French do not always eat in small, sensible portions
It’s an occupational hazard far more intimidating than facing the glazed look of my congregation or even the hysteria of a bride’s mother.It comes nearly every Sunday when someone exits the weekly worship service and instead of a murmured “good morning” hands you a book the size of “M” in the Encyclopedia Britannica series and says, “I think you should read this.”My nightstand is filled with such tomes, reminding me each evening of my pastoral promises to my achingly sincere parishioners to do as they commanded.In any case, I am making some progress and have managed to make my way through several recommendations including a history of medieval religious thought and an “Idiot’s” guide to good preaching that came with the admonishment: “I think you should read this – before next Sunday.”The problem is I get sidetracked. Case in point: This past week, while enjoying the Southern California beach, I was determined to scratch off at least three or four of the little guilt-inducing buggers. But as soon as I began to make progress on Jack Weatherford’s “Genghis Kahn” – a light, occasionally uproarious, account of the slaughter of entire neighborhoods by the charismatic and comedic Mongolian warrior (Not!) – I found myself sneaking a peak at what my wife was happily perusing.
Her book appeared to take a somewhat different approach to matters of historical importance. It was entitled: “French Women Don’t Get Fat.”Whilst my bride dipped her dainty digits in the deep blue azure sea (I’ve GOT to stop reading those Harlequins!), I furtively made my way through the first 20 pages and found myself diverted once again.Mireille Guiliano’s best seller is a delightful combination of travelogue, anthropological treatise and cookbook. Her thesis is simple and designed to depose the dietary habits of America’s super-sized citizenry. Small portions, well-prepared and pleasingly presented, with an emphasis on freshness, would, she is convinced, make more Americans less spacious.While reading “French Women” I recalled more than a few personal episodes that served to explain, at least to me, why the French are often less calorie-challenged than we.One incident in particular came to mind. I’ve told it before, but I think it’s worth the retelling.
We were in Paris and eager to imbibe in the epicurean delights of the city. A former friend recommended a restaurant near the Marais and, being new to both the French capital and French cuisine, we happily headed in that direction.The restaurant was easy to find, its name clearly emblazoned in neon. The place was packed, and we were delighted that the welcoming maitre’d found two seats for us in the midst of a long table filled, not surprisingly, with French people.Our dining mates were bedecked in bibs. Large fingerbowls filled up the center of the tiny tables. Wishing to meld with the locals, we quickly informed our waiter that we would eat whatever these Gallic gentry were eating.After a first course of sand-infused mussels followed by a wedge of iceberg lettuce that was generously endowed with at least three, maybe even four, drops of a less than memorable oil-vinegar mixture, we were ready for the main course.The waiters first offered us the ubiquitous bib and, not knowing what was to follow, we quickly tied them on and armed ourselves with cutlery in both hands. A small-sized army of servers arrived to present us with our much-awaited fare. Silver domes were placed before us all, and we eagerly anticipated finally having our American appetites satiated. The domes were lifted. The French squealed with delight. We stared in horror at what lay before us.It was, from shoulder to hoof, hanging off the platter on both ends, the gristled and grizzly, leg of a pig. We watched as our seatmates tore into their meals with, what can only be described as, greasy Gallic gusto.
Wishing not to appear provincial, we spent the next half-hour futilely trying to push the pig around our plates, pretending to enjoy what we actually found appalling.After an appropriate, albeit agonizing time, we excused ourselves, paid our bill, smiled at our grease-encrusted neighbors and headed for the door. As we left the establishment we looked again at the sign determined never to recommend the place to anyone but our hungriest of enemies.The sign read: “Au Pied de Cochon.” I immediately purchased a French/English dictionary determined never to make the same mistake again. Come to think of it, that dictionary is buried somewhere near the bottom of the ever-growing books-to-read on my ever-sagging nightstand. Rich Mayfield writes a Saturday column. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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