In my early 20’s, I did some short-term non-profit work in Kenya. I had an option of extending my layover in London for $20 for up to two weeks. I jumped at the opportunity to do a little backpacking and fulfill a lifelong dream to visit Europe. I took the Chunnel from London to Paris and couldn’t wait to fall in love with the City of Lights.
Except it was broad daylight and I was lost and carrying a 50lb pack with all of my worldly possessions in it. After wandering and backtracking and asking directions from the disapproving locals, I found my hostel after an hour. I nearly cried with relief.
The neighborhood was…sketchy. Close to the Moulin Rouge, it had a fascinating mix of people, mostly tourists, drug addicts, and aggressively struggling artists. I was terrified and charmed at once.
I checked into the hostel which matched the neighborhood. It was filthy, but I was in Paris. Paris is dirty, right? Like every other big city in the world. I paid a few extra bucks for bed linens, threw my stuff in my room, and took off to explore the city in the early summer light.
I found the subway with no problem this time. I boarded and felt my heart leap as we came above ground and I had my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. I might have gotten choked up seeing the great steel structure. I had dreamed of Paris since I was a little girl. And my dream was coming true.
I got off the subway at the nearest stop to the Eiffel Tower. I made a beeline for it, overwhelmed with the grandness of it. It was everything I dreamed it would be.
I spotted a man with a small crêpe stand, and ordered a Nutella crêpe. It was the most revolutionary thing I had ever eaten. Then I ordered a savory crêpe with spinach and ham and brie. It was the second best thing I had ever eaten. I took my crêpes and a bottle of water to the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower and laid back. I watched people come and go, everyone full of laughter and early summer sparkle. Then I grabbed another Nutella crêpe on my way back to the train.
It was 9:00pm and still light outside. I made my way back to my hostel, suddenly feeling very vulnerable. I held my head high, looked straight ahead, and expertly ignored the calls for attention and invitations to share cigarettes with French men. I got to the hostel with a sigh of relief and headed up to my room.
I opened the door. A tiny mouse scattered across the floor. It was charming in an odd way. I mean, it was very Parisian, right? I made my bed, took a shower, and headed downstairs to see what was happening in the bar/lounge. I made some friends, shared a cheap bottle of wine, and then went back to my room to sleep.
Except I did not sleep.
I pulled my sheets back and there were…unwanted bed mates. I wish I could say they were bedbugs, but they were much larger and horrifying. I swatted them out of my bed (remember, I had just been in Africa so it was NBD), and pulled out my can of African bug repellent. I opened the window to ventilate the room and tried to settle in.
My sleep was uneasy, to say the least. Noise and lights and music from the street drifted into my room and I felt like I was actually in the middle of the revelry. People on the fire escape outside my room were drinking and singing. It was too hot and poisonous to close the window, though.
I finally nodded off around 3:00, only to be woken up by a cat chasing a very large rat around my room. They had both entered through my open window. I watched the cat catch the rat, incapacitated it, and then took his leave through the window. Then it was just me and a slowly dying rat in my pest-infested hostel room at 6:30 am.
It was a sign.
I got up, showered again, packed all of my gear, and checked out. I spent the morning searching for a decent place to stay, and in the process offended every Parisian ever with my questions and unintelligible French. All the good hostels had been booked well in advance. I ate another fantastic crêpe by the Eiffel Tower and then booked an overnight train to Prague. While I loved the tower and crêpes, I couldn’t leave Paris fast enough.
I’ve been back to Paris a few times since then. Each experience was progressively better, but besides the food, art, and architecture, I never was able to surrender my heart to the city.
I still have a strong affinity for crêpes, though. They’re hard to master, but I certainly try even with my food intolerances. I gave this recipe a go, and I love the simplicity and versatility of it. The crêpes themselves are simple, and so is the filling. This particular crêpe lands somewhere between a Florentine and Lorraine, so I created a hybrid. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
Ingredients for Crêpes:
- 2 eggs
- 2 oz cream cheese
- pinch of nutmeg and cinnamon
Directions for Crêpes:
- Blend all of the ingredients together in a blender or magic bullet until smooth.
- Tap the batter on the counter to release some of the bubbles. (I’m too impatient to wait for them to settle on their own!)
- In a lightly greased sautee pan on medium low heat, pour batter into pan. Rotate the pan quickly to spread batter out before it cooks too much. You want the crepe to be thin and even.
- Flip when crepe is firm and the batter is no longer shiny on top. Once flipped, the crêpe will cook very quickly, (30 seconds).
Ingredients for Filling:
- 1 slice of ham, cut into postage stamp sized pieces
- 1 handful of raw spinach
- 1 small slice of brie
Directions for Filling:
- Heat up ham in a skillet (I use the crepe skillet)
- Add the spinach and just wilt it a bit. It should be warm but not slimy.
- Put filling in an open crepe, and top with brie.
- Crack a little fresh pepper over it, and if you have it, a garlic mustard aioli.
- Fold up like a burrito, leaving one end open. Serve immediately.
This is street food at it’s finest. It’s so yummy and easy. I love this for breakfast, especially because you get your greens in. You can make the crepes in advance and use them for sandwich wraps, or make it sweet and add a little honey and vanilla to the batter and stuff with hazelnut chocolate spread. You could make them thicker and call it a pancake. The options are endless!i
This is as close to Paris as I ever want to be again. Italy, on the other hand…