My family had a rich menu of Christmas traditions growing up, but possibly my favorite part of our holiday rituals was getting to the celebration.

At 3:00 am my parents would wake up my sister and I, bundle us up, and load us, along with luggage and a pile of Christmas presents, into our old Suburban.  My sister and I insisted on being separated so our toys, blankets, and books could rule an entire row of seats, but within just a few minutes, and through the majority of the trip, we were lulled to sleep by the rhythm of the tires on pavement.

As the morning sun finally started to peak above the horizon, the family rolled into Dallas where we would recharge with breakfast.  In the early years of our annual journey, this meant a stop at McDonald’s.  My whole childhood I had an extreme aversion to eggs, so I always had the pancakes, served on a styrofoam plate, with a ball of butter and plenty of syrup.  My parents would put away enough coffee to sustain them the rest of the morning and then back on the road we would go.

As the years went on, our breakfast stop evolved from McDonald’s to a little French cafe to our current haunt, Cafe Brazil, the home of my favorite French toast ever and a coffee selection to die for.

As we trucked along, we would sleep, sing, listen to music, make-believe, and get on each other’s nerves.  Resting my head against the window, I could sense the change in the air.  We moved through musky humid Texas, brisk Oklahoma, to frigid Missouri.   I loved the crisp, inviting, aroma of winter weather, a smell that will always remind me of these drives with my family.

Thirteen hours later, weary yet filled with excitement, we would roll-up to my grandparent’s house.  My sister and I would eagerly search the dark neighborhood for the neon star, made by my great-grandpa, that my grandma would hang in her upstairs window; a sign we were home, that it was Christmas.

Things have changed.  Family lives in different places, work demands more his time of year, so it has been several years since the family has made it’s trek to Missouri, but you still need pancakes to get your day started.  Gingerbread pancakes sound like just the thing for Christmas! All the spicy goodness of a gingerbread cookie in breakfast form equals my kind of breakfast.

Gingerbread Pancakes

Makes about 18 pancakes

From Gourmet November 2003

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup brewed coffe, room temperature

4 large eggs

1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Vegetable oil for brushing griddle

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices in bowl.  Whisk together water, coffee, eggs, butter, and lemon juice in a large bowl.  Add flour mixture and whisk until just combined.  Let stand 15 minutes (batter will thicken).

Brush griddle with oil and heat over moderate heat until hot but not smoking.

Working in batches of 3 or 4, pour 1/4 cup per pancake onto hot griddle and cook until bubbles appear on surface until undersides are lightly browned 1-2 minutes.  Flip pancakes with spatula and and cook until cooked through and edges are lightly browned, 1-2 minutes.  Transfer to platter and cover with foil to keep warm.  Brush griddle with oil between batches.  Serve warm with pure maple syrup.  I love my pancakes sprinkled with pomegranate seeds this time of year as well.