I’m going to what feels like the Mean Girl of cities in a couple of weeks.
You know the one.
She’s all Chanel and couture and linen and lipstick. They speak fancy French there, not the regular, old, Canadian kind (and even my Canadian French is pretty patchy and rusty).
I lived in Europe with my family as a teen and then in my early and later 20s, on my own. But, somehow, I never got to Paris.
London and York and Cornwall, I love. Hamburg and Heidelberg, too.
But Paris, is a big old question mark for me.
Or, is it actually a REAL PLACE with garbage trucks, and people wearing pajamas in public, and bad cooks?
My parents went to Paris for a holiday when we lived in England, but for some reason, they didn’t take their teenagers with them. Who knows why?
I was too broke when I lived close by to get there, and my friends lived in Germany. So, I just kept flying over Paris, as if she didn’t matter one hoot.
Take that, mean girl!
But now, my German friends are living in Paris, in the ninth arrondissement. I think that means near ALLLLLL the Pain au Chocolat (one of the main reasons I’m even going to Paris), right?
And, I am slightly intimidated.
According to Canadian/US versions of Paris, I am prepared to feel inferior on a number of levels including my weight, my fashion sense (lack thereof), not to mention my (quelle horreur) love of patterned fabric.
French chic? Mais, non. Just call me “flabby, shabby chic”.
I am not sleek or sophisticated. I am much more inclined to the chubby and cheerful.
But, so is Ina Garten and she supposedly loves Paris, right? So did Julia Child and she was tall and awkward.
Vives les Tall and Awkward!
With a side of Still Too Many Shoes for My Suitcase.
Practical Man disliked Paris when he was there so he’s glad to be sitting this one out. Mind you, he dislikes ALL cities so he’s not really a neutral opinion. Instead, I am travelling with my sweet sister-in-law Roadrunner, who speaks Northern Ontario French as her first language at home. She’s never been to Europe. In fact, this is her first trans-Atlantic flight. Although she is fluent in the language, I’ve heard that Parisians can be quite cutting when it comes to The Canadian Form of French. My also fluent father was once asked in Paris where he learned his French and when he told them Canada, they said, “c’est domage (that’s too bad)”.
I do love me some vintage, flea markets, and sparkly lights. Someplace called The City of Lights seems to be a good city for that sort of tra-la-la.
Anyhoo, if you’ve been there, here are the questions I have about going to Paris:
- I expect there to be accordions playing in the background as we stroll around. But, should I be prepared with some Charles Aznavour on my playlist, just in case?
- Is there a “how not to overpack” Pinterest board for people who are not Marie Kondo or wearing exclusively Lululemon?
- If I can’t get rid of my vertigo before I leave and end up getting arrested because I’m wobbling down the streets like I’m intoxicated, will they bring me the French version of Bread and Water (baguette and Perrier) in jail?
- Is black the only colour people wear? What if I look more like “Widowed Nonna from a Godfather movie” than “Audrey Hepburn” in black?
- Where can I rent a Betsy bicycle or a moped so I can ride along the Seine with a baguette sticking out of the basket, humming La Vie en Rose?
- Is it wrong to have a pain au chocolat EVERY morning while I’m there? Wait, don’t answer that.
- Will my brain actually turn into a pretzel if I try to speak German (with our host family), Paris French (let’s face it, that won’t be possible), Canadian French (only slightly more possible), Bad French (definitely possible), and English (please direct me to the nearest pain au chocolat?) in one holiday?
- How many beautiful buildings can you drool on before they kick you out of the country?
- Ditto for Boulangerie, Patisserie and other “erie” windows?
It’s like a first date with someone way out of your league.
Or, as they say in Paris…
[nonchalant and chic expression full of fabulous cheekbones].
Pie or cake?
When it comes to the choice, I’m definitely more of a cake girl.
Cake has icing.
And, unless I’m making layers (So. Very. Traumatic), I can generally handle the baking of a cake.
Or, even little cakes, like these:
Ooooh, pies are so much more mysterious and complicated.
They are the risotto or souffles of the baking world.
Or, rather, the pastry is. That is to say, finicky, persnikkety, and prone to drama, drama, drama.
Oh wait, maybe that’s me.
Anyway, you have to admit, pastry is one of the mean girls of the dessert world. I think that’s why the pie thing never went as viral as the whole cupcake extravaganza did in the last few years. Making pie pastry seems vintage and quaint and tricky in 2015 (and there’s no icing to use as incentive for generally dough-challenged people like me). That’s why a great many of us resort to finding our pies at church potlucks and community bake sales.
Shhhhh. I won’t tell, if you won’t.
Then, there’s my sister-in-law, Roadrunner. She’s like a female version of Practical Man, with awesome pie-making capabilities. Not only that, but, Roadrunner’s got all the vintage baking/franco-Canadian/northern-Ontarian pie bases covered: Meat pies. Sugar pies. And, the things that are not pies, but are still kind of mean girls anyway because they are made of some of the same stuff–like The Evil Pastry, cinnamon and brown sugar and butter–as pies:
Translation: “Nun’s farts”.
(Feel free to giggle like a 9 year-old, now).
Or, you can call them their boring English name: cinnamon pinwheels (but where’s the fun in that?)
Last weekend, Roadrunner took me under her wing (see what I did there?) to teach me how to make The Evil Pastry and its giggly cousins, Pets de Soeurs.
We each had a bowl, some flour, baking powder, salt, veggie shortening, egg, vinegar and warm water.
Of course, I had a magic wand and a “get out of jail free” card from Monopoly just in case, but, it turns out that I didn’t need either of those things, because with this pastry, there was none of that finicky, persnikkety, mean girl stuff about how the:
- “butter must be extremely cold” or
- “bowls must be extremely cold” or
- “cut in with a pastry cutter until it looks like crumbs” or
- “refrigerate until cold again before rolling out”
or other mean girl malarkey, that I have come to associate with trying to make The Evil Pastry–after which, it always turns out like a brick.
Instead, Roadrunner made it seem straightforward. Like, making The Evil Pastry was something you could do on any old Monday.
Even though it’s not 1953.
Here I am, pretending I know what I’m doing:
Despite the apron, I ended up with flour on my ankles, but let’s not dwell on that.
I’m buttering the dough in stage 1 of making Pets de Soeurs. I’m pretty sure that this qualifies me as practically being a bona-fide church lady who makes pastry, and any number of other mysterious things (butter tarts jump to mind), even on a Monday.
It’s all due to Roadrunner and you needn’t snicker because, tra-la-la!
One short week after my lesson, I made a pie today.
All By Myself.
With only minimal, occasional yelling of “Pets de Soeurs!”
(It kind of sounds like a bad word, if you say it in a pastry-stricken moment, don’t you think?”
What can I say? I was thanking the nuns.
I don’t yet know if it’s an edible pie, because we haven’t tasted it because I plan to give it to my mother as a Mother’s Day gift tomorrow, but it LOOKS like a pie, doesn’t it? I also figured that in case of any taste or constructions mishaps, I’d doctor it up a wee so as to distract my audience from some of the other flaws. Check out my basket-weavy top (no matter that I had to mutter “over and under and over and under” repeatedly to myself as I manoeuvered the possibly too-thick dough) on this–may I say it–masterpiece that ACTUALLY LOOKS LIKE A REAL PIE!
Yep, that’s what counts.
Happy Mother’s Day.