Photo Credit: Jenny Mackness
It’s a dark day. The kind of day when the fog hangs low like a gray quilt blotting out the data center behind my house. I like days like these because it feels like the whole world is a garden extending out from the one my neighbors keep around the squat house under my kitchen window. On days like these, I try to forget that I live in the city and pretend that my attic apartment with its slanted walls is a tree house perching in the palms.
In December the sun sets early in Berkeley, if it ever manages to rouse itself and burn through the fog at all. For a week now it’s been hibernating, and the darkness has driven me to my kitchen like a small animal overcome by the urge to build a pantry and put by.
Tonight, I’m roasting a chicken. It’s a big bird, more than two people can eat in a single meal, but we’ll use every bit of it. Something about winter makes me treat food as if of my pre-grocery store ancestors have taken up residence in the dark corners of the house, watching to make sure I don’t waste a mouthful. Even the chicken bones will spend the evening simmering in water to make the broth that tomorrow will be made into a stew, and on the rack under the chicken I’ve slipped the platpan to make the most of the hot oven, seasoning the pan while the chicken roasts.
Photo Credit: L.Richarz
The platpan is a small cast iron skillet that looks like a crepe pan except for seven indentations the size of perfectly round silver dollar pancakes. It’s a pancake pan, a gift from my in-laws, so my husband could continue his family’s Christmas tradition of eating little Swedish pancakes called platar on Christmas morning.
We have been married seven years now, but (don’t tell anyone) we’ve only made platar once. Making platar is a lot of work. Each pancake must be measured out exactly to fill the small holes, and a hungry person on Christmas morning can easily eat dozens.
The first year we were married, huddling around the stove felt right, peeling the little pancakes off the hot platpan and eating them out of hand, just the two of us in a tiny New Hampshire kitchen buried in snow.
Then the platpan was put on a shelf. For seven years, I came up with excuses not to make platar. The first few years we spent Christmas with relatives hundreds of miles from our kitchen. Then the years came when we celebrated Christmas under a pile of that summer’s moving boxes. Almost every year the platpan was dutifully packed away and unpacked as we went from place to place until we got to California where spending Christmas morning standing in front of a hot stove was unthinkable.
In this apartment, the platpan has taken up residence in the cupboard of misfit cooking implements, leaning on its side against the cast iron dutch oven that doesn’t quite fit with the stack of $2 IKEA nonstick pans, a tangled mess of cookware packed into that cupboard so tightly it forces the cupboard door open unless I’m feeling patient enough to sit on the floor and take everything out of the cupboard and put it all back in again.
Usually, I do my best to pretend that cupboard doesn’t exist, but on Thanksgiving afternoon there were too many potatoes to cram into the pot that’s just fine for two people though not big enough for four, and so I was forced to confront the cupboard of misfit cooking implements, and confronting the cupboard of misfit cooking implements meant confronting the platpan.
Photo Credit: robbplusjessie
A lot has changed in the past seven years. Among other things, I’ve learned something about cast iron skillets. Brand new cast iron skillets are ornery, the only cooking implement I know of that fried chicken will stick to in an inch and a half of oil, but something happens to a cast iron skillet over time. The heat and oil build layer after layer into a black patina so smooth you can fry an egg on it without sticking.
For years, I’ve felt like an unseasoned cast iron skillet during the month of December, rigid and ornery and cold, as if every holiday was an attempt at seasoning that dripped off in the warm California winters and fell to the bottom of the oven and smoked. I went through the motions of Christmas, waiting for Amazon to process my orders or standing in line at big box stores, putting up a Christmas tree (except for the one year we didn’t).
Then, this year on Thanksgiving afternoon, I found the platpan, the gray color of an untried skillet with only a few brown battle scars from that first Christmas meal. Holding the platpan felt like holding an interruption, as if seven Christmases had been buried deep in the cupboard of misfit cooking implements under a pile of $2 IKEA nonstick pans and forgotten.
On Black Friday, I dusted off the platpan and brushed it with oil and slipped it into the oven. For the rest of the day I took it out and wiped it down with oil and repeated the process again. And again. And again. Ever since Black Friday, I’ve been seasoning the platpan, watching the color slowly change from gray to a deep russet brown.
Photo Credit: Sarah Sosiak
This year like all the others didn’t feel like Christmas, but I started saying, “Yes.” Yes to the Christmas lights over the arch between the kitchen and the living room. Yes to the little plastic Christmas tree we bought on sale at CVS last year. Yes to Christmas movies and cranberries and cookies and the Christmas straw goat and the RAM garland my husband and his roommates made to decorate a college apartment. And, yes, yes to platar on Christmas morning.
Then this evening I paused while writing this blog post about Christmas to take the platpan out of the oven. The chicken is roasted. The oven is cold, and the chicken bones are seeping into tomorrow’s meal. For the first time I could see a hint of the platpan as it should be, black and glossy smooth. I realized this is how traditions that mean something are built, not slapped on in a factory like the coating on a $2 IKEA skillet but layer after layer, one tiny pancake at a time.
Nana Agda’s Platar 
Recipe courtesy of Claudia Harding who says, “I often added 2 more tbs of flour because the boys liked them to be more like regular pancakes. And they liked maple syrup on them. Traditionally they are served with lingon mixed with cream.”
7 eggs
1/2 c. ice water
1/2 cup melted butter (with more to grease the pan)
2 T. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
Mix the ingredients but do not over beat.
Heat the platpan over high heat with a dab of butter in each ring.
Put about 1 T. batter in each ring of the platpan. Turn heat down. 
Turn cakes with wide knife when crusty-edged.     
If you liked this story, don’t miss Nikki Kallio‘s tomorrow, the next stop on the Holiday Blog Tour.

Photo Credit: Kalavinka