Cuisine vs. Food.

A few weeks before heading home for Turkey Day, I found myself sitting around a table discussing the very American holiday with several Frenchmen. They were asking all kinds of questions about what we ate, what was typical, did we really put marshmallows on vegetables, etc. I explained that every family had their own traditions, and then described ours: 10K race in the morning, turkey, bourbon, corn pudding, bourbon, pumpkin pie and more bourbon. (Much like champagne, we believe that bourbon just adds a little je ne sais quoi to any family celebration! As in, I don’t know what else would help us get through 18 hours of cooking and hosting!)

My dinner table companions then wanted to know more about the turkey. Isn’t it dry? they asked. Do you cook it like a chicken? they wondered. And then one older French man went on to describe his first and only Thanksgiving experience. With an air of disgust, he told us about a massive, freakish-looking bird slapped down on the table, with all kinds of mushy side dishes. Then everyone ate at warp speed without speaking, and promptly retired to the couch to snore.

C’est pas cuisine. C’est nourriture” he triumphantly concluded.

It’s not cuisine. It’s food.

In case you’re wondering, that’s an insult. He basically said we’re celebrating over filler, that we’d eat a roasted shoe slathered in butter with the same gusto. That we have no taste.

So clearly I should have invited him to have a bite of this bird:

There it is folks, my prizewinning free range heritage turkey, brined in the most heavenly concoction of cider and orange peel and then roasted at high heat to rusty-golden perfection. It was absolutely the most juicy, delicious turkey I’ve eaten to date – truly a work of art, I’d say. Haute cuisine, even.  Although he did look pretty damn funky when we picked him up. Long and lean, this bird was clearly a runner. And he may or may not have looked like a headless toddler when we put him in the roasting pan.

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Paris ain’t got nothin on this.

OK people of France, we can all agree on your many superior aspects: You have foie gras and the Musee D’Orsay, chateaux and miles of pristine vineyards. You’ve got croissants and pain au raisins. You’ve got a clear champagne monopoly. You’ve got Paris, with perfectly charming little ramshackle streets and gloriously grand boulevards alike. You’ve got the cafe scene covered. All of your female inhabitants are skinny and smell nice. The views are rarely ugly and even your endlessly oppressive gray skies are fabulous in some indescribable way.

But you know what you don’t got?

Turkey. Corn pudding. Stuffing. Sweet potatoes. And pumpkin pie. For breakfast.

Oh, and my family and friends.

So there.

Dreams of home.

In t-minus 2 days I will be home. Did you hear that? In two days! I’ll be home! Well, not in my home home, because that’s rented out. And not in my dad’s home, because I haven’t lived there since 2000 during the Summer of Hell, which was a black period in my life not fit for print descriptions (love you more dad!). But I will be back in my sister’s house, with my own room and 3 nieces and 1 nephew just down the hall. I plan on waking up at the crack of dawn and bursting into their bedrooms shouting WAKE UP! WAKE UP! IT’S TIME TO PLAY! because that’s what they did to me when I lived with them in college. After the Summer of Hell which shall not be mentioned again.

In these last few hours of Parisian grayness, when I’m not busy scheming ways to pester my family members, I am spending a good deal of time dreaming about what I am going to eat. I’m not even talking about Thanksgiving food here. I just want a toasted bagel people. A toasted bagel with cream cheese. Or a toasted bagel with egg and cheese. Ohhhhhh egg and cheese breakfast sandwich, have I missed you so! Your absence on the international morning scene is heartbreaking.

Or how about pizza? Pizza that doesn’t have goat cheese or salmon on it? That would be marvelous. I am also sleep-salivating over spicy Mexican food – fajitas, guacamole, salsa that’s not from a jar that says Tostitos. A big, gooey, heart-attack inducing plate of nachos. Oh god yes. That’s what I need.

I also have a very bizarre craving for Chinese food. Authentic Bethesda-style Chinese food that probably tastes nothing like real food from China. Yes. Ummm-hmmmm. Gimme somma that.

And since it will be Thanksgiving, I’m going to go ahead and allow room for turkey sandwiches. With pickles and plain old yellow mustard that doesn’t burn out your sinuses after one bite. Also pumpkin pie. Loads and loads of pumpkin pie.

I know it sounds sad. Here I am, living in the food capital of the world. French cuisine actually just got classified as a UNESCO Intangible World Heritage, and all I want is a good old American cornucopia of crap. I should be ashamed.

But I swear to jesus in velvet pants, if someone takes me to Whole Foods I will cry tears of joy.

Vocab Friday: Une Dinde

I know what you’re thinking: I’ve skipped ahead to Thanksgiving and totally missed the upcoming Halloween festivities! What the hell?!

Well, they don’t celebrate Halloween here in France, so I really don’t have anything to report on that front. In fact I’m going to Bordeaux for the holiday, and I plan on dressing up as an inebriated American who likes to speak bad french. Should be pretty easy!

But wait uh minute, the French don’t celebrate Thanksgiving either!

That is correct astute readers! Although you’d be really surprised at how many people ask about T-Day celebrations here. They’re the same people that ask me if my twin brother and I are identical (um, we’re not).

The point is, this here is my blog, and I want to take a minute to talk turkey. You see, I’ve been reading this book about factory farming practices and it’s totally rocking my world. In it, Jonathan Safran Foer makes an exceptionally rational, well researched case for the urgent need to totally change the way we think about, buy, slaughter and consume meat. Which believe me, is a tough thing to follow when you dream nightly about the best steak you ever had. But his words make sense. The factory farming business in America is mostly abhorrent and is in dire need of an overhaul.

Also I’m a tree hugging dirty hippie at heart, but shhhhhh, don’t tell.

Anyway, upon reading about the franken-turkeys that are pretty much the only birds available at the store (yep, even most of your organic, free range, slept in a bed of golden hay and received daily waddle massage turkeys are the same breed as a standard Butterball), I became inspired to find a heritage breed turkey.

And being the big nerd that I am, I proceeded to go into deep research mode, reading countless pages about historic breeds and wild turkey provenance. I spent an entire afternoon trolling through the Maryland Turkey Farmer’s listings and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy site. So when I finally settled on a small place raising Standard Bronzes, I dashed off my email order with the zeal of a woman who was smugly sure she was about to get her hands on the ultimate Thanksgiving Master Bite.

I was quite pleased with myself. I even challenged my sister to a turkey taste-off, to see if this heritage breed stuff was really worth it. But the next day, a troubling email from the farmer informed me that my search for real turkey had hit a brick wall. Literally:

I have no heritage birds this year. Fireworks from the Antietam Battlefield scared them so bad they flew into netting and sides of pen killing themselves.

Sorry!

Katherine

Oh my. How does one respond to something like that? Please give my regards to the families of the birds in question? I was at a loss for words. So I settled on:

I’m so sorry for your loss. Better luck next year!

And then I found a butcher selling Kentucky Bourbons in Fredricksburg. They seem like less hysterical birds anyway. Plus, I like anything to do with bourbon. So barring any unforeseen turkey tragedies, we’ll be having one helluva heritage Thanksgiving dinner. I hope to hell it tastes good!

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une dinde

Pronunciation: oon dahnde (but real nasaly)

Definition: Turkey. Turkey Lurkey. Gobbler. Hokie even. As in,

“Perhaps next year we’ll make sure our heritage dindes have ear plugs for the 4th of July festivities.”