I watched the snow fall on Saturday and wished I could go sledding. It’s horrifying to me that the last time was when my oldest son was around four years old and we lost control and rammed right into a lamp post.
There must have been other times after his brother came along. Perhaps they’re not as memorable because nothing so dramatic happened again or the snowfalls didn’t seem enough to bother. Maybe it’s because the hills around Brooklyn never did equal the size or danger the ones of my youth.
Where I grew up, you were partly judged by where you sled. By the time you hit eighth grade you were considered still a baby if you kept sliding gently along angel’s hill instead of hurtling down devil’s hill on the other side of the tree line. Both were part of Walnut Lane Golf Course–hole 11 and 12, respectively–but they were total opposites. Where angel’s brought you to a wide soft landing, devil’s presented the choice of plowing into a hard embankment or rattling over a narrow wooden bridge spanning an icy and rock filled tributary of the nearby creek. An added feature was the car hood that someone, somehow, jammed every winter into the middle of the hill. The resulting ski jump made it that much harder to reach the bottom or make it across the bridge in one piece, especially in the dark which was the only time, ONLY TIME, to sled.
Afterwards, my friends and I would limp over to my house, the closest to the course, where we examined our cuts and bruises. My mom would often sit with us as we told her about crashes and the disreputable boys with toboggans who she always understood were the most desirable to us.
By the time I turned fourteen, Mom had a job in a bank that required her to work late on Fridays. We gradually stayed out on devil’s hill much later, with even more disreputable boys, and when we returned to my house began to look forward to cooking anything we wanted–dishes like cheese dogs and frozen waffles spread with peanut butter or, if it was available, laden with chocolate sauce and Cool Whip.
At some point a battered copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck appeared among the two other cookbooks Mom owned. My brother Joe found the recipe for crêpes. He recognized them as essentially pancakes and pancake are easy. The fact that you could stuff them with anything you wanted was a further bonus.
His most favorite crêpe stuffing recipe was the following:
1 boiled hot dog
Heap of ketchup mixed with hot sauce to taste
Dice the hot dog into small pieces and mix with a portion of the sauce. Spoon the mixture over the crêpe about 1/3 from the edge and roll it tightly until you have a thin cylinder. Arrange on a plate and cover it with the remaining sauce.
It was disgusting even for fourteen-year-olds. My friends and I, being purist, generously sprinkled ours with sugar. The following year we were mature enough to fill our crêpes with jam or pudding. An adventurous, more inventive, friend once retrieved a leftover crab cake. She claimed it wasn’t bad.
Snow remained on the sidewalk this morning and I took down my own copy of Mastering. If I couldn’t even find our old sled, I could at least retain one beloved aspect of my past. Crêpes are such a deep part of my brother’s personality to me that I have never attempted them on my own. But how hard could they be if Joe became an expert with very little effort.
The most difficult part of making the batter turned out to be letting it rest for at least two hours in the refrigerator. According to the authors, this ensures tender and perfectly thin crêpes. I’m certain my brother ignored this direction but I didn’t.
Two hours later I took the batter out. I don’t own a crêpe pan but the directions said I could use a skillet. I chose my cast-iron, reasoning that it was well-seasoned enough that the batter wouldn’t stick.
After slicking the surface with Wesson oil, I turned the flame up high and heated it until it smoked. Trouble started right away with the following demand:
Holding handle of pan in your right hand, pour with your left hand a scant 1/4 cup of batter into the middle of the pan. Quickly tilt the pan in all directions to run the batter all over the bottom of the pan in a thin film….Return the pan to heat for 60 to 80 seconds. Then jerk and toss pan sharply back and forth and up and down to loosen the crêpe.
First off, why did I have to hold the pan in my right hand and pour with my left? That was just illogical to a right handed cook so I ignored it. Moving on…the scant 1/4 cup didn’t at all cover the bottom and, besides, the heaviness of the cast-iron quickly made my wrists hurt with all that tilting and shaking. It didn’t even help to form a perfect circle.
When it came time to jerk and toss, the crêpe didn’t move. The women suggested my batter was probably too thick and I should gradually add tablespoons of cold water until it formed a thin coating over the back of a wooden spoon.
I also made two crucial decisions–changed the deep skillet for one with a shallow slopping edge and sprayed it generously with Pam. From then on, each crêpe gradually became more circular.
Tip: Use a plate or a glass to trim the crazy ones into circles.
At some point the fire alarm went off because of the high heat and smoking skillet. The husband flapped a tea towel at it. I opened all the doors and turned on the kitchen’s ceiling fan then got back to the production line until all the batter was gone
Time to look for stuffings. If I hadn’t been so unnerved and exhausted by the process, I would’ve put together several fresh fillings. I pulled out left overs instead. (The women say you can make crêpes several hours in advance to allow you to make fillings at your leisure. They reheat beautifully.)
I brought the completed plate to the husband who was watching the Kansas City vs Tennessee playoffs. He ate them all except for the hot dog.