Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called “petites madeleines,” which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?
This is the famous madeleine scene from Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past: Volume 1 Swann’s Way. I may not have fallen in love with the rest of this long, long book, in fact, I gave up part-way through. I am, however, a confirmed fan of madeleines. Let’s be clear – not those pale, insipid frauds called madeleines at a certain coffee shop on every street corner. Real madeleines are hard to find. If you live in the Philadelphia area, you can do no better than Miel Patisserie. There are two locations, one near Rittenhouse Square (204 S. 17th Street) and the other is in Cherry Hill (1990 Rte. 70 E). Their madeleines have a lovely honey flavor. They are perfect with a cup of coffee, as well as Proust’s tea.
Today’s expression, faire son miel de quelque chose. (fair sohn me-ell de kelkuh shows) literally means “to make one’s honey from something.” Figuratively it means to profit from a situation, the way a bee profits from an abundance of flowers and flies from one to another to make honey. You can profit from both Miel locations to collect madeleines, croissants, and all the other yummy patisseries on offer.