“Bender of Birches” and Reinventing the Pancake Mix

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Signs of springtime in Maine are popping up everywhere. I’ll miss the snow events that had snow coming in like a princess to a ball with all of its fluffy gatherings as white mounds everywhere. I’ll also miss the snow events that come in more blustery and full of bravado, as though intent on making a bullish, lasting statement. However, I’ll no doubt have another opportunity to experience those events once again, and so for right now, I am impatiently awaiting flowers in my garden to push up through the earth and leaf covering to see what they can see in the brilliance of springtime sunbeams. As I get the opportunity to get out in the woods again, I know there will be lots of surprises in amongst the leftovers of the previous season. Looking out today, I noted trees limbs were becoming laden with bloated buds, nearly ready to burst forth in showy new foliage.

Springtime and youth seem to go together when thinking of fresh new growth. When I was a youngster, there was a childhood game called “birch bending.” Robert Frost wrote about this extreme sport in his poem “Birches.” A springtime and summer adventure it was to climb a young birch sapling until it bent near to the earth. Although to be “a swinger of birches” was an art form I did not attain, I knew a fair number of childhood friends who did. One must be patient to wait until the saplings have thawed and then commence to work the sapling’s stiffness out of it until finally, it can be climbed out to the tiptop. The eventual swaying of the tree marks the timing for the tree to bend and the climber to be launched. At this point, the climber must reach up toward the top as high as they can, and with the careful swinging of your legs, jump from the tree, holding the top of the tree on the way down. This action gives a parachute effect. I was a tree climber, but not a fan of birch bending. Birch bending is an adventure most assuredly marked with pokes in the eye, scratches on the belly, and ripped clothes. Surely, I would run into these markings with regular tree climbing, but somehow, I felt more in control and less at the whim of the tree.

A couple of weeks ago I found a new line of pancake mix at the grocery store made by the company “Birch Benders.” At first glance, I thought this meant the main ingredient was sourced from birch trees; but then being from New England, I’m aware of what a birch tree is and further, I know about birch bending. Sometimes we can get tripped up with too much knowledge. Birch Benders is in Colorado, but co-founder Matt LaCasse grew up in Maine where he participated in birch bending. Perhaps, he took up the challenge in 2011 of creating this line of pancake mixes, as a nod to Frost’s “Birches” last line – “One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.”

Birch Benders has an impressive line of pancake mixes. Of course, they have the classic recipe that uses wheat flour as the main ingredient. The classic has some variations, such as sweet potato, buttermilk, and chocolate chip. There’s also six-grain, protein, and gluten free. The one I’m most excited about is the Paleo version. No, I don’t follow the paleo diet, but I can eat almond flour, coconut flour, and cassava, which are the three main ingredients with no other added ingredients which I can’t eat, particularly grains. This option has opened a whole new world for me! Last week was the first time in four years I had had a pancake. Yes, I savored the melting of homemade butter on a light, fluffy, naturally sweet, pancake lightly drizzled in maple syrup.

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I’m going to experiment with the Paleo mix, as I imagine funnel cakes, muffins, crepes and as a substitute for sandwich bread. However, I know from experience baking with almond and coconut flour is not exactly challenging, but it is different than baking with wheat flour, so I’ll need to make adjustments. The texture is grainier than the typical, processed flours of today, but the payoff in flavor is satisfying, and the end product is full of bio-available nutrients and high in dietary fiber. The package says just to add water. I prefer to add an egg to each 1 ½ cups of mix.

Lillian is a Community Visionary. She is an advocate for several important political and social causes. She speaks and writes on local food, human trafficking, and caring for the caregiver. She believes building community is about justice, environment, sustainability, retreat and uses this philosophy to weave together people and ideas from diverse areas.

Lillian strongly believes that collaboration, cooperation and communication is key to thriving communities. Noting that local is not only about miles, Lillian tirelessly works to promote local and global community development that is affordable, sustainable and just through speaking engagements; writing, policy development and consulting. A staunch advocate for non-GMO foods, she was instrumental in developing the Maine GMO labeling bill and has organized local food and farmer forums. She serves on several boards and task forces and is a founding committee member of the Local Food Day: Maine Fiddlehead Festival.

Friends have been known to call Lillian the “food evangelist”, reflecting her passion for working with local foods. When she is not helping people or visiting farms, she spends time with family and friends; writing books; blogging and lingering over a cup of coffee or glass of wine. Her friends know her for describing coffee as one might describe wine; although, often waxing into issues of fairtrade, climate change and sustainability. She also enjoys reading, running, Pilates and visiting museums. Check out her website at lillianlake.com.

“Birch Benders” is a Colorado based company. The pancake mixes co-founder, Matt LaCasse, is from Maine.

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