Posts Tagged ‘crepes’

A somewhat well-known bit of trivia in Tolkien circles is that the visualization of Minas Tirith, the chief city of Gondor, closely parallels the Gothic monastery of Mont Saint-Michel off the Norman coast of France.

(Although, to get technical, Minas Tirth had some basic inspiration from Gondolin, one of the great hidden kingdoms of the First Age)

(Although, to get technical, Minas Tirth had some basic inspiration from Gondolin, one of the great hidden kingdoms of the First Age)

Stopping simply at the word “Tolkien”, this meant that we had to visit. (The last time we were in Aldeburgh, we found a great coffee table book about France and the cover was a great shot of MSM at low tide.) We were out the door by 6:30 a.m. and on the highway west to the Norman coast, stopping at a rest stop for some pastries and more drinks. (I had packed a cooler with ice and more drinks, never a bad idea.)

The idea was to avoid the hordes of visitors that descend pretty much every day and we pulled that off nicely. You used to be able to drive over the causeway through the muddy tidal flats and park at the base of the city/abbey and walk up from there, but changes are underway and we got the use of a very nice car park and a shuttle bus that whisks you across the gap and drops you right at the base.

Mont Saint-Michel

Mont Saint-Michel

We walked up through the narrow street, passing little shops and restaurants and even a few rooms for rent, ascending on our way up to the abbey at the top.

Tiny little stone streets, winding upwards

Tiny little stone streets, winding upwards

It’s just freakishly like what the art directors/set designers did with the Minas Tirith sets, particularly in The Return of the King, so it was fun to try to decide which was the chicken or the egg in this case.

Inside the abbey church at the highest point of Mont Saint-Michel

Inside the abbey church at the highest point of Mont Saint-Michel

Nuns keeping service

Nuns keeping service

We toured the abbey  which has remained in very good shape, primarily because it didn’t suffer what English abbeys did after the dissolution under Henry VIII.

In the cloister

In the cloister

MSM was a major military fortification during the time of the 100 years war and because it held out successfully, resisting all English attacks, it has become a major symbol of French national pride.

A solemn Monk 'Munk

A solemn Monk ‘Munk

Knight's Hall

Knight’s Hall

The human hamster wheel used by the monks to pull up supplies and items

The human hamster wheel used by the monks to pull up supplies and items

the tides at Mont Saint-Michel come in at an unusually fast pace

The tides at Mont Saint-Michel come in at an unusually fast pace

Back in 1991, one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Jeff Johnson, released an album called Great Romantics that contained songs all about different European sites or themes, like Hadrian’s Wall, the Chartres Bells, the great square in Prague; the final song was about Johnson’s afternoon at Mont Saint-Michel when he was caught in a rainstorm outside the chapel. With unusually good foresight I had actually loaded up the song on my mp3 so I could listen to it at the site from high up on the rock looking over the tidal plain.

Saint-Michel I have returned to you:

A battered soul, a wind-swept heart.

A mass of pilgrims has besieged you,

Despite the dark clouds overhead.

The water pours out of the heavens,

And you have caught me unaware.

But let the rain fall down, let it wash away my sin,

Let it soak my heart with life.

Let it flow from Thee, let it flow into the sea,

Let the rain fall down on me.

The gold top of the steeple is a statue of St. Michael, the angel who first appeared to teh founder of Mont Saint-Michel and commanded him to found the abbey.

The gold top of the steeple is a statue of St. Michael, the angel who first appeared to the founder of Mont Saint-Michel and commanded him to found the abbey.

The abbey was used as a prison after the French revolution and was eventually turned into a historic monument and it’s a really distinctive symbol.

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We headed back down the narrow medieval street and stopped at a creperie for a quick lunch.

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Chocolate-hazelnut crepe

Chocolate-hazelnut crepe

While we were finishing, I noticed that the restaurant had an evacuation plan posted, a legal requirement no doubt. The irony though was that all of the shops and restaurants were just big open squares without even a real door, just dumping out onto the street. Hence, I present the world’s simplest evacuation plan:

Go straight ahead, do not pass Go, do not collect $200

Go straight ahead, do not pass Go, do not collect $200

Next stop, Pointe du Hoc, the Omaha Beach D-Day landing site and the American Cemetery

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Bear with me – this really is about crepes and there’s even a good recipe. But first, some background.

The first time I had crepes I didn’t even know what they were called and the menu at the DeLand, Florida International House of Pancakes didn’t help any. It called them German lemon-butter pancakes and I was in love.

The problem in getting them was in getting there. I didn’t have a car, which is another long story, and I had to rely on people to get me to the IHOP which was too far to walk (as in, more than 500 yards). My roommate was quite possibly the only other person at Stetson University without a car, so I discovered that one of my friends was equally in love with IHOP and I would talk him into making a run.

The all glorious International House of Pancakes

Millard and I were friends from campus and we had clicked in a sort of weird way, mostly over food. Whenever they served barbecued ribs at the cafeteria, whichever of us spotted it on the menu board first would call the other and we would meet up in the Garden Room and get plate after plate of ribs. He brought his giant folding knife because the cafeteria knives weren’t sharp enough to crack into the marrow and I had a respectable one-handed folding utility myself. We looked ridiculous, grinning with sauce from ear to elbow.

I knew a little about his background that wasn’t generally common knowledge – why he had gone to France for a year, changed from his middle name to his first name, and why he usually had a pistol somewhere fairly close at hand. (I happened to agree with all three of those decisions, as well as what he did that had made them necessary actions.) I wasn’t afraid of him, and in return for this confidence, he invited me to write at his family farm, sitting at his mother’s plastic-covered dining room table. While I worked, he would hover in the kitchen with the radio playing softly. Plates of bacon cheeseburgers appeared mysteriously by my elbow with iced tea and wedges of lime from the trees in his orchard.

(L. Millard, R. Evan Keller) One of the only two pictures I have of Millard

He had a headstrong streak, I don’t think anyone would argue with that, but we got along very well — he took me seriously that that was precious to me  — and he was the one man I trusted to protect my stories, which were like children to me. He was, in some sense, their father. He had even been more than a little responsible for my getting the money to buy my first laptop so I could write novels day or night, rain or shine, with or without electricity. A number of other people were at that point trying to get me to stop writing, for the world’s protection, so this was something of an exciting change of pace.

Eat crepes every night and refuse to walk anywhere and you too can look like this. And that caption is a lie — I was writing a fiction story not doing homework. Although the line did often blur. That silver nameplate on the Mac Powerbook lid says “Millard”. I had promised to name it after him if he could get me the money to buy it.

Late at night, Mill would drive me to IHOP where we talked, like most college students, about some very shaky political theories, and religion, and pop culture, and guns, and relationships, and one memorable night about the evolutionary logic for the sexual differences between men and male silverback gorillas.

Probably would like some crepes too

Millard liked to order Eggs Benedict, even though he always warned me that they might turn on me, but the orders could take forever to arrive so one night he asked me what I wanted in a mate. We were back to relationships again, so I named off a few easy things like compatibility in interests, but he was bored so he turned over the slick paper place mat and together we assembled a man as you might a set of Legos, block by block.

At last, he examined the list at arm’s length and said: “So, basically you want a cross between your Dad and Jesus Christ.” I felt sick and wondered when the therapists were going to come breaking down the door, but he laughed and said something about admirable qualities before he grew quiet and said, “Actually it looks a lot like me.” And it did look like him, but even as logical as that would have been, it wasn’t where my head was, or my heart. I had known and loved his fiancée even before I met him and that was where it stood, in a very pure, trustworthy and honorable way with nothing that needed to be spoken or defended.

We ate a lot more crepes before graduation and I came back to stay at the farm before I moved away for grad school. Mill even went online and tried to find friends for me, a mathematician named Wally, in my new town. Life got busy and a few months later I got a call. Millard had killed himself. Something inside him had broken while no one was looking and he had gone quite literally insane.

Then followed some very dark years that we’re going to skip past in which I made some stupid decisions but did not go to the IHOP much as you might imagine because I tended to start crying and the waitresses get nervous when you do that. I talked to myself a lot too, and that makes everybody nervous. My problem, as I resolved, was that Mill had broken our lease without notice—he couldn’t leave, that wasn’t part of the deal. I even thought about trying that Christopher Reeve trick from Somewhere in Time where you surround yourself with everything from the time period, even dress that way, and try to trick yourself into believing you’ve gone back in time, but my jeans wouldn’t fit anymore (too many crepes) and it wouldn’t have worked anyway.

A few other things happened that probably shouldn’t be mentioned in a public blog which made me suddenly and savagely aware that I was going to wind up in the exact same place if I didn’t start doing different things to get different results. In the end, it had actually been Millard’s strength that had made it harder for him to get help. I was weak but at least I knew it and that was actually a good thing. I still had my feet under me, and a good head start as well, so I started to run.

Fifteen years later, this Tuesday morning, my husband decided to make crepes. As I discovered when we met, Bear loves German lemon-butter pancakes from IHOP. They’re his favorite pancakes in the entire world. The night I found that out, while we were still dating (in that six minute window before we eloped), I went to the wooden box I keep on a closet shelf and got out the folded IHOP place mat where you can still see Millard’s signature next to mine below everything he had written. I read all the things we had decided about the man I should marry and found that all but one of them matched Bear perfectly. (37 out of 38 ain’t bad.) Mill had always been a little nervous about my taste in men and kept saying that I needed someone stronger and more passionate, and that I absolutely had to marry someone at least as smart as myself. I’m only sorry that he never got to meet Bear because he wouldn’t been insufferable with pride at how well he’d hit the mark.

Paws off, I saw him first

These Tuesday crepes were actually bought at Waitrose and we didn’t have very high expectations for them at first, but Bear warmed them up, got out the butter and found some lemon juice. The texture was perfectly light but chewy with just enough tensile strength to make the bite resonate. The bright, sweet-lemon tang was carried by the melted butter (OK, Lurpak) and it was like a blind roller coaster ride back to the IHOP and all the old feelings came back, but in a good way this time, back to safety and friendship and knowing that I could say anything I wanted to someone who would listen and protect me and still make me laugh.

I thought about telling Bear that eating crepes with him was like time travel, but he had really hated Somewhere in Time because someone had turned the video off just before the end and he spent about twenty years thinking that Christopher Reeve just died hopelessly and he didn’t know about the beautiful redeeming epilogue in Heaven or anything. (I showed it to him on YouTube; he’s over it now.) Instead I said something really incomprehensible about how great it was to actually be in the right place at the right time. He kissed my forehead and said:

“Do you want the rest of those? Because I’m starving.”

Millard would have loved him.

Bear’s favorite crepes are below. We’ll skip the blow by blow account of how I tried to make them one morning, had no ingredients, destroyed the kitchen in the course of three hours while trying to create substitutes for everything but flour, and woke Bear up out of a sound sleep with said flour in my hair, telling him I’d made something in the kitchen, not sure what, but he was going to like it. Or else.

Basic Crepes

Cooking Light, June 2006

Page: 166

Servings: 13

Variations:

Herbed Crepes: Add 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley and 1 teaspoon chopped fresh chives to batter.

Espresso Crepes: Add 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder to the batter

Buckwheat crepes: Omit 2/3 cup all-purpose flour and add 2/3 cup buckwheat flour.

Cinnamon Crepes: Add 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon to the batter.

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup lowfat 1% milk

1/2 cup water

2 teaspoons butter, melted

2 large eggs

  1. Lightly spoon flour, level with knife. Combine flour, sugar and salt in a small bowl. Combine milk, water, melted butter, and eggs in a blender. Add the flour mixture to milk mixture and process until smooth. Cover batter; chill for 1 hour.
  2. Heat an 8-inch nonstick crepe pan over medium heat. Pour a scant 1/4 cup batter into pan; tilt pan in all directions to spread evenly. Cook about 1 minute. Carefully lift edge of crepe to test for doneness. When it can be shaken loose easily, it is ready to turn. Turn crepe over and cook for 30 seconds or until center is set.
  3. Place crepe on a towel; cool completely. Repeat procedure with remaining batter; stirring batter between crepes. Stack crepes between single layers of wax paper to prevent sticking.

Yield: 1 crepe (who are we kidding? You’ll eat several and you’ll like it)

Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 62 Calories; 2g Fat (24.3% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 35mg Cholesterol; 68mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1/2 Grain (Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 0 Non-Fat Milk; 0 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.

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