A couple of weeks ago, we had our friends Tita and John over for breakfast. This isn’t an uncommon occurrence. These are two of our favorite people in the world. However, it was Tita’s birthday recently, so this was a special occasion. We wanted to fix her whatever she wanted to eat.
She thought when we asked her, then said, “You know, when we were first married and really poor, we had the same two poverty dinners over and over: souffle and crepes. All they require is flour, eggs, and a little milk. It has been long enough since then I think I could enjoy them again. How about crepes and souffle?”
You bet, Tita. Anything for you.
Danny made a towering souffle with whole-grain gluten-free flours, which sank slowly on the table for the next fifteen minutes as we finished the crepes. We knew we wanted to make the best for Tita. We needed a good recipe.
This was a no-brainer (as Tita likes to say). We turned to Heidi Swanson’s new book, Super Natural Every Day: Well-loved Recipes from My Natural Foods Kitchen, which had just arrived in the mail.
Heidi never lets us down.
This time, especially, Heidi’s recipe worked beautifully. We set the table with quince paste, small slivers of salami, pesto that Tita made for us last summer that had been sitting in the freezer ever since, slices of Gruyere cheese, and sauteed apples. “Dig in, everyone,” Danny declared. And we ate, contentedly munching on one kind of filled crepe after another, talking together, happy.
This is what Heidi does. She suggests food to you that you might like, because she has taken such pleasure in that simple recipe in her kitchen, the sun shining through the window as she chews. She wants to share something with you, whether it’s an egg salad made with yogurt instead of mayonnaise, or cabbage soup with chickpeas and mustard/cheddar croutons, or ginger cookies with dried apricots and shaved chocolate. Everything in her book (and her website) sounds healthful and unpretentious. And always utterly delicious.
I’ve been reading Heidi’s website since before I started this one. Back in 2005, there weren’t that many food blogs out there. I remember that I stumbled on Clotilde’s site because my dear friend Sharon sent me the link in an email saying, “Can you believe this? Someone who talks about food as much as we do writes about it in a website!” It was such a strange and wondrous idea at the time. From Clotilde I found Heidi. And I sat there, staring, at the beautifully lit photographs: cream-colored dishes set on a wooden table, Northern Californian light flooding in from the side. I had a point and shoot and memories of a family Polaroid. I had never taken photographs like that. However, looking at Heidi’s site, I somehow thought that I could learn to look at light that way someday.
She is still inspiring me, every time I click over to see what she is cooking now.
Of course, her food always inspires me as well.
I love that Heidi uses what must seem like unusual ingredients for many folks — cardamom, tempeh, dukkah, pepitas, black sesame paste — and makes them feel familiar. Her recipes, and particularly in this book, are simple to prepare, with few ingredients. She truly wants you to cook, to sit down and eat well. With easier preparations, the ingredients that come from a well-stocked health food store don’t seem so intimidating.
Plus, there is this soda bread, an adaptation of Heidi’s soda bread with our whole-grain gluten-free flour mix and oat flour. (If you can’t eat oats, you could try quinoa or amaranth flour. Heidi would encourage you to use either, I’m sure.) It bakes up golden brown, moist on the inside, and waiting for a slathering of the dill butter Heidi shows you how to make in the book.
If somehow you don’t eat up all that bread the day it is baked, you can cut it into cubes and make up the strata in Heidi’s book. This one not only tastes wonderful — with flecks of crumbled feta and flicks of fresh oregano — but you put it together before you go to bed, put it in the refrigerator, and slide it in the oven when you wake up.
Now that’s my kind of everyday food.
Heidi inspires me with her passion for natural foods. What does that mean? Foods in their whole, natural state, not besmirched by food dyes, gums, or unpronouncable names. Food the way it’s meant to be eaten. It’s how we eat around here now too. This book is going to fall apart at the seams before we’re done cooking with it.
Life’s funny. I once stared at Heidi’s site in awe and now she and I are friends. I’m grateful for her presence in my life.
Buy this book and you can have Heidi in your kitchen too.
GLUTEN-FREE WHOLE GRAIN CREPES, adapted from Super Natural Every Day: Well-loved Recipes from My Natural Foods Kitchen
I first made crepes with a friend whose mother is French, well over a decade ago. As he poured some batter into a hot pan, then deftly turned and rotated it until every part of the surface was covered in golden crepe batter, I knew this was something he had seen done many times. Certainly as a child he had grown up eating crepes with his parents, perhaps a Sunday tradition, a simple ritual that stuck with him in muscle memory. He made us a plate full of rolled crepes and set them on the table. We grabbed good cheese for one set of crepes, Nutella for another. And we ate, talking, sharing childhood memories and devouring those crepes together.
After going gluten-free, I didn’t know if I would ever eat crepes again.
Thanks to Heidi’s foolproof recipe, we’ve eaten crepes several Sundays in a row. The secret is in the patience. We combined buckwheat flour (the kind we grind ourselves from raw groats) and some of our whole grain mix for a healthy whole-grain crepe. They’re light and lilting, even with all those whole grains. If you want to use different flours, simply substitute those for ours with the same weight. Unlike other recipes for crepes I have seen, Heidi doesn’t have you using a blender. Instead, combine everything together and run the batter through a sieve. After that, you let it sit. That’s the hardest part. It’s worth it.
If you’d like to see how to run the crepe batter around the pan, and flip them in the air if you feel daring, we’ve made you a little video of Danny doing just that.
Now that we have gluten-free crepes down, I wonder what will happen years from now, when Lu stands in a kitchen with a friend and someone suggests making crepes. My guess is that she’ll pull some gluten-free flours toward her, make up a batter, and start turning that pan deftly. After all the years of watching Danny and I do it, she will know how.
85 grams buckwheat flour
140 grams whole grain flour mix
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
3 large eggs
2 cups water, or more if necessary
Butter for cooking
Combining the dry ingredients. Combine the buckwheat flour, whole-grain flour, and salt.
Finishing the batter. Use a fork to stir in the eggs until the dough looks shaggy. Stir in the water gradually, whisking as you go. The batter might seem thin to you, but it will thicken as you let it rest.
Letting the crepe batter sit. Pour the crepe batter through a fine mesh strainer, leaving any lumps in the strainer. Let the batter sit for at least 30 minutes, by which time it should be the consistency of heavy cream. (You can also let the batter sit overnight in the refrigerator.)
Cooking the crepes. Set a large non-stick skillet (or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet) over medium-high heat. Add enough butter to coat the bottom of the pan. When it is hot, add about ¼ cup of crepe batter, or just enough to coat the pan in a thin layer. Rotate the pan so the crepe batters runs along the edges of the pan and covers every part of the surface. Cook until the crepe starts to bubble and moves easily around the pan, about 30 seconds to a couple of minutes, depending on how brown you want the crepes. If you are feeling brave, flip the crepe in the air and let it land in the pan. If that’s overwhelming, flip the crepe with a spatula and turn it over entirely. Brown the other side of the crepe and remove it from the pan.
Make a pile of crepes on a plate and continue cooking until you have used all the batter.
You can fill these with virtually anything that appeals to you: a bit of Comte cheese, some raspberry jam, corn in brown butter, sautéed apples, figs and blue cheese. You get the picture. Soon, you’ll be eating plenty of crepes.
Makes about 12 crepes.