Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far, away, there was a wise, squat, and vaguely green fellow named Yoda. I have loved this wrinkly denizen of a mysterious swamp world since before I could remember. His cadence is unmistakable, his wisdom timeless (and yes, I am fully aware he is a fictional brain child of George Lucas with some heavy influence from Joseph Campbell, but in my childish mind we will say he is still real.) And one day in pondering my own life path, one of his more famous musings ran through my head: “Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.” (and if you are anything like me, you now want to rush and watch Star Wars for the 800th time right now.)
There are many ways to take this, and I’m sure people have written entire tomes tearing it apart, and I’m not going to do that. Mostly because… well… this is about food. And a little about creativity. In my mind, the “try” is the part where most creatives get hung up. I know I do. Not “try” in the literal sense of actually trying something. That is technically “doing” something. “Trying” in this sense is when an idea is borne, gets mapped out a hundred different ways, twisted, turned, poked, prodded, and then stays firmly in the brain of the creator, never going anywhere, because you are so convinced from what you already know that it will never live up to your shining imaginary expectations. But guess what? It has failed before it has even been done if you do not “do.” And really? You need failure to figure the rest of the stuff out. This applies to many a thing in life, but in my little very specific world of my kitchen, it applies to my idea to make crepes in honor of Yoda. Because I “did.” And they were an epic failure.
What? A cooking blog entry about failure? Isn’t everything supposed to be succulent photographs of culinary perfection that induce jealousy and numerous comments about how you should host a dinner party? Probably. But for today, not this one.
One grey December day, I got to thinking about the color green. This is not a rare occurrence in the depths of a Midwest winter, particularly when winters in Chicago have devolved into something more dull and grey than fluffy and white. And yes, this led me to think of Yoda. I can’t actually explain why. Maybe some Jedi mysticism creeping into my brain? Yoda came from Dagoba, notably a rather dreary looking swamp world. With a lot of vegetation. Sure, it looks pretty grey onscreen, but I’m sure if the sun actually shone in any of those scenes it would be green. And as per usual, in the dead of winter when green seems like a distance memory, I craved greens. But I wanted more than a salad. I had notions of making crepes for months. I had dutifully bought a steel crepe pan almost a year previous, just like Julia Child’s, even taking the time to season it just as the directions prescribed. And then promptly never used it. I had visions of crepes dancing in my head, to be sure, and in that magical wonderland I was masterfully doling out the batter, flipping whole crepes with a single sharp flick of the wrist, all the while laughing gregariously and entertaining guests with my crepe mastery. So I was “trying.” But imaginary crepes, while theoretically delicious, are not that filling.
And so while flipping through one of my favorite cookbooks, I came across a recipe for spinach crepes that I had made with some assistance a couple of years prior in a regular ol’ non-stick skillet (non-stick has since been banned from my kitchen.) Spinach is green. This is in crepe form. Something I have yet to “do.” Green. Yoda. Of course! I had to make lurid green spinach crepes in my fancy little steel crepe pan and stuff them with even MORE greens in honor of Yoda. This would be how I would “do!” Yes! Do! No try!
Six weeks later, I finally did it.
I decided to make the spinach crepes and then stuff them with a creamy mixture of cottage cheese (an idea gleaned from an episode of America’s Test Kitchen and their lasagna recipe) and sauteed kale with garlic, and then a pile of mushrooms and shallots cooked into a glistening savory earthy mass. Surely this would be delicious! A nerdy homage to Yoda in savory crepe form! Crepes Dagoba! In my mind, where I had “tried” this over and over again for the better part of a month, it seemed like a grand idea. So I “did.” I cooked down the spinach, whirred it up with eggs, flour, milk, and melted butter in my food processor, and set it to rest. Kale was ripped apart and cooked down with some garlic. I dumped a container of cottage cheese into the food processor and proceeded to whir the kale in. I added some salt. I tasted it. The first red light began to pulse in my head. I ignored it, ground in some pepper, and moved on. I threw some shallots into a skillet with some olive oil. The heat was too high. I started to burn them, panicked, and threw in the mushrooms. I kept it on high, thinking I could quickly draw the juices out of the mushrooms and that would help. It… it did not. A little more salt. The shallots weren’t softening like I imagined. The minced shallots that never softened made the mixture actually ended up being almost sandy, and tasting vaguely of burnt shallot. Again, I ignored it.
And then… then came the crepes.
I meant well. I did. I heated up the special little crepe pan. I added some butter to help slick it up a little further. I poured out the first round of crepe batter and things looked like they were going to be OK. Then I tried to flip it. Half of it adhered to the pan. I hacked and scraped at it with a spatula, and eventually sort of turned the mass over. It did cook the whole way through, but it was in no way a crepe. It was… a green pile. More butter in, try again. And again. Swore a lot as my fingers tried to pry at the stubbornly sticking crepes. The green pile grew. Tried again. Adjust heat. Too hot? Too cold? Again. Again. Bartered with the batter gods, nothing. Scraped scraped scraped. Pushed down the rising bubble of panic as I realized I could not get the batter off of the crepe pan, which notably did not improve the chances of a future crepe sliding off the pan gloriously whilst I laughed gregariously. Added more butter. Swiped in olive oil with a paper towel, notably not heat-resistant. All just resulted in further scorched fingertips. Not a single one turned out. Not one. Somewhat dejected, I picked at the pile as it sat steaming on a plate, and they didn’t taste too bad. I still had this mixture of kale and cottage cheese. And mushrooms and shallots. And technically the batter was cooked, although calling them “crepes” was a stretch. I couldn’t waste that. So I buttered up a casserole dish and decided I would make a crepe-ish casserole in honor of Yoda. I was going to “do,” dammit.
So I “did.” I layered in the crumpled pile of crepes, the kale, garlic, and cottage cheese combo (which still was raising alarms in my head, which some retrospective research confirmed, but I plowed ahead,) and the still notably sandy textured shallots and mushrooms, then shoved the whole deal into the oven and let it bake like the crazed green lasagna of a madman. And when it came out, I dug in. And it was… disgusting. Absolutely vile. I ate an entire serving in an effort to give it a chance, maybe find one redeeming factor. No dice. It was… not good. Much as I am loathe to waste food, it had to go. Even Julia Child wrote of throwing whole recipes out when the experiment just did not work out. And so it went. The crepe pan was tossed into the sink to soak (the seared on batter eventually came off,) a glass of wine was poured, and a foul mood descended.
No one is a fan of failure, and I am a life-long perfectionist, which is sort of a hazard in a creative realm where failure is a gigantic chunk of your existence. But then I came back to Yoda and his original saying. “Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.” I had this idea of these crepes in my head, the “try” part, for over a month, but kept not “doing” because I was afraid of exactly what ended up happening. Epic failure. But those epic mistakes were “done.” They had gone beyond “try.” So it did not work this time. So what? Did that mean that the entire world collapsed? I would never again mix eggs with milk and flour? America’s Test Kitchen will pound down my door, banning me from ever referencing them again? Well I wouldn’t put that last one entirely past Mr. Kimball, but as for the rest? No. I will “do” some more crepes of a more basic nature in my fancy little pan, “do” some more patient slow softening of shallots, and “do”… something other than kale whirred up with cottage cheese. Again and again. And some day it will be delicious.
In the meantime, does anyone know of an Obi Wan for crepes?