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March 16, 2021

What a “Croque”! (Croque Monsieur, that is)


After only having had 2 months of English in school back in Germany before arriving in the US, I quickly had to learn English to keep up with my peers.  Two months of school English will NOT prepare you to enter any social situation, take it from me.  My parents did not think, it was such a big deal for us kids.  Kids are resilient, they would say.  Kids will adapt quickly to any new situation.  Well, true, in a way.

Learning English in Summer Camp

So, here we were, my brothers and I, new arrivals in the United States.  We arrived during summer vacation.  Our parents promptly enrolled us in a summer crafts camp at the local school and dropped us off in the mornings for the day’s activities.  We were armed, ready for the day, with one Langenscheidt’s German/English dictionary to share between us, and as I said two months of school English.  It was actually "The Queen's English", not American!  Here is a sample of what I learned back in English class in Germany: “This is Jane.  This is George. This is a pen.  That is a book. Go to the door.  Open the door.  Go to the window.  Open the window.”  That was not enough to prepare us for what was ahead. 

Initially, the other kids were curious about us, “the new kids”, "the kids from Germany".  A bunch of the more mischievous kids took it upon themselves to try to teach us English.  It seems, they taught us all the “4 letter words” (swear words and “bad” words) and took delight in us repeating and then actually using them.  The teacher was not amused.  We got into trouble. - - In hindsight, those words the kids taught us were NOT in Langenscheidt's dictionary.  Of course, the other kids explained that away as being local colloquialisms, or slang.

BIG Trouble

One expression we had learned from the "helpful" kids was “what a crock”!  It had a nice flow to it.  What a crock!  Quickly, we looked up the word crock in the Langenscheidt’s and saw that a crock is an earthenware pot or jar.  Harmless enough.  

If you look up the complete phrase in an urban dictionary, it is defined as an exclamation that something is ridiculous, nonsense, or clearly untrue.  However, little did we know that when this phrase is commonly completed with the possessive “of” plus another word having the meaning of cow manure, and THAT phrase is not so polite.  Oh, did we get into trouble when we uttered those five words!

Happy Ending

Fortunately, the teacher was wise to what happened, singled out the mischievous bunch, and punished them.  Not everything turned out badly, though.  Just a few days later, we met and became fast friends with a kind and supportive boy and his sister.  With their patience and understanding, we soon learned about one another's culture and discovered that we had a lot in common.  

Thus a lifelong friendship between our families was forged.  Over the years, and many cross country moves later, we eventually lost contact. Recently, however, after quite a number of years of having lost touch with one another and aided by the wonders of the internet, this friendship has recently been reestablished and rekindled.

Play on Words: The Other Croque

When my husband asked me to fix him a “Croque” (pronounced: crock) for brunch the other day, I had to chuckle at a brief flashback to my childhood.   Of course, in his frame of reference, a “Croque” actually refers to a “Croque Monsieur” or a “Croque Madame”.  What is that you may ask?

A Croque Monsieur is a grilled sandwich made with ham and cheese.  The name is based on the French verb “croquer”, meaning to crunch, and the noun “Monsieur”, meaning mister.  If you place a poached or fried egg on top of a Croque Monsieur, it becomes a Croque Madame.  Legend has it that the name for this sandwich Croque Monsieur came about when a patron asked the brasserie owner about the meat inside the sandwich.  The answer was that it came from the "Monsieur" or the guy, referring to the butcher next door.

When you "dress up" the sandwich with a fried egg on top, though, it becomes a Croque Madame.  It's akin to the metaphor of a woman wearing a hat, thus the name.  

Below is my version of this really tasty sandwich.

Croque Monsieur or Croque Madame


2 slices of toast bread


Dijon mustard

1-2 slices of ham (Parisian, baked, black forest ham)

1 slice of cheese (I used Havarti, but Emmental, Gruyere, or Compte is also tasty)

Grated cheese (optional)

1 egg (for a Madame), fried sunny side up


Preheat oven to 180 C (350 F)

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, for easy cleanup.

Spread butter on both sides of one piece of bread and place it on the prepared baking sheet.  Place a slice of cheese on the exposed side of the bread, followed by the ham. Spread the mustard on the last slice of bread, and place it mustard side down on the ham, spread butter on the exposed slice of bread.

Grill in the oven until the bread is golden.  Remove from oven, and flip the sandwich over.  Optional: Sprinkle the exposed side with grated cheese.  Pop the sandwich back in the oven until the cheese is melted and bubbly (or the top slice is golden). 

For a Croque Madame, prepare a sunny-side-up fried egg in the meantime.  (I personally abhor fried eggs, so none for me!  But my husband loves them, so I spoil him with a Croque Madame.)

Remove sandwich from oven, scoop it onto a plate and serve with the fried egg on top. Dig in and enjoy!

Croque Madame

Bon Appetit.



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