I have to admit it, I like to save things. So when my friend Ann Mah and her publisher's at Penguin were kind enough to send me an advance copy of her new book, "Mastering the Art of French Eating," I did what any perfectly illogical person would do, I put it aside...in wait of the perrrfect...moooment (please tell me I am not the only one to do this)...when I was in desperate need for a truly excellent read.
That is, until yesterday, when I was snapped to by an email from Ann, excitedly announcing that the day had arrived and that the book was available in stores! Well, obviously, now is always the perfect moment, so, fortified with a navette à la fleur de la lavande and a piping hot cup of joe, I turned the cover and dove in...
Now, wait a second. Let me just say something first. This is going to sound snobby and perhaps I am snobby on the following subject: I don't usually read "expat" books. Why? Let's just say that having a dream and following it to Singapore/Hawaii/Paris does not a writer make.
But Ann is a writer and a really fine one at that. Not only is she the author of the novel "Kitchen Chinese" but her articles have appeared in such choice venues as The New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler (excuse my slight whimpers of jealousy), the Huffington Post, etcetera...
The premise is as follows--Ann is finally able to spend a three year stint in the city of her dreams, Paris, when Calvin, her diplomat husband, is transferred for a year in Baghdad, leaving her alone in the City of Light. Now, it is harder than one might think being an expat, yes even in Paris and yes, even if Ann already had plenty of experience in moving from country to country. It would take as strong a woman as she is not to fall into a whimpering series of "Whyyyyy?"'s...a strong woman like, say, Julia Child? Ah ha. Inspired by Julia's efforts to document la cuisine française in the legendary "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" and fueled by her own insatiable curiosity, she decided to visit ten different regions to get to the heart--the how's and why's plus the je ne sais quoi's--of each area's signature dish.
One of the trickeries of travel writing is that it has to strike a real balance between dreaming and learning. Kind of a "feet on the ground, head in the stars" type of thing (and a key reason for my afore-mentioned snobbery is that I find most expat books rely solely on the latter with little of the former). Not so here. Already in the very first chapter on the steak-frites of Paris, I found myself gobbling up so much that was new to me and I lived there for four years! And yet it is tasty going down, I will tell you that. I dare you, I double dare you to try to read just the introduction without continuing on...
As you can see, Kipling can't put it down.
If I sound like I am gushing, it isn't just because Ann is a friend (and she truly is so lovely that it is little surprise that she collects new friends wherever she goes) but also because I have been really trying to get back to reading for the sheer joy of it and "Mastering" really fits the bill. Like a hungry man at table, I have to keep telling myself to "slow down, slow down" and...enjoy the meal.
"Mastering the Art of French Eating" by Ann Mah is Ben-approved.
to read an excerpt, please click here
Available on Amazon and itunes (although the quality of the book itself is lovely) as well as other online sources or by all means...go to your local bookstore!
Don't believe me?
"Excellent ingredients, carefully prepared and very elegantly served. A really tasty book."
--Peter Mayle, author of "A Year in Provence"
*Oops! Perhaps because I am a hopelessly lazy cook, I forgot to mention that there is a recipe at the end of each chapter. And while I WON'T be attempting to make my own andouillet any time soon (and give Ann mega-props for getting down to the guts of that chapter--ahem--I most certainly will be making the cassouelet this winter...*
Have an absolutely delicious weekend everyone!