The story began on the very sunny morning of Autumn. I went to the bakery to buy some fresh baguette for breakfast and stepped for a countless time to nearby brocante which isn't really placed on my way home but I found it so irresistible, that I couldn't not pay another visit. It's amazing place, where displayed objects are telling the stories about many lives and many families. Wooden, celling-high shelves are bending under the old linen tablecloths, with hand embroidered initials. On the rusty metal hangers, suspended yellowed lace wedding dresses sadly remind about the time passing by. Today they could be only be used for some scenic costumes in the play about the life on the french country side in early XIX century. Wooden and marble tables, of all shapes and highs are filled with never cleaned sets of silver cutlery, limpid china from Sevres and all kind of trinkets, from ivory sculptured ring for elegant hold of cigarillos, by bronze buste of Marie Antoinette to cristal chess play from Art Deco period.
Every time I'm visiting this amazing place, I'm lost for few minutes despite the fact I know by heart it's each and single corner. Sometimes I manage to exchange few words with the owner of this antique cave, sitting in a big armchair covered with canvas from Jouy. Usually she's sleeping deeply and when I have to wake her up to ask for the price of the interesting item I feel really sorry for spiders that weaved some webs between her and the armchair where she sat few years ago and certainly never got up. I asked myself many times how this kind of place exist in our modern world?
But let's go back to the trinkets. On the said morning of Autumn, two little frames on the window display catched my attention. They contained yellowed pictures of kids but those beautiful frames didn't left me indifferent. I woke up the lady from the armchair as well as her spiders to ask for the price. She announced such a high amount, I though she's looming in the morning lethargy. "I bargain them from the Devil himself" she said noticing my astonishment and some flames light up her eyes. I turned over one of the frame looking for some indications about where is this picture come from or who's face was captured on it. And I crumbled. "2 rue de Fraîches Femmes" - it was the address written with neat, calligraphic writing, already slightly shaded.
I perfectly knew this address. Nay! Every single soul in the village knew this place. It was the address of the Haunted House. We were passing it by many times during our never ending walks with boys. We couldn't see much by the dusty windows. Sometimes, the ray of sun lighted some strange contours of still shapes inside the house but we never managed to perceive any sign of human presence. But on the late evenings, when I was picking up some bread from bakery, I often raised my eyebrows when noticing thin stream of light coming from on of the windows on the first floor. Any form of life who lived in this strange house didn't crave for peoples company.
Not only the house reminded the mystery for us. Together with Sacha, countless times we were looking for the entrance to the adjacent wild, abandoned garden, shining through the leaky fence. None of the five doors leading to it couldn't be open and the enormous main gate was permanently tided with overgrown moss, clearly indicating that visitors aren't welcome.
But as my oldest son is one of the most stubborn human beings I ever met, he insisted and at the beginning of this week we venture once again those forbidden fields. To Sacha's joyful surprise we discovered a gap in a concrete wall that we had to cross immediately. Sacha - to finally see what's hiding behind and me and Aiden to find Sacha. It took us a while to get used to the prevailing, in this boundless park, gloom. Autumn's sun bashfully shone through the leafs of wide plane-trees. We found a wooden swing hanging on one of them. Ordinary piece of wood, attached to two clear ropes. The board was pretty new, got me thinking that we aren't the only ones to explore this magical land. As soon as Sacha got bored from swinging up to the sky, we decided to have a look on what's hiding behind the old cast iron door leading from garden to the Haunted House. To my surprise this part of elevation was well maintained and windows clear. One of them, wide open, was letting the fresh air into the room filled with cages for birds. In those cages, parrots covered with feathers of all color of the rainbow loudly announced our arrival. "Would you like some tea?" - I heard a low voice, coming from the back of the room.
Surprised Sacha quickly jump on the windowsill and shout all excited "Mama, mama, somebody is living here!". I timidly looked inside and saw the scene from the fairy tale. The most charming old lady was sitting in her rocking chair in the middle of the small room, filled from floor-to-celling with books and cages. "Don't be afraid. I'm not a ghost"- she said to me. I smiled widely. "People say it's a haunted house. And that you are a ghost " - said ruthlessly my oldest son. "Do I look like a phantom" - asked the old lady. "Nope. May I have a cookie?" - Sacha wasn't impressed at all by this unconventional rendez-vous. His usual shyness always disappears when sweets are involved. "Yes you may. And call me Mary" - said our host, laughing. Sacha grabbed one cookie in one hand, his brother's hand in the other and they both disappeared in the garden. Mary raised from her rocking chair asking if we could move to the garden. I could see that children's presence, their laughs and joy of being please her. We sat on the wooden chairs and she told me the story how her lasting loneliness weaved the legend about the Haunted House. She was a widow. Her children and grand-children spread all over the world and this house and garden reminded her about those cheerful moments they had together. She lived in two worlds - in the past and in the frightening presence. The fact that people avoided her property by some unexplained fear was handy for her. She could spend her last years talking with parrots, diving into the past by leafing through the photo albums and watching breathtaking sunsets on the Seine river bank that ended one of the garden's borders. I apologized about our intrusion while we were sipping delicious tea from china cup. I told her about picture frames that brought us to her mansion. She smiled warmly. "I saw you with boys few times, while you were searching the way to get into my garden. They remind me my sons. I knew that one day you will appear in front of my door and that's why I ordered to fix the swing.. You can come back whenever you want. Even when windows will be close." she said and put her puckered hand on mine.
Twilight thrown me and freezing boys out from Mary's garden. We said good bye promising to come back very soon.
"She's a cool old lady" - said Sacha by swallowing the third in the row crêpe with salted caramel I prepared for the goûter. Boys FLR are mad about them and require this sweet treat at least once er week. I got the recipe from my husband as a Christmas gift. Yes, I belong to this endangered species that instead of pearl jewelry prefer the culinary ones. One of my husband's grandmothers was an amazing cook and spend her whole life on Brittany countryside. The recipe comes from her so you can be sure this is the REAL ONE. The old Brittany legend says that you can keep ready caramel in the fridge for a week. I never seen a caramel in our fridge for such a long period of time.
If any of you, dear readers would like to go easy on lipids and sugar by making the lighter version of caramel and changing the real cream on his less heavy friend, butter on the vegetable spread and sugar on... well, actually I have no idea how to replace sugar that can melt in caramel... please, let me just tell you that this has no sens as only the original version will give you this full, intense flavor, wandering on your palate long after the last bite of crêpe. I know it for sure because when I'm putting a plate filled with hot, still smoking pancakes, poured all over with sticky, liquid golden in front of Mr FLR he always gives me this look full of love and adoration that says "If I could, I would marry you one more time".
Making French crêpes it's a very challenging skill. Those savory ones, prepared on the base of buckwheat flour are called galettes and much wine will run through my cristal glass before I will get close to cook them they way they should be cooked. But to my personal satisfaction I master the sweet ones so good that even woke up at three o'clock in the morning I will prepare them in the most sublime way you ever taste. For years I used to add some fresh, grated orange peel, according to Erwan's grandmother recipe but since my Tuscany Auntie Gosia shared with me the way of making the magical powder from dry citrus peel, only this version is capable to flatter the fancy palate of FLR family. There is another old Brittany legend saying that the batter for crêpes should rest for couple of hours after you preparing it. I never manage to knew why is so. Every time I'm making the batter, I'm meeting the sad faces and wet eyes of my men, clearly letting me know that only the immediate consumption of few golden pancakes will keep them from starving to death. And when the sweet, orange arôme floats in kitchen's air I realize that I'm about to satisfy the vital needs of my family and praise myself on how perfect mother and wife I become.
And just between you and me: I'm getting doubtful about all those French legends and stories about ghosts.
Crêpes with Salted Butter Caramel
Crêpes au caramel au beurre salé
375 g wheat flour
1 liter of milk
2 egg yolks
pinch of salt
50 g of crystal sugar
50 g melted butter (plus extra for frying)
generous teaspoon powdered dry orange peel or peeledzest of one orange
100 g of crystal sugar
200 ml double whipping cream
30 g salted butter
Batter: pour milk, eggs, egg yolks and salt, into a bowl of a blender and mix for 30 seconds. Add remaining ingredients and mix everything to smooth, silky batter. If you have time, please use , the mentioned above, Brittany legend number two and let me know what is the difference. On a hot metal pan (one with a non-stick coating is not suitable for frying French pancakes, they will never be as crisp and delicate at the same time. My husband's grandma never had a modern pan and her pancakes are considered in some high society circles as the best ones), melt a little butter so, that it covers with a thin layer of the entire pan. I fry pancakes at a fairly high temperature, then the batter does not stick to the pan. French crepes are very thin. Just half ladle the soup is enough per one pancake. Fry until golden brown and roll over to the other side. Wrap in roll, triangle or, as Sacha likes - in a diamond (?!).
Salty caramel: evenly sprinkle sugar on a cold pan and allowed to melt on a low heat WITHOUT STIRRING and without the addition of water, to the dark brown color. Heat the cream (but do not boil) in a separate casserole. Put away the pan with the melted sugar away from the stove and add the hot cream. Mix immediately. The first time you do the caramel do not worry if you do large lumps. It took me some time before I came to practice. Just strain the caramel through a sieve, leaving only the liquid. Add the butter and mix well. Use a Brittany legend number one and let me know if it's somehow possible.
Pour caramel generously over the crêpes and ...