Monthly Archives: May 2013

Crazy about chouquettes

Today I triumphantly marked 62.9 in my daybook.  62.9 may not mean anything to you but for me it means “under 63” – kilos, that is.  And “under 63” is where I want to be.

Oh, I was so proud of myself (not that I’d been dieting-the loss was mainly due, I think, to a bout of stomach flu which turned out to have some unexpected side benefits).

Proud of myself until the chouquettes came along.  It was my husband’s idea:  he’s always ready for a sweet and brought home an adorable little white sack from the bakery filled with the little devils. How could I resist?

H and chouquettes

Wikipedia describes them like this:  A chouquette is a type of viennoiserie consisting of a small portion of choux pastry sprinkled with pearl sugar and sometimes filled with custard or mousse. A chouquette can also be dipped in chocolate or covered in chocolate chips. The chouquette did not originate in a specific region of France.

Funny about the chocolate chips – I’ve seen chouquettes for years but never with chocolate chips.  Then I read David Lebovitz’s column on chouquettes and decided that maybe some Anglophone wrote the Wikipedia entry, for Lebovitz strongly comes out for chocolate chips on his.

I prefer the plain variety with that tantalizing pearl sugar and no filling.  The best chouquettes are neither crisp nor mushy. They’re light and sugary and airy (and you can always fool yourself by thinking that they are somehow less caloric because not filled) and in my book, worth every calorie.

Philippe and I contemplated our 100 grams of chouquettes, which made about twelve, and rapidly got down to the none too tedious business of scarfing them up.  To our credit, we saved four for the goûter, the French afternoon snack.

Do I make my own chouquettes?  Good heavens, no!  That would ruin the fun of going to the local bakeries and finding out which ones have them.  For some odd reason, some bakeries have them every day, others only on certain days.  My favorite patisserie on the rue des Pyrenees, Gana, run by the daughters of Bernard Ganachaud, the originator of the delicious flute Gana, only makes them on Wednesdays and Fridays.  The waiting, the deferral of pleasure, only makes them better.

Chouquettes for me are emblematic of what I write about in my chapter “Small is Good: Les Petits Plaisirs” in Joie de Vivre:  “In France, small things procure big joys…Small is good.”

Oh, and how.

David Lebovitz wrote about chouquettes and shared his recipe with chocolate chips (but, word from The Purist, try them without).


Frenchwomen don’t talk about diets

One of the most exasperating – and admirable – things I have discovered about Frenchwomen is that they are slim – and don’t talk about diets.  Yes, if you asked me to list a few of the things I appreciate about Frenchwomen, way up at the top I’d put “They don’t stand around helping themselves to foie gras or petits fours while saying, “Oh, this is ruining my diet.”

I kid you not – in the forty years I’ve lived in France I’ve never heard such a thing.  So what does that mean?  To me, it’s very French. It means “I’m living the moment, so why spoil the pleasure I’m having now with a guilt trip?”  It means “This food is good” and “I’m not into denial (certainly not while I’m eating) and I know that I’m not going to indulge every day.”

And they won’t.    You can be 100 percent sure that the day after the foie gras or petits fours those lithe ladies will be sipping bouillon, but they would never say that.  Now, take a closer look.  Even while treating herself, the Frenchwoman may not eat all that much of the foie gras, but she’ll have a nice taste, that’s for sure.

Writes Mireille Guiliano in her bestselling book French Women Don’t Get Fat : “Frenchwomen simply do not suffer the terror of kilos that afflicts so many of their sisters in other developed countries.  All the chatter about diets I hear at cocktail parties in America would make any Frenchwoman cringe.”  So what do Frenchwomen talk about while gathered round a tantalizing buffet?  She replies:  “..what we enjoy: feelings, family, hobbies, philosophy, politics, culture, and yes, food, especially food (but never diets).”

This may sound too good to be true (maybe she’s making it up?) but I can assure you, dear reader, that it’s true and that it starts young.  Today I was talking to my 3-year-old French granddaughter on the phone.  She recounted in detail her “goûter” which is a scheduled afternoon snack all French children have.  She was thrilled to tell me she was eating chocolate but, she qualified, pas beaucoup.  Why? I asked.  Solemnly she informed me that it wouldn’t be good to eat too much of the chocolate.  OK, she’s only 3 but she’s already got the concept of les petits plaisirs that Frenchwomen (and men) carry with them throughout their lives.  Moderation!

Attention!  The fact that Frenchwomen don’t talk about diets doesn’t mean they don’t go on diets.  Don’t think that because they enjoy themselves at a dinner party or cocktail party sans guilt, they’ve dropped the ball.  They watch their weight like a mother watches her child on the playground-constantly. If they see they’ve gained a few grams or a pound or two, they do whatever they need to get it off-vite. But they keep all that to themselves so as not to spoil their or anyone else’s pleasure at a party or any occasion where there’s good food and drink. So refreshing – so adult!

That’s what I love so much about France, the French, and Frenchwomen. They put food in its proper place: one joy among many others.  On this score as on many others, vive la joie de vivre.

***This article is adapted and excerpted from “Having It All: The Pleasure of Being a Frenchwoman” in my latest book, Joie de Vivre: Secrets of Wining, Dining, and Romancing Like the French