7.30.2012

Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard - Part II with interview

Though Les Miserables is still going (although slowly and frustratingly as I keep falling asleep while trying to make any kind of progress), Lunch in Paris must be considered my favorite Paris in July 2012 experience.  As Part I makes clear, I loved this memoir/cookbook and especially looked forward to trying some of the recipes.  Though I promised to try her Individual Molten Chocolate Cakes, I ended up having the time and ingredients for the simple but lovely Yogurt Cake.  The recipe called for whole milk plain yogurt, and though I have bought it before, I couldn't get it at the two stores I was at this weekend, so I had to make do with low-fat.  Also, the recipe called for canned apricots, but I followed the notes at the end of the recipe, which encouraged the reader to experiment with whatever fruit feels good.  I had fresh peaches on hand, so I used those.  It looked awfully pretty (although perhaps they were supposed to be chopped rather than sliced?):

I was curious as this cake baked because it called for the zest of 1 lemon, which adds quite a bit of lemon flavor.  It wasn't quite as pretty baked because the peaches were absorbed and distributed into the cake, but it was quite good.
And yes, it has a distinct lemon flavor, which makes it more of a lemon cake than a yogurt cake to me.  Though I liked it, I'd be interested to see how it is without the lemon.  Finally, I fear I overbaked it slightly as it wasn't as tender as I had hoped.  Overall, a recipe worth playing with.

Perhaps more exciting than the cake is this Q&A with Elizabeth Bard herself.  She graciously agreed to answer some questions for us, so enjoy!~


SC: Lunch in Paris chronicles your time discovering three significant loves: your husband, food, and Paris.  Would you share a bit more about those early days in Paris?  What was it like to discover this most famous city and to find yourself at home there?
 
EB: There was the beauty - and of course, the strangeness of it all. Obviously, food was a big part of my early integration into French culture, which is why Lunch in Paris is also a cookbook. I used food to welcome people. During my first years in Paris, my halting French often made me feel invisible. My husband’s friends didn’t know if I was intelligent, charming, or dull as a lamp post, but they did know I made an excellent moelleux au chocolat.
There were times when I used food to hide. Hours into a marathon French dinner party, my head fuzzy with wine, it was easier to retreat to the kitchen to check the roast than to say: “I’m mentally exhausted and considering sticking my head in the oven.”
Food helped me to build relationships. Falling in love with Gwendal was inseperable from falling in love with Paris. If I live to be a 167, I'll never forget those first summer evenings, walking by the river, talking - eating wild strawberry sorbet.
 

SC:  The book provided some insight into your struggle to find your place in the professional world once you moved to Paris.  How difficult was this in-between time, and how did you emerge from it?  
 
EB: For a type-A New Yorker, the in-between time was extremely difficult, full of self-doubt. When you switch cultures, you lose a lot of your most valuable tools - articulate language skills, writing abilities, . What works on one side of the ocean doesn't necessarily work on the other - ambiiton is a fairly dirty word, doors don't open in the same way, even the definition of good writing and "literature" are different. I have been very fortunate to construct a career that allows me to continue to discover France, but where I can use my education and American-style confidence to connect with an Anglophone and international audience.

 
SC:  Translation (or a lack thereof) was a fairly significant part of the story, especially in the beginning when meeting Gwendal's family and friends.  How does having and using multiple languages affect you now?  
 
EB: I'm fluent in spoken French these days, though my writing still resembles that of a 3rd grader. Having multiple languages is so rich: you don't just change words, you change worlds, cultural landscapes. I find that some concepts (work, ambition, procrastination) are best expressed in English, some (joie de vivre, a certain value in time and pleasure) in French.
 

SC: The epilogue tells us you and your family have moved to Provence.  Obviously, a move like that would bring many changes.  What do you love about living in Provence?  What do you miss most from Paris living?
 
EB: My mother is amazed that a musuem-going, sushi-loving, window shopping city girl finds herself so happy in Provence. But it is absolutely perfect for this time in our lives. Our son is growing up picking cherries off the trees. We are spending more time together as a family, and slowly becoming part of a close-knit community. It's not about keeping up with the Joneses. And the tomatoes...I could write a sonnet about the tomatoes.
 

SC:  You seem to be a fairly fearless cook.  Is there anything you are still wary of?
 
EB: Yeast still scares me. And I had to get a lesson on how to put together my food processor. 
 

SC:  Do you have any new projects in the works?
 
EB: I'm currently working on a project about life and cooking in Provence - and I continue to share our adventures on
 
 
I hope you'll join us!
 

SC:  When advising visitors to Paris, what are your "must-see" or "must-eat" places?
 
EB: Here's a link to my Paris "Top Ten"!
 

Thanks so much, Elizabeth, for your generous spirit and for such a fun book.  

If you have read Lunch in Paris, feel free to let me know, and I'll link it up here.  And if you haven't read Lunch in Paris, do so!  And then dream of Paris in July and all the other months of delicious dishes and fearless living.


7.24.2012

Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard - Part 1

**THIS IS A TWO-PART POST.  CHECK BACK FOR AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR!**

Aah...Paris in July.  It sounds nice, doesn't it?  I wish I could have immersed myself more into the place, the culture, and (of course!) the books this month.  Though I've been slow to start, I'm hoping to finish July with some great stuff, starting with Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard. (Oops!  Dead camera battery + need to post = photo of book in following post.)

Though this book is subtitled "A Love Story, with Recipes," I don't want you to be dissuaded or assume I've been uncharacteristically reading some bodice-ripper instead of Les Miserables.  In fact, after a somewhat shocking first line, "I slept with my French husband halfway through our first date," this book focuses more on the development of a life together in Paris rather than the physical aspect of their relationship.  If there is seduction in this book, it is almost always found in the recipes at the end of each chapter, which had me wishing I was brave enough to try every one of them.

In this memoir/recipe collection, Elizabeth Bard is straddling genres just as she has been straddling continents for awhile now.  After visiting Paris and falling for a Frenchman, Bard gradually became a Paris-dweller, a wife, a mother, and an amazing cook.  Actually, I think she was probably a pretty excellent cook before moving to Paris, but Paris is what made her think food could be part of her professional life, or so the book seems to indicate.  Either way, this book does an admirable job of telling several stories of her personal growth while also providing excellent ideas and instruction.  Though Lunch in Paris has been likened to Eat, Pray, Love, I would compare it more to Kathleen Flinn's work.  The stories and the recipes just roll out together, and the overall experience is one of intimacy and inspiration.

Each chapter chronicles her time in Paris and concludes with a few recipes (somewhat) related to the events described in the chapter.  For instance, in the first chapter (where the aforementioned love affair begins so suddenly), she includes "Recipes for Seduction," which are merely the Fresh Mint Tea, Charlotte aux Abricots, and pasta Gwendal makes for her during their first weekend together.  Though some of the recipes intimidate me, most are accessible and exciting.  Later this week, I will show you what happens when I attempt her Individual Molten Chocolate Cakes.  Additionally, Bard has graciously agreed to an interview, so you'll not want to miss that.

Bard and her family have since moved to Provence, and she updates her blog occasionally with recipes and pictures.  She also has a little boy, and in a recent post for The Children's Book Review, she provides her top five (actually 6) favorite books for kids and asks for recommendations of both new and classic children's books.  Here are my suggestions for the 3-5 year old set:

The Tub People by Pam Conrad and Richard Egielski.  I love the way this book tells a wonderful story from two equally true but notably different perspectives.  The art and the text marry perfectly, and the rhythm of the book is just right.  Every time I read it, I smile.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.  I have made no secret of my love of this book.  It is as perfect as it gets.

Any of the books by Richard Scarry.  Though I hate to read them, my children have loved these books for their silly illustrations and funny situations.  For a dual-language learner, they can be great for vocabulary development or reminders.

Everybody loves Sandra Boynton, it would seem.  I am not a fan of all her work, but I do love Moo, Baa, La La La!  It was a tremendous favorite of ours.

Though he won the Caldecott Medal for My Friend Rabbit, I prefer Eric Rohmann's Clara and Asha.  The art is dreamy yet concrete, the storyline is simple, and the ending adds a bit of fun.

And though Augustin might not love this one (my kids don't), Alison McGhee's Little Boy is charming, and since it has illustrations from one of my favorites, Peter H. Reynolds, it can do no wrong.  Plus, with its nods to William Carlos Williams (so much depends on), it gets literary points as well.

What do you think?  Any suggestions for Elizabeth Bard and her family?

7.09.2012

There's The French Chef and There's Me

I had planned to focus solely on Les Miserables this July because it is such a monstrosity of length, but I accidentally went to my favorite little used bookstore the other day, and their July sale was Buy One Cooking Book, Get One Free, and though I don't particularly need anymore cookbooks, and though the cookbooks are just about the only books that are unpacked, and though I really truly don't have room for anymore books at all, well, I came home with this:

That's a lot of Paris in July goodness!  Here are The French Chef Cookbook by Julia Child, Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard, The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn, Immoveable Feast by John Baxter, The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book, and My Life in France by Julia Child.  I paid $9 for all, and then, since my husband is out of town, I took them all to bed and slept with them by my side.  Before falling asleep, I came across this gem from the master herself, Julia Child:
One of the secrets of cooking is to learn to correct something if you can, and bear with it if you cannot. (ix)
True in cooking, true in life.  As this book is oriented around the television episodes, I now want to find them and watch some and try to make something, anything, from this book.  I'm a pretty decent cook, yet this is daunting material.  

Channeling my inner Julia, I did something I never do: made up dinner.  I say I am a decent cook, but really I'm a recipe follower.  The other night, though, I needed to make something happen in our makeshift kitchen, and no recipe was available.  I had a package of Buitoni tortellini in the fridge, but I don't have a range upon which to boil a large pot of water.  I looked for recipes online that involved baking said pasta, but all called for boiling it first.  Oh well, I thought, and went for it anyway.  Here is the result:
I had to use what I had on hand, so if I make it again, there are few adjustments I would make (italicized below).  Now, at least, there is a recipe on the internet for a no-boil Buitoni pasta.

Baked Tortellini with Bacon

4 slices bacon

1/4 - 1/2 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 zucchini, diced (increase to two or three small zucchini next time)
6-10 grape tomatoes, quartered (increase these as well)
1/2 - 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
20-oz package refrigerated three-cheese tortellini
10 turkey pepperoni, quartered (could leave these out)
Shredded cheese (I only had cheddar but would definitely use mozzarella next time)
Parmesan and fresh basil to garnish

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare medium casserole dish.
2.  In medium skillet, fry bacon until crisp.  Set aside to cool/drain; crumble.  Do not drain off bacon grease.  Spread tortellini evenly over bottom of casserole.
3.  In warm bacon grease (medium-high heat), saute onion and garlic until softened.  Add zucchini and tomatoes, and saute until cooked through.  Pour chicken broth over all and deglaze pan.  Allow to boil for a few moments and then pour broth and vegetables over tortellini.  Stir to mix well.
4.  Stir in bacon (or sprinkle on top if you prefer it to stay crisp).   Sprinkle top with shredded cheese.
5.  Cover and bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes.  Top with grated or fresh shredded parmesan and fresh basil.

7.08.2012

The Poetry Project

Lu at Regular Rumination and Kelly at The Written World started the Read More/Blog More Challenge awhile ago, which involved reading and posting about poetry at the end of each month. I  got a few posts in, but didn't always remember when the end of the month rolled around.  As poetry is an ongoing and important part of my life (both reading and writing it), I am thrilled to take part in the newly revamped version of Read More/Blog More as The Poetry Project.


The link explains all the details, but the short of it is greater flexibility, greater community.  It's a win, and I'm excited to participate as often as possible.  The first prompt serves as kind of an introduction, so here are my responses to the Meet and Greet questions:

1) Why do you want to join the Poetry Project?
I'm all about sharing the LOVE!  I want to bring poetry to more readers, readers of all kinds, and I've been pondering several actions along these lines for awhile now.  This project will allow me to share some of my favorites and new pieces that have wide appeal.  That's not to say poetry has to be completely accessible, 
2) Do you have a favourite poet? 
I don't really have a favorite poet, but there are several I return to frequently: Mary Oliver, Denise Levertov, Wallace Stevens, and Theodore Roethke, among others.
3) Hopefully this will go longer than a year. Do you have any suggestions for monthly themes?
Since I read a lot of children's literature, I would suggest a theme on poems for young readers.
4) What are your experiences with poetry in the past? Have they been positive or negative?
Though I don't remember having any particularly impressive introduction to poetry, I do remember falling in love with e e cummings in high school (didn't we all?) and most of my experiences with poetry since have been positive.  There are a few trends I find decidedly negative, chief among them the poetry journal.  Even a poetry lover has a hard time ingesting that many poems from that many voices at once.
5) Tell us about a poem or poet that has had a profound effect on you. If you can’t think of a poem, how about a song? Or a line from a story?
There have been several to have had deep effects on me.  I will choose the time my then-boyfriend, now-husband went to a reading together where Linda Parsons read several poems about motherhood that moved me deeply.
6) What frustrates you about poetry or the way we talk about poetry?
See above about poetry journals!  Poets these days have to be academics or at least submit to academic journals and even then they will likely never rise above complete obscurity.  It frustrates me that we don't have any collective poetic experiences.
7) Tell us something about yourself that has nothing to do with poetry!
The longer I am married, the more I love North Carolina basketball and PGA golf.  I so wanted Troy Kelly to win the Greenbrier Classic today - and NOT just because my kids got his autograph before practice rounds on Wednesday.

To temper my concerns about poetry journals and shared experiences, this month's Martha Stewart Living magazine quoted an excerpt from Billy Collins' beautiful poem "The Lanyard."  Click here to read the whole poem and then join the conversation by commenting below on what you liked or didn't like about this poem.

7.07.2012

Ordinary People

My friend Scott wrote a fantastic post the other day about being ordinary.  In it, he recommends this article from the New York Times site.  In it, author Alina Tugend wades into the world of American Exceptionalism and how today's young people are being affected by the mentality that everyone must be exceptional.  She is, of course, responding to David McCullough, Jr.'s now wildly-famous commencement address.  In case you are one of the few (like me) who have not yet seen/heard it, here it is:



My favorite parts include the following maxim: "If everyone is special, no one is" and this bit of priceless advice, which I think has guided my own life and I hope will guide the lives of my children:
Resist the easy comforts of complacency, the species glitter of materialism, the narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction.  Be worthy of your advantages, and read.  Read all the time, read as a matter of principle, as a matter of self-respect.  Read as a nourishing staple of life.
There is much more good in this speech and in Tugend's article.  In particular, I connected with her use of George Eliot's Middlemarch, upon which I wrote my Honor's Thesis in college.  She quotes the last lines of that great book:
For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.
And upon reading those words again, I was reminded of a passage from Les Miserables.  After several pages of listing the day-to-day happenings of 1817, most of which I did not understand, Hugo writes:
Such was the confused mass of the now-forgotten events that floated like flotsam on the surface of the year 1817.  History ignores almost all these minutiae: it cannot do otherwise; it is under the dominion of infinity.  Nonetheless, these details, which are incorrectly termed little - there being neither little facts in humanity nor little leaves in vegetation - are useful.  It is the features of the years that makes up the face of the century. (119)
Like my friend, I want an ordinary life.  I want my children to do what they love and believe in regardless of who sees them.  I want to live faithfully a hidden life.

7.06.2012

Why I Am I Doing This Instead of Showering?

I'm back.  And though I've been back for almost 24 hours, I still haven't showered (long story with actual good reasons).  Don't worry, though, it's on the day's agenda.

Instead, I just HAD to get Paris in July 2012 kicked off properly.

Though no one is reading along, I have gotten a healthy start on Les Miserables. Here's the thing about Victor Hugo: he liked the sound of his own (written) voice.  A lot.  The story is still compelling, there are still beautiful phrases, the work is still important, but - BUT - do we really need a 2-page chapter called "Deep Waters, Dark Shadows" which is just a 662-word extended metaphor about how trying to survive after being imprisoned is like drowning.  It concludes with this:
O implacable march of human society!  Destroying men and souls in its way!  Ocean, repository of all that the law lets fall!  Ominous disappearance of help!  O moral death!
The sea is the inexorable night into which the penal code casts its victims.  The sea is measureless misery.
The soul drifting in that sea may become a corpse.  Who shall restore it to life? (95)
That middle paragraph is there just in case you didn't get his point in the first 600 words.

Somehow, though, you learn to skim a little of the dense stuff, and the reading of it moves at a surprising clip.  I'm hoping to get ahead of schedule and fit in something else Parisian this month.

Hugo more than makes up for the wordy bits with brilliant, concise turns like this (in describing Madame Thenardier):
People do not read stupidities with impunity. (154)
Ain't it the truth?
 
 

7.01.2012

No Power, No Post

It's July, and I am not in Paris. I'm in WV with no power after a big storm Friday night. I'll get to a Paris in July post as soon as possible. D'accord?