Monday, March 9, 2009

Pardon my French

I decided to make a salad for dinner, which is a rare occurrence. Not the salad, but the "me making it". Ran up to the local market, hit up aisle 7, and...then...I was really confused. Bottles and bottles of dressing stared at me, like I was in line at customs and forgot my passport. Italian, Greek, Russian, Caesar, Ranch, Bacon Ranch, Light Ranch, Fat-Free Ranch, Catalina, Balsamic, Balsamic with Garlic, Blue Cheese, Citrus Vinaigrette (which can also be used as a marinade), and of course, French. I threw a few bottles in my basket, and decided bread would be a great addition to this "me making a salad" thing I was trying out.

The bakery rack had loaves of bread, some sliced and some not. Italian, whole grain, wheat, white, Rye, 10-grain (don't know how that is different from whole grain), and of course, French. I picked up the long, hard (get your mind outta the gutter), French loaf and just as I was about to check out I remembered the cheese! I rushed to the dairy section, Supermarket Sweep style, and again I was confused, as my eyes scanned all the Kraft and Sargento. Mexican Blend, Cheddar, Sharp Cheddar, Mild Cheddar, crumbled blue cheese, Swiss, Provolone, American, and Italian Blend. I grabbed a can of Parmesan. Parmesan tastes good on everything.

Dinner was great, my salad was...great. I couldn't stop thinking about all the French food I had encountered that night, even though I ate Italian. And then it happened. I thought I was choking, but...I was hyperventilating, so I knew I was not choking. But, my heart was beating really fast. Really really fast. And...I was confused, and freaking out, and confused, and freaking out. I was thinking about all of the foods that are French. I mean, "French". French fries, French onion soup, French toast, French bread, French dressing, French silk pie, French vanilla ice cream, French crullers, OH MY!

I remembered Paris, summer of 2000. The hot sun, the smelly streets, and the cats. God, that city has cats. Cats in the Metro, cats in the alleys, cats on old statues, cats on park benches, cats in hats. If Paris had a Broadway, I'm sure it would have...yes, cats. Paris also offers "world class cuisine". But, I didn't get that part. The culture, the men, Notre Dame, even that tall metal thing, I got all that. Great. Mag-nee-feek! But the food, I did NOT get. I have t-shirts from Planet Hollywood and Hard Rock Cafe to remind of how much I enjoyed Parisian food. Chicken fingers and FRENCH fries, always a sure bet.

So I thought long and hard (like the French bread), about where the French get off on claiming all these VERY different kinds of food, are their own. Let's start with French Toast. This delicious American favorite, graces breakfasts tables and coney island drunk-grubbing every day.

Did I mention it is an American favorite? Not sure if you have to properly site resources in blogs, this if my first one, so for the sake of lawsuits, hate mail, and Dante's 3rd ring, let's see what Wikipedia has to say about all of this.

"French toast (often known as Eggy Bread in parts of the United Kingdom, pain perdu in French, pain doré in French-speaking parts of Canada) is a popular breakfast food in North America, Europe and Brazil. In the United Kingdom it is often savory and known as either "eggy bread" or "Gypsy toast" or just "bread dipped in egg" in South East Wales. In Italy a variation is served known as mozzarella in carrozza (literally "mozzarella in carriage"). In Portugal, it is called fatias douradas or rabanadas and is typically made during Christmas. In Spain, it is called torrijas and is typically made during Lent. In hong Kong French toast, called 西多士 (Cantonese IPA: [sɐ́i tɔ́ sǐ]; Jyutping: sai1 do1 si2; Mandarin Pinyin: xīduōshì; literally "western toast", but actually an abbreviation of "法蘭西多士", "French toast"), is available all day round but is particularly popular for breakfast. In Brazil it is called "rabanadas" and follows the Portuguese recipe. It is quite often used to celebrate a birth, as well as at Christmas and New Year celebrations. In Germany, the Arme Ritter (literally poor knights) are made from bread leftovers as a fast and simple meal."

So, correct me if I'm wrong, MANY different cultures and nations prepare and cherish French Toast, including but not limited to, France. Actually, it seems that most cultures enjoy it around Christmas or Lent. Therefore, would it NOT make more sense to call it Jesus Toast? Just a thought...I mean, right?

So, French Toast isn't so "French" after all. Certainly, French Vanilla is, "French". It's a cooking element, and the French claim they are amazing at that. This is what Wikipedia has to say,

"The term French vanilla is not a type of vanilla, but is often used to designate preparations that have a strong vanilla aroma, and contain vanilla grains. The name originates from the French style of making ice cream custard base with vanilla pods, cream, and eff yolks. Inclusion of vanilla varietals from any of the former or current French dependencies noted for their exports may in fact be a part of the flavoring, though it may often be coincidental. Alternatively, French vanilla is taken to refer to a vanilla-custard flavor. Syrup labeled as French vanilla may include hazelnut, custard, caramel or butterscotch flavors in addition to vanilla."

That's great! But in all actuality, vanilla originated in Mexico. So TECHNICALLY, we ought to be saying, "Mexican Vanilla". I'm assuming people would think it was spicy or included guac on the side. Or, maybe it's because the French think they are awesome, and so does everyone else in the world, that FRENCH VANILLA is more marketable. I love you Mexico, and thank you for your vanilla and Corona...and hot body contests. Moving forward...

Do you understand what I'm trying to explain here? I will glady explain in further detail, how many "French" things are not French at all.

French Silk? French Silk is a novel written by Sandra Brown. It was published in 1993 and in 1994 it was made into a TV movie starring Susan Lucci and R.Lee Emrey. I know for a fact that this is not served at Baker's Square. WTF.

French Crullers? "Crullers are most commonly found in Canada, New England and the Mid-Atlantic and North Central States of the USA, but it is also common in California. According to Wikipedia, of course. Tim Horton's, and Krispy Kreme still sell the Cruller, while Dunkin' Donuts only carries the French Cruller. In place of the traditional cruller, Dunkin' Donuts now sells several variations of a substitute product it calls a "cake stick" which is a simplified, machine-made version of the more elaborately twisted hand-made variety." NOW are you seeing a trend? Or shall I continue about how the French are not-so-secretly trying to take over the world. I mean, right?

What is it with our obsession with French-ness. Clearly, if we are romantisizing things like fried stale bread but calling it French Toast, then there must be something about Frenchness that we respect. It's not just in the wide world of food, it's everywhere. French maids (thanks Alischer). In the United States, correct me if I'm wrong, most housekeepers are NOT French. South American, Mexican, Ukranaian, Romanian, maybe...French-no. The only time you will see French maids is: 1. Halloween 2. role play in the bedroom 3. strip club. Find me a TRUE French housekeeper and I will buy you a Coke. Because, I don't believe they exist, atleast, not in the United States. The whole idea of a "French Maid" more than likely did NOT originate in France.

I bite my fingernails compulsively, so I don't have any. But I do have toenails. I prefer to get a FRENCH PEDICURE. French being, a natural nail (high gloss) with white tips. I did some research, French manicures originated in Paris. Okay France, you actually created something uniquely French. The French manicure. That's great. India has eye brow threading, France has the manicure, Brazil has the waxing thing, and Harlem has hair braiding. Awesome.

Enter stage left, the "kiss". Prince sang about it, a band was named after it, and we all love to do it. But what separates the peck your grandma gives you at Christmas from the wet sloppy one you get after last call? France. France does. Why wouldn't they? They have their little French hands in everything else, it's only natural to claim one of the most sensual acts of showing affection. In sex ed we learned about everything from putting a condom on a banana to STD's, never once going over the history of French Kissing. I don't recall learning about it in world history, either. Again, I turn to Wikipedia for guidance:

"French kissing does not necessarily stem from France, it is more likely due to a stereotypical view of the French being deeply sensual".

That's it? There wasn't a French Queen that opened her mouth while kissing the King of Batavia? Or, during the French Revolution, people didn't resort to opening their mouths while kissing in hopes of capturing reminants of food particles? You mean to tell me, there is absolutely NO French origin in FRENCH kissing? So that means, all of us "commoners" around the world have decided that something as hot and sensual as sucking on someone else's tounge, lip, or whatever else you have in your mouth, should be related to FRANCE? Why? Have you been to France? Based on experience, I would rather refer to "French kissing" as Brooklyn kissing or Miami makeout. There was nothing sexy, to me anyway, when I paid $15 US dollars for a hotdog in Paris. No, I am NOT a stupid American, I was just royally ripped off. Or, the time I had a middle-aged woman YELL at me in the Metro claiming she was a police officer...that didn't exactly turn me on. The only kissing I would equate to Paris is, "kiss my ass".

Go to Neiman Marcus. I don't have money either, just do it. The fragrance department is filled with imported scents; Creed, John Varvatos(which I love. Men, if you read this..GO BUY IT. Prrrrrrr), Valentino, Gucci, etc, etc. Listen to sales associates when they say, "this one is my favorite. Imported from France". As if, it was manufactured outside of Boulder, Colorado, it would not be as desirable. Since when are the French known for smelling so amazing?...seriously. At Mcdonald's, which is as American as you can really get, there are (4) options: Small, Medium, Large, and SUPER SIZED. Perfume, which is ANCIENT in origin, the categorization is....drumroll please..................................FRENCH! Eau de Parfum, Parfum de Toilette (will SOMEONE please explain how adding "toilet" to a product helps it sell? Anyone?) These are both French terms, separating the more concentrated version (parfum) from the less (toilette).

So I ask you this-what is wrong with American? The last time I went to Western Europe, I didn't really experience anything I saw on television or read in books. The high fashion in Paris, I did not see. The whole advante garde' approach to beauty and fashion, to me, was non existant. If anything, I saw more of America in Germany when it came to clothing than anything else. I distinctly remember a teenage boy wearing a shirt that said, "Don't Mess with Texas". I took a picture with him...hold on, I'm going to go look for it. (20 minutes later). Couldn't find it, I will post when I do.

My point is this, I have never seen so many North Face, Tommy Hillfiger, POLO, Nautica, and Abercrombie knock-offs since Canal Street. How is that "high fashion". Oh, those French, such a GREAT sense of style! Really? I didn't see it. Oh, those French! SO cultured! Really? Again, didn't see it. The French are SO educated! REALLY? I've been to the ghetto of NYC and was treated with more respect than in the heart of Paris. Do I hate the French? No, not at all. I'm French Canadian. I figure whatever stuck up genes I have inherited from the French, my Canadian genes balance out, I mean, right?

Here is my point. What is wrong with calling an apple an apple. Why must we take chocolate cake, one of the staples of everyday life (if you are me), and change around it's name. German chocolate cake did NOT help me pass my A.P. exam in high school, just as French Silk did not eleviate my razor burn. Swissmiss, that powdered stuff, was onsale at Kroger for $1.00 a box. Clearly, it was not imported from Swizterland. Why can't chocolate cake just be what it is, chocolate cake. If it is made by some old lady in a small town in Indiana, what would be German about it? Nothing. It's Indiana chocolate cake, technically. And what makes monterey, mozzerlla, and cheddar, thinly shredded, a Mexi-blend? The ONLY cheese I consumed in Mexico was at American chains. Ironically, I have yet to see a Sargento bag labeled, "Wisconsin blend", which would make more sense since that is a cheese kind of place. I mean, right?

There is no such thing as "American Bread". I guess the closest thing to it would be Wonder Bread. Which is like, the shittiest bread ever, carrying absolutely no nutritional value and it's dyed super white. American cheese? Wasn't that the first kind that Kraft decided to wrap as individual singles? Is that all we are? Individual singles. Is that how the world views us? I think most fast food chains use American cheese PRODUCT for their hamburgers. That stuff doesn't even really melt. But, it's not really even cheese. It's cheese product. It tastes, looks, maybe even smells like cheese- but it struggles to do one of cheese's most glorifying functions, MELT. Is this upsetting to anyone else? That we, as Americans, cannot melt. That we are just individually wrapped singles that have a shelflife of like, forever, but struggle to melt.

I think I'm just going to make a sandwich, and forget about this rant...I have sliced turkey, whole wheat bread, lettuce, SWISS cheese....and fancy mustard. What kind? French's of course.

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