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Crêpes that conjure

17 Jul

It may come as no surprise to you, given the focus of this blog, that my favourite scene during the entire first season of True Blood revolves around food.

When leading lady Sookie loses her grandmother to the show’s mystery predator, she has no time to grieve in the chaos that ensues. Early in the episode, a particularly pushy visitor mistakes her grandmother’s last piece of pecan pie for just another post-funeral snack. Sookie rushes over, snatches the pie, and clutches it to her chest with a vehement “that’s gran’s pie” as an empathic friend shoos the imposing neighbours away. Much later, in the episode’s final scene, Sookie sits quietly at the kitchen table, alone for the first time since her beloved gran’s death. As an instrumental version of the funeral song swells in the background, she slowly devours the very last slice of the very last pie her grandmother made, and finally weeps.

I thought of the power food has to evoke not just memories of a person but the whole sensory experience of that person. I thought of my own grand-maman and wondered which, of all the foods she has nourished me with, would most evoke her. It was a tough call, but in the end, her crêpes won out.

Crepes de grand-maman

The thing about these crêpes is that they aren’t crêpes in the strictest sense of the word; you don’t spread the batter to distribute it evenly, resulting in a paper-thin crêpe that you can then roll and stuff with fillings sweet or savoury. They aren’t pancakes, either; not nearly as thick and floury as your average flapjack. No, they fall somewhere, deliciously, in between. Their spongey goodness gives you something substantial to chew on while proving light enough to heap with toppings if you choose. Enjoyed the way she serves them, with real butter and maple syrup, they are pure perfection. I’ve never found anything like them outside of my grand-maman’s kitchen.

Never, that is, until I saw this episode of True Blood and missed her so much that I called her up and had her recite the recipe to me over the phone. I proceeded to replicate the steps I’d watched her perform on countless occasions over the years and brought her to me in the best way I could. Interestingly, it isn’t just the finished product, it’s the whole ritual of preparation that conjures up the presence of people who’ve taken us into their hearts and homes and cooked special foods just for us. The emptied yoghurt container filled with freshly made batter awaiting preparation is almost as satisfying to me as the crêpes themselves.

Beyond the fact that I’ve hoarded these thoughts since the first season of a show that’s now well into its third, I share this to illustrate one of the reasons I most love cooking and baking. When we take the time to prepare food for each other, especially recipes that we’ve honed according to our own tastes and those of the ones we love most, we give each other something to hold on to in a world of things that come and go.

Bon appétit!

Crêpes de grand-maman

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

3 tsp sugar

4 eggs

3 tbsp butter

¾ cup milk

¾ cold water

Method:

1.     Melt butter on low.

2.     Combine dry ingredients and sift into a medium-sized bowl.

3.     In a large bowl, beat the eggs then add the rest of the wet ingredients and whisk together.

4.     Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and beat until smooth (3 minutes with hand blender or cake mixer).

5.     Let batter sit, refrigerated in a covered container, for at least 1 hour.

6.     Cook in a non-stick or buttered pan on medium high until bubbles appear across surface of crêpe. Flip and cook until underside is golden brown.

7.     Keep cooked pancakes in a covered casserole in the oven at 200 F to keep moist and warm while preparing the rest of the batter.

8.     Serve with butter, maple syrup, fruit, etc.

Small is beautiful*

14 Jul

Pull up a chair, friend – we need to talk about mini muffins.

Mini Lemon Blueberry Muffins

Talk, you ask? Can’t we just eat?

Hold your hungry horses! The concept of mini muffins may not be new, but I think it merits some serious pause. Have you ever considered the possible appeal factors at work, here? After all, why would you want to make something so delicious any smaller? Doesn’t this mean less surface area on which to lather your butter, jam, honey, or (insert preferred muffin spread here)?

Maybe the attraction of mini muffins is akin to that of the dollhouse with its itty bitty furnishings; their cradle-me-and-coo cuteness tugs at our heartstrings in some primordial way and we just can’t help ourselves. I know I “aw”ed in a slightly high-pitched voice when I saw this pan at the grocery store, and I “aw”ed again in an even higher-pitched voice when I took my first batch out of the oven. I somehow felt fonder of these wee things than any other muffins I’d ever made, and I’d made lots of muffins. I wondered, with a particular glow about me and a swelling feeling in my chest, how anyone could not love these adorable little bundles of floury sweetness the way I did.

Perhaps you don’t identify with the maternal feelings I have toward these baked goods and the above musings are making you nauseous. We can discuss this again after you make your first batch. In the meantime, I propose an alternate explanation. Maybe the diminutive size of these muffins reassures us that we won’t bite off more than we can chew, a refreshing prospect in a world of bigger-is-better. Those Costco muffins are frightening. They’re huge. They’re dense. They overwhelm. Not these babies; you can eat one in a few small bites, or pop the whole thing in your mouth and be on your way, simple as that. Small is beautiful.

Whatever the reason, I’m here to tell you that mini muffins bring joy not only to their makers but to all who consume them. This has been proven on multiple occasions in my very own kitchen. Admittedly, tea was always involved, which may have skewed the data. You had best serve some of that as well, just to be safe.

Now go get yourself a mini muffin pan and enjoy the only thing that could make cake for breakfast even better.

* with apologies to E.F. Schumacher, who tackled graver topics in his essays on “economics as if people mattered” in the 1970s