I grew up in a little beach community named Sandbridge, in the far South East of Virginia. It’s so close to North Carolina that you could drive a car down the beachfront and get to the border crossing in twenty minutes. Not that anyone does that (it’s illegal). There are no roads between Sandbridge and our neighboring state. In fact, the only way to get there directly is to sail down the coast, take a motorboat through the bay or bike through the wild-life reserve that sits right on the border.
On the other side of Sandbridge, the North End, there’s a navel base. If you’re an officer, you can breeze on through from Sandbridge into the base and make your way to the Boardwalk, the social center of Virginia Beach.
But if you’re a civilian, the only way in or out of the community is via Sandbridge road — a long, dangerously-curved piece of earth with five-foot ditches on either side.
It’s an isolated place, and that’s exactly what has preserved it from excessive development. There’s one stop light (installed when I was 17). There’s one market (you don’t have to wear shoes to shop). There are two bars (both serve lots of fried food and host bad cover bands). And until I was 14, the only source of entertainment (other than the beach) was a crumbling arcade / ice cream shop / put-put golf course. It was replaced by a condo.
Growing up, my younger brother Robert and I used to while away sunny days by biking around the neighborhood. Or, he would go fishing. I would read in the shade of my bedroom. Some days it was all we could do just to scrounge up enough change to make the long (1 mile) trek to the market for banana popsicles.
We had few friends. We lived on the North End, the side of Sandbridge populated mostly with retirees. But we kept each other company, despite our occasional adolescent furies.
Those Summers tasted like cream soda, salt water, orange sherbet, cold chicken sandwiches, oily pizza, cheesy broiled tomato toasts and loneliness. Despite both of our best efforts, we were easy targets for bullying. Sensitive kids raised by introverted parents with a lot of feelings and no place to put them? That’s bread and butter for mean kids raised by meaner parents.
But I didn’t come here to talk about bullying, or about loneliness. I came here to talk to you about the way time transforms wounds into fascinating scars. And waffles, that too.
When I return to Sandbridge as an adult, the sounds and scents intoxicate me with a vibrant calm. Tree frogs chorus in the marshes, harmonizing their waaaaaaas. There is the sound of rushing and swooshing as beach air slips through branches of bay laurel and pine. The ocean creates an unending shush-ah-shush. Dragonflies phhht phhht, hovering and darting. The symphony of wood and metal chimes on every porch clank timelessly.
There is salt on the wind. The marsh is balmy sweetness, earthy wetness.
When it rains the whole world is lit up with spicy, sweet, salty perfume. On these days it’s best to step outside in bare feet and walk into the middle of the road, spreading your arms wide to absorb scent and sun into every pore.
There is so much that is the same… but I notice the small changes. Improvements meant to attract tourists (or at least not deflect them). Bike racks, beach pathways that have been bulked up with sand (formerly mud pits). I think the local bar even serves salads now (ones without fried food on top).
When I was 12 the roads used to flood anytime it rained and we would boogie board on the waist-deep water. This is my version of the “when I was a kid we had to walk 5 miles in the snow just to buy bread” story. Except that we had to boogie board to the market to buy… milk and watermelon Laffy Taffy and squirt guns.
Now when I walk along the long, flat roads of Sandbridge I pass by the homes of the children who were so cruel to me and my brother, and I briefly wonder what they are doing with their lives. Then I quickly decide that I don’t care, especially if they’re doing well.
When I visit I no longer feel loneliness.
In fact, I feel nostalgia and see charm everywhere. I fall asleep to the sound of waves and wake up to my father vacuuming like a madman at 8am. I miss it. Like tracing a healed-over scar with your finger, trying to remember all of the details that formed it in the first place. There are things about the scar that make you who you are. And then there are the parts that hurt once, but are long forgotten.
Last May, while visiting my family’s beach house (the one I grew up in) my mum taught me how to make these teff waffles. We have never been a waffle family. We’re a pancake family, through and through. I didn’t even know my parents liked waffles.
But lo and behold, when I walked into the kitchen after an early morning beach run, I found my parents babying a waffle iron — dad on pouring duty, mom tending to the batter.
My dad professed his life-long love of waffles, and my mom nodded exaggeratedly like “I never knew, how did I never know?!”
We could have been a waffle family this WHOLE TIME.
I had a moment then, standing around chatting casually with my parents about breakfast and dreams and God and politics (not all of which we agree on). I’m not certain I realized anything, but I felt something in my gut: this is ours.
Sometimes it hurts, sometimes it’s broken, but all of that is part of the beauty of its unfolding. From child to adult, from parent to grandparent, from pancake-people to waffle-people. We don’t get to choose it, but we do get to choose how we respond as it all unfolds.
So yes, here are some waffles. A recipe my mother developed over a year ago, using her favorite ingredient: teff. They’re crisp and tender, hearty and mild: they’re just what you need to sit with your hurt on a Sunday, each bite a little moment of self-love, acceptance and emotional healing. May they bring you peace and an excuse to load up on sexy toppings.
Note#1: The plant milk in this recipe is Pacific Organic Oat Vanilla Non-Dairy Beverage. As many of you know, I’m annoyingly particular about the products I use in my kitchen. I like Pacific’s Oat milk specifically because it is a. thick and creamy, b. mildly flavored, c. froths up nicely in lattes, d. is fairly sweet with no added sugar (the sweetness in the milk is derived 100% from oats), e. doesn’t contain xanthan gum (I’m intolerant) and f. is affordable and accessible! You can find it in most major grocery stores (Harris Teeter, Target, Safeway, Food Lion, Kroger, Whole Foods, Trader Joes), hippie grocery stores and at a number of convenience markets (CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens).
Note: I realize I didn’t talk up this chia marmalade too much, because I just invented it and it doesn’t have a story. But it’s FINE like in the way a really good looking guy walks by and you’re like oh HELLO YOU IS FINE. It’s tart, sweet, juicy, light and simple — the perfect pair with these grounding, protein-rich teff waffles. ALSO ALSO if you are a pancake person slash undecided voter on the whole pancake/waffle scenario, this teff waffles recipe makes really moist yummy pancakes too. It’s a twofer!
This post was developed in partnership with Pacific Foods. I am their Non Dairy Ambassador for 2017. All opinions/endorsements are my own. I’ve been drinking Pacific milks for years and I’m proud to represent a brand I already use in my kitchen.