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Whole wheat crepes with cinnamon sugar and walnuts

It’s been an eventful ten days, in the most literal sense: My best friend moved to Seattle. My husband turned 30. My little sister graduated from high school.

Yes, I have a 17-year-old sister. I have a picture of us on a ridge near our parents’ house in Boise, Idaho, taken the week I left for college, the summer a forest fire engulfed the hills around our home. She was six. I like it because the way I’m carrying her, her dark hair blends into the charred earth behind us, and it sort of looks like she’s on fire, too.

It’s appropriate, for such a driven person. When I was in high school, Allison was the kind of kid who would hold her breath until she turned blue, just to beat me.

She’s still tenacious. She has an amazing intellectual wingspan. She’s funny, and remarkably beautiful. And she’s turning into the sort of friend I look up to unconditionally. (But whatever you say, I’m still taller.)

Last weekend, we all gathered around her and clucked. It must have driven her crazy, the way we talked about her like she wasn’t even in the room, all weekend long. (If you think being an only child sounds hard, try fending off two parents and two (much) older siblings, and their significant others.) We chirped about her summer job, what her friends are doing, what she should adjust on her road bike, where she’s going to college. . .

That last bit is a delicate topic. See, she’s not quite sure. She still might go to Middlebury, where my brother and I went, or to UW, in Seattle.

I loved Middlebury, and I’m sure she would, too. (She’ll succeed anywhere.) But when I was back east, I missed Allison’s childhood. I sent twigs for her nest, but I was not always there to help build it. My heart does a little dance when I think of her coming to UW. I’ve been fantasizing about her showing up at our house on Sundays, to have dinner and do her laundry in our basement.

All weekend, the family balanced there, together, in a strange, exciting void between celebration and uncertainty. When Allison wasn’t home, we volleyed the advantages of Vermont and Washington back and forth with equal weight. I can’t imagine the conflict inside her head, but I do think I know, with the advantage of hindsight, that she’ll be happy at either place. And we’ll be happy, too, wherever she is.

On Monday morning, the day before graduation, I volunteered my brother Josh to make crepes. We’ve never been a pancake or waffle sort of family, but crepes – doled one at a time out of a hot, buttery pan – are commonplace.

A crepe is a pancake’s overachieving sibling. The batter pools onto a hot pan and runs across it, instead of plopping down and sitting there, like a pancake would. On a relaxing morning, pancakes watch television. Crepes play Wii.

I don’t make them often in my own home. I have a good blue steel pan, and know how to make the thin, demanding batter skitter across a film of bubbling butter and lace up all pretty. I love how they taste, but I just don’t do it. Crepes are the cornerstone to Howe holiday mornings, and to me, they seem most at home on an oak dining table in the Boise foothills.

Josh left home with a different impression. In San Francisco, he makes crepes weekly, almost, folded up with goat cheese, bacon, and chives, or rolled around chicken and mushrooms for dinner. Though I have every confidence in my own crepe-making ability, it somehow felt funny to step up to the stove with him in the room. He’s a damn good cook, and he’s inherited my father’s status as crepe-maker.

opening milk

He blended up a batch of all whole-wheat crepe batter, using the local milk my mom has started buying. We inherited the same willingness to tinker in the kitchen; he added pinches of this or that until something inside him determined the batter was perfect.

Crepe batter needs a good rest. Normally, my mother makes it the night before, and it sleeps in the fridge, where the flour’s proteins relax, so it pours smoothly the next day, and the crepes yield easily between the teeth. On Monday, we made another pot of coffee, and put the blender aside for a quick nap.

drinking coffee

No one in my family sits still very well. (If you think I’m energetic for someone with lupus, you should meet my mother. You’ll understand how much I have slowed down.) Yet there we were, drinking coffee and sitting, remembering J.R. Simplot on Memorial Day, listening as his giant flag snapped this way and that in the wind, at half mast. (Yes, the king of potatoes has passed.)

simplot's flag at half-mast

May is the best that way, in Boise. The weather’s never good enough to encourage early action, nor hot enough to insist on it. The month just stimulates coffee consumption.

cutting strawberries

Josh showed me how he knows the batter is thin enough in the blender. After it rested, we had to add a bit more milk, because the whole wheat seemed to swell up a bit. I chopped strawberries, and he started pouring and flipping, topping and serving:

If you’ve made crepes, you know it wasn’t Josh’s fault; the first crepe is dependably ugly. The pan is always too hot, or not hot enough, or not centered over the flame, or perhaps just needs a good therapy session. The longer it’s been since its last use, the more cantankerous the pan is likely to be. (That’s all part of it.)

dad in line

As soon as Josh unwrapped the butter for the pan, my dad hit his chair, effectively claiming the first one, no matter what it looked like. The rest of the family sat down at the table, waiting for Josh to pick the next recipient, while he tucked strawberries, or bananas and walnuts, inside, and topped each one with a dollop of whipped cream. I held the plates.

making a whole wheat crepe

When the fruit was gone, I took a turn, filling the last one with walnuts and cinnamon and sugar, and watched as the cream slid down the hot crepe. (If the cream stays on top, there’s a problem. Either the cream is not real, or the crepe is not hot.)

Instead of eating by turn and leaving the table, like we usually do, coming back for the next round when the crepe-maker calls, we all stayed in the kitchen, enjoying each others’ company. And wondering, no doubt, when we’ll be making crepes together next, and where.

eating crepes

Josh’s Whole Wheat Crepes (PDF)
My brother Josh’s more nutritious version of the family’s crepe recipe reminds us of true buckwheat crepes from Brittany, but they’re a lot less fussy. Made with all whole-wheat flour, the batter may thicken a little upon standing; feel free to adjust it as you go. (Josh says the key element to making crepes is using your judgment, instead of staying glued to a recipe. If the batter seems to thick, add milk. Too thin? Add flour. Pan too hot? Cool it down. Crepes not browning? Turn the heat up. Too greasy? Less butter. Et cetera.) You want a batter that’s thin enough to run across a hot pan when you swivel it around in your hand, but beyond that, crepes are much more flexible than you might think. Traditional French crepes are paper-thin, but we tend to pour them a little thicker, so more actually make it to the breakfast table.

Fill crepes with chopped fresh fruit and top with whipped cream, or sprinkle with sugar and lemon before folding. For savory crepes, omit the sugar, and add a bit more salt, plus a handful of finely chopped herbs, if you’re feeling adventuresome.

And for goodness’ sake, don’t make them all at once and keep them in the oven. Serve them hot, the instant they come out of the pan.

MAKES: 6 servings

2 cups milk (plus more, if needed)
2 large eggs
1 stick unsalted butter, melted, plus more for the pan
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 2/3 cups whole wheat flour

Combine the milk, eggs, melted butter, sugar, salt and 1 cup flour in a blender, and whirl until smooth, scraping down the sides of the glass, if necessary. Add all or most of the remaining flour, a bit at a time, until the batter has roughly the consistency of drinkable yogurt (very thin for pancake batter, but not runny). Let the batter sit at least 30 minutes at room temperature, or overnight in the refrigerator. (Bring the batter back to room temperature before continuing.)

Before cooking, thin the batter with a bit more milk, if it seems substantially thicker.

Preheat a crepe pan or large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, grease with a dollop of butter (using a stick of butter to smear some directly on the skillet works nicely), and add enough batter to coat the skillet in a thin, even layer when you swivel the skillet around in your hand. (The actual amount of batter will depend on the size of your pan and the thickness of the batter; we used about 1/4 cup.) Cook for a couple minutes, until you see bubbles in the center of the crepe and the bottom side is nicely browned. Flip carefully and cook another couple minutes on the other side. Fill as desired and serve immediately. Repeat with the remaining batter.


Filed under Breakfast, dessert, recipe, video

A Seattle Saturday

Yesterday we were sitting at Brouwer’s with some friends after a Mariner’s game, discussing dinner options. Yes, it was a Seattle kind of Saturday; it started with a rollerblade around Greenlake to celebrate 1992 and included two lattes consumed at two separate independent coffee houses, in addition to my morning coffee. The latter might explain why I felt great bopping around all day yesterday, until I woke up this morning with what, for both symptomatic and gustatory reasons, I must label consumption.

We’d had garlic fries at the game. If you haven’t had the pleasure: “Garlic fries” insinuates (to me, anyway) that one is ordering French fries with a bit of garlic something on them. At Safeco Field, one actually receives chopped garlic garnished with fries. I’d like to start a petition at Safeco to convince the vendor to rename them “fries garlic,” implying that “garlic” is the main ingredient and “fries” is just a descriptor, because it would be a lot more accurate. If you’d like to duplicate the experience, eating a head of raw garlic is a probably close approximation, as long as ACDC’s “Thunder” is playing at full volume in the background. It made me wonder whether fries garlic sometimes cause pitchers to lose their concentration; the stadium’s collective garlic breath must be bad enough to find its way from way up in the nosebleeds, where we were sitting, down to the mound.

And oh, the morning breath. I’m fairly certain our dog is avoiding us.

After binging on fries garlic (which I thoroughly enjoyed) and other associated ballgame foods, my friend Michelle announced she needed something lighter for dinner, specifically, corn – but not right off the cob. (I like it when people know what they want; it always creates a much easier path to an eventual dinner decision.) She wanted something similar to this corn salad but less salady, more spicy, and perhaps used as a garnish for something grilled. We agreed on a spinach salad and grilled chicken with hot chipotle corn salsa.

We all gathered in our kitchen, milling and talking and eating and drinking in the casual, everyone-does-everything way that separates having dinner with friends from having friends over for dinner.

Discussion inevitably meandered to the pros and cons of the different methods used to cut corn off a cob: I think most people balance one end of the cob on a cutting board and cut the kernels off, like this or this (or worse, as shown in this painful video).

I’m just not as balanced a person, I guess. If I do it that way, the kernels go everywhere, and sometimes I rocket the cob itself across the room, too. I much prefer to place the cob down on the cutting board, and use a small, sharp knife to cut three or four rows of kernels off at a time, running the knife down the length of cob with the knife’s point on the board (as opposed to cutting straight down along its entire length) and rotating the cob (up, away from the knife’s blade) a little bit after each row.

Cutting corn off cob

The advantages for me are clear: 1) I don’t have to start by cutting the cob in half or cutting one end off to make a flat spot, which is sometimes tough to do and always hard on my joints, and 2) The kernels end up neatly lined up on the cutting board, rather than scattered around the board itself, the counter, and whatever happens to be within a roughly three-foot radius of the actual cob (such as my dog).

Grilled Chicken with Hot Chipotle Corn Salsa 4

Recipe for Hot Chipotle Corn Salsa
Recipe 210 of 365

I’d have written a recipe for grilled chicken topped with this spicy, creamy corn salsa, but it seems a shame to limit the topping to just chicken – cook the salsa and serve it as a piquant side dish on its own, stir it into ground beef for making hamburgers, serve it over fish, or stuff it into tacos or burritos.

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: 4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 large scallions, sliced, white and green parts (roughly) separated
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
Kernels from 3 ears fresh corn
1 chipotle pepper en adobo, finely chopped, plus 1/2 – 1 tablespoon adobo sauce
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the oil, then add the white parts only of the scallions, and the jalapenos. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the corn, chipotle peppers and adobo sauce, and cream, and season with salt and pepper. Increase heat to high and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the cream has thickened and the corn is bright. Remove from heat, stir in sliced scallion greens, season with additional salt and pepper if necessary, and serve. (The corn can also be served cold, and can be reheated just before serving.)

corn salsa 2

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Filed under chicken, recipe, Seattle, vegetables, video

Baa baa black sheep

Here’s one for the weekend warrior:

Recipe for Roasted Leg of Lamb with Walnut, Fennel, and Mint Stuffing

Roasting a leg of lamb is the ski hill equivalent of a black diamond: if you’ve never done it before, it sounds scary and it’s usually easy to avoid. But you shouldn’t. If you have the right tools (an oven, a good knife, and a thermometer) and some basic techniques down (i.e. tying a roast), you’ll be fine, and you’ll probably want to do it again soon. If you want to tone it down a bit, cut out the crust, or the stuffing, or the marinade—just do whatever part of it you’re comfortable trying.

Here’s a great video on how to tie a roast, courtesy of the folks at Fine Cooking.

If you have the time and inclination, transfer the used marinade to a large saucepan and reduce it to about 2 cups. Stir in some veal or lamb demi-glace (or reduced lamb stock, if you have it lying around), reduce until sticky, and mount with butter before serving. Call me mint jelly . . .

Since I have neither the occasion nor the funds to retest this beast right now, I’d love your input—has anyone tried roasting a stuffed boneless leg using convection roast or really high-temp roast? Give it a try – lamb is done to medium-rare when the inside measures about 125 to 130 on an instant-read thermometer.

I didn’t get a picture of the lamb, but here’s some pretty rosemary:


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Filed under Lamb, recipe, video

My dog eats watermelon

Food-related home video:

Or click here to see it on the YouTube site.


Filed under video