“One nice thing eez, the game of love eez never called on account of darkness.” – Pepe Le Pew
Pepe Le Pew: now there’s a true romantic. He never gives up on love. He approaches it with a single-mindedness that could almost be enviable. And yes, you may have noticed that he is as French as une baguette. The last bit makes sense, given that Parisians, indeed all French, have had a reputation for romance grafted onto their identities like a tattoo. (That Pepe Le Pew happens to be a cartoon skunk is irrelevant to my thesis.)
I have been trying to find out why Paris is considered the most romantic city in the world. No matter who I ask or where I look on the internet, the closest answer I can get is that “it just is.” Songs have been written about it, movies have been made, and books have been published. So who am I to argue?
Perhaps you are familiar with the famous “French Paradox.” This is the observation that the French suffer a relatively low incidence of heart disease, despite having a diet relatively rich in saturated fats.
But herein lies my French paradox: how can it be that a place and a people so famous for being romantic can also be famous for rudeness? (Not like New Yorkers, who are sooooo nice.) It reminds me somehow of what Socrates said about love, “The hottest love has the coldest end.” So perhaps my paradox is explained by twisting Socratic reason: French passion burns white hot, but is icy cold when you ask for your vin ordinaire to be refilled. They may be rude, but they’re rude with style.
(Quoting Pepe Le Pew and Socrates in the same story must be some kind of journalistic breakthrough.)
The following bit of news is unlikely to come as a surprise: for me all roads lead to food, and any place where your visit isn’t considered complete unless you’ve partaken of an éclair or two (or three) gets a gold star on my map. So if the people are rude, I figure I can always drown my sorrows at les patisseries, non?
Valentine’s Day is this weekend. Last week I described baking Valentine Heart cookies. They are a sweet and wonderful thing to make for your special someone, but if something more transcendent is called for then may I suggest a really cheap trip to romantic Paris?
No, I am not saying that you should fly to Paris for a day in the middle of winter (although if you want to that’s good too.) But the Butter Flour Eggs Travel Bureau would like you to know that Paris can be as close as your kitchen, and just as romantic as the real thing. All that is needed is a touch of atmosphere, and, yes, some butter, flour, and a few eggs. Oh, and a big hunk of chocolate. Okay, two big hunks of chocolate.
Here’s the bottom line: if Paris is the most romantic city in the world, then why not toss out the flowers and the candy, and instead serve something typically Parisian? Life may be a box of chocolates, but for me, Valentine’s Day is all about Profiteroles.
Profiteroles are a staple of Parisian patisseries. In simplest terms, they are small cream puffs filled with ice cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce. Such an underwhelming description, yes, but like Paris, it’s more about the experience and the sum of the parts than about the mere bricks and mortar.
I don’t remember the first time I had Profiteroles, but it wasn’t in Paris. I’ve had them through the years here in New York at the venerable Café Un Deux Trois. While I was preparing to write this article I Googled, “Who serves the best Profiteroles in Paris?” Number one on someone’s list was a patisserie named Carette. (Warning to office dwellers, their website site plays music.) If you’ve been to Paris it is likely you are familiar with Carette as it is hardly an undiscovered secret. For several days I have been fixated on their website, specifically the pictures. Looks like a place I could spend an afternoon, eating.
You may be thinking, “Are you crazy? You want me to make cream puffs?” I’m not crazy (at least not measurably), the effort is all in the name of romance, and cream puffs – Pâte à Choux – are ridiculously easy to make. Really. Meatloaf is harder, I swear.
There’s also a dirty little secret about Profiteroles: they can be made a day or two ahead and stashed in the freezer until you need them. Just thaw them for a fleeting twenty minutes or so – long enough to unwrap jewelry (hint hint) – glaze with the intense, oozing gloss of a special chocolate sauce and l’amour is alive in your kitchen. Feel free to eat them with a spoon, but they’re small, so why not pull a “Mickey Rourke” and feed each other with your hands? Messy? Ah, you’ll figure it out.
If your kitchen isn’t especially atmospheric, light a few candles and fire up some classic French love songs on your iPod; anything by Charles Aznavour, Edit Piaf, or Yves Montand will do the job, and they’re all available on iTunes.
As one of those songs says, “C’est si bon / Lovers say that in France / To the tune of romance / It means it’s oh so good.” I think that is as true for romance as it is for Profiteroles.
Of course on Valentine’s Day, I know a few folks who may prefer a little ditty sung by Beyoncé that beseeches the listener to, “put a ring on it.”
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