There is an edible experience I had as a child that remains unsurpassed. The year was 1963, I was ten. I still think about it and have tried many times to recreate it. I need to ask my brother if he remembers the moment as vividly as I do.
We were at our friends' farm in the country, just outside of Paris. By day, I ran around chasing wild cats and at night, recited (for a very small audience) "Cinderella," in French. Given as an assignment by my teacher at home, Monsieur Willmaker, I knew it by heart. Other than "Cinderella," and announcing "Je m'appele Frederique," I could not understand or speak a word of the language. I rocked the accent though, and I was extra proud of it, which is why I was the biggest show-off with my nightly act.
After a long day of running around the Constantines' farm, their mom pulled us aside for a quick snack. We were way out in a field when I saw her approaching with a basket of goodies. When I saw that she had fresh baguettes with butter, I perked up. She spread the beurre (butter, mind you, from their own cows) on the bread and then took out a big hunk of chocolate, like a chocolate bar. And that piece of chocolate went on top of the bread. Looking at it, I thought, nah. I just couldn't get my brain around it. But I was hungry and I was checking out everyone else's happy faces. So, I took a small first bite. I am not exaggerating when I say that it was the most delicious taste of life.
Right now, year 2011, travelling by train from Paris to St. Tropez, I realize I am mixing Spanish, English and the little French I know. Let's call it Franglish. And now, I'm thinking, uh-oh, maybe my Spanglish has always been infused with the few French words I know.
On this train ride, I have come as close to recreating my childhood experience as I ever have. Which is perfect, since it wasn't too far from here that I ate that delicious bread and chocolate. Incidentally, my husband thinks that's the title of all French films. I've been on the train now for a few hours and have not seen one person put one piece of food in his mouth. Is this a more civilized country? Is there no eating in this car? Is this why the French are thin? But I'm getting really hungry and I always carry a stash. Not just any stash, I carry the best. In my bag is an assortment of croissants from maybe the best bakery in Paris, Gerard Mulot. I was staying in St. Germain des Pres only blocks away from it. So, before my train ride today, I stocked up. Just took a few bites of one of the best chocolate croissants ever.
On the train I am sharing a booth for four. In the other three seats are an elderly couple and their middle-aged son. We have been on the train for a few hours with no words spoken between us. They talk to each other in French or read the newspaper or sit in silence. And then they gather themselves at a stop to leave. As they stand, I smile at the older woman; a huge warm smile because I'm unable to communicate (remind me to learn French). And she says something so random back to me - she offers up her son for me to marry. I'm not kidding. I understood what she was saying because I heard the word marriage (please say that with a heavy, show-offy, perfect French accent, maree-auge) as she pointed at her adult son, and then back to me. He looked a bit sheepish, and I spoke quickly, saying a lot of words they will never understand. I said something like, oh, sorry, I am already married but I love to fix people up, and I might have someone for you. Oh, my God, I just kept nervously going on and on. We had only a few seconds to create a history between us that would have been there had I been able to say all that I wanted and was thinking for the last three hours with them. I felt like I was in a scene in a French movie... called "Bread and Chocolate."
You know, those French movies, they can end quickly without ever wrapping anything up. Of course in the movie version, I might run off the train and spend the rest of my life with that man.
For the best croissant in Los Angeles, you will need to go to Susina Bakery on Beverly Blvd. just before La Brea. Since I am now a person who barely drives across town, I am not there enough. It is the most magical bakery so you should go anyway if you've never been. Every single person I have introduced to Susina has made it a regular place to revisit.
I bring the croissants home and heat them up for a few seconds so they are extra buttery. On a few days a week, the owner, Jenna Turner's aunt Jackie reads tarot cards. Also, if you like the three berry cake at Sweet Lady Jane, her berry blossom cake is in my opinion superior and we often serve it to happy friends at parties.
- By Fredrica Duke