Together again. Jeanne-Aelia Desparmet-Hart, creator of the superb blog, Through the French Eye of Design, and I shall embark upon another transatlantic conversation. We are always in parallel. She lives outside New York; I live outside Paris.
Every Monday we select a subject to examine in our adopted lands which because of our official status as les etrangéres, we may find funny, infuriating, frustrating or just plain odd. Then we share our experiences with you — the good, the bad and the unfortunate — as we daily cope with the cultural pleasures and challenges of living on opposite sides of the Atlantic.
This week we have decided to dish about food. Please do not think for a second this subject is a stroll in the park. Never mind the infinite possibilities for divine cuisine. Living in France has, gastronomically speaking, proven to be one of the greatest pleasures of my life — and one of the worst nightmares.
I am, right this instant, steeling myself to an onslaught of derision from open-minded, adventurous foodies and I apologize in advance for my cowardice, prejudice and all around wishy-washy fears of the ingredients and the mere idea of consuming certain, mostly meat-related, nourriture.
(Sam, My Carolina Kitchen, I’m thinking of you here. Her blog is yummy and brilliant btw.)
Let’s set the record straight: I have never met a fruit, vegetable or legume I didn’t like. I feel exactly the same way about cheese and just so you know I’m not a complete heretic I would happily eat a frommage through which worms have passed or lived for a while (though I admit I prefer that they move out before their home is on my plate) or upon which cows have peed.
Yes, I eat snails but find they are of little interest except for the butter, garlic and parsley. One might as well eat a fat rubber band. Yes, I eat oysters and know they are alive when consumed. In fact I didn’t know this until we moved to France and the idea is a tad repulsive, but apparently if they’re dead they’re dangerous to our health. If one doesn’t squirm away on the first squeeze of lemon, leave it where it has died.
Oh yes, I like all fish and sea foods (I’m not crazy about eel, or more to the point the idea of eel, they look too much like snakes).
Since I wouldn’t want you to think I’m a chauvinist, let me tell you foods I never, but never eat in the States: hot dogs, KFC, breaded fish sticks and all its relatives (I really hate the idea of something commercially made that is then hidden beneath a coating of some sort of bread crumb combo), scrapple, sweetbreads (ris de veau) and coconut once it is taken out of its shell, shredded, sweetened and transformed into baked goods or candy — especially candy.
Also, beer — hate it. Since it is not country specific, I thought I would toss it into the mix.
I would now like to spend a second on frogs’ legs. I was first introduced to them at the Rochester, New York, Country Club when I was about 10. Of course I was lied to and told they were chicken. What did I know? Maybe that’s where my aversion to things hidden under breaded batter was born.
All of this is to say I do not eat frogs’ legs. Recently I heard a terrible story on the subject which I will not repeat here. Suffice it to say, if I told you you would never eat them again either. (I stopped eating them on the very day a kind adult told me I wasn’t eating chicken.)
Before I launch into the foodstuffs I do not eat in France — and there are many — let me add two qualifiers:
1.) Yes, I admit it: I’m a hypocrite, but I can’t help it.
2.) When a guest in someone’s home I do the best I can to hide, pass on to a willing neighbor on my left or right, hand-off to an always willing dog or wrap the offending thing in something palatable on the plate and swallow with a gulp of wine like an unpleasant pill.
(Promise: I would never cause a scene unless one counts gaging or fainting under that definition. . .)
These are a few of the things I absolutely cannot eat:
- Rabbit — we have too many in our garden and they are so sweet. The Easter Bunny.
- Deer — Bambi.
- Liver — makes me gag, but I do love foie gras (I told you up front I’m a hypocrite.)
- Ris de veau (sweetbreads)
- Tripes a la mode de Caen (you don’t want to know)
- Boudin Noir (blood sausage)
- Tete de veau — the favorite plat of former French president, Jacques Chirac. (No translation necessary — it is what it is — and in the picture you can see it even has eyelashes — it’s enough to make one cry.)
- Rognons — a favorite of My-Reason-F0r-Living-In-France (He orders them in restaurants every chance he gets, he likes his kidneys rosé or medium rare I guess — argh.)
- Cervelle — One positive note I just discovered as I checked my spelling for brains is that the word is feminine (!) in French, isn’t that fabulous? La cervelle. Another reason not to eat them/it.
All offal really, I just can’t. This treatise, unfortunately, is illustrated by awful photos.
Jeanne-Aelia, who has traveled and lived in exotic lands, will surely regale you with her experiences which will be far more vivid and fascinating than mine, so do visit her on the other side of the Atlantic.