Vocab Friday: Snack steaks.

A day in the life of a newly pregnant me:

Get up early to do new years resolution yoga.

Stop halfway through to eat an orange.

Lie prone on the couch for a while.

Eat breakfast #1.

Eat breakfast #2.

Shower, feel refreshed, make a to-do list.

Finish first item on the list then promptly fall asleep for an hour.

For a while there, le bébé was sucking the life force out of me at an alarming pace. My kind sister, herself a mother of 4 darling life-force-suckers, assured me that the epic fatigue is something that should continue for the next 20 years or so. My dad said for the rest of my life.

Thanks guys.

Well these days life is much better. The only problem I face is code red hunger attacks, which you think wouldn’t be such a problem in France. You know, land of all things buttery and good. But the fierceness with which my body is now demanding sustenance is otherworldly. It scares me. Me! The lady with standard faim de loup!

I’m almost getting to the point where I’m tired of eating. Someone please fly over here and slap me because never in my life did I think I’d ever say those words. I am hungry all the time. And most desperately hungry when all the cafes and shops seem to be closed in the afternoon. I find myself half conscious, stalking through grocery store aisles like Frankenstein on a serious binge, clearing entire shelves of food into my cart. Which explains why I currently have cottage cheese, butternut squash, Cap N Crunch and sardines in my kitchen.

Husband, desperate to stave off the panicked delirium of code red hunger, actually suggested that I cook up a bunch of steaks every week and just keep them in the fridge to nibble on.

And this is what my life has come to people: Snack steaks.

But you know what’s worse than sinking to the base level of snack steak? NOT BEING ABLE TO EAT STEAK.

Yeah, Ok, I can eat steak. It just has to be cooked into oblivion, which for me totally defeats the purpose of butchering the cow. Steak, especially a nice entrecôte or filet, should be juicy and rare. Just a few degrees past moo. In other words, delicious.

I get it. Blasting a fine piece of meat into charred, well-done land cooks out all of the toxoplasmosis germs. Which is critically important here, since it seems to run rampant among the French population. I’m guessing thanks in part to a national fetish for steak tartare. With a raw egg on top.

But let’s be real. Well done is no way to eat steak, at least in my book. And especially not in France. Make the mistake of ordering it here and you will be served a plate of shoe leather with a side of snide remarks. Make the mistake of ordering with an American accent and failing to specify the cuisson, and you will automatically also get something inedible.

So, no snack steaks for me. I’ll have to stick to eggs and pain au raisins. And peanuts. And pickles. And apples with peanut butter. And frites! I can definitely eat the frites.

*     *     *

Should you find yourselves in Paris, about to order une belle pièce de boeuf, here’s a handy guide to how things are cooked. I’ve found that the scale of doneness in France can be slightly off from American standards — hence “medium” here is often a little more rare than U.S. medium.

bleu – (bleuh) Seared on the outside, cold and raw in the middle. Unless you like meat that’s barely grazed the frying pan, I wouldn’t order this.

saignant – (sang-yant) Very rare to rare. Or quite literally, bloody. Usually what I go for.

à point (ah pwehn) Usually medium rare, sometimes closer to medium. Expect a warm pink center.

bien cuit – (bee-ehn kwee) Here’s where things get funky. This means well done, but actually comes out more like medium or medium well. It’s often still slightly pink in the very center.

très bien cuit – (trey bee-ehn kwee) Ordering your meat très bien cuit will most likely result in something charred beyond recognition. So faire attention! Unless you like it that way. In which case I don’t know if we can be friends.


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  1. Madhu

    A certain former colleague of ours told me once, to my absolute horror, that she and her husband were “meat purists,” because they liked “our steak well done.”

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