Chouquettes

Piled high in a basket next to the cash register, they seemed to call out to me. We entered the small bakery, with only enough room for four or five if you rubbed shoulders, and, as a smile crept onto my face, I knew instantly we would walk out with a bag of chouquettes. We also bought a couple of pains au chocolats, but the chouquettes. They were beautiful. I couldn’t decide if I wanted mine topped with pearl sugar or chocolate chips, so the obliging French vendeuse mixed my bag of 20. We walked out of the cramped space into the chilly October morning and made our way to the Ecole Militaire metro station, dipping into the crinkly paper sack as we walked. We popped chouquettes into our mouths, and I vacillated between the two varieties, still unable to pick a favorite, but sure of one thing. Paris was, most definitely, my favorite place to be.

Titles are so difficult for me. They plagued me during my entire university education. Trying to capture the essence of a paper in a handful of words always seemed a little difficult, but I always figured it was because my ideas weren’t focused enough. Even as a graduate student, though, when I was much better at focusing, it was still difficult. I took a seminar in autobiography and the culminating project was, naturally, an autobiography. It wasn’t difficult to find an appropriate topic and genre; food writing and the association of home was natural. However, selecting a title, and one that was available as a web address to boot, was difficult. My topic was incredibly narrow and focused. However, I spent nearly as much time thinking about the title as I did writing my brief essays. In the end, I found an appropriate title, but a clunky one. One that will not be repeated here.

As I thought about starting another project, this blog, the title plagued me. Naturally, I’m also worried about my ability to maintain a blog. I do have two little sous chefs underfoot, after all, and my personal time is limited. But the title. How do you condense yourself, including the writing you’ll be doing but haven’t obviously planned, into two or three words? That was a tall order.

Food, of course, isn’t all there is to me. I have a love affair with France, like all together too many people I’m sure, and I think about France almost every day. I studied abroad in Paris as a Sophomore in college, my first time abroad, and fell head over heels. As much as I tried to convince myself that the semester I spent abroad could be my one venture across the pond, I was hooked. Several years later, I returned to France with my husband and promised myself, again, that this would be the last time. We would settle down, have a family, and somehow try to afford the insanely priced real estate in Los Angeles, where we lived at the time. There would be no spare change for trips to Europe. I planned and planned based on never returning, and relished every moment we were there.

Relishing is exactly what we did. We visited no fewer than eight chocolate shops, indulged in Berthillon ice cream three times, and ate pastries at every opportunity. We visited museums and cathedrals and saw world-famous works of art. But the most tangible memories now, five years later, center around the delicious food. A delightful creperie with decidedly un-Parisian waiters in the 14th Arrondissement, deliciously simple Provencal chicken served with perfect mashed potatoes and a carrot salad deep in the Luberon Valley, thick and rich hot chocolate that was more like pudding accompanied by deep-fried churros in Madrid. And, of course, the bakery with the pile of chouquettes next to the register. Back then, my interest in food was only just beginning to surface. Maybe it was the trip that really elucidated it for me. Experiencing deliberate food, reminding myself of treats I’d had when I studied abroad like falafel, grecs, or perfect pastries, was life changing in a gradual sort of way. Five years later, I’m still developing a passion. I’m not ready to taste sweetbreads or other organs, but I am ready to plan my next trip to France centered around experiences, primarily food experiences. Seeing Mona Lisa in person of course is magnificent. But. That’s not why I go to Europe. Bread and chocolates aren’t, either. But they are the closest tangible expression of why I do go.

You can bet when I do make it back, whenever that will be, that we’ll eat bags of chouquettes.

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