashing of America, I recommend you to Twisty.

Also: If you want to start an argument about this in the comments? Don’t.

Lance Armstrong ate these pancakes before winning his 7th Tour de France.

I won last month’s Royal Foodie Joust, which meant I got to pick this month’s ingredients; I went with mango, cardamom and brown sugar. As the entries started rolling in, I got a little bummed at not being able to participate this month. So I decided to make something anyway, and submit it to LiveSTRONG.

It was time for breakfast anyway, so I threw together some pancakes with a mango-citrus compote scented with cardamom and ginger and sweetened with brown sugar. I had half a bag of frozen mango in the freezer; frozen fruit is invaluable for throwing together quick sauces for breakfasts or desserts. I tossed the mango into a sauce pan with the juice of one tangelo and one lime and left it to break down while I made the pancakes. Mid-way through, I mashed the large mango chunks with a potato masher and left the mix to thicken into a syrupy, chunky sauce.

I did not mix this batter with a pink whisk.

I wish I could say that pancakes with mango compote is a dish that’s gravid with meaning for me, or one that has some deep emotional connection to my parents. It doesn’t; I just love a pancake. Who doesn’t?

Not flipped with a pink spatula.

The act of cooking does connect me to my mom, though. She was an astounding Italian cook and never used a recipe a day in her life, even when baking. She would cook to express love, she would cook to deal with stress (it wasn’t unknown to find her baking at 3am), she would cook when she was homesick for Italy, she would cook just to cook. When I was younger and we didn’t get along so well – or at all – she would often try to bond with me by inviting me into the kitchen. I virtually never took her up on it. Because I was a kid, and kids are fucking stupid.

I lost her at just the time things were starting to turn around, and I mourn not only her, but everything I’ll never be able to learn from her. Fortunately, I seem to have absorbed some of it, either genetically or via osmosis. Even if I’m not cooking her dishes, the act of cooking on the fly – of throwing a bunch of shit into a pot and, more often than not, ending up with something good to eat – connects me to her.

My father was my best friend and a terrible cook. He knew how to make 3 things – spaghetti sauce, pork chops & mashed potatoes, and broccoli soup – and he needed a recipe in front of him every time. He once left lamb chops on the grill for such a long time that they DISINTEGRATED ENTIRELY. After my mom passed away, his fridge usually contained nothing except Cheez-Whiz, Swiss Miss pudding cups, club soda and OJ (for making Screwdrivers). Whenever I accidentally use salt instead of sugar, scorch scrambled eggs to the pan or eat potato chips for dinner, I feel connected to him.

More importantly, he taught me to curse. He was simultaneously a giant mush and a fucking curmudgeon. He once remarked, of a deceased relative who no one had liked while she was alive, that we should “stuff her bones into an apple crate and be done with it.” How fucking precious is that?
I feel healthier already.

I didn’t ruin anything while making this breakfast and did very little cursing, so I guess this is more of a “mom” dish. I made some simple pancakes courtesy of Mark Bittman and piled them up on a plate. I spooned the warm compote generously over the top, and added a dollop of creme fraiche to add some creaminess and cut the sweetness of the brown sugar and fruit.

The dish was a definite winner. The taste and texture of the compote was rich, sweet and slightly caramelly, but the lime juice added just enough brightness and the creme fraiche just enough tang. There were discernible chunks of mango, but the fruit broke down enough so that the compote would still coat the pancakes and drip down their sides invitingly.

So there you go. LiveSTRONG and prosper.

Mango-Citrus Compote
Serves 4 for breakfast

5 oz. mango, chunked (this is half a bag of frozen mango)
Juice of one tangelo
Juice of one lime
3 tbsp. brown sugar + more to taste
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. salt

Mix all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the fruit starts to break down.

Once the mango softens and is starting to break down, mash it with a potato masher or fork then let it simmer a few minutes more until the mixture is thick and syrupy. Taste, and adjust the sweetness level by adding either more brown sugar or more lime/salt (to up the brightness if the sweetness is too heavy).

Can be made a few days ahead and refrigerated; re-heat before serving.

55 thoughts on “The Pancakes that Cured Cancer

  1. my hubby makes excellent pancakes from a recipe of my mom’s. he’s added buckwheat to it at times and now makes them with whole wheat flour. if you refrigerate the batter it makes very thick pancakes. i can’t say they’re light and fluffy, but they turn out thick and marvellous. :)

  2. adored hearing about your parents. you make me reflect as well. I miss my dad. ;)

    the compote looks scrumptious. very nice job.

    and as for the other thing, right fucking on.

  3. Michelle
    Very inviting pancakes. Excellent entry for Barbara’s event.
    Did those pancakes have buttermilk in them?
    Great stories about your parents. We seem to be surrounded with friends with cancer but they are all full of courage and fight.

    If you have a moment have a quick look at the following blogsite written by the daughter of a dear friend.


  4. You know for a tough girl you touched me. I lost my mother to ovarian cancer, and my father to heart disease/kidney failure a few years later. I never bought into that Pink stuff either. My mother was a social worker and she always stressed to bypass all that stuff and give directly in any way you can(not always monetarily).She knew the money never makes it down to the the cause it supports.
    Your pancakes look so yummy. I made my Royal Foodie Joust entry, but havent posted it yet. Thanks for some great ingrediants.

  5. Michelle, Thanks for sharing your story. I can’t imagine how hard it was to lose both of your parents to cancer so young, not to mention your own battle with it! I lost my father to renal cancer in November, 2006. I was devastated, but thankful that I had him long enough to walk me down the aisle at my wedding and get to know his grandchildren.

    The pancakes look great! I love that compote.

  6. Sorry to hear about losing your parents so young. Sounds like you’ve had a tough time with the big C. There’s a ton of it in my family too- not me personally, but I did lose my dad from renal cancer a few years ago. Sucks.

    Your post inspired me to make pancakes this morning. Happy family.

  7. thanks for the lovely comments, everyone. i tend not to get very personal on this site, so writing this post was tough for me; the words came easily, but hitting the “publish” button was hard.

    gilli: no, just regular milk.

    susan: you’re so lucky that your dad got to share those events with you. one of the toughest things for me is knowing that neither of my folks will be around when i eventually have a kid.

    thanks again, all.

  8. Cooking connects me to my Mother and her Mother, both of whom died of cancer (less than 3 years apart.) They were both amazing cooks and gardeners. I’m just here to help the ball club.

  9. one time not so long ago, my mom and i were fighting – or at least i was yelling at her for making me crazy – and she said, “you know claudia, one day you won’t have a mother to yell at”. and i swear – it stopped me cold, and i said – “you are absolutely right mom”. and i shut the fuck up. because i can’t imagine life without her even if i want to kill her myself half the time…

    it’s sad that you lost your folks so early on in all of your lives. life throws all kindsa shit at us. i suppose there’s not much more to say except, “live grateful and eat pancakes”…

    oh that and – the pink thing makes me crazy… but i’m not a pink kinda gal. and yes – where does all that money go? (rhetorical)

  10. I’m glad you made a recipe based on your very appealing trio of flavors!

    Your life to date has certainly been a trial and I hope your future is healthy and happy.

  11. Thank you for cracking me up. A very refreshing post on a serious subject. My father died of cancer (T cell Lymphoma) and he kept his sense of humor about it all the way to the end. He went down fighting the whole way.

    The pancakes look delicious. Unfortunately, my second mango that I bought for the joust was further along than I thought. To the compost it went! I had some disappointed kids facing plain pancakes tonight.

  12. The compote sounds absolutely delish. I’ve always had my pancakes the boring way (ie. maple syrup), and right now I’m dreaming of mango compote on mine. *droooooools….*

  13. I’m so sorry to hear you have lost both your parents to cancer. That is such a tragedy. Plus having to deal with your own HL also. I love the pancakes and agree about the pink thing. It is a huge marketing ploy that would be better used elsewhere.

    Thanks for supporting LiveSTRONG With A Taste Of Yellow.

  14. Can I just tell you that I about died laughing when I read the line about the “Get-Out-of-Being Flippant About Cancer Jail Free” card? I’ve lurked a while, but had to speak out after I read that. Almost a year cancer free, I feel the need to use that card myself from time to time, thanks for naming it.

    Pancakes look scrumptious too!

  15. I cried a little bit when I read this…for the same reasons everyone else got a little mushy I’m sure …BUT ALSO because I was so happy to hear that you sometimes use salt instead of sugar and maybe that means there’s some hope for me after all.

  16. Great post. I love the stories about your parents. My father has had a non-Hodgkins lymphoma for almost 20 years now. That flippant-about-cancer dark humor is the only way to deal with it sometimes.

  17. So sorry you had to suffer so many losses. You don’t need any stinking events to live strong!

    However, this event has really been inspiring some good recipes.

    I love the mango compote, but pancakes are just one of those things I just can’t make very well. They’re not my strong point. How about I stick those mangoes on some french toast?

  18. claudia: because you were a grown up, and not a fucking stupid kid; good for you. don’t get me wrong, i love kids – they’re cute and floppy, and they say humorous and often inappropriate things. but they’re dumb.

    kate: glad i could name it for you. maybe we should have some actual, physical cards printed up.

    rachel: feel free to throw those mangoes on your choice of carbohydrate.

  19. My sister and I *both* have earned the right to be flippant as well. I say “Preach, sister. Preach.” I feel the same way about the frigging peaceniks who populate my urban intersection every damn night with “honk to bring our troops home” and “no blood for oil” signs. I hear honking all damn night. People, you are not doing a damn thing or raising ANY awareness except for the 4 seconds it took to read and honk. Honkers, you are not doing a damn thing, either. If you want to voice support of the troops, do it at the polls and write letters to your resentatives and better yet, do both and send cards and cookies to the troops, directly. If you want to annoy neighborhood residents and pretend you’re doing something … keep on honking.

  20. julie: i *heart* twisty faster.

    kate: god, there sure are a lot of us who’ve earned the card. it’s slightly terrifying.

  21. My Grandmother died of breast cancer. She was also one of the drunkest and meanest women I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. She liked to drain gin martinis all day, curse at the television set and refer to my mother (her daughter-in-law of so many years) as “that woman.” She taught my brother how to cook and bake because I was always outside skateboarding or playing b-ball. She liked to call me “trouble.” I missed her like all holy hell when I read your post.

  22. btw – i was a horrible kid to raise. left home at 16 and moved to the east village in 1978. i wore spikes and hung out at cbgb’s and looked my mom in the eye and told her i hated her…
    then i lived in the chelsea hotel and well, it’s an intersting life.

    thing is – i got to grow up and my mom got to see it. and it’s all good. i got to have that. now, my dad, he killed himself when i was 28. and i have a lotta regret right there…

    as for kids. ick. i raised one. it was fucking hard work and she went south on us for awhile. but she woke up early and is now pretty awesome. my guy has a 12 and 14 yr old. and quite frankly, it’s a strike against him. but regardless, every other weekend plus whenever – i have kids again in my life. and it’s not gonna be pretty. i can tell you right now. the writing is on the wall… god help us.

    all that to say – abandon all hope of a better past…
    and rock on whichyobadassself… which is obviously what you do, and you do it so well…

  23. sue: she sounds like the kind of woman whose bones my father would have wanted to relegate to an apple crate.

    claudia: holy shit. let us rock on together.

    everyone: thanks so much for your supportive comments, and for sharing your own stories. it’s valuable to have a non-pinkwashed space to just say “holy shit, cancer fucking sucks.”

  24. hey michelle, great post, great writing. love the pancakes and the little captions underneath. ;)

    thumbs up. don’t get why i’ve never properly linked your blog to mine,but i’ve just done that. rock on girl.x

  25. Michelle! I read your blog everyday and so do my sisters….this one hit home today….I have been thinking of my mother like crazy and this was just great. Thanks and I am totally making these pancakes

  26. I always thought you were cool, but now that I know you’re a survivor, you are kick-ass! I love that you attack life (and this blog) with humor and strength.

    As for this recipe, very creative. I am still not sure if I’ll make this joust even though I have 2 recipes I want to try out.


  27. Same here for my mom. I was young too and it sucks.
    But we have to keep going and eating great pancakes like those is the way to go. I love the combination of mango, cardamon and ginger. Beautiful stuff.

  28. Pingback: thursday night smackdown » Blog Archive » And this quiche did my taxes.

  29. I lost my mother to cancer. She lost her mother to cancer. They were both relatively young. It was’t breast but if it were, my mom would have hated the pink stuff.

    However, one of my clients is a young woman with recurrent breast cancer and she loves the pink. She embraces the pink. Her home is pink. Her car is pink. Sometimes I just look at her husband and wonder how can you live amidst of this pink? Pink makes her feel happy and positive. But I think she was pink before all of the awfulness began and then she just grabbed on to it and ran like crazy because she believes in the power of pink.

    And I guess it is the same with the yellow. It makes people aware and feel good and at best maybe will inspire someone to do something helpful. And they can eat your yellow delicious pancakes.

  30. Good for you to putting it out there. Pink stuff is just a way to make $$

    Your pancakes look incredible.. I’ll start eating starch again in about 3 weeks so I’ll make sure to bookmark this…


  31. Girl, cancer blows – you know the routine. I’m really sorry about your rents. It doesn’t have to be cancer either… life can deal out some shitty hands, but we just roll with the punches (and I do mean punches). I’m with ya on the pink marketing. Ever read Welcome to Cancerland? Point is – we define ourselves. You. Me. That’s the way to live. xxoo

  32. LiR: i read that too fast and saw it as “her cat is pink.” and i thought, okay, if we’re dyeing our companion animals to match, we’ve really taken this whole thing too far.


  33. I am SO with you on the pink….and the rest of your thoughts on cancer….yes, yes, yes….and I gotta say your blog has been giving me an inordinate amount of pleasure since I discovered it….

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