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We’re over the hump of February, into the home stretch. This makes sixteen Story Starters. Please to enjoy.

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I recoiled out of the way and my hand instinctively went to cover my face. That was all instinct, spinal cord stuff, not even negotiable. If you’ve never been punched in the face, the experience is not what you might think, so I’ll try to take you through it.

It’s not about pain, at first. It’s the dumb shock of I can’t believe that guy just punched me. There’s a presumption in modern society, and seemingly a safe one, of your day not having any face punching in it. Then all of a sudden, there it is, and aside from the automatic flinch response you’re just stuck in a few moments of disbelief. And this guy was a work acquaintance, right there between the cubicles, not some nutjob in a bar fight. It was as out of the blue as a chunk of frozen biowaste from a 727.

TAKE THATThe next stage still isn’t pain. It’s rage, and the immediate desire to screw up this guy’s face as much as he did yours. I know what you’re thinking—we’ve come so far since our homo erectus days, and yet this is all it takes for our higher brain functions to go all ook-ook-screech-screech? I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you the societal implications of it and I’m not here to claim what I did was right. I’m just telling you that you will want to sock the guy. You take your hand off your wound, as I did, and you ball it into a fist, and you try to put the guy down. I had thrown around the word visceral before like I knew what it meant, but I had never actually felt it. This was visceral. Tackling him and throwing my knuckles into his goatee—that was damn near primeval.

The next step is pain, but the degree of pain depends on how you got hit. With your standard cheek or jaw smash, you get surprisingly modest aftereffects. You can get cold-cocked full on in the jowl and still fight back at nearly one hundred percent. But that’s not how he clocked me. He got me full in the nose. And the nose is connected to both tear ducts and about a million pain receptors. The tears start blurring up your vision and the broken blood vessels give you this feeling of face weight that you just want off of you. It makes you have to take a moment and put your hand over your face. It makes you rub your eyes and sniff blood and then wish you hadn’t sniffed.

Finally, once the pain overcomes your endorphins and you realize your lip is split and you’ve bitten your tongue at some point, you’re ready to advance to the final stage, which is actually using the miracle of language to negotiate the situation. Unfortunately your face is messed up and certain crucial components of language are mangled, so the sounds you make, once you finally reach this stage, are unfortunate.

“Whad da hehw, Jawwy?!”

Thus began the post-punching parley between me and Jerry. His response was similarly undignified.

“You thlept wif my waff, you bathterd.”

Ah, we had finally come to it. Our nostrils were both bleeding in little twin cascades that had flowed down onto our lips, giving us this crazy-person lipstick look. Charming.

 I tongued the inside of my cheek, feeling a raw patch there. “If you evehw tauked to huh, Jawwy, you’n know she been depwessed wif yo welathunthip fow moths. …Jethuth. Doeth anyone haf a napkin or thomthing?”

—–

For research, I actually Googled “how does it feel to be punched in the face.” Google actually came back with several hits — so I ducked. Waka waka. *honks clown horn*

Dinner: Homemade guacamole. The avocadoes had been sitting on my counter for a week, and just today they entered perfect ripeness. I like guac with a lot of raw red onion and garlic in it, so I pretty much feel like an alium-breathing dragon about now. That and some freshly-squeezed lime juice and some salt completes the recipe. I chopped flour and corn tortillas into triangles and baked them (425°F for about 10 minutes, or until slightly browned) to make homemade tortilla chips. Yum. *breathes onion miasma*

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Wherefore art thou pancakePancakes are the breakfast chameleon, the food of a thousand faces, the Proteus of the pan. The basic recipe follows, but it’s the variations that get me all excited.

1 cup all-purpose flour (or 1/2 cup all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup wheat flour) 
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 pinch salt
1 cup milk (or buttermilk)
1 large egg
1 tbsp vegetable oil

Mix the dry ingredients together (through salt) in a large bowl. Mix the wet ingredients together (milk through oil). Whisk the wet into the dry until you have a batter that will coat the back of a spoon. Don’t overmix–you don’t want to form gluten and make your pancakes tough. Pour out scant 1/4 cups of the batter onto a hot griddle or pan over medium heat. Cook for a few minutes on each side, flipping once.

This Sunday-morning superhero dresses in a variety of costumes. Try any of these variations:

  • Apple-cinnamon pancakes: Add 1 medium apple, shredded, and 1 tsp ground cinnamon to the batter. Serve with brown sugar and butter.
  • Banana pancakes: Add 1 large mashed banana to the batter. Serve with toasted walnuts.
  • Pear pancakes: Add 1 medium pear, shredded, and 1 tsp lemon juice to the batter.
  • Lemon pancakes: Add the zest of 1 lemon and half of its juice to the batter. Serve with powdered sugar. Or chocolate chips. Oh yes. Also works great with an orange or other citrus fruit.
  • Berry pancakes: After you pour your pancakes onto the pan, quickly drop 4-8 small berries into the batter. Works well with blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and cut-up strawberries. I like to keep plenty of syrup on hand to balance the added tartness.
  •  Hearty oat pancakes: Add 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 cup rolled oats (or even leftover oatmeal) to the batter. Great with fruit served on top. Also works with just about any hearty, non-sugary cereal with small pieces; muesli-style cereals with dates and raisins work great.
  • Candy bar pancakes: Add 1/4 cup shredded coconut and 1/4 cup toasted walnuts to the batter. Drop chocolate chips into the pancakes as they cook.

Inspired by the deliciousness of pancakes, my girlfriend and I once imagined a pancake-based superhero whose name was Flapjack. His power consisted of emitting huge pancakes the size of mattresses, which would enravel and trap bad guys in griddle-hot justice. His catch phrase was, “You’ve just been FLAPJACKED!” And now you have been, too.

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