It took me quite a long time until I was fluent in French. The common belief among expats, the old adage one hears over and over again as you are struggling with your verb agreement, the gender of nouns and the inexplicable plus-que-parfait, is that it takes five years no matter what you do. Others merely claim that when you begin dreaming in a foreign language then it is no longer foreign. Learning catch as catch can, picking up words and phrases from television, books (don’t keep relying on that dictionary!), spouse and, heaven forbid, the children, slowly but surely I came to actually speak – and dream in – French. All of my years of high school and college French got in the way, hampering, hindering instead of helping as I kept hesitating, tripping over my words for fear of getting it wrong, of being admonished by some invisible professor, but I finally arrived.
Now, husband and I, being avid and passionate readers, drink up books like there is no tomorrow, swimming in and out of decades and centuries, Montaigne and Balzac, Austen and Dickens, Swift and de Toqueville all sit happily on our shelves alongside more contemporary fiction, history books and murder mysteries. We’ve spent years wandering in and out of centuries as we weave in and out of conversations, cultures, countries, and all of this together has caused us to simply pare our language down to the necessary, the clear, the correct and proper. Our first concern has always been being understood by others wherever we are, to whomever we are speaking, in whichever language and culture we are in. When one travels, moves about, there is no time to catch up on the slang, the common expressions, the latest word fad. And yes, I must also admit, that we are rather language snobs, in love with words; my husband reads dictionaries and encyclopedias while I curl up at night with my beloved Roget’s Thesaurus. We simply love words, their sounds, their meaning, their origin. And language. Foreign language. A favorite dinnertime game of ours with our boys was comparing words and phrases between the many languages we have studied as a way to make our multi-lingual lifestyle more a game than a burden. So twenty-some years together, we all speak correctly, use big words and, as those of you who have met me know, I do indeed speak like I write.
But of course it doesn’t stop there. We aren’t really snooty language snobs. As much as we strive to speak correctly, we love us some good old slang and curse words and silly expressions and weird-sounding names for things, and they all play a part in our day to day. Oh, maybe not outside of the house, but certainly inside. We love rolling the other’s curse words and dirty language, les gros mots, around on our tongues like a sharp-biting mouthful of whiskey, let a slang word or two slip out here and there in the middle of a family discussion, using the odd, unusual and fun to describe the things and people around us, a way to learn and practice, have fun and be silly. But between the proper way to speak to others and the silly word games we play together, never the twain shall meet.
But accidents happen. When one lives in a foreign language, skips from one language to another, mistakes happen, the occasional faux pas slips out and trips you up, earning smirks and stares, the occasional dirty look or shocked expression or even a snort of laughter from the spouse. Like the time early in our marriage when JP used a less than savory sexual expression in the place of “Beat it, Injun!” when describing a scene from an old black & white Lone Ranger episode to my family. Or when, after years of my using the French word bordel to indicate a complete mess, my husband (from whom I picked up the word) kindly pulled me aside and said “Don’t use that word in front of my parents! It’s vulgar!” Thank you very much for telling me after how many years? Normally cautious and self-conscious with how we speak, it isn’t always easy to differentiate between the normal, the usual and the vulgar when trying to pick up the other’s language. Oh, some words or expressions are clearly off limits once we step outside the house, but others, well, there is a fine line to step over as words are magically transformed from the rude to the common. Language, after all, does evolve. And sometimes, well, we are just a little bit fascinated by an expression and end up using it anyway, just for the fun of it.
And this brings me to donuts. I bake with the Daring Bakers, a wonderful baking experience led by the ever-wonderful Ivonne and Lis! The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up and Lori asked us all to make doughnuts or donuts. Now, she did offer us recipes for regular yeast donuts, baked or fried, and I have always wanted to make yeast-risen donuts. But because of both the lack of time and interested eaters (I mean, who doesn’t like donuts? How do I end up living with people like this?) I decided to make something easier and much lighter. Pets-de-Nonne. Nun’s Farts. Yes, you read that correctly, Nun’s Farts! I must admit that I have long wanted to make these delicate little treats if for nothing but the name. Pets-de-Nonne rolls off the tongue in a joyous tumble of giggles, hands clasped to the mouth, eyes dancing with delight like some schoolgirl who let loose a silly word in the middle of history class. Grown woman that I am, discovering foods with daring, vulgar, even slightly obscene names still has the power to amuse me. Like couilles du pape, pope’s well…. all I need to say is that they are a common name for a type of oval purple plum, or Gratte Cul, hmmm check your French-English dictionary please, a common name for Briar or Wild Rose (think of how and where it scratches) and a little cheese called Trou du Cru, a small cow’s milk cheese which when said much too quickly will come out trou du c**. Just plain silly, if you ask me, right? But after all of these many years I am smart enough to ask husband if it is okay to use this name outside of the house. Pets-de-Nonne, after all, is written there in bold black and white in his favorite food bible, Les Meilleures Recettes de Françoise Bernard … but is nowhere to be found in my Larousse Gastronomique. “Well,” explained husband, “of course it isn’t, it is a vulgar nickname for those beignets.” “But your Françoise Bernard has it in her cookbook!” “Oh, really?” Yes, and so it goes, the evolution of language. And the fun of it all.
Pets-de-Nonne are simply dainty little dollops of froth, light as air (or light and airy as a nun’s fart, I am assuming), dusted with a shower of icing sugar like snow on a bright winter’s day. Made from choux pastry dough, fried instead of baked, pushed off of a teaspoon into hot oil, Pets-de-Nonne float lazily up to the surface and puff up before your very eyes, turning a glowing, gentle golden color, like sunlight. Allow them to deepen in color a bit to make sure the dough is cooked all the way through, scoop them up and douse them quickly with sugar and pop them into your mouth one glorious beignet at a time. So light, they melt in your mouth, a delicate bit of dough, a sweet afterthought of sugar, and you will be left utterly…speechless.
And they smell divine!
We’ve had an overwhelming response to the Plate to Page workshop we announced earlier this week. I thank everyone of you who emailed, tweeted and spread the word.
If you really want to join the four of us for this intensive, hands-on food blogging experience then register now! – we’ve had a big rush and there are only a few spots left. Registrations have come in from South Africa, Canada, USA, Italy, UK and Holland and you wouldn't want to miss this exciting new concept in Food Blogging Workshops: this is more than a conference, this is a working weekend, a complete learning experience specifically designed for the food blogger who yearns to hone his or her writing, food styling and food photography skills. And have a great time while doing it!
Beignets Soufflés, Soufflé Donuts made from a classic choux pastry dough, fried instead of baked
5 ½ Tbs (2.8 oz/ 80 g) unsalted butter
1 cup (1/4 litre) water
¼ tsp salt
1 cup (125 g) flour
4 large eggs
vegetable or neutral oil for frying
Powdered/confectioner’s/icing sugar for dusting
Place the butter, water and salt in a saucepan and warm over medium-low heat until the butter is completely melted. Take the saucepan off of the heat and add the flour all at once and stir with a wooden spoon until well blended with the liquid. Return the pan to the heat and, stirring vigorously, cook until the dough holds together in a ball and pulls away from the sides of the pan and no longer sticks to the wooden spoon.
Remove from the heat. Using the wooden spoon, add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each addition until blended. Then continue with the rest of the eggs one by one. The choux dough will be thick, smooth and very creamy.
Heat the oil in a deep-fryer or large pot to a depth of about ¾ inch. When a pinch of the dough dropped into the oil sizzles and then cooks golden brown, the oil is hot enough. Drop the dough in by teaspoonfuls, only about 6 at a time. They cook very quickly and you want to have only a manageable amount to take care of. As they cook, carefully flip them around so they cook evenly on both sides.
Once they puffed up and are a deep golden brown all over, then lift them out of the hot oil and let drain on paper towels. While they are still hot, and as the next batch starts to cook, sprinkle the Pets-de-Nonne with powdered/confectioner’s sugar and gently toss to coat. Serve and eat immediately while they are still warm.