Le cul entre les deux chaises

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


Not in a pickle

Boar's Head pepperoni sandwichOne of the few items that made it into my bag on the way back from the US was this little pack of Boar’s Head pepperoni. As I was back in France, I had to class it up a bit, so I lightly spread butter on some good bread layered with cornichons and it was spectacular. Pickles are too big for me to enjoy, but a cornichon is a wonderous creation.

Learn something

Boar's head logoBoar’s Head meats are the best you can get in the US [site]. The company’s been around for almost 100 years and they somehow cure, roast and smoke the most incredible stuff. They also make cheese that’s equally delicious. If you’re ever looking for a good deli, check to see if they have the company’s logo in their window.

Learn something else

Pepperoni is an entirely American salami. (I’ve mentioned this before.) Snobs will tell you that since it’s not Italian, it’s a) not good or b) shouldn’t be on a pizza. As usual, snobs are wrong. Among the sausage’s many attributes are its consistency (no globs of fat), its slight spice and its perpetual eatability. I love other sausages too, but I would never be able to eat a quarter pound of, say, spicy soppressata in one sitting but I could totally do that with some ‘roni. This last thing is also part of what makes it American.

Be amused by something

Even though the appearance of the artisanal pickle was one of the early signs of the current Hipster-pocalypse, it can still be the source of comedy. Last year, “The New Yorker” published a four-part story by Simon Rich called Sell Out which is really funny and a clever indictment of everything that I think is wrong with America today. (Conversely, if you love what’s happening in the culture, you will also find your beliefs vindicated.) The story is *not* behind a paywall, so you can read it and then decree that everything “Is fine” in a knowing manner. [ETA: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.]

Last thing

“To be in a pickle” is a phrase that means “to be in a messy or difficult situation.” I imagine that being in a vat filled with vinegar and salt would be both of those things.

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Word Mystery: meat / carne / viande

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


Know where your “food” comes from.

English is funny in that many dead animals that we eat are called different things when they’re on the chopping block. Cows are beef, calves are veal, sheep are mutton… the list goes on. This can all be traced to the Norman conquest of the land of Angles in 1066 and economic biases. You can learn more about why “The posh words are French and the rough words are Anglo-Saxon” in this nifty video but today we’re talking about the general term for dead mammal, one of my favorite things to eat, even when it’s a beloved pet.

Sharpen your knowledge knives and dig in!

EN → meat — the flesh of an animal (esp. a mammal) as food. ORIGIN Old English mete [food] of Germanic origin.

ES → carneParte muscular del cuerpo de los animales. [Muscular part of animal bodies.] ORIGIN Latin caro [flesh].

FR → viandeAliment tiré des muscles des animaux, principalement des mammifères et des oiseaux. [Food pulled from the muscles of animals, principally mammals and birds.] ORIGIN Common Latin vianda from Low Latin vivanda [that which serves life].

Today’s Winner: Oh man, is this a tough one. How can I choose between a word that means “food” and one that means “gives life”? My first instinct is to go with English because, if I could get away with it, I would probably eat only meat all the time but I do love the irony of calling dead flesh “life-giving” so, vive la France!


Year 1, AB (After Bambi)

One year, the Lesson my siblings and I learned about life on the farm was how to make a cow. My grandmother’s recipe? One barn + four cows + one rented bull = cows. I don’t remember when in the summer the mating took place, but by the next year, we had one calf in a smaller pen in the barn, the other three having been sold off.

He looked *a lot* like this.

I loved that damn cow. I called it Bambi because I was a child but I’m also historically bad at naming things. I would visit his pen every day, taking him special treats like sugar cubes and carrots. Sometimes, I was allowed to help muck out his little space and I’d rub him down and sometimes Bambi would lick my face and I would laugh because cow tongues are insanely rough, like industrial sand paper, a cat tongue times 1000, but it was funny because I had a pet cow and he loved me (and my face was probably dirty anyway).

Toward the end of the summer I was told that Bambi was actually a girl and I was disappointed. I think that I was given this piece of information so that I might read between the lines, but I was even more dense then than I am now, so I didn’t think anything beyond how lame it was that he was a girl too.

Upon arrival the following year I did my usually checking-in on the state of my affairs: saying hi to all the animals, doing an inventory of all the games and toys, searching around for things I’d hidden the year before. A couple days later, we were having lunch in the dining room and I asked where Bambi was since I hadn’t seen him/her yet. I think my mother tensed up because she’d hoped that I’d forgotten but I have a memory like a steel trap and having a pet cow is not something a kid is likely to overlook. My grandmother paused for a second, maybe because she was taking the temperature of the room or maybe she was just swallowing. “Bambi’s here,” she said, generally indicating a dish piled with my favorite thing, bistec.

In my memory, I scrunch my forehead up in thought and slowly work through what she just said, trying to make sense of it. Many things were wending their way through my mind as I puzzled through the information, making connections between disparate ideas, then coming to conclusions and finally forming words.

“Bambi tastes good,” I said.

Today I Learned

… that bistec, a thing I have been eating since I had teeth, is (linguistically) a bastardization of “beefsteak.” God. damn. rabies. I hate you so much.

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I love Thai balls

These ones in particular.

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They’re from the French frozen food chain Picard which is every kind of awesome and carries genuinely good food that’s really affordable. These Thai chicken meatballs are among the things I have to remind myself not to eat all the time, otherwise, it’s possible I would snack on them all day long.

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Deglaze the pan

I can’t think of a nicer cooking phrase than “deglaze the pan.” Maybe it’s the promise of incorporating all the juices, drippings and little bits of whatever you were cooking into a sauce. Maybe it’s knowing that a deglazed pan is so much easier to clean later. Maybe it’s that whatever you deglaze with can add a whole new dimension to your dish.

Brined pork loin with chicken stock risotto, asparagus and wild mushrooms. And I deglazed the hell out of the pan with more of my homemade chicken stock. This meal rocked my gastronomic universe.