"They are like potato chips for sweets fiends, and you could eat a whole sack of them before noticing they were gone."
When I was in second grade, I had a little cubby hole—a mailbox for returned art projects and writing experiments, like my first novel stitched together with dental floss. Even then, I had an appetite for romance, but there isn't much point in running after Mr. Postman when everything he delivered, you sent to yourself.
One day, I saw my French flag hanging out of my mailbox. We had been assigned, as good American children, to recreate the flags of our forebears. I had successfully achieved le Tricolore, with the help of Maman, in heavy weight red, white, and blue construction paper. But as I pulled the stiffly out-furled flag from its cache, a little sheet of paper, light as a leaf tossed in the back-to-school wind, floated down to the carpet. I knelt in my knee socks and picked it up. On a tiny rectangle of torn out spiral notebook paper it read:
I like you a lot.
Your Secret Admirer.
Except, the Rs in my name were backwards. Despite his minor fault in orthography, I felt my knees knock together, my palms go sweaty, and my face flush hot. I was only six years old, but I had a feeling I would be hungry for this feeling for the rest of my life.
When Maman picked me up from school that afternoon, she could tell I had a secret. "What happened at school today?" she smiled.
"Nothing." I had no way of knowing that my teacher had phoned that afternoon to tell her not only what had happened, but also the true identity of Your Secret Admirer. He had, with admirable chivalry, demanded our teacher's blessing before gallantly slipping the love letter into my mailbox.
"It was Luke Robinson!" she blurted out.
I turned scarlet, and silent. "Well, is it mutual?" she quizzed.
"It's when a feeling is reciprocated. When you feel the same way about him, that he does about you."
Truth be told, I had never thought anything of Luke Robinson up until that moment. I hadn't even hoped that Your Secret Admirer would turn out to be someone else. The only things that occupied my six-year-old thoughts were horses, grilled cheese, and tulle skirts. I turned to Maman. "No," I decided.
All failed relationships should yield some sort of lesson. And I figured that vocabulary, by way of "mutual" and "reciprocated" was worth the heartache of realizing that I, indeed, was not as much in like with Luke as he was with me.
But I had to admit I admired Luke's bravery, and though I never received another letter from him in my cubby hole, I always returned, hoping to find sweet nothings scrawled in crooked scripts across the regular boyish blue lines of the paper. After all, a girl can make quite a meal out of sweet nothings.
Oreillettes are a kind of pastry I had a little too much of in Provence. They are irregular thin sheets of dough fried until light and crisp as autumn air, and then tossed in powdered sugar. They are like potato chips for sweets fiends, and you could eat a whole sack of them before noticing they were gone. They really are sweet nothings. And the fact that their name is synonymous with earphones in French—well, they really might whisper sweet nothings to you after all.
Instead of making the pastry—because this is French in a Flash, after all—I start with wonton wrappers, and fry them just until golden and a little bubbly. Then I toss them around in a paper bag with the traditional powdered sugar. But as my own addition, I mix in the zests of lemon, lime, and orange, which adhere like brightly hued natural sprinkles and whose citrus twang cuts through any heaviness which lingers after frying.
These oreillettes are sheets of pastry instead of paper, covered in sugar instead of saccharine prose—even better than the original. I think I'll be stopping by that tall glass jar on my kitchen counter over the next few days, instead of my mailbox.
- Vegetable oil for frying
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- The zest of 1 orange, 1 lemon, and 1 lime
- Pinch of salt
- 24 wonton wrappers (about half a pack)
Heat about 1 to 2 inches of vegetable oil in a cast iron skillet, or saucepan, to 325°F.
While the oil is coming to temperature, prepare the citrus sugar. Put the cup of powdered sugar in a bowl, and zest the orange, the lemon, and the lime over it, tossing as you go so great clumps of damp zest don't form in the sugar. Be sure to reserve just a bit of zest on the fruit so you can zest it over the finished oreillettes for a confetti garnish. Add the pinch of salt, and incorporate it all together with the tines of a fork. Dump the mixture into a paper lunch bag.
Cut the wonton wrappers into triangles by slicing them in half across the diagonal. Fry a few of them at a time, about 4 or 5 depending on the size of your pan, for about 10 to 20 seconds per side, until they are just turning golden. They will harden and even darken a touch when you remove them to a paper towel to drain.
While the golden wonton triangles are still hot, place them in batches in the paper bag with the citrus sugar. Crumple up the top of the bag to seal it, and shake the oreillettes around. They will emerge with a light snow of fragranced sugar all over them. Don't be alarmed if the zest doesn't stick. It has flavored the sugar.
Pile up the oreillettes on a plate, and top with more freshly grated orange, lemon, and lime zest. Serve with tea or aperitifs in the afternoon.