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  • Aine Dougherty

Week Thirty-Eight in France: Salted caramel chocolate mousse and gougères


Who needs Ladurée when you have Le Lautrec? Strasbourg strikes again.

06/06/2020: This Saturday, I thought to myself, "Life hasn't been hard enough lately. I think I'll make a homemade caramel." A homemade caramel that would then be folded into an airy chocolate mousse for an original take on a classic French dessert. After beating the egg whites to stiff peaks by hand, taking a break to chat with my family for the first time in far too long, and completing all 15 recipe steps at the same time – by myself – I tucked the salted caramel chocolate mousse into the fridge to set. I took it out a few hours later as J. and I headed to his friend's house for a homemade pizza night, complete with ham, mushrooms and the ubiquitous black olives. The rich, luscious mousse was a big hit, and we headed home with just a tiny corner of the dish left. J.'s friend even called a few days later to tell him she was still thinking about it.



07/06/2020: Normally, when you see a millennial glued to their phone screen, it's an opportunity for ridicule via Boomers. But today, I had a good reason. In between a Sunday lunch of succulent seared duck and even more socially conscious conversation, I was reading Black Enough on my Libby app. A collection of short stories by a variety of Black authors, the book poignantly portrayed the experience of Black teenagers in America. I read all 500+ pages in a few hours, unable to put it down, transfixed by the stellar writing and the varied, moving stories. (My favorite was Whoa! by Rita Williams-Garcia.) I cannot recommend this book enough. It's the perfect way to celebrate Black art and joy as well as learn more about experiences that you might or might not share. That night, J. and I lounged around in my new and improved room (I moved into my roommate's old room, twice as big as my old one!) and ordered Italian take-out for dinner. My gnocchi dotted with balls of chewy mozzarella was life-changing.



08/06/2020: They're baaaack! And by they I mean Biscottes, those crunchy little toast-cracker-breakfast foods that I used to eat in Arles and when I first arrived in Mulhouse. Every so often I'll cycle back to foods that I've gotten tired of in the past, and these are no exception. This time, I gave them a bit of a boost with a swipe of demi-sel butter and Bonne Maman's sweet quince jelly. It's a chance to slow down a bit in the morning and be intentional with my first meal of the day! I scarfed down the last meal of the day a bit quicker, though, when J., his sister and I headed back to their friend's house for a night of Indian takeout. Indian food is one of my absolute favorite foods to eat back at home in Philly (shout out Saffron), and I had been desperately missing it. After an unbearably long wait to the tune of our growling stomachs, we dug in. My chicken tikka masala (I know, I'm basic...) and naan was heavenly. Next homemade project? The night came to a close with ripe cherries and huge belly laughs for dessert.


09/06/2020: Another throwback today with a snack of green apple slices and peanut butter, which was my go-to in high school when I was an athlete – I mean, when I warmed the field hockey bench. There's just something so refreshing about the combo. Later that afternoon, I finally set foot again in Lycée Albert Schweitzer for the first time after three months. I got to hang out with a couple of my favorite students as a (masked, socially distanced) class of eight reviewed for their make-up bac in a few weeks. For dinner at J.'s dad's house, the highlight was dessert – C.'s raspberry tart, one of her tastiest triumphs yet, adorned with vanilla pastry cream, a forest of fresh raspberries and a sprinkle of pistachios. Damn, girl. Before bed, I read all 600 pages of The Hate U Give (I know, I'm late) and was taken aback by its similarities to what's going on in 2020. And so, in addition to reading a beautifully written book that I loved, I also learned that I clearly haven't been paying enough attention to the cycle of violence that continues to repeat itself with no real progress. This ignorance changes now.



10/06/2020: This afternoon, C. and I set off on a 1.5 hour drive to Strasbourg, where she had a job interview, and I was just tagging along now that the 100km travel restrictions in France have been lifted. After a wild morning where I, having no international driver's license, had to drive and parallel park while running late in the biggest city in Alsace, I settled down with a cappuccino across from the Cathédrale with my friend and fellow Fulbrighter G. We pondered for a few minutes at the counter of Le Lautrec, a macaron shop, before I chose the "Crunchy" (milk chocolate, caramel and crushed peanuts) and the "Bora Bora" (mango-passionfruit ganache and a raspberry center). I've never been the biggest fan of macarons, but these... these changed my mind completely. Who needs Ladurée? C. and I met back up again and lazed around in Strasbourg before ordering Deliveroo from Le Pied de Mammouth – one of the best-reviewed burger places in town. When our thick burgers arrived, we understood the hype (and rejoiced at the two extra orders of fries). Mine featured pesto, cheese, pickles, pickled red onion relish and bacon. Like... can you imagine? It was one of the most original and delicious burgers I've ever tasted (and C.'s, with pungent Alsatian Munster cheese and a giant rösti, or potato cake, was equally breathtaking).


11/06/2020: He's been on a break for a while, but tonight, he finally took up the apron again. J. made me his take on tacos/fajitas/enchiladas, crispy corn tortillas stuffed with beef, corn, cheese and lardons. The dish was beautifully presented as usual, with a half-moon of avocado on the side providing a fresh element, although I had to physically restrain him from throwing the spatula in anger when the tortillas stuck to the pan. Looks like food can really incite some strong emotional reactions – but tonight, mine was all love.



12/06/2020: After six weeks of meeting on Zoom, my Online English Club finally met face-to-face. Four of us gathered at a park in Mulhouse on this sunny Friday, all bearing snacks for our potluck – my homemade chocolate chip, caramel and pretzel cookies, homemade pancakes with chantilly, a raspberry tarte and homemade cherry muffins. We played games, chatted in English, bonded over food and enjoyed the afternoon together. What a tangible realization of my goal: Helping French high school students feel more comfortable speaking English with a native speaker. I'm so proud of them! It was straight back into the kitchen when I got home, where I whipped up a couple trays of gougères, savory cheese puffs with plenty of black pepper and sharp Gruyère. A few friends stopped by, and we caught up while devouring a tableful of snacks and sipping on delicious Grimbergen fruits des bois beer with notes of raspberry and elderflower. I can often be lazy in friendships, so I'm glad that this week was full of joy and togetherness.


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