Most of you know that the title of this blog comes from my role as “the rector’s wife.” My husband, Neil, is the rector (head pastor/priest) of a lovely Episcopal Church in Edina, Minnesota. The church does some amazing things within and outside of its walls, and one of the things that supports its outreach ministries in the community is an annual fundraiser called the Johnny Appleseed Bash. “The Bash” started out as an outdoor carnival for the neighborhood, and over the years, it has been expanded to include a live and silent auction. The live auction tends to bring out the friendly competitive spirit of the community, and it’s always fun to see what is donated, and who gets in a bidding war for it. I’ve been lucky enough to emcee the event every once in a while, but giving me a microphone is enough to give my poor husband heart palpitations. What will she say next??
So this year, instead of drumming up bids at the podium, we put our heads together with Neil’s new associate, Susan, and her husband, Brian. We donated a crepe party – Holy Crepe! – and some generous, gracious folks bid on our party and invited a great group of guests. Susan and Brian have made crepes before, and we agreed to provide the place if they brought the food. We went all-out with the French theme, as you’ll see.
For the crepes, we had savory and sweet options. Susan brought the batter and tried out a few test runs to use as appetizers, and then we set our guests loose at the stove, creating their own combinations.
In case you can’t read it, the menu included beverages (kir (Barefoot in Paris), raspberry royale (Barefoot in Paris), cassis a l’eau (Barefoot in Paris), and wine), salads (grapefruit + avocado (from Barefoot in Paris), and endive + orange + roquefort (from Foolproof)). The crepe fillings were prosciutto, shredded chicken, Danish blue cheese, Brie, Gruyere, spinach, roasted asparagus, potatoes, fresh thyme, and garlicky kale. At the end of the evening, we made dessert crepes with nutella, bananas, berry jam, fresh whipped cream, and honey vanilla creme fraiche (The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook). The Eiffel Tower was drawn skillfully by my husband. It was erased later by our kids and replaced with a shrink ray. Sacre bleu and mon dieu and quel damage or something like that.
We even had some French things scattered around the house for effect, including the ubiquitous winter home decor in Minnesota – a beach towel lying by the front door to catch drips from boots.
My dad was a grocer, so we often got super cool grocery swag like this. This particular towel was my swim team favorite for a while.
Even though neither one of us has spent much time in France, I think we’ve absorbed a little bit of the Francophile culture that seems to be popular around Minneapolis … and in Restoration Hardware. What’s not to love?
While the “decorating” (if you can call throwing a beach towel on the floor decorating) was easy, some of the Barefoot in Paris recipes intimidate me. While I’ve pretty well mastered chocolate mousse, the cocktails and salads seemed somehow too exotic and out of our reach. So why not serve them to guests, right?
Well. Everyone had a great time. This party was way outside the limits of my comfort zone. Everyone was in the kitchen, while the dining room was empty. People were cooking at my stove … and loving it! It was a blast. We couldn’t have done it without Susan and Brian, and I think everyone went home well fed and happy.
Susan gave us three rules for making crepes: 1. Safety first! (In other words, if you burned yourself, it wasn’t her fault.) 2. More butter, less batter. 3. Have fun!
That last photo shows my handsome husband smiling in the background, sporting his new beard (it’s been a cold winter!), and getting ready to pour crepe batter. The guest in the chef’s hat is Jack, who donned the hat in a good-natured spar between former Pillsbury employees and former General Mills employees. These Minnesotans, they’re serious about their food companies.
The drinks were fabulous. I looked at several stores for creme de cassis, and finally found it at the old school Surdyk’s in Northeast Minneapolis.
The Northeast part of Minneapolis feels like a foreign country to me, and in a lot of ways it’s different than the rest of the city. This has nothing to do with our French theme, but pardon my digression for a moment. Nothing makes me feel like the small town girl that I am at heart than discovering a new part of a city that I’ve been getting to know for the past almost-7 years. Northeast is a hipster paradise, with its proximity to downtown and the University of Minnesota, but also its ethnic restaurants and old neighborhoods. The folks at Surdyk’s were amazing – no fewer than 3 people asked if I needed help finding anything, and their selection was like nothing I’ve seen since I moved away from Wisconsin. And they had creme de cassis!
This delightful berry liqueur is the main event in several beverages in Barefoot in Paris: it can be mixed with chilled white wine for kir, champagne for kir royale, and water for cassis a l’eau. It was well worth the hunt I had to make to find it.
The salad ingredients were not as challenging to find, but I felt a little bit sorry for our guests for trying out such weird combinations on them. I over-bought avocados, worried that they wouldn’t ripen in time, but they were simply perfect for the grapefruit and avocado salad.
Of course, it’s not nearly as beautiful as the version that graces the pages of Barefoot in Paris, and I did not have high hopes for it. I couldn’t believe I was wasting perfectly good avocados by pairing them with the 1970s’ favorite diet food, grapefruit. To add insult to injury, I had a devil of a time peeling the grapefruit, until I ended up resorting to a bread knife and peeling it like I would have peeled a pineapple.
Well. I was wrong when I thought it would taste awful. So, so wrong. This combination was perfection, and so simple. Our guests raved about it so much that I finally caved and tried it, even though I really don’t care for grapefruit. Oh my. It was amazing. There’s a simple mustard vinaigrette that keeps the avocados looking fresh and somehow marries the flavors together beautifully. I think the salt in the dressing helps, too. But I’m not going to give the dressing all of the credit – our unsung hero, the grapefruit, probably had enough citric acid in it to keep those avocados from turning brown, too. The dish still looked photo-fresh at the end of the evening. The only thing that I might do differently with this is to maybe serve it over some butter lettuce. It was pretty juicy, and I hated to see the dressing and grapefruit juice go to waste. And my whole experience with the grapefruit reminded me that I need to follow my own advice that I give to my kids all the time: try it! You might like it!
The other salad, a combination of arugula, endive, oranges, apples, and roquefort, is the only thing that I didn’t sample, but I’m giving myself half-credit for crumbling the roquefort myself. Blergh. I’m still waiting for those taste buds to grow in, apparently. But our blue-cheese-loving guests claimed it was wonderful, and they dug right in. (Apparently, “try it! you might like it!” only works once per evening on me.)
Both of these salads added a freshness to the table to contrast the falling snow and blowing wind outside, and used as-seasonal-as-we-get-’round-these-parts ingredients.
All in all, the party was a great success. The dessert crepe that I sampled made my eyes roll back in my head for a minute – it was just that good. It was a great lesson in stretching beyond my comfort zone, trying something new, and rolling with it. I’m not sure when I can expect my kitchen to stop smelling like butter, but hey, that’s a small price to pay for a great party and a good cause.