Crépes. Because there’s nothing like pondering a thoroughly French food on the Fourth of July.

July 4, 2008

Back in the blissful days of our first year of marriage, Tim and I used to spend summer weekend nights strolling through downtown Asheville. We frequented a few spots that summer, one being the delightful Jack of the Wood pub. We’d order our pints of Green Man ale and sit outside, watching all the people that used to make Asheville just so Asheville (there are a few stragglers left, but the atmosphere downtown has lost a bit of its eclectic charm as it has become more prohibitively expensive to live there).

The other place we loved from the depths of our lazy summertime souls was the Crépe Window. No, that wasn’t it’s official name, I can’t recall what it was. But it was a tiny shotgun place in an old building downtown, with a service window open to the street. In that window worked a bona-fide Frenchman, complete with beret and boatnecked, black and white striped shirt (I’m going to assume he was playing up a role with those choices). There, through the open window, you could both order and watch him expertly craft the crépe of your choice. He served both savory and sweet, but we only opted for the desert crépes. He offered fruit and whipped cream, Nutella and bananas, anything you could imagine. But my very favorite was simply sugar and lemon — it allowed the tenderness of the crépe to speak for itself, while still amply satisfying my after-dinner sweet tooth.

There were nights that our budget didn’t allow the splurge of downtown desert, and then, eventually and sadly, the crépe man was no more (not in a metaphysical sense, he just closed up shop). By this point, we were virtually addicted, and were forced to set up our own personal crépe stand — in our wee little kitchen, armed with nothing more than The Joy of Cooking and a 10-inch anodized saute pan.

What did we discover? Crépes aren’t all that hard to make. They are simply a mixture of eggs, flour, milk, butter, a little water, and sugar or salt (depending on their final calling). You throw everything into a blender or food processor, give it a whirl, and then let it sit for half an hour (this lets the flour absorb the liquids, and the gluten to settle down a bit, while you sit and dream up toppings). And that crépe pan that you didn’t register for as a wedding gift? It’s not necessary. You can use an 8″ or 10″ skillet — as I mentioned, we used our Calphalon anodized, but I’m guessing that a nonstick pan would work too. (I can’t speak for stainless, however, so try that at your own risk.) You just let your pan heat up, smear some butter on it, and pour on a few tablespoons of the batter. Pick up the pan, swirl the batter around to coat the bottom, and then let it cook. After a minute or two, the bottom is brown, and you can flip it to brown the other side. The first one is usually the ugliest, and they get easier and prettier as you go. Stack them up with sheets of waxed paper in between, or just eat them right as they come off the pan. And in case you can’t get through all 10 crépes, you can freeze them for a quick fix to a future craving.

I had these delicate pancakes on the brain because we made savory ones for dinner earlier this week. A friend gave me a subscription to Eating Well magazine, and the last issue had a recipe for Summer Vegetable Crépes. The ingredients called for storebought, but they’re just so easy to whip up, and I had all the goods in my kitchen. The filling consisted of sautéed zucchini, green beans, corn, ricotta and monterey jack cheeses. They were really quite satisfying. And — even though I had made savory crépes, I still snuck into the kitchen at about 9 o’clock, grabbed the lone leftover pancake, smeared it with a little butter, sprinkled on a little sugar, and squeezed a few drops of lemon juice over the top. Folded it up, and ate the whole thing in a matter of a few bites (saving just one for Tim).

So with that, I’ll bid you all a happy Independence Day. And in the same breath, say thank you to France.

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