I fell in love with France when I was in high school. Before I write about that, I should give you a little context. The physical location of my school was nested between soybean/cotton fields and a grid of country roads. I grew up in a rural bygone ag town in Eastern North Carolina where husks of tobacco warehouses lined the streets of a dilapidated downtown and strip malls floated in empty parking lots on either side of the main road leading into the town’s center. On Friday and Saturday nights, pods of teenagers literally hung out in the back corner of the Walmart parking lot. Cultural or ethnic experiences included eating fajitas and not-so-authentic queso dip at San Jose or sticky, corn-syrupy sesame chicken at Golden China. Every town has a Golden China, am I right?! So you’re probably wondering how I fell in love with France of all places.
In the early oughts, I was introduced to the newly hired high school French teacher on the first day of class. I’ll call her Mademoiselle Vedette (French for rockstar). From the get-go, I gravitated towards her because she was different from anyone I had ever met, which, again, was limited to the people in my home town, most of which had been born and raised within a 10 mile radius. Just to be clear: I’m not knocking one’s choice of staying close to home. Largely, my family was no exception to that rule.
Mlle. Vedette was young, hip, strong, and candid, and she had traveled and lived a colorful life. She openly admitted to making mistakes, but she valued them. Instead of advising her students to live within our comfort zones, she encouraged us to take risks, fuck up (not in her words), and put what it was we learned in our back pocket for reference later.
To make a long story short, this teacher opened my eyes to a world outside of soybean fields, Nicolas Sparks, Bojangles, and conservatism. She did this by painting vivid, beautiful mental pictures of Paris and France as a whole and by sharing her stories from her time living there. More importantly, she encouraged us to experience new places, people, and things, and to create our own stories.
She taught a French culture unit, a crash course in film, food, history, and art. At the end, we took a “field trip” to Carborro, North Carolina (outside of Chapel Hill) to dine at an authentic French restaurant. Though it was only 75 miles away, It might as well have been a world away.
There were only a few rules for the evening: 1) we had to dress nicely, and 2) we had to try the food, even if it made us a little uncomfortable. I don’t remember a lot about that night, but I do remember trying escargot for the first time (which was out of this world) and being treated like an adult for the first time. Looking back, I think that’s because of the experience Mlle. Vedette cultivated and the way the restaurant delivered that experience to us. More importantly, I remember that experience being an equalizer. My peers and I shared a meal, as humans, around the same table feeling the same apprehensiveness, pride, and maturity together, and for the first time in my life, socioeconomic or ethnic backgrounds did not matter. That’s no easy feat in the rural South, and my teacher managed to make it happen, just by presenting her students with the opportunity to “be” together. She’s a rockstar, am I right!?
After that night, I began fantasizing about living, breathing, experiencing Paris. I became a francophile overnight and that love became richer and more profound in the following years while taking her classes. I struggled mightily with learning the language, but I absorbed every bit of detail about the landmarks, the artists, the filmmakers, the food, and all things French. I googled (when google was in its infancy) photographs of Paris and imagined myself sitting in the window of a Parisian café people watching, sipping strong coffee, smoking a cigarette, and eating a croissant. It’s so cliché I know, but to a small-town Southerner, it was a grand cliché, a seed that gave root to a dream that undoubtedly steered me down a completely unexpected path on my life’s journey.
If it wasn’t directly for Mlle. Vedette and indirectly for my love of a city I’ve never visited, I never would have left Eastern North Carolina. I never would have been “reborn” in Boone, nor would I have met my very best friends. I wouldn’t have visited Africa. I certainly wouldn’t have worked in Montana the summer after I graduated, and I wouldn’t have met my partner. If I hadn’t met my partner, I never would have moved to Fairbanks where I grew exponentially as a person or to Maine, where I’m growing exponentially, still.
I am certainly indebted to this teacher and I am beholden to France as well. Aside from the heinous and terrifying nature of the events that unfolded, last week’s terrorist attacks hurt so damn much. For the lives lost. The families torn apart. The grief that will haunt people for lifetimes. Selfishly, I can’t help but take it personally—that city, that dream of being a part of that city and culture (whether it’s studying art in the Louvre, standing under the Eifel Tower, or drinking copious amounts of wine from the valley), jumpstarted my journey to becoming who I am.
Some day soon, I will go to France, and I will sit looking out of a window in a Parisian café people watching, sipping coffee, smoking a cigarette, and eating a croissant. I will continue to create my own stories in that place, and I will do so with love in my heart and without fear.
Mon coeur est avec les gens de Paris. ?
- For the Dough
- ¼ cup warm water (about 105 degrees)
- 1 package active yeast
- ⅛ tsp salt
- ½ Tbsp. sugar
- ½ cup tepid milk
- 2 cups flour
- 1 Tbsp. sugar
- 1½ tsp salt
- 4 Tbsp. tasteless oil (I used vegetable oil)
- 1 stick butter, chilled
- For the filling:
- 1. Dark chocolate, chopped
- Hazelnuts, chopped
- 2. Blue Cheese, crumbled
- 3. Brie, rind removed and sliced
- Honeycrisp apple, sliced thin
- Measure water. Add yeast, ½ Tbsp. sugar, and1/8 tsp. salt and give a good stir. Let sit for 5-10 minutes or until the yeast has become frothy.
- Place flour in mixing bowl. Add 1 Tbsp. sugar, 1½ tsp salt, oil, and warm milk. Mix it all up with spatula and knead for 2-3 minutes.
- Place dough in a clean bowl and clip the top in an 'x' pattern. Let sit in a warm place until it doubles in bulk, about 1½ hours.
- Once risen, punch down dough, cover, and chill until dough is cool.
- Take 1 stick of chilled butter and beat with a rolling pin until the butter is flat. Using the heel of your hand, pat out the butter until all the lumps are out and it's the same consistency as the dough, making sure it stays cold.
- Take dough from refrigerator and roll into a rectangle. Form the butter into a square and place in the middle of the dough.Pull sides of dough up around the butter and pinch the top until the butter is enclosed.
- Using flour as necessary, roll the dough package into a 14 in. x 7 in. rectangle, making sure the keep moving so the dough doesn't stick to the pin.
- Fold into threes (like a letter). Turn and roll into rectangle. Fold into threes again.
- Chill in waxed paper for 2 hours.
- Remove dough from the fridge and roll into a 14 in. x 7 in. rectangle again, fold into threes, turn, and roll again. Fold into threes and chill 2 more hours, wrapped in wax paper.
- Butter or spray a baking sheet.
- Roll dough into long rectangle, about 2 feet long. Cut the dough in half and refrigerate the half you're not using immediately.
- Roll the half you're working with until dough is about ¼ inch thick, about 9 inches long. Cut into three parts.
- Now, here you can cut the strips for croissants like you see pictured or cut into triangles. Either way, you want to roll the ⅓ piece of dough out into a square. Either cut on the bias if you want the traditional crescent shape or cut in half length wise.
- If making crescent shaped rolls, you'll notice the triangles are more isosceles shaped and for the prettiest shape, you';; want to roll each of the triangles, into a right triangle (see tutorial links above)
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Before rolling, fill the ends with the filling of you choice (about 2 tsp of chocolate or cheese) about ½ inch from one end.
- Roll dough, making sure the cheese of chocolate is tucked in and not spilling out. If making crescents, start rolling from the wide base to the peak of the rectangle. Brush the end of the dough with water (it will act as glue) and place seal side down on baking sheet. Brush with egg wash and set aside. Let rise until dough has doubled in size. Coat with 2nd egg wash.
- Bake in 425 degree oven for 12-14 minutes, or until the dough is flaky and golden.
- Cut dough into 3 in.x 7 in. strips. You should be able to get 5 per sheet of dough. If you want the classic croissant shape, cut the dough in half