by Elizabeth Bard
fourth book for the Dewey Decimal Challenge 2012
sixth book for the Foodies Read 2 Challenge 2012
library book five
Nook book 7
I do love books set in France. I wrote of my great fondness for Joie de Vivre, and how much I enjoyed the Martin Walker books. I was enchanted by Rosy Thornton's Tapestry of Love. I enjoyed all of Peter Mayle's nonfiction, Harriet Welty Rochefort's French Toast and French Fried, Carol Drinkwater's The Olive Farm (and look forward to the others). I adore Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, and Janet Flanner's Paris Was Yesterday, and I own a shelf full of books about France.
When I read about Lunch in Paris here and here, I knew this was a book I wanted to read. I saw it was available through the state library's downloadable books so I read it on my Nook. I loved it so much that I bought a paperback copy because I wanted to own it, and look inside it. Ebooks are fine. I love the ease of handling at bedtime, but they will never, ever take the place in my heart of a paper book.
This book is not boring, not self-absorbed, not self-indulgent. I found the book and its author to be enchanting, appealing, and honest. She didn't try to make herself out to be this perfect person. It felt like she really is the woman she writes about, without façade.
The reader learns about France and the French right along with the author. No matter how much one is in love with a person and a country, we see that actually living in a new place takes commitment, time, and some serious work. The attitudes and the way different cultures view life take some getting used to. After an early conversation with her beloved Gwendal about future plans, Elizabeth Bard notes:
This American optimism cheered and puzzled him. He didn't understand my certainty. I didn't understand his hesitation. ...And on the other hand:
In France, people often show their power by saying no - by their ability to block things, to show nothing happens without them. To close the store, if you like, whenever they please. In the United States, people show their power by their ability to say yes - to get things done in a hurry. To keep the store open an extra hour just for you.
He's a happy person and I am fundamentally suspicious of happy people. In the America I grew up in, little kids don't say, "When I grow up, I want to be happy." That's not the appropriate end to that sentence. We say, "When I grow up, I want to be a doctor, an astronaut, a fighter pilot." Happiness to me was something very abstract, the end of a long equation: initial self-worth multiplied by x accomplishments, divided by y dollars, z loans, minus f hours worked, plus g respect earned.Reading this, I wondered how can I be so very French and so little American even though I've only spent one week of my whole life there? All I know is that even as a young girl I hated it when someone was described as their job. 'He's a teacher. She's a writer.' I would think, and even say aloud sometimes, 'No. You've told me what they do. How they earn their livings. But who are they? What do they think and feel and care about?'
Those of you who hate to exercise will take heart from this observation:
I've never met a French person with what an American would consider a "workout routine," I don't know anyone here who belongs to a gym. Our French friends might take a dance class or spend their holidays hiking in the Pyrenees, or bike to work or walk up four flights of stairs with their groceries. But nothing specifically designed to get your heart rate up to 462 beats per minute.And more tidbits:
French women drink an extraordinary amount of H2O. ... never seen her within sight of a soda.After describing a French meal, the author writes:
What was conspicuously absent from her bag were snacks. If an American family goes to the beach for the afternoon, chances are there's going to be a box of Fig Newtons in mom's tote, or at least money for a drippy ice cream cone. Nicole never eats between meals. She drinks wine at lunch; she usually has dessert or a square of dark chocolate with her coffee. Sometimes, when she sees patients till ten o'clock, she'll come down and grab a plain yogurt with a spoonful of jam. But she doesn't graze in the kitchen, ripping off a hunk of baguette before dinner. She doesn't pick while she cooks, popping one green bean into her mouth for every one she puts in the pot.
I thought of my mother's table, laden with seconds and thirds for everyone, all the dishes brought to the table at the same time. In the States, I could easily eat triple the amount that was now on my plate without considering if I was actually hungry. I looked at Nicole, spooning ratatouille, as bright as a summer garden, onto her plate. I made another mental note. If my calculations were correct, this was the main reason why, with no particular effort, I had not gained a single ounce since I moved to Paris. A French portion is half of an American portion, and a French meal takes twice as long to eat. You do the math. ... I had succeeded in tuning my body to the French routine; my inner gremlin was no longer screaming "Feed me!" I began to feel the slow fullness that comes from a light meal, lingered over for several hours. It was different from the stuffed turkey feeling I usually had at home.Well, I came away from this book knowing that I live in the wrong place. I'll never get to move to France, but the characteristics I've noted are my characteristics.
On the NPR book site, Susan Jane Gilman writes of Elizabeth Bard:
Her observations about cultural differences are spot-on. She debunks both the romance of France and the glamour of expat life.Exactly! And she does it in such a charming, fun, interesting book. I haven't even mentioned that there are recipes! Recipes which end each chapter, recipes that have a meaning connected to that chapter. Many of them are, as you might imagine, meat or fish based, but there are still some gems this vegetarian wants to try. Here is one:
I've been blessed with two ratatouille mentors: first Agnes, and now our friend Anne, who also comes from the south of France. Anne cuts her vegetables in good-sized chunks and is careful not to overcook them. The result should feel like a walk in your neighbor's garden, not a vegetable hash.
Anne's secret ingredient is a good pinch of saffron at the end, and "if the vegetables lack sunshine," a cube of sugar. I add the sugar anyway - because who couldn't use a little extra sunshine?
1/3 cup olive oil (don't skimp, you can't add more later)
2 1/2 pounds onions (7-8 medium), thickly sliced
1 1/2 pounds eggplant (2 small), cut into vertical chunks about 1/2 inch by 2 inches
1 1/2 pounds sweet peppers (3 small: 2 yellow, 1 red), seeded and sliced
1 pound zucchini (4 small), quartered the long way and cut into thirds
2 pounds sun-ripened tomatoes (6 medium), coarsely chopped, with their juice
5-6 sprigs thyme
2 good pinches saffron (1/8 teaspoon)
1 cube sugar (a scant teaspoon)
Warm the oil over medium heat in your largest frying pan. Add the onions. Sauté, stirring occasionally until they are wilted and just beginning to color (about 25 minutes). Don't skimp on the time here, as the onions need to sweeten; they provide the base for the whole dish.
Add the eggplant. Stir to coat. Sauté 10 minutes.
Add the peppers. You might need to lower the heat to maintain just a bit of sizzle. Sauté 10 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and fresh thyme. Heat until the tomatoes release some juice. Dissolve the saffron and sugar in the sauce. Cover. Cook for 10 minutes. Leave to cool.
Ratatouille tastes even better the next day. You can use it as a side dish, pasta sauce, filling for a quiche or an omelette, or over quinoa for a full vegetarian meal. It freezes beautifully, so make a few batches in the summer, before the tomatoes disappear.
Yield: serves 8.
Tip: Buy 2 smaller zucchini (or eggplant) instead of 1 large one. Smaller veggies have less water and a more concentrated flavor.
Lunch in Paris qualifies for two of my 2012 challenges.
and the Dewey Decimal Challenge