Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Memory (Cooking). Crêpes.

I remember so clearly how it all began. We were in sixth grade. That was the year you started studying a foreign language; I and two of my friends chose Spanish. Another friend took French. On special occasions the French class made crêpes in the classroom, drizzling them with powdered sugar and lemon juice, eating them with careful fingers (hot hot hot ow!). The door would be open, so as you walked by the French room you would hear a sizzle as the hot pan was dipped into a plate of batter, the warm golden scent of quickly cooking crêpe, the sharp aroma of lemon, wafting down the hallways on these rare afternoons. How unfair, we thought, that as Spanish students we were denied such treats. The obvious solution was to make our own at home, have our own crêpe parties. That was how it all began.

From somewhere my mom unearthed a stove-top crêpe pan. It was from the seventies, cast-iron with a polished wooden handle; the cardboard box was lettered with balloon-like words in different shades of orange and brown. A wedding present, presumably. It came with a little spiral-bound recipe book, lettered with the same kitschy orange 70's writing. We heated it over the gas range in my kitchen, poured a simple batter into a shallow dish. One cup flour, one cup milk, two eggs, so easy to remember. Simple math halved, doubled, tripled the recipe. Usually we made at least two batches, or three. One memorable evening we ate three batches, watched a few movies, went to bed, and then made two more batches in the morning. Dip the pan in, flip it back onto the burner, watch the batter bubble and cook through until lightly browned, a minute or two, and flipping it once more to briefly brown for a few seconds on the other side. Watch one of my friends squeal when the crêpe slid off the pan and caught on fire. Sprinkle the still-hot crêpe with lemon juice and powdered sugar, fold it up, and eat. Heaven. From the corner of the kitchen my dog watched us enviously, ate the ones that fell on the floor.

At the first few parties we whisked the batter together in a bowl, scattering ingredients across countertops, over the floor. We were eleven and twelve, and my mother shuddered every time she confronted the mess in the sink the next day. During later events, we switched to the electric beater, and finally, our biggest improvement, the blender. It was faster, neater, and yielded the smoothest, airiest batter. The first crêpe was always a mess, stuck to the pan if we forgot to grease it, or fell off if we greased it too well. The last ones got smaller and smaller as we ran out of batter, dwindling to the size of a half-dollar. The parties went on all through middle school, high school, college, though rarer as the years passed. As we got older, we got better at cleaning up after ourselves, too. Most of the time.

There is nothing better than the basic crêpe with lemon and powdered sugar. Simplicity itself, the hot crêpe with the cool tartness of lemon, dusty sweetness of confectioner's sugar sifted lightly over everything. But sometimes we got a little carried away. Powdered chocolate, sweet and slightly gritty. Whipped cream and strawberries, blueberries, peaches, bananas, or melted chocolate. Or ice cream. Any flavor. The possibilities were endless.

Friends came and went. Time slipped away. But the memories remain, forever.

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