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Excerpt from Sex, Cheese and French Fries

Chapter Seven

Who Ever Heard of Ham & Cheese?

Illustration by Jeannie Winston

At least Pierre never complains about my cooking. Usually he's quite pleased with the way our meals turn out. But like most French people, he does have rigid ideas on the rules that govern eating — the do's and don'ts, the rights and wrongs, the acceptable and the heinous. Here are a few choice extracts from Bonsoirno's Canon of Correct Cooking.

  1. Bagels and muffins are not really bread.
  2. Garlic or onion bagels in the morning are for sending people gagging to the toilet.
  3. Croissants are not meant to be eaten with eggs. Croissants do not qualify as bread either. Eggs should be consumed with real bread. If croissants are available, they should be enjoyed afterward, with jam or something.
  4. No meal is complete without bread, including pizza.
  5. A pizza is not a real pizza unless it comes with anchovies.
  6. Pepperidge Farm cookies are a perfectly reasonable breakfast food.
  7. It is impossible to eat paté on toast or other acceptable bread unless it is accompanied by miniature dill pickles.
  8. Scrambled, poached, fried, or soft-boiled eggs are considered potential breakfast food, but never a hard-boiled egg. A hard-boiled egg is a snack.
  9. Toast should be had with coffee, never before.
  10. Chicken, steak, ham and most other meats cannot be fully enjoyed unless served with mustard — Dijon only. French's mustard is only for fools who don't know any better. (It is a delicious paradox that the American brothers who created the mustard in 1904 were named George and Francis French.)
  11. Steak can only be appreciated rare or if necessary, medium-rare. Only savages or Brits eat their meat well-done.
  12. Salad is meant to be served after the main course. Then comes the cheese, and of course more bread.
  13. Life is not worth living without cheese, which should be as stinky as possible.

Le Sandwich

Pierre loves to tell the story of his uncle who ate his first sandwich at the age of 50. For the French, a sandwich just doesn't make it as a quick substitute for a meal. A meal necessarily includes a fork and knife, s'il vous plaît. It was his uncle's first and last sandwich. Pierre doesn't eat too many sandwiches, either, which brings to mind the morning we are heading out to L.A. Art Fair happening at the Los Angeles Convention Center downtown, where we will spend the next three days in a 100-square-foot cubicle. Downtown is a mix of magnificent buildings from the 1930s, a booming Chinatown, historic Mexican district and busy industrial centers for the garment, jewelry and flower trade, just to name a few. In these areas, mostly immigrant communities go about their lives, filling the sidewalks like those of New York or Paris; but the area around the convention center feels like a wasteland, devoid of people or appealing places to eat or chill — unless you count hanging with the vendor on the opposite corner selling fat, oily sausages with onions and green peppers (that are probably sinfully delicious). Since most of the food at trade shows is fit for alien dogs only, I generously offer to prepare some edible provisions.

"I'm going to make some sandwiches for us. Ham and cheese okay with you?"

"That's fine," he says.

Later, as we are getting ready to walk out the door, he asks, "Where har my sandwiches?"

"I only made you one," I say, handing him a foil-wrapped baguette. "I didn't know you wanted more."

"What's this?" he says, looking confused.

"Ham and cheese," I say, equally confused.

Suddenly, confusion is replaced by comprehension, and I see a shadow cross his face. His features transform into an angry snarl.

"WHAT??" You combined brie cheese and prosciutto?"

"Yeah! So what?" I say as realization dawns that he is expecting a ham sandwich and a cheese sandwich. I feel a huge laughing fit coming on.

His anger turns to revulsion as the enormity of my act strikes him again. "WHOEVER HEARD OF HAM AND CHEESE?" he screams.

"Pierre, everyone eats ham and cheese sandwiches," I say, holding onto the table for support.

"I am going to tell all my friends about this one!" he says triumphant.

"No!" I howl with glee through my fingers, "I'm going to tell all MY friends!"

"Oh my god, this is so disgusting," he says, still in shock, staring at the abomination I have created. The more he thinks about it, the uglier it gets. "Yechh!" he says repeatedly, "Yecch! How sickening."

I surrender to the impulse, and laugh non-stop for a half hour in the car as we head downtown. Every time I try to stop, I remember the look of horror on his face and start all over. Later, though, at lunchtime, when I unwrap my sandwich and pull the bread apart, the melted cheese all over that thin ham looks too repulsive to eat. He takes one look at me, and starts pointing and laughing like an obnoxious kid.

"Look! Even you have to admit it's revolting!"

"No, it isn't!" I take a few bites but he's spoiled it for me. I quietly throw it in the trash can and hurry to the concession stand, where I purchase a dry tuna fish sandwich served on stale white bread meant for alien dogs. Woof.

• • • • •

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