Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Crêpe That Started It All

I think it's fairly obvious that I have a lifelong love affair with food and cooking. Only recently, though, have I started thinking about how and why this love has developed and flourished. I think I can trace it back to a night in my early teens during which I was randomly, and serendipitously served a fresh crêpe.

But first, as with most histories, we must go before that night. As I've mentioned several times before, I was raised in a household where food was treated as fuel, or medicine, and flavor or seasoning wasn't considered very often. This is not saying that strict macrobiotic food has to taste bad, but in our case it did...most of the time. We were fed a steady diet of burnt, seasonal greens, brown rice, tofu, and miso soups into which everything possible was tossed. We would visit our southern relatives and the brown beans cooked with ham hocks, cornbread cooked in thick, black iron skillets seasoned with years of bacon grease, and the many, many layered salads tasted like heaven. Like many children who are raised with extremes, I craved the other. I developed an early and intense sweet tooth, and could have eaten an entire stick of butter smeared on that soft, squishy, store-bought bread. My sister Jessy and I would hoard candy and chocolate (FORBIDDEN!) in our rooms until the bugs found it. I swung so far to the other side of the spectrum, that when I moved into my first apartment I'd buy Country Crock and Fruity Pebbles and instant pudding. Gross!

Because my mother was all about utilitarianism, though, we learned the basics of cooking very early. That was a very good thing. I could make rice (brown only. Of course), bread (whole wheat. Flour ground in our own little home mill), gravy (whole wheat flour, oil, potato water, tamari), and vegetable stock by the time I was 13. Even when I was really young, though, I was led by my taste buds. I've always approached cooking this way: start with what flavors I want, build from there. I say, learn what you like and always try something new. Make mental notes along the way.

But back to that night when we were riding around aimlessly. One of our friends was at the Dairy Hollow House, one of the first and best-known Bed and Breakfasts in the Ozarks, Arkansas for that matter. I had sort of known the proprietors, Ned and Crescent, for as long as I could remember. This was a town of less than 1,800 people after all. So we stop to visit our friend, all spilling out of the car like clowns at a circus. "Come on in," Crescent called from the main house, "We're making crêpes."

And were they ever. These strange and wonderful new things (like tiny, delicate pancakes, I decided to myself) were filled with a light yogurt-y filling and topped with a fresh fruit compote. I don't remember the exact flavors or fruits used, but what I do remember is the ease with which Crescent was making them. If a crêpe folded wrong or got wrinkled in the pan, it didn't seem to faze her one bit.

The crêpe night probably ended in a fit of boredom, the way many of them did back then; we all went our separate ways. But things had already started to change inside. A switch had been flipped.

1 comment:

ste-pha-nie said...

Alannah, I just finished reading "A Homemade Life" by Molly Wizenberg. Your story about the crepe made me think about how her essays (chapters) are really short stories about how and where, and when she was introduced to some particular dish, flavor or other food experience.
So many memories are joined with food experiences, in some way or another, it seems.
When we first moved here I remember seeing the Soup & Bread Book, it was brand new, just published, and I was quietly proud that we had moved to the state where the author who wrote this book with the awesomely illustrated cover lived!