Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Eclairs

Ok, so in the end, it all worked out. But it's not nearly that straight-forward. In fact, cooking and 18-year old boys end up going together quite well, because somehow during the making of the eclairs, I got one of the boys really mad at me. I'm still not sure what I did because he talks really, really fast, but let me start at the beginning.

So there is a small pool at Claude's. I have been thrown or pushed into this pool about six times so far by a friend of Kin's named Jean-Luc. I went outside (next to the pool) to ask Kin if he could light the oven for me, because I had never done it before. Jean-Luc was there also and tried to throw me in the pool. I tried to say, "Non, non, stop! I have to make eclairs, I don't want to be wet," but that just seemed to goad him on. In the end, after 15 minutes of serious struggle (Jean-Luc has joined the army and likes to do push-ups whenever he thinks people are watching), I managed to get myself back inside, but not before Jean-Luc had run the hose over my head. I was just a little pissed off. Later in the day -- I was still making eclairs, it took about four hours, but I'll get to that next -- Jean-Luc came in to see if I needed help. I said no. Because I didn't. I also said that I was mad at him because he tried to throw me in the pool. Well evidentally one cannot be mad at Jean-Luc, because from that moment on he gave me the silent treatment. He also refused to eat the eclairs, but his loss, because they were finished. Finally, last night, he drank about a third of a bottle of whiskey (classy, I know) and started yelling at me because he thinks I talk to him like he's a dog and I think I'm better than him and blah blah blah. I think it's because the moon was full recently. You know, hormones raging or something. At any rate, he leaves tomorrow, but it's been a little tense...

Ok the eclairs themselves: so my celebrated-Danish-chef cousin commented on my last post and said that I need to watch out not just for the flour but also the oven. There's a reason she's a celebrated chef (just so you know, staying at her house is the greatest thing that can ever happen for you. You actually want to gain 10 pounds the food is so good). I converted the recipe from American measurements to metric, a task much more difficult than you'd expect, even with the internet. But I was confident I had got it right and had all the tools I needed, so (with wet hair and t-shirt) I got started. Originally, the pâte à choux went very smoothly. I've made it before, I thought I knew what to expect, etc. But, I was cooking in a small gas oven that doesn't have a very precise way of adjusting the tempurature, which was in Celcius -- yet another obstacle. In the end, I had to take out the pâte à choux early because the bottoms were getting to dark, although I could tell that the middle wasn't quite finished. But the oven was as low is it would go and I didn't know what else to do. The crème was a little less smooth. Again, I've made it before, I know to stir lots, to not cook with a too high flame, to taste it after it boils to see if the flour is fully cooked. But the stove, again, threw me off. The lowest flame possible was still too hot, and within minutes and way before it boiled it got too thick. (To be honest, maybe it wasn't the flame, maybe I misconverted the amount of milk. Or something. Chemistry is not my strong suit.) So I frantically reboiled more milk -- I had given up measuring anything at this point -- and mixed it in with Kin's help and lots of swearing in English. Stir, stir, stir, ten minutes later again too thick, and it still had not boiled and still tasted of raw flour. So I started swearing louder and boiled more milk, seriously worried that I'd have to throw it out and restart, and near tears trying to explain to Kin that I just couldn't mess up a French dessert in France. (He actually made me feel quite a bit better by sarcastically saying that he would judge me very harshly if my eclairs sucked.) Anyway, the second batch of boiling milk did the trick and the flour cooked enough, but the crème was really thick. "Collé" Kin called it, which means glue. So I hoped for the best and began mixing in egg whites hoping that they'd take away the stickiness. In the end, I think I got lucky. The egg whites worked perfectly, I added just the right amount of rum for flavoring, and I used very good milk chocolate on top of the eclaires. Six people (seven were there, but of course Jean-Luc didn't contribute) ate 10 eclairs, and an amateur of pâtissière told me that no, the pâte à choux was not quite fully cooked, but the crème was very good, and all in all they were delicious. She ate one and a half. Kin, for the sake of culinary criticism of course, ate all the crème that was left over (nearly half), all the melted chocolate that was left over (a lot), and two eclairs.

I cooked dinner that night too, and in total spent about six hours straight in the kitchen. I haven't touched a pot since. But I'm thinking of making brownies tomorrow. It's much safer to cook American desserts I've decided.

For the sake of giving a little more merit to my stupid fight with Jean-Luc, I'll over-intellectualize it. Really, it's made me understand extremely acutely the relationship between identity and language. Ok, this idea is not a new one: a pillar of deconstructionist criticism (yes, I'm really over-intellectualizing it, but I really like deconstructionism) is the fluidity of language. We've all experienced in our native tongues the frustration of not being able to express ourselves, and even had major fights that have come from a simple misuderstanding caused by the fluidity of language. But in a second language, everything becomes that much more complicated. I don't even know who I am in French, because I'm never quite sure that what I'm saying is what I mean to say, and I'm never fully in control of how I express myself. Laetitia, Claude's daughter who lives in Spain and experienced the same phenomenon in Spanish, said that she is who she is only in French. In effect, she doesn't have a complete identity in Spanish. This year is seeming a little daunting. Furthermore (and this is the real cause of the argument between me and Jean-Luc), there is a very large gray area between funny and insulting in any language. In English, I can manoeuvre this area. I typically risk being insulting for the sake of making a joke, and have continued to do so in French. The problem though is that I really don't know the boundaries of humor in French, both linguistically and culturally, and I'm afraid it's gotten me into a bit of trouble. From now on I intend to choose bland and safe over funny and possibly rude, and in the process actively construct my French identity (as somebody a little on the bland side). But without a doubt, I miss the ease of English.

Last thing: I've finally uploaded my pictures onto my computer, and today or tomorrow will try to figure out how to post the better ones on my blog.

1 comment:

  1. Rachel, next time the oven is too hot when you are baking pate a choux, turn it off and leave them in there so they dry out. xoxo mama