The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own. -- Adam Gopnik

July 24, 2014

Paris in July: Edible French

Last week, entre le poire at le fromage, I discovered that Clotilde Dusoulier has written a new book, plein comme un oeuf with some of the food idioms she has collected in writing her blog. For each one, there’s a literal translation, a translation of the idiom, an explanation of the history behind the French phrase, a sentence using the phrase, and a pretty watercolor. And once in a while, a recipe.  This little book is absolutely charming! If you ever find yourself feeling that life is long comme un jour sans pain, spend some time with this book, and you may find that you feel comme un coq en pâte instead. I would never raconte des salades.

J’ai fait mon miel out of getting an early look at Edible French on Netgalley {merci beaucoup}. For now, faute de grives, on mange des merles; this lovely book will be published in October by Penguin Group/Tarcher.

{So you won’t changer de crémerie {change creameries}, all I meant to say was that between the pear and the cheese, I found a book full as an egg with wonderful things, and that when life is long like a day without bread, reading this book might make you feel like a rooster in dough. I would never tell you a salad.  Oh, and that I made my honey out of finding this book on Netgalley, and that, for lack of thrushes, we only need to eat blackbirds for a little while longer. Oui?}

July 14, 2014

Paris in July: La liste de mes envies

Jocelyne is 47, overweight, married, the mother of a reckless son and a silent, thoughtful daughter (and of a baby who was stillborn), the daughter of a father who knows who she is for six minutes at a time and a beloved mother who died, suddenly, in front of her when she was a young girl,  the owner of a not-very-thriving sewing shop in a small French town, and a blogger who is surprised to learn that there is a community of women who follow her.  Her husband's name, ironically, is Jocelyn (without the 'e'); he works in a Haagen-Daz factory, dreams of owning a big-screen TV and a Porsche, and is loving and gentle again, after expressing his grief for their lost daughter by showering Jocelyne with cruelty. Her life is not all that she wanted it to be, but we are told that she is content, that she does not need or want anything to change. The shop next door to hers is owned by girlish twin sisters {the best characters in the book}, who know that they are growing older, but also that neither one will marry if it means leaving the other behind.  Years ago, the twins won enough money in the lottery to open their shop; every week, they carefully choose and play lottery numbers, and one week, they finally persuade their friend to buy a ticket herself.

You can probably guess what happens next, and you might be able (like I was) to appreciate what the author had in mind, when he has Jocelyne fold up the enormous check, tuck it into a pair of old shoes, walk into the Chanel boutique in Paris and out again, and not tell anyone - anyone at all - how much everything will inevitably change. Instead, she writes lists of what she might do with the money, an endearing combination of the day-to day (a new bath mat), the luxurious treats, the practical, the things that she believes her husband and her children would need or want.  Her husband notices, solicitously, that she is tired and losing weight, and takes her away for a long weekend by the sea. Then, the night before he leaves for a training course at company headquarters, he kisses her in a way that feels a little different, and then everything is.

A book that I saved for Paris in July, and a premise, a story, some characters, a problem to love ... and I wanted to. Oh, so ironically, the flowery author's note {this was one of those editions with book club questions at the end} begins 'Have you ever noticed that when you choose something, you often ask yourself if it would have been better to choose something else?'  Easy enough to do with a book, and harmless when it's a library book, and one that I could read astonishingly quickly and happily send back to its shelf.  What happens in the second half of the book is not any less realistic than what happens at the beginning {in both places, things could unexpectedly turn out that way}, but maybe I just want my fanciful, armchair-traveling, bus ride-enhancing, Paris-in-July, reading for pleasure to end with some hope, at least.  Maybe that will happen in the film.

{I would love to know what someone else thinks, if anyone has read this or reads it someday. It  was just published in the U.S. as My Wish List; I read the UK edition, and liked its title better.}

July 13, 2014

Paris in July: Mini-quiches poulet et noix de cajou

These miniature crustless quiches make appealing handheld bites, which will be nibbled on or wolfed down, depending on the eater. Filled with strips of chicken, diced tomatoes, and crunchy cashews, they are baked until golden and lightly crusty but still nice and moist inside. Mini-quiches are good soldiers for a buffet; they can be eaten warm or at room temperature, and you can bake them up to a day ahead (reheat for ten minutes in a warm oven before serving.
This is one of the books I look through every summer, hoping for something new to make during Paris in July. This may not be the most sophisticated recipe {or even the most French?} but it's one I know I'll make again and again. Chicken, tomato, cashews (!) and tarragon are a very good combination of flavors, one that I would never have thought of.

Do you want to know the best part (there are two...)?  I have fallen in love with our new supermarché, where I shopped this morning for a rotisserie chicken, a gorgeous bundle of fresh tarragon, and the cheese {comté was tres cher, but they had it, and I will try it another time ... along with three 'intensities' of Gruyere}. It almost feels a little Parisian to shop there.

And tomorrow, when I am being very un-parisienne, and having lunch at my desk, eating leftovers. comme toujours, I can drink some Perrier with my mini-quiche and feel tres chic. :)

Mini-Quiches Poulet et Noix de Cajou
adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini:  Daily Adventures in a Parisian Kitchen,
by Clotilde Dusoulier
for twenty-four mini or twelve medium quiches

Note:  These are the measurements from the original recipe. I made a half-recipe, using two whole eggs and about 1/2 cup canned diced tomatoes, rinsed and well-drained), and baked mine in a 'regular' muffin pan. They needed about 30 minutes in the oven.

olive oil or nonstick spray for greasing the muffin tin
leftover roast or rotisserie chicken, skin removed, cut into small dice {a generous cup)
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
four plum tomatoes, halved, cored, seeded and diced
three large eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup freshly grated Gruyere or Comte cheese, about 3 1/2 ounces
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon leaves (or substitute or mix in other herbs, such as parsley}
2/3 cup roasted cashews, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, and grease the muffin tin with olive oil or nonstick spray

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the milk and whisk again. Sift in the flour {or just gently spoon it in, a little at a time, whisking after each addition.} Stir in the salt and pepper, and whisk until blended; the batter will be thin.  Add in the diced chicken, diced tomatoes, grated cheese, herbs and chopped cashews.

Spoon the batter evenly into the prepared muffin tins {harder than it sounds!}. Place the muffin tin on a baking sheet {to catch any drips in the oven, as the muffin cups will be very full}. Bake the mini-quiches for about 25 to 35 minutes, depending on the size of your molds, until golden and puffy {you'll see them rise above the rims of the muffin cups}.  Unmold them, let them cool for 10 minutes, then serve them warm or at room temperature.
Beaujolais works particularly well with chicken and tomato combinations. ... Pinot Grigio and other light, crisp wines will work well, too.
Are you cooking or baking {or eating} for Paris in July?

July 12, 2014

Reading in the age of comfort

... In the age of magnificence, reading, too, was a stately activity, indulged in by few and confined largely to the ceremonial space of grand libraries.  The eighteenth-century home feature a less imposing, more modern type of space devoted to books and reading. In what was now called a 'reading room,' books were not on formal display in order to impress visitors with their sheer numbers and sumptuous bindings. They were stored instead in built-in cupboards camouflaged behind sliding doors fitted with elegant paneling. These rooms were intended ... 'to induce everyone to come in and start reading,' as spaces in which anyone would feel comfortable sliding back those doors and picking out a book. In some bedrooms, the walls on either side of the bed were fitted out with still more bookshelves. People had obviously begun to curl up in bed with a good book.

from The Age of Comfort:  when Paris discovered casual,
and the modern home began
, by Joan DeJean

Bien sur, we'll need one of these, aussi. :)

July 10, 2014

That Part Was True

Because I have wonderful access to three different libraries, and because I am feeling rather highbrow in my reading at the moment (I am, after all, reading a history of the sofa) and because I am rash and overambitious in the stacks of books that I bring home from them :), I thought I would probably have to return this book {That Part Was True, by Deborah McKinlay} unread.  But then I decided that I could probably finish its 228 pages going back and forth on the bus, and then I remembered that there was food in it, and there it was, the Eiffel Tower on the cover, for Paris in July.  The first two things turned out to true, and delightful, even if the little bit of Paris was kind of silly.

It's all kind of sweet, if improbable.  The story begins with a letter from a British woman named Eve Petworth to Jackson Cooper, an American novelist who writes best-selling {perhaps kind of Spenser-ish) mystery novels.  Over the course of the letters and emails that follow, Eve and Jack share recipes and their deepest thoughts and yearnings (the improbable part), and even consider meeting in Paris, not for romance, but to eat.  Alongside {I liked  the fact that the story wasn't told entirely in letters}, the story focuses on each one's somewhat troubled life.  Jack is at the end of a second failed marriage, is having trouble wanting to write the next book, and '[sees] his fiftieth birthday coming at him like a freight train.' Eve's horrible, domineering mother has recently died, her horrible, domineering daughter is getting married, and she is beginning to realize that her beautifully-kept, comfortable home and her pantry shelves filled with homemade preserves do not nurture her or anyone else.

In the end, I liked this book just for what it was.  A little romance and a lot of cooking is always nice, the feeling that some parts didn't ring true didn't stop me from appreciating the moments that did, and the sense that the characters could be either under-developed or a little overwrought didn't stop me from curling up on the couch to finish the last 20 pages as soon as I got home.  It's funny, it wasn't so much that I wanted to know how the book would end as being sure that it couldn't possibly end in the most obvious/most trite way. It didn't ... but I think it would have been truer if it were about five paragraphs shorter. :)

July 9, 2014

A new likeness?

'It is a very pleasing, sweet face, -- tho', I confess, to not thinking it much like the original; -- but that, the public will not be able to detect.'
 -- Cassy Esten Austen, quoted in Jane's Fame

Did you come across the news accounts (e.g., New Jane Austen waxwork uses forensic science to model 'the real Jane'about a waxwork 'portrait' of Jane Austen that was unveiled at the Jane Austen Center in Bath today?  

Fascinating!  Especially since I've been listening, off and on, again, to the audiobook version of Claire Harman's book Jane's Fame:  How Jane Austen Conquered the World, and I just heard her rather funny account of the Austen family's efforts to come up with an acceptable portrait of JA to include in her nephew's memoir. They eventually commissioned an artist to 'improve' the only front-facing portrait that existed, this sketch done by Cassandra Austen.

Funny, because Claire Harman describes how JA's appearance went from 'tetchy' to  'not quite so bovine' to 'slightly uncomfortable rather than just stupid' as the new portrait and the engraving made from it for publication evolved.

I think she looks rather nice, now that we've met her.