Caveman Foodies

Adjusting to France, French Food

I remember going to a French restaurant once, back when I was living in D.C. This place was pretty fancy and all the staff was actually French, so when I ordered my steak “rare” the friends I was with spoke up.

“Oh, you don’t want to do that here,” they told me. “If you get it ‘rare’ here then it will be fully raw in the middle. You should ask for ‘medium’ and that will be like a normal ‘rare.’”

“What?” I asked. “No, I’m pretty sure I want it ‘rare.’”

The waiter smiled, silently waiting for confirmation from me. I nodded up towards him, “rare,” I said again. My friends went on to order their steaks, both “medium-well.”

“You know,” I say to them, after they ordered. “When you ask for it prepared like that, they give you the worst cut of meat in the kitchen.”

They rolled their eyes at me.

“Whatever, Vampira,” my friend had said. “Just, don’t complain to us when yours comes out bloody.”

I definitely did not. When that filet mignon (this is filet de boeuf for les Francais) came and I cut into it and the middle was blue and cold, I couldn’t have been happier. My friends looked at it and shook their heads, ready to give me the “I told you so speech” but it was too late, I had already taken a huge bite.

“OH my god,” they said. “You are so gross, it isn’t even cooked.”

“I know,” I said, delighted. “It’s perfect!”

For years, I had been struggling to fully explain that when I say “rare” I mean “rare” – as in, wave a flame towards its general direction and then bring that sucker to me. Unfortunately, no one in the U.S. seemed to believe me (even my Father will argue this point with me…”you don’t want it that ‘rare,’” he’ll tell me as I ask him to pull my steak off the grill after 15 seconds…yeah Dad, I TOTES do).

The thing is, that essentially, I think it is a pity to cook meat at all, really; my friend was right, I am a bit of a Vampira and like my meat to just about talk to me. Luckily, my raw meat fixation seems to be something that France and I agree on. There is a plethora of raw meat options here, ranging from tartars to saucisson…you can even double your raw pleasure by adding raw eggs.

In the United States, it seems like the raw meat trend has just started taking off in recent years, due to the (super-awesome-I’m-so-excited-about-it) Foodie Revolution. When I was growing up, and even when I was at University, people were just not ingesting much raw meat. In fact, the only time in my U.S. life when I regularly ate it was at home. My Mother would pinch off a piece of ground beef*, salt it lightly and then hand it to us to eat. This was something that her Mother had done when she was little and, to me, it seemed perfectly normal, once I got older I realized it definitely wasn’t.

“Oh my god,” my friends would shriek. “What did you just do? Did you just eat a piece of raw ground beef? You. Are. Going. To. Die.”

It was always said very matter-of-factly. Raw meat = death. I mean, OBVI.

However, after a few more times of me doing this and, well…not-dying, my friends started to become curious and soon started trying it themselves (in fact, there is one friend who got obsessed and became as bad as me…you know who you are).

I pretty much think this is how a lot of the food we eat came about. Some dude would look at an artichoke or walnut and think, “I’m gonna eat that thing” and then everyone else would wait around to see whether or not it killed him. I even imagine, Cavemen foodies…something like this:

Two Cavemen enter an already crowded cave.

Caveman 1: Oh my, must we stay? It is so crowded.

Caveman 2: That is because it is the best. They do an amazing “hunk o’ meat over fire.”

Caveman 1 sighs.

Caveman 1: I still like mine raw, that’s all I’m saying.

Caveman 2: Oh come off it! We’ve finally gotten fire, we might as well use it! Live a little, old sport.

They sit down in an obliging corner and wait for their server.

Caveman 1: My goodness, they’re very bold, aren’t they?

He is looking at a group squatting next to them, eating mixed berries just as the Server arrives.

Caveman Server: Ah yes, a discerning eye you have, that is our “mass of mixed berries” that is new on the menu tonight.

Caveman 1: Isn’t that a little risky? I mean, shouldn’t they all be “checked.”

Caveman Server: Sir, I assure you, that everything in our establishment passes “the death test.” However…

He leans down and lowers his voice.

Caveman Server: If something a bit more “exotic” interests you, we have come across some new items that we are trying out this evening…something called a “rutabaga?”

Caveman 2: Are you saying you can get me stuff that hasn’t passed the “death test” yet?

The Caveman Server winks surreptitiously.

Caveman 2: Pally, come on, we gotta do it, please!

Caveman 1: No way! I only jive with “death test” approved cuisine.

Caveman 2: Oh, how you bore me. You have no appreciation for food, it is utterly wasted on you.

Caveman 1: That is not what you said when I took down a Mammoth 3 days ago.

Caveman 2: And then ate it raw, like some philistine!

Caveman 1: What is a philistine?

Caveman 2: I don’t know, they don’t exist yet but it is, most certainly, what you are.

Caveman 2 sighs and turns towards the Server with a knowing look that says, “Some people, you can’t take anywhere.” The Server smiles back.

Caveman Server: And what will Sirs be having?

Caveman 1: I would like the hunk ‘o meat…raw, please.

Caveman Server: The Chef does recommend this particular cut “a feu,” if you will.

Caveman 1: Thank you, but no. I like my meat the old fashioned way, raw, the way we were meant to eat it.

Caveman 2 rolls his eyes and then orders before turning back to his friend.

Caveman 2: You know, when you order it prepared like that they give you the worst cut in the kitchen.

 

* I am not recommending this practice with bargain basement, meat on sale. If you are going to eat raw meat, you should either grind it yourself at home or watch the butcher freshly grind it.

 

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A Simple Dimple: My Ode to Cellulite

French Food

I am standing in the kitchen at a friend’s house watching as he prepares a huge pot of fondue.

“Ehermergerd,” I say, “It looks SO good.”

“Yeah,” my friend responds glumly.  “But not exactly fat free, huh?”

“Oauis,” I reply.  “I don’t even care anymore.  In fact, I think I’ve kind of grown to like my cellulite.”

“Quoi?!”  A female friend jumps in, having overheard our conversation.

“I don’t know,” I say.  “I guess I’ve started feeling attached to it.”

She is looking at me like I am crazy…which is fair enough.

“Like, years from now if I don’t live here anymore I can look at my thigh and think “ah yes, that is my French cellulite.”

She laughs but it is in the “you are being weird so I will humor you” way.  I shrug – what can I say?  I’ve become zen with my dimples.

***

I like to eat which works well in France since the French are a people who also like to eat (I know this is a lot of new information to handle at once).  I am always comfortable and welcomed (the French version of being welcomed so, you know…toned down) when I enter a party or arrive for dinner ready to try everything and “ooh” and “ahh” over the food.  It is my primary “in” with French society – they love anyone who is enthusiastic about their cuisine.  However, there are some drawbacks as I have discussed before.

These days, I have figured out how to manage my FFFC (French Fatty Food Consumption).  I’ve realized that “um, I live here and I don’t need to eat everything all at once and constantly” which has been great for the waistline; however, recently I have noticed that some damage just can’t be undone.  There are some things in the FFFC repertoire (foie gras, pate, cheese) that one’s body simply can’t ignore no matter how moderate the intake.  At first, these noticeable changes really bothered me:  “Cellulite, Quelle Horreur!”  But now, I have come to realize that really my cellulite is like a sexy badge of honor, I mean, I feel a little romantic about it.

“Heeeeey Cellulite, how you doin’?”

“Oh you know,” Cellulite says, coyly, flashing me a dimple.  “Just hanging around.”

“Why don’t you let me take you out?  We’ll go to the beach where I can show you off, guuurl!”

A note:  I have no idea why me talking to my cellulite sounds like an early 90’s white rapper.  Apparently the world and my fellow women should all be happy I wasn’t born a dude because my game is sounding pretty sad.

Okay – so it goes something like that.

Point being, I’ve just decided that my cellulite (and other various body issues…don’t even get me started on stretch marks) just isn’t that big of a deal.  I mean, did you know that somewhere between 80-90% of post-pubescent women have it?  (No, I don’t know who those 10% who don’t are, I pretty sure they are like Rainbow Unicorns…I’ve certainly never seen one)  That means that it should be like a rite of passage, proof that you have had a life, that you survived teenage years – I mean, my god, who on earth would trade in cellulite for having to been a teen?  Dimples are definitely the better end of that bargain (apologies to any teenage readers but don’t worry, you’ll get it in about 10 years).  Basically, it is the visible evidence that you have lived some life and are interesting (people who never indulge in yummy food are boring – BAM –truth gun).

So, today, I embrace my cellulite, it kind of makes me smile and remember all the great food that I’ve eaten with great friends during great moments in my life – it is a mark upon my body…but a mark doesn’t necessarily mean a blemish, does it?

So Cellulite, this one’s for you:

An Ode to Cellulite

Rippling waves of dimpled flesh can leave me feeling quite bereft,

Squeezing, pulling, squats galore and still, each day, I find some more.

Yet as I sit and contemplate this state…suddenly, my heart inflates.

Perhaps this unsightly mark against beauty should be embraced by any true foodie.

A swath of fat above my knees to remind me of a Burgundian cheese,

A Parisian dinner caressing my thigh and taking me back to a night gone by,

A plumped buttocks from cassoulet…the evening we met and talked the night away,

Foie gras with confit and magret canard, raclette in winter and pommes de terres in lard,

Memories of moments mapped out on my skin, why should I fight it, perhaps they should win?

It could be inner thighs that flop with vigor indeed present a nicer figure

Than those that stay in shapely place, never rubbing or losing face…

For never having known glorious taste.

***

Apologies for the extra-long sabbatical.  Bread is Pain should be back up and running with normal posts from now on.  I hope that all of you had a glorious New Year! Cheers!

 

 

Top 7 Moments in France (and shameless self-promotion)

Adjusting to France

Hello all!

Just a quickie to ask for your help.  I’ve entered the Expat Blog Awards with a post entitled “Top 7 Moments in France.”  It is a new post that has never been published here and I would be thrilled if you would pop over to their site and check it out.  If you feel so inclined, leave a comment and that will go towards helping me win the contest (the post with the most comments wins).  Comments must be over 10 words to count towards the award (yeah…they won’t let me get away with “nice job”…cheeky) and they will ask you to verify email to make sure you aren’t a robot.

I would so appreciate any help and hope you will enjoy the post!

Cheers!!!

My Dirty Little Secret

Adjusting to France, Life in General, Living Abroad

“I HATE EVERYTHING – nothing is ever just easy,” I am stomping around the house in full tempter-tantrum – Scarlett-style.

MB looks at me silently with no reaction (he has learned to let me just wear myself out…much like one might do with a 3 year old).

He sighs as I continue to slam around being disagreeable.  Could I be enjoying this?!  NO!  Of course not…

“I went to Picard…NOTHING.  Then I tried the Petit Casino – you know, the one that always has them and they didn’t have anything either,” I wail.

“Well,” he says tentatively.  “Maybe at Carrefour?”

“NO,” I say loudly, for some reason feeling satisfied to crush his possible solution.  “I have never seen them there, they don’t carry them at all*!”

MB looks at me, “I could call the stores,” he suggests.

“I guess,” I say, sulkily.  “I don’t know what good it will do, even if we find them we will have to take a tram to go and get them.”  I’m not ready to be mollified yet.  “GAWD!  I just wanted to make crawfish etouffee – I bought all the other ingredients and stupidly took for granted that I would be able to find the crawfish at the stores.”  I’m ranting again and flailing about with drama.  “But NOOOOOOOOOO…I mean, why would a store stock the same merchandise every time?  That would be too easy and convenient for the customers and your country HATES easy and convenient!”

MB retreats into the bedroom with the telephone to call the stores and I am left feeling…meeeeeeeeeeeh…a little ashamed of myself.  I don’t mean to pull out the “country card” but it is certainly the quickest thing to revert to when I’m feeling frustrated.  These are not proud moments

***

“My, my,” My Mother says into the phone.  “You are really living the life, aren’t you?”

I have just finished telling her about our weekend jaunt over to Munich.  There was all-you-can-eat schnitzel and fairy castles, what more could a person ask for?

“I sure hope you are appreciating it,” she continues.

I smile and roll my eyes at the same time (this is the reaction to a special mixed emotion that only my Mother can summon forth – it is simultaneous irritation and amusement).

“I know, Mom,” I reply.  “I do!”

“Well,” she continues.  “I sure hope so…”

I’m waiting for it.  I know what is coming next.

“Because…”

Queue ominous and foreboding thunderclap. MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!  Feeling scared yet?

She goes on, “Your life will not always be like this.”

I sigh into the telephone, unsure of exactly what my response should be.  Do I say, “thanks for letting me know” or “I appreciate the warning?”  Do I pretend that I am still fourteen years old and say, “GAH MOM, you’re such a downer!”  OR do I tell her the truth?

The expat life is great.  I am living in Europe for the first time and enjoying traveling around and seeing all the sights, I have an amazing French husband, and I get to write all day long (sometimes this is awesome and sometimes this feels like I have sentenced myself to a lifelong homework assignment).  I mean, it’s pretty much a Meg Ryan movie over here without all the neurosis (and bad plastic surgery…why Meg, why?).

…Except when it isn’t.

I regularly think about how much I am enjoying my time here and all the cool experiences I am getting to  eat have but sometimes…I hate it.  (EEEK!  I’ve done it now – I’m just waiting for the black helicopters to start circling.) 

Alright, alright, calm down – I don’t hate France, that isn’t it, it’s just that some days I hate being an expat and France gets caught in the crossfire, a convenient thing to blame for a bad day.  The only thing that people hear about is that I get to go to Munich or Italy for a weekend – it sounds so romantic and exciting to have all these European countries at one’s fingertips…and it is.  What they don’t know about is how when I need to get crawfish for a dish I want to make and can’t find it after spending two hours walking around to different stores that I have to wait for my husband to come home and call every supermarket chain in the city because I can’t just do it myself.  I mean, sure, I can speak French but try asking a complicated question over-the-phone with grocery store level customer service (read: no customer service) in a second language…I dare you.   Or how if I want to go and see a movie I have to search to try to find one that hasn’t been dubbed or how if I want to run a quick errand it is impossible because I either a) spend ages looking for parking or b) take public transportation as opposed to the glorious, glorious parking lots of my hometown.  OR how when I am sad or having a bad day I can’t just pick up the phone and call home because it is probably 3 o’clock in the morning.  It can be lonely and it can be alienating, everyday tasks and chores are more complicated and things that are normally really easy aren’t anymore.

Okay, okay so I can hear you rolling your eyes at me and I get it – I’m not this bratty all the time and I know it’s still a pretty sweet deal when you get to travel and learn about a new culture, I realize that my life isn’t hard; but bad days happen everywhere…even in the middle of a romance novel setting.  And while there are certainly some pretty sweet perks to being an expat, it isn’t all roses all the time…usually you will love every minute of it but some days you will have disgraceful temper tantrums about groceries and wish the time zones were the same so you could call your best friend (who, by best friend contract has to agree that you are being completely rational) and tell her about it.

So, the old adage rings true: I should listen to my Mother and remember that my life won’t always be like this.  Some days that idea makes me sad and other days…well, other days it seems alright with me.

 

*Carrefour does actually carry crawfish occasionally but it is in very small, expensive packages and not worth the effort.  Just wanted to clarify so that people didn’t think I was maligning the glorious Carrefour!!! 

Bringing up Chien

Cultural Differences, Uncategorized

The French LOVE dogs (literal dogs not all my figurative dog-talk).  Dogs can go on the train, on the tram, in a restaurant…just about anywhere that doesn’t have a sign indicating

No dogs allowed!

No dogs allowed!

otherwise.  A dog being out and about in public is so prevalent that at my favorite restaurant they even have a “dog’s menu” underneath the children’s menu.

As a life-long dog lover I embrace this; I like realizing that there is a canine friend at the table next to me in a restaurant or having a large furry beast relaxing under my feet on the train, it’s charming and friendly.  In the U.S. we are dog-banners; I’ve seen a dog get kicked out a post office line before…I mean, the POST OFFICE for heaven’s sake…what is the dog going to do that could possibly be more unpleasant than what your postal worker will do?  (har har har – I slay me) 

Could this difference in policy actually be a difference in behavior?  While I have seen no evidence whatsoever to convince me that French children behave better than children of any other nationality (sorry, I’m sure I’ll get skewered for this since it is all the rage…but there it is…kids are kids the world over and I see just as many crying, screaming temper tantrums in public here as I have in any other country I have lived in) I WILL say that their dogs are appear to be more attune to social etiquette.

A friend was recently visiting from the U.S. and commented on the fact that the canines

Doggie public toilets

Doggie public toilets

about town seemed to be much better behaved.  They sit patiently if left outside a “magasin” without barking or putting up much of a fuss, while giving imploring looks they do not incessantly beg at restaurant tables, and they typically manage to “do their business” in the “espace chiens”* set up around town for this express purpose.

And so, the question is: Are these better behaved dogs or are they just French?  Let me explain by going into dog psyche for a moment.

A French dog is out and about in town with his owner.  This is the dog’s internal dialogue.

Pfff…look at that stoopeed bichon on a leash…so degrading.  I mean, you know, you should learn how to walk if you want to go out in public. 

“Hey Cotton Ball – yeah, you with the leash – it is not hard, you know, just walk with your human.  You are embarrassing us all!”

Well, it is hardly a wonder, huh?  The owner is wearing tennis shoes and MON DIEU picking up the poop off the sidewalk!  If my owner did this I would run away; I would rather live on ze street zen with a human who would disrespect themselves so.  It would be too shameful.  Picking up poop…it eez disgusting, non?  I don’t walk on leashes and I manage to get to a toilet when nature calls, huh?  I’m not a barbarian or an American…ha…Americans.

The owner stops in front of a bakery and leaves the dog waiting outside with another one.  Our narrator dog stops and looks around for a minute.

A la la la la…what is thees barking fool next to me? 

“You know, we are just waiting outside the “marche”; relax Kujo!”

More barking.

“Hey – Timmy hasn’t falled down a well, Lassie!  Have some dignity.”

Pfff…I would never behave in such a way.  I don’t need to bark all the time and act like I am having a heart attack of excitement each time my human returns.  …Rideeculous.  I have standards, you know?  I know how to comport myself in public.  I-

“OOOH!  My human, bonjour, bonjour, salut, salut, salut!!!!!!!!!!”

SCENE

Last week I was walking back home from the bakery with my baguette in hand.  As some bakeries prefer, the baguette wasn’t even fully enclosed in a wrapper but just had a wisp of paper for me to hold it around the middle.  As I was walking back to my house the baguette was down by my side…you know, about dog height…and a dog came walking by with his owner.  The dog didn’t so much as turn his nose in the direction of my baguette.

It made quite the impression on me that the dog didn’t even make an attempt; there was no tug of war with the owner pulling him back from trying to devour my baguette.  I thought to myself what a well-behaved canine he was but then again, the dog was French so maybe my baguette was just from the wrong bakery.

*The Espace Chiens are set up around the city and are little sandy or dirt pits (sort of like sandboxes) with some fencing around them for the dogs to do their business.  Yes, that is right, in France dogs have their own public toilets…gotta love it.  Furthermore, while these “espaces” are used regularly there is still a prodigious amount of poo on the sidewalks.  When you walk around France it is best to keep an eagle eye.

The Chicken Dance

Learning French

“Chicken happy can you monkey dance a cheese?”

“Quoi?”

“Chick-en happy can. You. Monkey. Dance. A cheese?”

“I am sorry; I do not understand what you are saying.”

I have decided that it would be hysterical to have my own English subtitles, you know, just a little screen in front of me to translate what I say in French into English.  Mind you, this would not be to help other people understand me, but so that I could see what it is that I am actually saying.

Lately, I have become more confident in my abilities to speak French (generally fueled by one of those extra-long aperitifs).  I speak rapidly and say multiple sentences at a time.  I do that whole “thoughtful pause” that foreigners always do that makes them look so casual and smart as they try to find the right word to use.  All in all, I look like the super-cool, multi-lingual expat…as long as you don’t speak French.

I remember going to Costa Rica with a friend of mine a few years ago.  Her family is Costa Rican but she was raised in the U.S.

“Wow,” I told her.  “Your Spanish is so good!”  To me she sounded like a local.

She laughed.  “That is only because you don’t know what I am saying.”

It is the same for me here in France.  If you don’t speak a lick of French and you hear me conversing you might think, “Wow, she has really got a handle on the language”; however, if you are French and you hear me speak French you will probably think “quoi?”

For example, I know the word for “good” and I know the word for “walk” but I didn’t know that when you put them together they don’t mean “good walk” but instead mean “cheap”.  These types of little confusions combined with my tragic pronunciation are why I often find myself staring into the baffled faces of French people.  They try to be nice and pretend they know what I am saying, but having been the foreigner for so long, I know what those smiling nods mean.

Maybe I should start asking trick questions to see if my sentences are coming out right:

“So, you love American food?”  I will ask in French.

“Oui, absolutement” they will reply, giving me an encouraging smile.

BUSTED!  Clearly no French person would ever say such a thing.*

Or maybe I could try…

(in French)

“While the French make some decent wine, Americans wines are much better, yes?”

“Ah oui, d’accord.”

DOUBLE BUSTED!  Come to think of it, this could become a rather entertaining little game.

But then again, is it such a bad thing for people to placate you?  Is it so horrible that they want to encourage instead of discourage?  It’s good to be given some motivation to keep trying, to have people pretending through the sentences they don’t understand so that they can piece together the ones that they do.  Of course, it would be nice to know whether I am asking if they enjoy the flavor of the fromage or if I am saying “happy chicken can you monkey dance a cheese”; but I guess I’ll just have to wait for the subtitles.

*Not only would a French person never say that they loved American food, they would be utterly confused as to what was meant by American food.  My repeated experience has been that most of them think that everyone in America eats cheeseburgers three times a day.