Wednesday, February 6, 2008


It's tradition in my husband's French family, and in many apparently in France - to make homemade crepes with assorted fillings on the eve of Ash Wednesday (Mardi Gras), or Fat Tuesday. If you are unfamiliar with crepes - they are simply very thin pancakes, which can be made with either a savory or a sweet dough. They are filled with things like chicken in white sauce (bechamel), beef bourguignonne (stew), eggs, ham & cheese, or fruits with whip cream or chocolate.

In previous years, I had attempted this tradition - often to be met with little appreciation & even veiled complaints that it "wasn't done quite the right way" or words to that effect. Finding myself irritated that I had tried to sustain a family tradition but was met with chagrin - I informed my other half that as of 2007, he (my native French spouse, Franck) would now be in charge of preparing and serving the crepes, their fillings - and all accoutriments, in the manner in which he saw fit.

Franck asked me to pick up the ingredients he needed. He chose his favorites, and said he would be home early from work on Tuesday to begin making a stack of crepes to be prepared for filling, and was planning on chicken, sauteed spinach, and bechamel (white) sauce), and for dessert - bananas, chocolate sauce, and whip cream.

At 4pm on Fat Tuesday, he arrived, prepared to cook. I had laid out all the ingredients for him, and told him I was taking the kids to the library so he could unwind and get started on his cooking (a luxury I would love to have every night before preparing dinner!) Just before we exited, I gave him a brief reminder of how to make quick & easy bechamel (white) sauce:

Melt 3 Tbl. butter
Add 3 Tbl. flour
Stir till smooth, add 2 cups milk
Heat to just boiling, reduce & simmer to thicken
Season with salt, pepper & pinch nutmeg

Now, some of you would think this is difficult for a man. But I wasn't concerned in the least. Remember, this is a staple in France- and the equivalent of knowing how to scramble eggs here in America. To boot, Franck's father was a chef, and before he met me, his mother had taught him to cook. We agreed I would return with the children at 5pm for an early dinner.

At 4:12, I arrived at the library. No sooner had I gotten their coats off, and my text message alert had gone off. "we don't have enough butter" read the message. Hmmmm, that's funny, I remembered I had a stick of butter in the fridge left. I called him back. This is how it went:

me: "Did you look in the butter compartment of the fridge?"
him: "Yes, but there's only a little over a half a stick".
me: "Do you need more than three tablespoons for some reason?"

him: "No, I need three tablespoons, so what's here isn't enough".
me: "There's eight tablespoons of butter in a stick. If you have over half a stick, you have more than enough butter for the recipe. Look at the lines on the stick of butter."
him: "Oh."

That should have been my first clue. But I just figured - it's been a while since he's cooked, he's just forgotten his way around a bit.

A few minutes passed and the kids were getting into some serious play with some other kids. This was a welcome change from the cabin fever they'd been experiencing with the 10 inches of snow we've recently had here in Chicago.

The vibrate went off on my phone again. This time it wasn't a text.

him: "uuuhhhh, you're going to have to stop for some butter."
me: "what? why?"
him: "I put in two cups of flour instead of 3 tablespoons. I forgot it was the milk that was 2 cups".

This sent me back to another story of a girlfriend of mine that many years ago, had borrowed a lasagne recipe from me. She called me up the night she was making it, and said, "I don't understand, I looked everywhere - but I couldn't find egg yolks at the store. Where are they?".

I guess when you have been cooking as long as I have, you take these things for granted. And while I may have felt a mite smug for a moment - remembering how I had attempted this feat in previous years- I must give credit where credit is due.

After we arrived with the butter and cooking was resumed in the kitchen, my dear husband presented us with a fine crepe dinner - and a wonderful ambiance with French language and wine. What more could a woman ask for? I'll save my veiled complaints for when he attempts to make a Thanksgiving turkey.

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