Before the World Changed: Teff Pancakes (Gluten Free)

by Maria Theresa Maggi on January 17, 2015

teff carob pancakes with persimmon

The world I walk around in every day here in Moscow changed forever last weekend when 3 people were shot and killed and another critically injured by the adoptive son of one of the victims. I didn’t know anyone involved in the shooting directly, but Moscow is a small town, and, I used to like to joke, that means there’s only one degree of separation. I felt that very painfully this week, since many of my long-time friends WERE friends with those who died, or knew their family members. I fall into that last category. The grown son of one of the victims, who was a prominent businessman in our community, is my financial advisor. I had prayed, absurdly, that maybe it was his uncle instead of his Dad, who had been killed. Both have given many years of service to this community. But no.

In this day and age when “reaching out” means posting a comment or reuqesting a friend on a social media forum, one of the things I’ve always loved best about Moscow is that people often place each other, and spend time talking in public places to each other, by finding out who they know in common, who their kids know in common, who lives where someone else used to iive, and so on. While it may seem like an outdated version of  elders interested who your “people” are, it actually seems to happen quite spontaneously in the course of conversation and enraptures both young and old alike.

When I bought my house last Spring, I can’t help but believe part of sealing the deal had to do with me walking in to this young couple’s home and all 3 of us discovering we were artists; that we had been in the same collaborative art show, they as visual aritsts and me as a poet (I remembered their work without having known them); that I already knew the next door neighbor they praised (she works at the university library); and best of all, that the husband had known my son Mike when they were both art students in sculpture lab, also at the university. By the time I left, we were hugging. By the next day, I was buying the house.

And that’s not all. When I told another artist friend of mine about my new house adventure, she asked me where it was. She had often told me of a little house she and her husband had lived in when they first married over 30 years ago. As she would talk about it, I would think to myself, “that sounds so cute. I wonder if I’ll ever find a cute little house like that I like as much as the one I have now.” When I told her the address, there was a shocked pause on the other end of the phone. Then: “Maria. That’s the house. The one we used to own when we were first married.” When I was going through the rezoning process for my old house on Asbury Street, it also turned out that one of the city councilmen, back on the council after many years off, had lived in the one I was buying in between when my friends and the young couple had. Somehow this made him more eager to support the rezone. You get the idea. Just about one degree of separation.

So when something goes this wrong, and someone this troubled and armed (tragically but, in my unpopular view on gun control here in Idaho, also regrettably) it really DOES affect everyone. And in order to go on, we all go into that place of finding comfort in grief through interconnection. I noticed a moving example of this just a couple of days after the shooting while standing in line at the grocery store near my new house. The young man who was checking the groceries was apparently asking each customer if they knew anyone involved in the shootings. The woman ahead of me had known the manager of a food establishment who had been killed. Though she didn’t know her well, it seemed to help her to say what she knew, and how shocked and sad she was. When it was my turn, this young man asked me, too. I could see in his eyes he had something to say, so when I said no, not directly, but it had affected a lot of my friends,  and it was making me very sad, I took my own turn and asked him if he knew any of the victims. He said he may have seen one of them who was a popular and well loved physician’s assistant in the community at the student health center when he was a student at the university once or twice. “But,” he said, “my Dad’s a doctor in the emergency room, and I’m sure HE knows her.” His eyes were bright with trauma, and trying to be kind, do the right thing, and hold it all together. It nearly  moved me to tears.

I’m not sure how we all go on from here, but I know it will have something to do with reinforcing our interconnectedness and trying to put one foot in front of the other. Trying to wake up to notice and share the simple pleasures of the day, like a friend who posted a shot of  the moon high in the sky at sunrise a few days ago. Or someone who shared with us loving  messages of comfort a neighbor had written on car windows and hoods after a slight dusting of snow. Even the obituaries have details about those who died that make us feel as if we know them, even if we didn’t.

Breakfast is a literal way to start over. And teff is the smallest of all the grains/seeds. And yet it is a true powerhouse–full of calcium, high in protein, and very filling. When I need fortification and to be sure to stay full for a long time, these are the pancakes I make. I like to think that it’s going to be the tiniest of things that save us from being completely swallowed by the depth of grief. The flour I used in these pancakes is made from teff that is grown in our region. So perhaps it is a way of saying we have within us the resources to go on, and to make the world better in memory of those who did that so well and had to leave us so suddenly and so violently.



Many years ago, Joan Didion wrote at the beginning of The White Album that “we tell each other stories in order to live.” An excellent New York Times Opinionator blog post called “Getting Grief Right”  puts forth a similar  notion, reminding us the power of telling the story of our loss  instead of worrying if we are stuck too long in anger or denial or depression. I tell the stories I tell here for the same reasons: to tell these stories helps me to live. I spent the week after this shooting very sick with a flu bug of some sort, and only now am I returning to what I might have called “normal” before all this happened. But that’s the nature of living story. If it’s a powerful one, it changes us forever.

This afternoon I posted a link to my blog’s facebook page for someone on McDougall Friends. When I saw my happy smiling self holding those prize mushrooms, I wanted to be her again, without the knowledge that such a horrible tragedy had happened yet again in our community.  It’s happened a handful of times in the 22 years I’ve been here which is way, way too many times. I kept it up for a while, and let my former innocence haunt me. Eventually she called me back here, to tell you the story. And to remember that 3 days before it happened, it was my birthday. And there was bright sun with no wind for over an hour in the middle of the day. That I had sat in that sun with my eyes closed, soaking up some much needed vitamin D. And that as I had done that, I realized that that, and that alone, was what I  really wanted to do on my birthday: to sit in the sun in the tiny little forest that is now my front yard, and feel in that January sun the inevitable promise of Spring.

I didn’t know that within the hour after I came in that gift would be swallowed up by a tule fog and freezing rain that would last for days. I didn’t know there would be such violence shrouded in that mist of days to follow. I didn’t know I would be telling you this story. I just knew I was sitting in a little tiny forest in the sun, a wonderful place for healing to begin. When the sun came out again a couple of days ago, and my fever had broken, I sat there again, my eyelids closed, soaking up the promise of Spring for a few precious minutes. Somehow, in these small moments, and in the tiniest of grains or seeds, great strength to continue is imminent. I have to believe that. And so I do.

Maria (moonwatcher)






Leave a Comment

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Teresa January 17, 2015 at 8:12 pm

I am so saddened by the tragedy in Moscow. As I have mentioned before, I have 2 sons going to the U of I. My oldest son began his freshman year right when Katie Benoit was killed. So this latest shooting was a reminder of how I received the notice about Katie Benoit, as the local police where searching for her killer, but somehow my son, who lived on campus did not. Lots has changed regarding campus safety has changed, thankfully.

I love the Moscow community! This violence does not coincide with the peaceful, beautiful community I know.

Maria, thanks for showing and being all that is so wonderful about Moscow. I look forward to trying another of of your wonderful recipes!


2 moonwatcher January 17, 2015 at 8:57 pm

Dear Teresa, your heartfelt comment brought tears to my eyes–I had to get up and walk away for a minute. Thank you for reminding me about your sons being at U of I. That must have been scary for you and your oldest when Katie Benoit was killed. I was outside watering the night she was shot and had just gone in to the dishes or I would have heard it. I worked to get a pocket park put in just down the street from where it happened and some of us still hope to have a bench there in her honor when it is finished. Thanks for your love of the Moscow community, for following the blog, and calling my recipes wonderful!


3 Patti Hoover January 17, 2015 at 9:00 pm

My friend lives in Moscow and we talked this week about how hard this senseless tragedy is on the Moscow townspeople. Praying for you as you grieve the loss of peace and safety at home.


4 moonwatcher January 17, 2015 at 9:55 pm

Thank you so much Patti, and welcome to the blog. All the kind words and prayers and love help all of us during this sad time. Much appreciated.


5 Airyfairycelt January 18, 2015 at 7:29 am

Oh I am so sorry to hear about the loss there, was it his father you say, how awful. Please send very good supporting and loving wishes to this son for these losses are hard to bear.
Second loss in two days I have been told of, it seems so sad the world being such a violent place and yet so beautiful too.
I hope your friend Is able to cope with his grief as there seems to be loving people about him. My friend and her loss at XMAS, has her reeling but she too has loving support around her.
I so wanted to say happy new year but perhaps they too will get there eventually. I just wanted this year to be better than the last one.
Anyway my very good wishes for good things for you moon watcher and all around. Thank you for our healthy present of the teff pancakes for the winter health and cheer. You are so very kind in the middle of all this carry on too.


6 moonwatcher January 18, 2015 at 9:11 am

Dear Airyfairycelt–thank you for your kind kind words. I agree, the world is BOTH a beautiful AND violent place. It’s our challenge to live in that paradox as lovingly as we can manage. I am sorry for the loss your friend is also experiencing. Good thoughts and prayers for all of us.


7 Veronica January 19, 2015 at 3:48 pm

That is so terrible something like that happened, and so close to you. The senseless loss of life … I have no words. My heart goes out to the victim’s friends, family, you and the entire community of Moscow. The closeness of the people makes it that much more real. I hope that closeness also helps with healing.
In the midst of that, the memory of your home is warm story; like it wasn’t a coincidence you ended up there.
I love your idea of using teff for pancakes, and the symbolism of the little things that help rebuild. I love teff in the injera bread when I go to the local Ethiopian restaurant; I’ll have to try it in some pancakes, as well.
Again, I’m very sorry to hear about the tragedy. Your words and writing about it give me the opportunity to send warm and kind thoughts to you all.


8 moonwatcher January 19, 2015 at 6:12 pm

Thank you for the heartfelt support, dear Veronica. You are right about the closeness of the community–it goes both ways–the hurt is more deeply felt and healing more intricately shared. I’m glad you like the idea of using teff for pancakes, too. And I especially like that you liked the symbolism of little things helping to rebuild. Thank you, my friend, for all your warm and kind thoughts to us all.


9 Michelle January 23, 2015 at 8:56 am

Maria: thank you for you touching words on this sad loss of good people. I hope you and your community are beginning to heal – sharing the stories of your connections and memories is powerful medicine in this way. I am Irish American – so know the need of the Wake to commemorate in stories our connection to the departed.

May all be well and in balance again soon – Michelle


10 moonwatcher January 23, 2015 at 9:26 am

Dearest Michelle–thank you for reading and for this loving comment. All of the comforting words are helpful, and yes, commemoration in stories is indeed a deeply healing ritual. All you say here is greatly appreciated. xp


11 Gena January 25, 2015 at 6:00 am

This is beautiful, Maria. I’m so sorry to hear of the tragedy in your community, but I love your ideas about breakfast as a rebirth — I feel that way about mornings in general, and cherish them, along with their repasts.

Great recipe, too — I have yet to master teff!


12 moonwatcher January 25, 2015 at 9:37 am

Thank you, Gena, for these kind words–much appreciated. I am so happy you like the dieas about breakfast as rebirth–I have long believed that, and as a young woman after a tough day I would make myself breakfast food for dinner. I have come to love the morning too, and like you, I cherish it. Today the sun is high enough here up north that I actually saw it come through my bedroom door this morning. Oh joy! And yes, I agree, teff is a tough one. This is my best success with it so far.


13 Nikki January 29, 2015 at 2:04 pm

Do you have the nutrition?


14 moonwatcher January 29, 2015 at 2:27 pm

I’m sorry Nikki, I don’t.


15 Hadas May 9, 2015 at 9:28 am

Hello, I don’t know you and I’m sorry for the trauma you went through, but I wanted to let you know that I’ve made these several times because I had teff flour laying around and I think I will continue to buy teff flour just to make these. I’m new to pancake making and I’ve made a few modifications: I use 3 tbs cocoa powder, sub 1/2 tbs arrowroot starch for the tapioca (because that’s what I have), and use 3/4 cup milk and add 3 tbs canola oil to help with consistency. I also use pureed pumpkin in place of the banana if I have it. Thank you for the great recipe!


16 Maria Theresa Maggi May 9, 2015 at 9:37 am

Thanks Hadas! So glad you are living the teff pancake life!! 🙂 Arrowroot sounds like a great sub for the tapioca, and I imagine pumpkin would work great in place of banana. Good for you being creative!


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