I don't know how Pear Crepes got to be Kim's annual Mother's day breakfast. She asked for it once and we've done it every year since. This didn't seem like the year to interrupt the tradition.
Mother's Day is in many ways yet another gift that a mother gives. The yearly ritual of preparing this special breakfast for Kim was more of a gift for me than for her. The girls always feel so special getting to do something for their mom that they know will be so well received.
Sure we cook for Kim many other days during the year. But this is the day that the girls shush each other and follow me quietly into the kitchen and put on aprons. This is the day that they help without losing interest half way through. While performing simple tasks like measuring the flour or cracking the eggs they can hardly contain themselves. "Ooooh, mom's going to love this," they say.
And she always does.
The trick to mother's day crepes is timing. There are many different components that need to come out at the same time. Freshly made caramel sauce, cold whipped cream, pears sauteed in butter, and, of course, the pancakes themselves.
It is harder, but infinitely more rewarding, to have help in the kitchen. Each year when I crack the eggs I remember Maggie cracking them on the back window when she was not yet two. She stood by the door with the carton of eggs at her side, proudly showing me her achievement as the yolks ran down the glass. When I measure out the flour I hear Elena saying "oops" and giggling as she dumped the over filled cup of flour in the bowl before leveling it off. No big deal. If you put in too much of the dry you just add more of the wet and everything works out. It's just cooking. Mom'll still love it.
And she did.
Elena loved the subtle differences you could get with different types of pancakes. She liked the thick fluffy kind, she loved crepes, and she had taken to the kind we learned how to make in Amsterdam. A little thicker than crepes and quite a bit bigger. Finished in the oven with various toppings both sweet and savory.
She was puzzled for the longest time about the difference in terminology. Why is it that pancakes and pizza dough are made with the same basic ingredients but one is called a batter and one is called a dough?
With these happy memories I make up a double recipe of crepe batter and set it in the refrigerator to rest while I prepared the other components. This year I'm cooking alone. Maggie has had a bit of a relapse of the flu and Elena, of course, can't be physically present. In some ways its easier. I don't have to step around the chair she always stood on to help me cook. Every time I move to a different task she would get down and move the chair to stand right next to me.
"Can I measure?" Sure.
"Can I stir the batter?" Let me get it started then you.
"How's that?" Great. Now it's my turn again.
"Can I have another turn?" Sure. Now let it rest. Let's do the pears.
"Can I peel them and you be the cutter?" That's a good idea.
Maggie would pull up her own chair. "Can I cut?" Sure. Just tuck your fingers under so you don't cut them. "I know."
Elena would peel and Maggie would cut the pears. Before tossing them in the pan I'd take a paring knife and shave off stray bits of skin that had been missed or cut out pieces of the core that hadn't been cut out.
This year I peel the pears myself. It goes more quickly. And yet it doesn't. As the last pear is diced I smell the butter melting in a saute pan. I scrape the pears off the cutting board into the pan and give the pan a shake to coat the fruit. The smell of pears cooking in butter is heavenly. I have some strawberries that need to be used so I dice them and cook up some of them in a simple syrup so that Kim canß have strawberry crepes as well.
For me, caramel is magic. It is the science experiment I love to teach the girls. It is chemistry. It is test tubes being mixed and then heated over a bunsen burner.
Put sugar and just enough water to dissolve it in a sauce pan and cook it until it is amber and smells the way you remember good carnival caramel corn smells. Off the stove you whisk in heavy cream. Two white and one clear ingredient cooked to a thick beautiful brown sweet sauce. Magic.
With the stage set, the other pint of cream comes out of the freezer where I've put it to chill. Into the mixer while two pans heat on the stove begging for batter. The cream comes to perfect peaks as the pans come to temperature.
This year Kim helps with the breakfast. She makes coffee in the french press. She's been asking to help with something for an hour. Why shouldn't a mom get to join in the fun on her day.
It's a hard day.
There's so much not said. People check in to see how she's doing. Her first mother's day after her baby has died. Someone has taken the time to write a note and slip it through the door. It's nearly three months since Elena has died and our extended community still has us wrapped tightly in their thoughts.
I spray the first pan with a butter flavored spray and ladle in the perfect amount of batter swirling it around until it stops running and sets in place. While it cooks I do the same with the other pan. Where's the dog? Usually the first crepe in each pan belongs to her after they cool off.
They come out perfectly. I put pears and caramel in one and strawberry in the other. I roll them and top them with the whipped cream. Kim sits at the table eating them. It's a happy mother's day and a very sad one. I stand in the kitchen and eat while I continue to cook. It's what I always do, but usually she is sitting in there with the kids. I bring in more crepes and see her sitting alone eating her mother's day breakfast by herself.
I sit for a bit and we eat together. No knowing what to say. Not right now. Before the day is over we'll have plenty to say and share. But not right now.
She takes the dishes into the kitchen and I follow. I clean up the pans and mixing bowls. She goes and checks on Maggie. She feels the forehead of her daughter and brings her more ginger ale and heats up some chicken soup.
Because that's what a mom does on Mother's day.