Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures


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A Dream of Spring

Will this season never end? Are we truly living in Westeros?

Here are some spring peas from last year that I cooked up with some mushrooms, garlic and green onions. They were so fresh and bright … god, I miss food that tastes happy.

Alas! Sun-kissed vegetables I once knew.

Alas! Sun-kissed vegetables I knew some once.

I bought some peas over the weekend and they tasted like preschool paste. An apple from the other week was mealy. Bananas are always a safe bet but they’re boring and I don’t like them. When will spring come? Where are the strawberries?

I’m not holding my breath

Before A Dream of Spring, the proposed seventh title in George RR Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, we must get the sixth book, The Winds of Winter. I might have been able to put up with this interminable season if I’d had the several hundred pages that the book’s sure to be to keep me company but I didn’t. I’m not sure which thing annoys me more.

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Thank you for smoking

This is a sign from the tabacconist near one of the places I lived in Barcelona which always made me smile.

"Thank you for smoking. In moderation."

“Thank you for smoking. In moderation.”

I still kind of think about how much I miss smoking all the time, by which I mean that I don’t obsess over it but that if I could peel back the layers of my consciousness, I’m pretty sure the whole not-smoking issue would be close to the surface.

This past week, I’ve thought a lot about how I haven’t smoked since November 26, 2006 and it’s all Matthew McConaughey’s fault. That guy knows how to smoke, which is to say that he relishes smoking as much as I did. Seeing him on HBO’s TRUE DETECTIVE and in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (for which he’s favored to win the Oscar) smoking the hell out of things is making me miss the days when I could just light up anywhere (even in a bank!) in Spain.

But then reality sinks in and I remember that being sick isn’t fun and that the pleasure I derived from smoking wasn’t enough to compensate how terrible I felt all the time so I just mute the sound and watch McConaughey light one cigarette off another and contemplate the injustices of the world.


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Bachelor Food: tortilla for one

A Spanish tortilla is simple to make but not easy to get right. It’s also a lot of food for one person, but one cold December day, I cracked the case. My solution was to make individual tortillas in muffin tins.

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This recipe is very easy and more fool-proof than a traditional tortilla.

Ingredients

potato (I buy a bachelor-sized variety called pompadour)
egg
salt
pepper
olive oil
butter (optional)
muffin tins

Steps

  1. Peel and thinly slice potato.
  2. Fry in batches. (Don’t crowd the chips or they’ll get soggy and won’t crisp.)
  3. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels. Salt.
  4. Layer the cooked chips into a muffin tin, forming a base, then prop chips along the side to create a tower / cone around the center. Continue to fill in with chips until the tin is almost full. (The tin can be buttered to ease the removal of the finished tortilla, but isn’t necessary.)
  5. Beat one egg in a small bowl, season, carefully pour over the potatoes. One egg should be the right amount for a standard muffin tin.
  6. Place tins in a pre-heated toaster oven and cook until egg is done to your liking. (If the top is still raw, blast the broiler for a minute, keeping an eye on the tortilla the whole time. Broilers are serious heating elements.)
  7. Let cool for a few minutes and unmold.
  8. Dig in.

They dun got me

Even though I’m no longer in the news biz, I still get annoyed when I get scooped. One would think that a recipe wouldn’t be scoopable, but the week after I had my bachelor tortilla brain wave, Melissa Clark, the New York Times’s way-too-perky food writer did a whole thing about tortilla. I was at least pleased that they made a very basic and telling mistake right in the first line: in Spanish, nationalities aren’t ever capitalized so if you’re going to go through the trouble of making an ñ, you should at least make sure your other punctuation is correct.

Melissa Clark tortilla FAILThe less said about the sentiment of her lede the better. I’m hoping it was some kind of attempt at being cutesy and not a display of out right ignorance since a professional food writer should know that often the simplest foods are the best ones.


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Word Mystery: shop / tienda / boutique

Every Wednesday, I explore the linguistic origins of one word in different languages I speak.

My German friend doesn’t like France, the French people or the French language. I suspect there are cultural and geographical things at the root of her feelings (she grew up not too far from the border) but I try not to get into it with her.

We were in Luxembourg together once, a charming place that looks like a fairy tale setting. Having missed the tourist bus, we decided to explore the city ourselves and just started walking around, looking at things. “This is what I mean!” she exclaimed as we ambled down a cobblestone street. “All of these shops say ’boutique’ just because it sounds more expensive!”

luxembourg-ville

To be fair, everything here *is* really expensive.

I had to break it to her that the shops weren’t trying to be fancy by saying they were boutiques (as she’d seen when she lived in the US), but that “boutique” was the correct word for “shop.” To her credit, she was a little bit surprised and then laughed at her own assumption.

She still isn’t buying what the French are selling, but let’s see if you’ll have some of what she doesn’t want.

EN → shop — 1) a building or part of a building where goods or services are sold; a store. ORIGIN Middle English shortening of Old French eschoppe [lean-to booth] from Dutch schoppe.

ES → tienda4) Casa, puesto o lugar donde se venden al público artículos de comercio al por menor. [House, office or other place where goods are sold to the public at retail prices.] ORIGIN Latin tendĕre [stretch, spread, extend].

FR → boutique1) Local où se tient un commerce de détail, où exerce un artisan. [Retail space or where an artisan works and sells his wares.] ORIGIN Old Provençal (Southern French dialect related to Occitan) botica from Greek apothêkê [storehouse].

English note: In the US, it’s more common to call a place to buy things a “store,” but I wrote about stores on another day and didn’t want to return to the same material. Both words are used but, try as I might, I can’t logically figure out why some combinations are more common than others. For example, I’d never say “flower store” or “butcher store” but I’d also never say “grocery shop” or “corner shop.”

Spanish note: I like that the origin calls up images of merchandise spread out to be looked at. It’s less common now, but when I was younger, most shops we went to in Spain had all of their wares displayed in the windows and you looked from outside and only entered if you’d identified something you wanted. The arrangements were meticulous and required innumerable pins and layering and tiny prices next to sets of items. It was really something.

French note: Another good origin. If pressed, I would have guessed that “apothecary” was Greek, but I’ve only ever thought of it in conjunction with the man who gives Romeo the sleeping potion and assumed that it meant “pharmacist” or “olde tyme medicine man.” Color me wrong and corrected.

Catalan note: the word’s botiga, and like so many Catalan words I know, it’s my favorite of the bunch.

Today’s Winner could be any of the three, really. I like all of the stories and especially like that there is so much cross-polination represented and so many different ideas evolving slowly to be one thing… but, just because my friend gives them such a hard time, I’m going to give it to the French.


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Winter shorn

Got my haircut again since I’m trying to make going a more regular thing. The woman asked me how much I wanted to cut off and I indicated about five inches. (I’ll be damned if I’m ever going to adopt the metric system). “So much?” she asked. She didn’t think it was a good idea. “Yeah,” I told her. “That much.”

We went back and forth a little bit, which I didn’t particularly care for and she asked me *why* I wanted to cut so much off. “It’s winter and what with hats and scarves, it’s just much easier to have shorter hair.” She looked at my reflection, narrowed her eyes a bit and nodded. “That’s true. Ok.” Apparently, I needed to convince her before she’d get to work.

Buff logoAs I said “scarves” to her, I had a word epiphany. The Spanish for scarf is bufanda, a pretty great word on its own. There’s a popular brand of Spanish-made head/neckwear called Buff® (you may know them as the official bandanas of CBS’s SURVIVOR). I’ve always made fun of Buffs because the company pronounces its name /bo͞of/ with a long vowel sound like “boot” despite being spelled like a word which already exists /bəf/.

Teen Wolf Boof

If you know why this pic is here, we can discuss being friends, but I won’t make any promises.

But in the chair at the hair place, I realized that those silly Spaniards took the first syllable from “scarf” and added a letter to the end, just for the hell of it. Again, if someone would just run these ideas by me first, I’d be able to help them out, but alas, they must continue to live like ignoramuses. [Ed. Reading their website proves me right. I love being right!]

Wear Something

Buffs® are actually awesome. I have a ton. I wear them while doing yoga to keep the hair out of my face, while bike riding to keep the sweat out of my face and when the temperature drops a little to keep the cold off my face neck. There are a bunch of kinds; cotton, wool, fleece-lined, knit, double-layered, reflective, UV. I don’t know you, but I am sure there is a Buff for you. You should get one. Or five. There are a million ways to wear them. Let the Basque sheep show you how.

Kukuxumusu-Buff