Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes is a charming memoirs book, offering a glimpse into the fascinating French lifestyle, love, culture, American lifestyle and cooking at the beginning of the century. Each chapter of the book ends with 2-4 great recipes, somehow related to the story, which practically urge you to stop the reading and try to cook that very recipe.
But more than being just a love story or a cooking book, Lunch in Paris: A love story with recipes is a book about how psychological and cultural differences vanish out when there is an intense passion at stake. A book about the difficulties of adjustment to a new life and what role food has played in significant events, from first date lunch at the Bouillon Chartier to wedding and New Year’s parties.
One can find here lots of fine French recipes and lots of interesting cultural details about one of the most famous cities in the world. But the reader is also invited to assist to a self-discovery process in a completely different civilisation, and to witness the author’s journey to the inner Self as she learns to navigate life in France and to cope with cultural differences. There is a passage where Elizabeth Bard puts down one of the differences in a simple way:
In France, people often show their power by saying no—by their ability to block things, to show that 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.”
There are a lot of details of the author ongoing struggle to reconcile her idealistic visions about Paris with the realities of actually living in the city of love. At some point, she finds herself living in a relative small apartment with no heat in the winter, no job, no mastering the language and virtually no friends. Not a very pleasant situation.
The evolution of her journey from living an American lifestyle to adapting to French lifestyle, while residing in Paris is truly phenomenal. Not only there is such a different culture, but the social customs in USA are quite the opposite of those in France:
In the States, it is normal to walk up to a stranger at a party and start a conversation. That was my first mistake. There are no strangers at French parties; everyone has known each other forever. Breaking into a conversation is a little bit like starting David Copperfield in the middle. You’ve missed the formative years.”
And the fact that she has a Jewish background only adds to the romance of both cooking and her transition into French lifestyle.
Her brutal honesty in describing the life in France and city of Paris, the markets, the country, the boulevards, the Bistro Sainte Marthe, the narrow streets, the cafés etc..made me feel wanting so bad to visit Paris as soon as possible, walking down those narrow cobblestone streets I was reading about.
My favorite quotes from Lunch in Paris: A love story with recipes
“There is a moment, just after sunset, when the shops turn on their lights and steam starts to fog up the windows of the cafés. In French, this twilight time implies a hint of danger. It’s called entre chien et loup, between the dog and the wolf.”
“Nothing says “I love you” like a plate full of sausage.”
“No better way to avoid making a decision than burying yourself in a big fat book.”
“People grow, but they don’t change.”
“The French have always known what I’ve long suspected; there is nothing sexier than watching a woman eat. Men love this.”
“Life is not always poetry. Sometimes it’s about the heavy lifting, the reality check. Sometimes it’s about dragging the dead bodies off the stage.”
My favorite recipe
“1 cup olive oil (don’t skimp, you can’t add more later)
2½ pounds onions (7–8 medium), thickly sliced
1½ pounds eggplant (2 small), cut into vertical chunks about ½ inch by 2 inches
1½ 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 fresh thyme
2 good pinches saffron ( 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. The peppers will release some water, which will start the sauce. Add the zucchini. 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″
Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes