Here’s the thing, if you go into an Italian household on a full stomach, you’re just asking for trouble. Truly. I have referred to my mother’s ‘take no prisoners’ approach to offering food to guests as Terrorist Hospitality. I realize I’m dangerously close to cementing a stereotype here, but if the Spaghetti fits, somebody’s gonna havta eat it.
Julia Child said, “Just speak very loudly and quickly, and state your position with utter conviction, as the French do, and you’ll have a marvellous time.”
This will not work in an Italian house. No. Don’t do it. Try refusing an offer of antipasti or biscotti with espresso, let me know how that works out for you. I’ve done it and lived to tell the tale, though I could have measured the resulting guilt on a Richter scale.
Every afternoon, my father calls to checks in, dispensing quickly with the hello-how-are-ya so that he can get to the root of his real concern, my eating habits. If he’s suspicious that I didn’t have a proper dinner, (meat, possibly two kinds at once, greens, and a starch) he’ll ask for details. He’s constantly reminding me, mid-meal, while I’m chewing, to eat. I asked him once not to nag me to polish off the tomato and cucumber salad just because it was ‘inconvenient’ to put leftovers in the fridge.
He said, "No, no...[next part in falsetto] Oh, Eufemia no eat enough tonight! Oh, Eufemia too skinny!...those days are finish."
I’m still laughing.
Another Julia Child quote, one that could easily have been spoken by my Pappy: “The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.”
One of my biggest disappointments is that I don’t speak French, even after studying it for ten years in public school, with an added summer of immersion in Chicoutimi, Quebec. I love languages but the Drill and Grill style of teaching that was popular back when I was a kid did nothing but kill my enthusiasm. I wanted to be fluent and organized a school trip to France when I was eighteen. By the end of the week, after repeated attempts to converse with shopkeepers who would laugh at my errors and switch to English, I simply gave up.
Losing French felt like an enormous fait accompli failure but it doesn’t stop there: I’ve been known to mangle Italian and butcher English as well. I’ll stick to the language of food, romance and diplomacy: one night during the trip, I repeatedly hollered Allons-y! in a Paris night club at the two older men who’d approached me and a friend. I felt certain, confident even, that I was saying, "Go away!" when in fact I was saying "Let's go!"
The man standing closest to me grinned in agreement, grabbed my elbow and tried to steer me away. My girlfriend yanked his hand from my arm and shoved her middle finger into his face, International Sign Language for "Leave us alone."
I continued yelling Allons-y! Allons-y! pulling my arm out of reach and cursing his persistence in English. Afterwards my friend asked me, "Do you ever know what you're saying?"
I’ve thought about returning to French over the years. And after a week of LiveLikeJulia, I’m feeling more inspired. To fully embrace Rule #3: Learn to Be Amused, I think I could probably handle the amusement of others at my expense as well. After all, you have to crack a few eggs to make Oeufs en cocotte à la crème.
Ah, the halcyon days of Home Economics class. Grade seven: I remember it like it was yesterday. The itch of polyester dresses, the sweat of a thousand rubber bracelets, the lack of decent hair care products in my suburb. If hell exists, it’s a dusty little drugstore just a few miles off of a highway exit ramp, with shelves of nothing but Dep and Dippity-do hair gel in neon yellow.
Under the tutelage of Ms. Petrac, we learned to prepare a snack with Cheez Whiz that I would eat for much of the following year as a meal, much to the horror of the parental units. This is the first thing I ever learned to make outside of an EasyBake oven. Zut alors, indeed.
Serves: 1 to as many as you like
Total time: 10 minutes or less
· A slice of whitebread
· Cheez Whiz
· A strip of bacon (raw)
Preheat oven to 325.
Spread the “viscous paste” – Le Cheez Whiz, if you will, generously on the bread. Cut the raw bacon strip into smaller pieces, about an inch. Place the pieces on top of the bread. (Be creative. This is where you can express yourself!)
Put the slice on a cookie sheet. Set it on the top shelf inside the oven. Once the bacon is cooked, it’s ready. Pair with a light or dark drink (Coca-cola or Ginger ale will work as palate cleansers).
Now you know what I'm up against taking on this challenge. But I'm ready.
Amused and dangerous.