Category Archives: French

The Ten Shadiest Things Strangers Have Ever Said to Me

Everyday, a harrowing journey begins on this seemingly pleasant street.

Since switching jobs, I started walking to work. I now spend an 35 minutes on foot each way, what would be a pleasant walk if it didn’t also provide an easy 70 minutes each day to be harassed by random men on the street. Yesterday, I was honked at, got catcalled, and had a man ask me, “Haven’t I seen you in a magazine?” I did not stop to hear which publication to which he was referring, but I’m willing to wager it wasn’t the Wellesley Alumnae magazine.

Sadly, I’m very used to this behavior. I’m not sure why I am such a magnet for shady, shady dudes, but I am. It has some advantages–for instance, I sometimes get free food at restaurants, although I am usually just extremely confused about that (“But I haven’t given you my money yet!”)–but mostly, it’s just super creepy and unwelcome. I guess it makes for good stories? For your entertainment, I’ve assembled a list of the ten creepiest things strange men have ever said to me:

10. Champ de Mars, Paris, France – 2008
Anyone want to learn how to French Kiss? Or Vodka Kiss?”

I have to give him props–upon hearing this line, I was amazed that I’d never heard it before (the French kiss part. Not the vodka kiss part. That doesn’t even make sense.). But he was still a miscreant French youth, so he would have been creepy no matter what came out.

9. Dharamsala, India – 2007
“I’m going to teach you Punjabi. Thohade aakha baut Suniya ne. That means ‘Your eyes are looking amazing.'”

This would have been a lot less creepy had his girlfriend not been sitting directly next to him at the time. This was also the same day that I accidentally spent with a punjabi pop star, who I’m sure would have also had some creepy shit to say, had his command of the English language allowed it. Instead, he just kept shouting things like “CUTE BABY!” every few minutes.

Everyone’s favorite Punjabi pop star/stalker. Me also wearing the worst pants
ever because they were the only thing that would dry in Monsoon season.

8. Library of Congress, Washington, DC – September 2011
“You seem like a nice girl, Emma. Are you Jewish?”

7. The Red Line to Shady Grove, Washington, DC – 2010
“Can I like, try something with your hair?”

6. Dharamsala, India – 2007
“really I feel in Love with you and Hope we can share some time with togethere and make Happy and Smile face othere you really so Beatifull & I have no wards to explain [sic].”

Apparently I’d caught the eye of a mustachioed local bookstore owner while on my quest to find the 7th Harry Potter, so he stalked my roommate every day until he finally caught her to give me the first of three love letters. In typical Alix fashion, I handled it spectacularly poorly and just decided to avoid his street entirely, which was difficult as there were only 3 streets to be  had in Dharamsala. Eventually, I had to travel down it in quest of food, and while walking with my hood up and my head down, I literally ran into him. I gave him a very flustered no thanks which was way more awkward than if I’d just confronted him in the first place.

5. Safeway, Washington, DC – 2009
“I like your freckles. They’re really cute. We should just get married, actually.”

Be careful with whom you share an eye roll about that crazy lady in front of you holding up the Safeway check-outline. One minute he’s a friendly-but-lonely 50-something buying a single can of Chef Boyardee, and the next he’s a friendly-but-lonely 50-something buying a single can of Chef Boyardee who just proposed to you. And you’re still trapped into the Safeway checkout line with him for another five minutes, thanks to that crazy bitch in front.

4. Tours, France – 2007
Excusez-moi, mademoiselle, mais vous êtes ravissante. Vous avez besoin de l’aide?

Translation: “Excuse me, miss, but you are ravishing. Do you need some help?” Only slightly creepy, but when compounded with the fact that I was in the process of unlocking my apartment at the time, it becomes pretty questionable. No, shady French man, I do not need your help getting into my apartment. 

3. Just Outside of El Rinconcito, Washington, DC – Last Thursday Night
“You UGLY. You ALL UGLY! Y’ALL UGLY!” [Pauses to reassess.] “No you’re cute. BUT YOU ALL UGLY. You’re cute though I like you. BUT Y’ALL UGLY!”

This was not so much creepy as it was bizarre and terrifying. As L, K, EG, Matt IV and I were making our way to ACKC, a very drunk man in orange lipstick and a wig started screaming about how ugly we all were. Then as he got closer, he paused, looked me up and down, and apparently changed his mind about me and only me. And now until an unspecified future time, all my friends are going to make jokes about my evident cuteness any time I get preferential treatment.

2. New York, New York – September 2011

This next one requires a disclaimer. I am in my mid-twenties, but strangers usually grossly underestimate my age. Two Christmases ago, when I was 22, I got mistaken for an unaccompanied minor at the airport. You have to be 14 to be an unaccompanied minor. So in strangers’ eyes, I’m guessing I’m somewhere in the 15-19 range now. Which is why this next one, courtesy of a homeless man in Murray Hill, is so very disturbing:

“I like your dress… if you were five years younger…”

WTF? WTF?!?! EW!

1. Two Blocks from My House, Washington DC – 2011
“I like them titty bags of yours I want to milk them.”

I went back and forth between this and the last one over which was the absolute creepiest. While I think pedophilia is intrinsically creepier than whatever infantilization/farming fetish shit is happening here, the fact that I had a really hard time even typing this one is what ultimately put me over the edge.

I guess its to these guys’ credit that none of them tried to grope/molest/follow me home, which has happened enough times to merit it’s own damn list. Congratulations on setting the bar so spectacularly low, menfolk! Now stop whistling at me on from the Waste Management truck.

Butter, Butter Everywhere (aka In Which You Learn to Make the Perfect Croissant)

When I turned 21, I was at the end of a 9 month vacation in Paris. Some people might call this time “study abroad,” but I would argue that the only studying I did was a lengthy empirical study of wine potability and pastry quality, punctuated by brief moments of class at the Musée D’Orsay. Not very convincing as I was supposedly doing half my coursework in Economics. Luckily, my parents seemed to fully embrace this hedonist lifestyle and for a 21st birthday present, they gave myself and L a class in croissant-making.

Absolute genius on my parents’ part. Croissants are delicious and notoriously difficult to make; the ones we can find in this country are complete crap 99% of the time. Mastering croissants would be an awesome addition to my pastry-making repertoire, something with which to impress people at parties for years to come.

The class was held at a massively posh cooking school nearby and proved to be pretty intimidating for both of us. L may know her way around a spice rack and a grill, but she is not historically a baker. And while I am a pretty successful baker, I’m really, really bad at following directions. I despise measuring things and always have this arrogant idea that I can improve a recipe, even if I’ve never tried it before. Unfortunately for me, the cooking class was run by the Anal Retentive Chef.

I wish I had the original recipe to share, but I think it’s at my parent’s house in South Carolina. However, it closely resembled the following (L can confirm that I am not exaggerating in the slightest):

250 g #56 Flour
325 g #62 Flour
16 g of cake yeast
250 g of water
330 g of butter
2 t salt

The combined temperatures of the flour, yeast, and water should be 102.5 degrees centigrade. Adjust the water temperature until the temperature of water + temperature of yeast + temperature of flour = 102.5 degrees

AND THAT IS JUST THE LIST OF INGREDIENTS! This recipe is insanely detailed. So it’s no surprise that when I got back to the states and tried to recreate it, it did not go well, not least because I was trying to find american substitutes for the flours and cake yeast. My mom can attest that several tries ended in abject failure and tears.

I had pretty much given up hope of ever making edible croissants when I found a recipe for pain au chocolat in Jacques Torres’ A Year in Chocolate. This is noteworthy for two reasons: pain au chocolat is just a croissant cut in a different shape with chocolate stuffed inside, and I trust Jacques Torres because he momentarily hosted the most useless (and also my favorite) show on the Food Network, “Chocolate with Jaques Torres.” If you did not have the good fortune to ever see this show, it usually began with a sentence like, “Bienvenue à ‘Chocolat weeth Jacques Torres.’ I ahm Jacques Torres, and today we weell be makeeng a meeneeahture Las Vegas out of chocolat!” And then he would make a miniature Las Vegas out of chocolate. It was both marvelous and pointless, and ergo extremely French. This is why Jacques Torres is a trustworthy source.

Not only did his recipe use readily available American ingredients and quantities, but it tastes the damn same as the Anal Retentive Chef’s recipe up there. After one last failure based on an extremely egregious typo (T of yeast does not equal t of yeast, you lazy frog!), I think I have finally mastered the art of croissant making. And now I will impart my knowledge onto you, so you can skip right over the tearful years of heartache that I spent trying to get it right. But be warned, the amount of butter you’re about to witness may stop you from ever wanting to eat a pastry again.

Croissants/Pain au Chocolat 
adapted from A Year in Chocolate by Jacques Torres

This recipe makes approximately 48 mini-croissants or 24 mini-pains-au-chocolat.
Prep time takes forever; normally I begin making the dough the morning before I plan to bake it. I’ve only made the recipe straight through once, and that was a week and a half ago at a former coworker’s house. It took most of the day. This was ok because I got to play with her six-month-old baby in between steps, but I would not normally recommend this course of action.

For the dough:

1 c (two sticks) plus 5 T unsalted butter
2 envelopes (2 1/4 t each) dry active yeast
1/2 c plus 1 T water
3 1/3 c bread flour, plus more for dusting
1/3 cup sugar
2 t salt
1/2 cup plus 1 T milk
9 oz dark chocolate, chopped

For the egg wash

1/4 cup milk
2 egg yolks
1 large egg

Even with this recipe, some of the ingredients look like the Anal Retentive Chef got to them. But this recipe works! This is one of the only times I will carefully measure things when cooking, and you should do the same. Note: the following assumes that you understand basic principles of baking, like how to roll out or knead dough. If these are not things you already have a handle on, this is probably not the recipe for you.

1. Set out butter to soften. Add yeast to the water, which you can use at any moderate temperature you like so long as it’s not particularly hot or cold. Melt 3 T of the butter and set aside.

2. Measure flour, sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add the melted butter and milk, and stir briefly with a wooden spoon (about 5 seconds). Then, add the yeast and water. Mix until the dough begins to come together, and then begin to knead with your hands. After kneading for a couple of minutes, dough should come together easily in a ball, with moisture consistent throughout. Don’t worry if it’s still a little lumpy–the gluten in the flour has not relaxed yet (this means that the gluten has not had a chance to form long, tidy protein ropes, which makes though dough smoother and more elastic). Wrap in plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes.

3. Remove the plastic wrap and place on a lightly floured surface (always use a lightly floured surface for the rest of this recipe). Roll out into a rectangle approximately 8 x 15 inch rectangle (not an exact science–I roll it out to about the same size as my small silpat). Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

4. Take the dough out of the refrigerator and carefully spread the softened butter (2 sticks + 2T) over two thirds of it, leaving 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch around the sides uncovered. Once you have an even sheet of butter spread, fold the uncovered third over the middle third, and the final third over the uncovered third. This should look like an envelope:

5. Carefully roll out the dough again, into a slightly bigger rectangle this time. Take the shorter sides and fold them in, meeting in the middle. Fold one more time along the middle crease. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of two hours, although 8-12 hours works best.

6. Remove from the refrigerator and roll out into a rectangle again. Fold into thirds one more time like in step three. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate one last time for two hours or overnight. The reason for all this folding is that you are creating thin sheets of butter in between the layers of dough. In the oven, the butter will melt and separate the layers of dough. This is what creates the flakiness of a croissant.

7. Roll out into a large rectangle until about an 1/8 of an inch thick (my rectangle is about 16 x 24). Trim off all the edges with a sharp knife. This may seem wasteful, but it allows the layers of the dough to separate more, creating a flakier pastry. When you cut the dough, you should be able to see the striations of butter in the edge:

8a. For croissants, cut into small isosceles triangles. You can experiment with sizes, but I like mini-croissants, so my triangles usually have a height of 4.5″ and a base of 2.5″ on average. To shape, take the base of the triangle and roll towards the tip. This should not involve effort–you do not want them to be either too tight or too loose. Place on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet, tip down. Tuck in edges so it looks like a croissant.

8b. For pains au chocolat, cut in to rectangles, about 2.5″ x 4.5.” Just inside the first short edge, place a line of chocolate. Roll the dough over this first line, and place another line of chocolate. Finish rolling and place seam-side down on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Note: no matter what size pain au chocolate you are making, there should always be two sticks of chocolate involved. Anything else should be called “sham au chocolat.” In fact, if you are ever in a French pâtisserie and see that they are hawking one-stick pain au chocolat, turn around and leave immediately because it is clearly an inferior establishment.

9. Cover cookie sheet loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise until they’ve doubled in size. This depends entirely on the temperature of your kitchen and will take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours.

10. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove plastic wrap, mix the egg wash together and brush the pastries right before they go in the oven. For the pains au chocolat, cut two diagonal lines with a sharp knife in the top of each pastry.

11. Cook for about 10-12 minutes, or until golden-brown. Cool on a wire rack and eat while still warm.

Stray notes:

  • Often, I only make a third of the recipe at a time. After step 6, I will cut the dough into thirds with a sharp knife and freeze the dough I’m not going to use immediately. When you’re ready to make the rest of the dough, remove from the freezer the day before and thaw in the refrigerator.
  • If you are wondering why I didn’t suggest you use dark chocolate chips instead of cut-up chocolate. There’s nothing wrong with this per se, but I choose not to use chocolate chips because they tend to have more emulsifiers and less cocoa butter so as to hold their shape when cooked–that is, they don’t melt as well as normal chocolate. And in general, I like to stick to the rule with chocolate the fewer ingredients is better. I usually buy my baking chocolate from that posh stand next to the cheese in Whole Foods with those big, rough-looking blocks of chocolate. They may look exorbitantly priced, but when you do the math per ounce, it’s not much more than buying Ghirardelli baking chocolate. In France, they sell sticks of chocolate expressly for the purpose of making pain au chocolat, but I have never seen such a thing in this country. One time, I carefully melted, tempered, and cut chocolate into my own pain au chocolat sticks. This is a huge waste of time and I cannot recommend it.
  • After that marathon baking day, my coworker asked how long they would keep for. I laughed because mine have never lasted more than 12 hours. (ok, more than two hours. Maybe only one.) If you do have any leftover, my best bet is to put them in an air-tight container and eat them within a couple of days.
  • I also use this recipe for the crust of my Springtime Ramp Tart, the food with which I terminated my brief foray into veganism. Most delicious thing ever. I will post the recipe for that sometime, but this is already way too long so I’ll hold off for now.

¿Como se dice…?

Yesterday, as I was leaving work, my coworker M^3 looked very sad panda and expressed a desire to go a-drinkin’.  I was supposed to be going home to help tidy up the house before Pats came from Boston, but I figured, “That’s hours away! One beer won’t be a problem!” And we went to a bar down the street.

Three pints of Guinness and a few hours later, M^3 decided I needed to practice my French more, and conveniently, there were some French Africans standing behind us.  She introduced us to our new friends Côte d’Ivoire and Le Gabon, and we chatted for a while in a weird mash-up of French, English, and Spanish (M^3 doesn’t speak French, but does speak Spanish). Mind you, I have barely spoken French since graduating college, and as a result, my French is le merde and I’m very self-conscious speaking to actual French Speakers. Luckily, alcohol helps that situation quite a bit and I was chatting away!

Another Guinness appeared in front of me.  This was unfortunate, not only because I’d planned to go home and be a contributing member of society hours prior, but also because of the law of diminishing returns.  The law says this:

As you can see from this very scientific graph, things get really useless around 3.5 pints of Guinness.  Soon, I was only understanding roughly 50% of what was being told to me and relying heavily on mirroring facial expressions to feign understanding.  Also, when I trying to remember a word, I kept saying “¿Como se dice…?” instead of “Que veut dire…?” despite the fact that I don’t speak Spanish.  About halfway through, I would realize my mistake and try to salvage my dignity by saying something like “Como…ent dites le mot pour…” which is not a very convincing cover-up.

About 8:30 or so I finally left, stopped to pick something up at CVS and hopped on the metro home. I was supposed to go out dancing with Pats & Co, but I fell asleep on the couch before she got here around 11.  Friendship fail.