World-Citizen-Ex-Pat. ( A new title I just made up by the way.) Primarily for those of us that have willingly placed our lives in the hands of our career. Affording us, or possibly cursing , depending on your perspective, to make a living while experiencing another way of life. As a worldexpatcitizen, I’ve spent the past 30+ years globetrotting, as my family back in rural Canada called it. They make it sound so glamorous. Its not, but please don’t tell them. I would hate to shatter their illusions. Its mostly lost luggage, 3 months of disorientation, time zone adjusting, and hopefully acclimatizing to warmer weather.
Once the first three months in a new country is past, you finally begin to really absorb the culture. I feel completely blessed to be in France as my home. I’ve been through too much here for it to not have seeped into my very soul. Not unlike many of my fellow #unfrenchies. We all arrive with a dream to see it slowly morph into a completely different experience than we planned. After a while, I think its safe to say, we find our French tribe and our long forgotten dream becomes a new comfortable fantasy that our friends back home dream about. I digress again…
My favourite day in French culture is today. Le Chandeleur. Why you ask? Crepes. Simply the crepes. As a child, my grandmother made them for me on the farm whenever my day was unbearable. My mother made them for me when the rest of the family ate fish. An allergy I’ll explain another time. She would stand in front of the old gas stove poring the soupy batter into the hot pan with a medium sized ladle. I sat beside her with my little apron tied around my waste on a tall yellow kitchen stool. The one where the 2 connected steps flip over to create a step ladder, and the seat is a shiny bright yellow vinyl. I imagine it was from the 1920’s but those of you antique collectors would know for sure.
The first one never made it to the plate. Grandma and I would test it repeatedly to be sure it was worthy. After flipping the second one, so both sides were a gorgeous bubbly shade of light caramel, she would slip on the oven mitt, pull the warming tray from the oven, and delicately slide the crepe from the pan into the tray. It often reminded me of silk fabric pooling on the floor at the base of her sewing machine. Over and over her hands worked methodically like an orchestra conductor, until we had a stack of crepes big enough for us, my granddad, and maybe an uncle and aunt, or a neighbour who was visiting for lunch. I would be charged with setting the table, finding everyone’s favourite confiture, butters, sugar blends, and the coffee urn. The last thing that made it to the table was the maple syrup. Grade A light amber maple yumminess.
I swear, my grandmother had a case of it in the cold room just for me. After it was set up, we went around the table placing crepes on each plate as everyone chattered about farming and hunting or family news. No cell phones or internet back then. People actually had to talk to each other to get family news, or read out loud a letter that had come in the mail from one of the early globetrotters. I sat next to my Granddad. He thought I was a little bit too enthusiastic of a maple syrup connoisseur, so he stayed close to manage my heavy handed pour technique.
I spent the better part of my toddler years mastering the art of the proper crepe degustation techniques. My grandmother, would lay hers flat on the plate, delicately spread the soft butter so all but the edges had a taste. She likely had churned the butter herself at some point but by the time I was born we bought it from the farm co-op. After the butter ceremony, it was a light schmoosh of raspberry jam. She definitely made her own jam. Store bought jam did and still does have too much unnecessary refined sugar. Just my opinion. Once the jam was covering the now melted butter, the fold began. In half, then half again until she had a little triangle on her plate. She would start at the edge and slice off bite sized pieces until the middle corner was all that was left. Sipping her coffee and listening to the conversations around the table. Making sure everyone had enough this or that, and could she get them anything else.
I doubt she ever ate a fully hot meal in all her life unless it was served in a restaurant. She loved the chatter at the table and I think, it was more than enough for her to listen rather than participate. I find myself often engaged in the listening and cooking and proper hostessing, emulating her extroverted introverted-ness.
I remember once, a guest, randomly eating a stack of crepes like they were buttermilk pancakes. Hideous display really. Dripping the precious syrup from the plates, making a sticky messy trail of wasted yumminess, all the way to her mouth. Waste of good syrup. Tsk tsk. She was never invited back by the way. I was very young, I assumed because of the syrup.
My uncle tried to show me the most efficient way of eating a crepe, by sneaking it out of the oven while Grandma was busy and stuffing the entire crepe in his mouth at once. He smiled this gargantuan bulging cheeky smile and sauntered off to the boot room to take off his work boots. He ate the rest of his lunch cold. Grandma made him clean the muddy trail from the boot room to the oven, while everyone else ate a nice warm meal. He was probably in his 40’s at the time. She may have been tiny but she had all the power in family even then. With nine children, all but two were boys, she had to be a strong woman. My Grandad, ate his crepes like he was in a hurry to get back outside. Buttered, dusted in cinnamon, then rolled into a tight cigar, and dipped into a small saucier of warmed maple syrup.
When I first arrived in Paris again, almost 5 years ago, my coveted excursion was going out late at night to the little crepe stand in St Germain in the 6th. You know the one beside the Abbey de St Germain des Pres? I must have tried them all in my year in Paris, but they don’t serve one with maple syrup. Maybe its just too Quebecois for Paris. Either way, it was a nice way to not get home sick. Keep experimenting with French culture until the lines between Canada and France no longer existed for me.
By now you must be asking yourself, “did she make her own damn crepes today or not? Get to point Canuck!” I am fairly skilled in the kitchen, I can invent and experiment with ingredients and create delicious little dishes with the best of them. Cooking is in my DNA, but its only my passion when I cook pour mes amis. For myself, its really just fuel so I can continue photographing and writing. Pouring my heart and soul onto paper and print like maple syrup onto my crepes. So no, I did not make my own crepes today.
I wandered the Marche de Antibes outside my front door. Smelling the fresh fruit and veggies, sampling the brie, and chevre, and stopping at my local boulangerie for a packet of their very perfectly made crepes. I can not make them any better or cheaper than they can. Also, I don’t have to clean up the batter stuck to the sides of the crepe pan after either. Vive la France! 🇫🇷
So for those of you not yet here, still dreaming the dream, I wish you the very best day of France for me, Happy Jour de Crepes! For those of you brave enough to have made the leap and are living your dream here, avoir un Joyeux le Chandeleur! For my friends and family back in Canada and the US, Happy Groundhog Day! Bisous, jusqu'à ce que nous nous revoyions!