Monday, June 11, 2007

Paris Wrapped

Charleston Crepe Company
www.charlestoncrepecompany.com
(843) 573-3458

The heady years I spent living in Paris afforded daily gifts of joy; long strolls along the Seine on haunting slate-gray days, awestruck wonder at the sprawling spires and glaring gargoyles of Notre Dame, and on and on and on. Those are just some examples. There is a pool of millions; of these, at least thousands involved food.

When guests or family visited, we splurged by supping at Paris' most noteworthy eateries, but most of the time, my constantly curious culinary life was relegated to the much humbler fare of a regular Parisian Joe, if there really is such a thing. I was a loyal client of bistros, corner cafes, and the most fabulous French invention of all, a crepe hot off the grill at one of the Paris' ubiquitous crepe vending stands. For just $3, I was swept away into the gooey, yummy world of melting swiss cheese and salty ham on a savory day or the indulgence of Nutella on a sweet one.

Well, except for occasional visits to lovely Paris, those days are gone, but the memory of the silken, bubbly, browned crepes and their assorted fillings remain, along with a constant craving for them and the Parisian senses they recall with almost cruel abandon. When it strikes, I fulfill it in an 100% authentically Parisian way at the Charleston Crepe Company's crepe stand at the Charleston Farmers Market (Saturdays, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. on Marion Square). There you can find husband and wife team Jack & Rachel Byrne and their young staff griddling their way through the inevitable and nearly constant frenzy of activity at their booth - especially around lunch time.

Any wait, even the occasional 20-minute one, is well worth it. Their honey ham and Swiss cheese crepe, slathered with a generous layer of plucky Dijon mustard, is as good as any you can find in Paris. The crepe itself, no matter what the filling, is always tender and moist, due in part to the French griddles the team employs to craft their tasty wares. Recently, I broke from tradition and sampled Charleston Crepe's Southwestern crepe-take - the Chicken, Black Bean, Corn, and Salsa Crepe. Though less traditional, it was an earthy wonder of pulled chicken, crunchy fresh corn and more.

Take my advice - put in your name and get in line for one of Charleston Crepe's many crepe creations, including the incredibly French Nutella confection concoction. You won't regret it. Their crepes are simply Paris "wrapped" and taste just as delicious gobbled down in a cozy corner of Charleston as they do in the City of Lights. The bustling crepe stand also sets up on Tuesday afternoons at the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market in front of Moultrie Middle School and caters at many functions and parties around town.

6 comments:

Bill Harris said...

During my own nine-year stay in France I was instructed that crepes originated in the province of Brittany.

Because of the region's relative degree of under-development, Britons seeking work would disembark at Montparnasse station and set up a virtual mini-culture in the quarter. Indeed, there were vestiges of this during my time in the seventies; but this has more recently disappeared due to modern gentrification.

What hasn't, ostensibly, are the crepe stations. These remain a big hit both with the Latin Quarter crowd that roams Boulevard St Germain (just blocks from Notre Dame and the Seine!) and, of course, the scads of tourists who enjoy Paris for what it is: the second greatest walking city in the world.

Crepes come in either the white or black flour variety; the bleached employed for sweet stuffing, and the “ble noir” for the “sales”. In this regard, Brittany is rightfully renowned for its jams—blackberry in particular—and its wildflower honey. Traditional savories seem to gyrate around omelet, ham and cheese combos, but with an interesting twist:
The traditional Briton cheese stuffing of the local fresh varieties has been supplanted by French Gruyere…not “Swiss”.

What prevents Paris from being the number one walker is, bien entendu, the absence of nearby beaches, a magnificent bay, and a bunch of really nice locals who don’t make me feel uncomfortable when I try to speak the language. Besides, I really don’t care how many battles Napoleon won; and if I want to go Louvre-ing, I can Google up the entire collection.

So it would seem as if all Paris has over Charleston are those great roasted chestnuts that are purchased by the bag just next to any creperie. And, of course, voila my modest proposal that someone open a crepe restaurant suitable for serving glasses of hard, dry, apple cider. Might Clara’s consider this a possibility?

Bill Harris

Holly Herrick said...

Bill,

Thanks so much for writing. I didn't know about the Brittany connection. Most interesting. I agree both Charleston and Paris are fabulous walking cities. We're both blessed to have been able to enjoy both. Best, Holly

Bill Harris said...

Hi Holly,

Writing from this hypermegapolis called "Atlanta", Paris indeed appears as the "Charleston of Europe". And as employment with a good company scrapes hard against fond memories, one day, perhaps, I'll write full-time and we'll be neighbors.

As for Brittany, my closest French friends are from Perros Guirec; which is to say that their local lore has to a certain extent become my own.

Ditto for their enigma of arrival at Montmartre Station. All eighteenish, dazed, confused and virtually hand in hand, one imagines how they eked out of the "Quartier de la Blanche Hermine" into the wider world; yet sought comfort in the downstairs Kreiz Ker over bowls of cider.
And for them, of course, the street crepe served as comfort food.

So my deepest thanks for having written such a lovely article that old memories have been provoked. Yours is, moreover, a gift of drawing profound meaning from sensory events.

Ciao, Bill

Holly Herrick said...

Bill,

Un grand merci, indeed. If you ever make it to our mini-metropolis again, for a crepe, memories or otherwise, be sure to let me know. I'd love to meet you to discuss the France we know and love. Aside from Paris, I'm most familiar with the Languedoc-Roussilon region where I lived and owned a house for quite some time.

All the best, Holly

Bill Harris said...

Hi Holly,

A sojourn to Charleston would not be complete sans the honor of your presence.

Where, by the way, were you in LR?

My own experience in that area are a bit sparse: a rafting trip down the Dorgogne with my two daughters, some meandering along the coast, a visit to Cahors, and that infamous summer of 72 camping on the Causses (Gardem lo Larzac!).

You should write a book on your experiences, by the way; perhaps as an American abroad getting into a French sub-culture exotic even by native standards. 'Love to hear more...

Bill

Holly Herrick said...

Bill,

I was in a village called Chalabre, not too far from Mirepoix, Foix, Cahors or Perpignan. It is a lovely, central point for travelers of South-Central France - mostly vistied by Brits and Germans. Yet a third book plan in the works, depending on what happens with the two pending...It would be a memoir of the time I spent there with my dog, Waco. Thanks for the tip. Send me your email address (you can go to hollyherrick@hotmail.com, please, so we can converse directly vs. back and forth on the blog. In the meantime, thanks to you and all visiting here. Will have an update mid-week. Until the next time, Holly

PS- The Dordogne - have never been!

Culinary Cost-Cutting 101

Coupon Crazy

When I was a little girl, I marveled while watching my Great Aunt Frances sitting at her linoleum-topped kitchen table, cutting coupons from the daily newspaper in the tiny Kansas town she lived in until she was nearly 100 years old.

It seemed like such a waste of energy in order to save a few pennies on, what I thought, were probably things she wouldn't normally buy anyway. But, I was naive. She, a thrifty survivor of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, had her coupon system down pat and it's probably one of the reasons she made it through a long life of hard times, many of them spent alone.

The latest bout of monetary unpleasantness, however, has created a market for New Age couponing systems. The internet now has a number of hot coupon sites (I like couponmom.com) which provide free, brand-name coupons and more if you select to register as a member. They're just a click, a printer, and five minutes away. In addition, many grocery stores' websites offer lists of daily specials. And, here's the kicker. Many provide selections from the kind of items you usually purchase, anyway. That was it for me. The last straw supporting my long-standing anti-coupon mindset finally broke its resistant back.

Harris Teeter's online specials shopping list became this list-hater's new best friend. I dipped into it with reckless abandon. With a little practice and increasing knowledge, I'm slowly forming my own semi-profitable coupon system. By combining the free manufacturer's coupons from sites like couponmom.com with a daily special shopping list constructed from Harris Teeter's web site (harristeeter.com) , my handy VIC card, and an extra dose of concentration at the grocery store, I have scored some serious savings.

The best yet happened last week. Granted, it was a big sales day at the downtown Teeter. The store was offering buy one get one, two or even three, all over the place on big ticket items like beef, coffee and wine. Since I'm expecting company in a couple weeks, I decided to stock up on these and other staples. The net result was a whopping $67 total savings. In essence, I bought three weeks-worth of groceries for less than I usually spend in one week!

My heart raced with anticipation as I watched the basket cave with the weight of my cache and the numbers creeping slowly higher on the cash register. Then, as the cashier started calculating in the selected coupons, the numbers amazingly started going down. It was like getting on the scale after a week of gorging Haagen-Dazs only to find you'd lost five pounds. I was beaming. She was beaming and said, "You did good today!"


Admittedly, a follow-up trip to replenish the fresh vegetable drawer just one week later only yielded $10 in savings, but next time I'll do better. I'm on a coupon-crazed mission. Intelligent use of coupons and smart shopping add up to saving a lot more than pennies. And, I'm not in Kansas anymore.

One Plucky Chicken, Four Marvelous Meals

With grocery costs rocketing to the stratosphere, it’s imperative to save wherever you can at the supermarket without eliminating taste. In addition to reaching for reduced daily specials, what you buy and how you put it to use in your kitchen can happily translate to huge savings with bodacious bite.

In this era of grocery gouging, chicken can become your new best friend for just pennies per four ounce serving when paired with practical pantry staples like pasta and veggies. Low in fat, high in protein and exceptionally versatile, chicken marries equally well with the exotic (think truffles or saffron) to the humble (think roasted potatoes and rosemary).

For these reasons, it’s a regular menu guest at my house, where I pride myself on transforming a single, four pound chicken (preferably organic and purchased at a reduced rate) into four fabulous feasts for a group of four. That’s sixteen meals, folks! A four pound chicken runs anywhere from $6-$10 (depending on where and how you shop), throw in a little change for ingredients to flesh it out into a meal (4X), and you’re looking at less than $20. A night out for a family of four at any fast food favorite will set you back the same amount or more faster than you can say “heart attack”.

Gotcha? Let me tell you how it’s done!

Meal #1: This is the launching pad for the meal plan event(s) – a whole roasted chicken. Since it’s going to be transformed several times, keep the seasoning simple – ground pepper, a nice crust of coarse salt and a rub down with olive oil. Roast at 425 until done (about 20 minutes per pound) and top it with a few love pats of butter to sink deeply into the bird. Allow the roasted chicken to rest and re-absorb its juices. Cut the both legs and thighs away from the chicken (reserving warm). Cut the breasts away from the rib cage, cool and store in your refrigerator for later use. Serve both legs and both thighs with steamed vegetables and roasted potatoes for a satisfying, nutritional meal. Go ahead and prepare a pan gravy with a little roux, white wine, chicken stock, Dijon mustard and fresh tarragon to dress things up, but hold on to the carcass!

Meal #2: Start this after the roast chicken dinner to prepare for tomorrow’s old-fashioned and DELICIOUS chicken noodle soup. With a sturdy chef’s knife, cut up the reserved carcass remnants – the rib cage and spine – into four or five coarse chunks and put them in a two quart soup pot with a quartered onion, carrot, celery stalk and a clove or two of garlic to make an impromptu stock. Add a few peppercorns, a bay leaf and fresh thyme for added flavor. Bring it up to a boil, reduce to a slow simmer over low heat and forget about it for three to four hours. Allow to cool and refrigerate, covered, overnight.
About thirty minutes before you’re slotted to serve dinner, skim off any accumulated fat off the top of the stock, strain it, discarding all solids except any bits of chicken flesh. Finely chop an onion, carrot and celery stalk and sauté them in the same pot with a tablespoon of olive oil until softened. Season, return the strained stock to the pan and bring up to a boil. Add reserved chicken and about ¼ pound of dried pasta (flat noodles, spaghetti, linguini – your choice) and cook until tender. Serve with a drizzle of fresh herbs (parsley, tarragon, or thyme will do) and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. A small, fresh salad and warm baguette make this a meal.

Meal #3: Chicken Salad Deluxe! This is where you can really have fun with chicken’s flavor/texture marriage versatility. Cut one of the reserved breasts into chunky, ½” cubes and toss in a bowl with coarsely chopped dried cranberries (or another dried fruit like figs or currants), coarsely chopped roasted almonds, fresh herbs, a dollop of Dijon, a dash of mayo and vinegar, salt and pepper and you’ve got a meal in minutes over a bed of greens. Other flavors that work in tandem with chicken include curry, paprika, cinnamon and almost any fresh herb imaginable. Make this your own!

Meal #4: Chicken Sandwiches Supreme! Again, versatility and imagination set the stage for show-stopping chicken sandwiches prepared with freshly roasted chicken breast. Go for the best quality bread you can find, from baguette to whole grain, and fill it with thinly cut slices of the remaining breast and toppings. One sliced breast will handily complete four sandwiches. Zip up mayo with fresh basil and Dijon mustard for a fresh, personalized sauce, top with a slice of red onion and crisp romaine. Go whole hog and add a few pieces of browned bacon and a slice of avocado if the mood moves.

Chicken never tasted so good for so little.