Rearmed, I am able again to battle a burgeoning culinary outrage -- pancake syrup packed in little plastic packets. I am worried about global warming and the Arizona immigration law and BP and the Mets' starting rotation and, lately, the mental health of Lady Gaga, but I get serious when it comes to flapjacks and the stuff I pour over my stacks, long and short.
In this, I am not alone. My friend Bill McShane of Deer Park for years has been a recon man in the Real Maple Militia. If Bill plans breakfast anywhere but home, he packs a flask of good, old American Grade A. You will not see Bill peeling back lids on caskets of unidentifiable ooze. Dignity demands more.
When older people begin advancing elaborate rationales for things they - but few others - regard as important, those other people are apt to think, uh-oh, it's started. We all know geezers who swear good health depends on a strict diet of peanut butter and bologna sandwiches or that it is perfectly fine to answer the front door dressed only in Joe Boxers.
So I know the stakes are high and that my children may already be Facebooking one another with posts that begin: "Do you know what he's doing now?" Or: "Check on Mom - quick."
But someone has to protect traditional values, I say, and, at least when it comes to flapjacks, I consider myself as well-suited as anybody. When a stout lad in blue-collar Brooklyn, I ate pile upon pile of pancakes. "Growing boy," my mother would say as she eased three more moons of batter onto the griddle and I awaited with a bottle of Log Cabin, the family favorite. My father was a truck driver and Mom, a secretary. Real maple was for people on Shore Road.
Then, in the early '70s, heavily influenced by Woodstock Nation and the original cast album of "Hair," my wife, the four kids and I "dropped out" to Vermont for a year.
We met the Murray farm family up the road. In spring, the Murrays boiled sap for syrup - 40 gallons to recover one of Green Mountain Gold - and though they didn't have much money, the Murrays offered us a big, twist-top can of their precious yield. Back then, it was like tucking $35 in our rural mailbox - a gesture as sweet as the gift.
I was hooked and haven't bought a bottle of phony "table syrup" since. The children might lack money for college but, boy, their pancakes would taste good.
We established a network of New England and upstate suppliers. My sister-in-law in Rochester sent a quart along with the grapefruit marmalade she scores from a covert Canadian source. A pal in Pittsfield mailed a gallon, but the package leaked and the post office sent it back, sticky, to Massachusetts and likely put my associate on a no-fly list. My wife and I made our own buys, too, stopping at farmhouses for whatever we could find - the winsome, honey blonde Grade A, or sensuous, soulful, brunette B.
So at home we were set. But in eateries, I grumpily settled for the mummified goop that most often accompanied my favorite meal - short stack, one scrambled egg. Surrender of this sort threatened to shrivel the soul, but, as it turns out, not the waistline.
Maple syrup has only 40 calories per tablespoon, according to Vermont Living online magazine, while corn syrup - primary ingredient of most packaged stuff - waddles in with 60. A single packet of Kraft pancake syrup - so says the manufacturer - adds 150 calories to breakfast. And to think: I averaged four a sitting!
"Progress," I often sighed aloud when the containers arrived - until, one day, struggling with a lift-up tab, yanking and swearing and finally, yes, biting, I announced, "No more." Radicalized at last, I enlisted in the Maple Militia.
Recently, a mission took me to a diner on Jericho Turnpike where a waiter noticed the jug I brought to breakfast.
"We had a customer the other day ask if we had real maple syrup," said the waiter. "I told him, no, too expensive."
"A shame," I said.
"You carry your own?"
He whisked away the plastic packs that came with my order.
"Man of principle," he decided.
"Thanks," I said. "Don't tell my kids."