Friday, September 27, 2013

"Mastering the Art of French Eating" by Ann Mah

 

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!

36 comments:

Pam said...

heather! i've had this book in my shopping cart on amazon u.k for weeks..it is still not available here yet! how lucky you are to have previewed this little gem that will soon grace my bookshelves! i simply cannot wait!
lovely post too by the way. :)
bon weekend!
xo
pam

Heather Robinson said...

Pam! I just looked at French Amazon and under the "new" vendors there is the book depository uk (I have used them before a ton) and they say delivery in 5-8 days! Just saying... ;)
Bon WE à toi aussi...

Pam said...

i have never used french amazon! only amazon uk. silly me! merci!

Coulda shoulda woulda said...

Will get it - I do as I'm told!

Heather Robinson said...

Teeheehee, oops! Ok, so my post was a little pushy I know but N you will love this book--perfect for a smart one such as your fine self.

quintessence said...

Looks marvelous!! Although my bookshelves are overflowing, it looks like this might be a must-have addition to my culinary section!!

vicki archer said...

I must read this.,.. what a wonderful review Heather... Happy weekend... xv

Heather Robinson said...

S, your writing that made me realize that I had forgotten to mention, there are recipes too. It is win-win. :)

Heather Robinson said...

And to you too, V! And trust me, it is good enough to make folks like us fall in love with France all over again--and we live here!! ;)

Suze said...

'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.'

H., I loved this. Says so much. And, yes! I like to save things. Supposedly the French eat dessert first but I could never do that! The other day my daughter told me she at the Halloween Oreos in her lunch before the carrot sticks and I was like, 'Whaaa?'

I always save the best for last. :)

Have a beautimous weekend, sweet friend.

Judith Ross said...

Yum. That is all.

Oh, and Karina can't wait to get her paws on it, too.

Heather Robinson said...

My dear Suzethuse, I have never, in twelve years, seen anyone eat dessert first. For reals! Is this a story that your sweet one told you to excuse her "Oreo comes first" philosophy? And frankly, as they were Halloween Oreos, can you really blame her??? *severe pangs of homesickness* *they pass* And I am glad to know I am not the only one who likes to count on having something special put aside for who knows when! It doesn't even have to be a special day. The other night we opened up a bottle of cremant (champagne from Burgundy) for no reason and it was all the more special because of it!

And ooh, I'll take that beautimous wish and send you back a supergalifragilistic one. :) Plus a...hug! (ok you can tell me when that joke has worn out its welcome)

Heather Robinson said...

She has right to be concerned. All cultured puppers are well-versed in French cuisine these days...

Loree said...

Yes, I do save things for special (or not so special) days or moments. And I also love to hold on to certain things forever. Ann sounds like a super-talented woman.

Celebrating Beauty in Words and Images said...

Thanks Heather. You made me hunger for this book. Can hardly wait.
Susan Gabriel, Celebrating Beauty in Words and Images.

Rowan said...

I have seen this book pop up on another two blogs and it looks intriguing. We're told not to judge a book by its cover, but this one does pull you in..A combination of good writing and writing about experiences in France - a win win combo! I think I might put it on my shopping list.
Have a good weekend! Spring is starting to pop its head out here! Yay!
Cheers, Heather!
Deborah in Melbourne

simpleimages2 said...

I'm reading many books already and all filed up at the bedside.The new book is tempting.

And I'm reading a lot of poetry for my eCourse through Penn U. on American Contemporary and Modern Poetry.

silkannthreades said...

It's really lovely (as you have just expressed) when a friend writes a wonderful book and you can hold it in your hands and savour it, and keep it by your side for precisely that moment when it is ripe for the reading. And, it's really lovely that you can read it quickly, or flick through it, or take longer, and then put it away and take it out again, years later, and enjoy it some more and remember the one who wrote it..........but you can't do that with words and stories that stay on a blog....all of which is my way of saying that, if you have the time and energy, perhaps a special book could be written by you :) I completely agree that simply because one lives a different way of life doesn't make one a good writer or make for a good book, but your photos and text are exquisite;just waiting to be embraced within the pages of a book. And, to get back to Ann; I thoroughly enjoyed the excerpt from her book. I can see how you would want to devour the book in one session and yet not want to at the same time. The excerpt, being much about steak, I can also see why Ben and Kingsley approve of the book :)

david terry said...

Well, Heather......I'm glad to see that several other readers also "save" books as you (and I) do. I'll be ordering Ms. Mah's book, and I know that I'll be saving it for one of those "I don't know what to do with myself....so why not simply enter someone else's interesting life?" days. Perhaps I need to emphasize that, as someone who's expected by a lot of folks/clients to cough up something markedly "personal" at least three times per week, I make a point of regularly (about once per week?) going AWOL on everyone. For better or worse, I don't necessarily happen find my "personal" self nearly so constantly interesting as might be the case. So, it's good to check-out occasionally and read a book such as Ms. Mah's....with no interruptions or distractions.

I usually do this when Herve's gone off on a 4-5 day trip (which also happens quite regularly). I settle any immediate business (contracts, shipments, vet-appointments, etcetera), go buy what I need at the grocery store....and then make my plans for the next day or two of NOT ANSWERING THE DAMNED TELEPHONE
or going ANYWHERE outside of the house's fairly large property.

....and then I reach for whatever book I've saved, and I simply read, either outside or (in the cold months) by the fire. It's amazing how quickly these 2-3 days of restorative calm go by when you're doing what most folks would refer to as "doing nothing".

Well, thanks for alerting me to this book....Now, I'll go see how to order it.

Level best as Ever,
David Terry
www.davidterryart.com

Jo-Anne said...

Thank you for including that little peek at this book - now I have to go and buy it! It's fabulous! I was salivating by the end of the chapter. Yum!

Glamour Drops said...

First up, what is navette à la fleur de la lavande? It sounds deliciously floral, but I have no idea what it is. So I got stuck on that pondering!!

I rarely read, let alone relish, books written by expats, unless they are grippingly honest and not imbued with glossed over romanticism. Tell us about the bits that were hard, not just the bits that are beautiful, type thing. But reading your post, I am wondering if it perhaps because they are often written by people who are adventurers but not necessarily writers??? Food for thought.

But if you are recommending this book, then it gets placed into a thoroughly different category...one worthy of reading.

Libby said...

I've been waiting for this book since I first heard about it! So tomorrow, off to my wonderful local, independently owned bookstore to buy it! Cannot wait: and thank you for the great review!

Heather Robinson said...

She really is Loree. Funny and smart, cultured yet grounded. I feel lucky to have met her.
And ps. I love that you keep things forever--me too. :)

Heather Robinson said...

I am still finishing it Susan and it keeps getting better and better.

Heather Robinson said...

So happy for you, D! Now if you could kindly convince autumn to come and visit us, I would be most grateful...

Heather Robinson said...

Not only are you reading a lot of poetry but you seem to be writing a wonderful amount as well! Your readers are appreciative...

Heather Robinson said...

Heeheehee...why didn't I think of that! And if you look at the first photo that is exactly the chapter K is reading!!!
I feel really fortunate to know some incredibly, incredibly talented people with books either out or on their way. Not only Ann but Tish Jett (more about that soon) and in 2014, our mutual friend Sophia Stuart! Yippee!! It does make it special and those are books that are NOT being given to the library, sorry!!!

Heather Robinson said...

When I read this, my first reaction was "that sounds like Heaven." So I did as close to it as I could for the entire weekend! Remi was here but bless his heart was working like mad in front of the computer and as it was rainy, the dogs got shorter walks and the rest of the time was left for diving in to Ann's adventures, far, far more interesting than my laundry and daily stress of the moment. So merci, it was a wonderful suggestion...

Heather Robinson said...

Yep, def-in-itely NOT a book to read while hungry! I have learned that the hard way...

Heather Robinson said...

Thank you for the compliment and I agree with you entirely! Ann really counterpoints her adventures with the real pain of worry and sadness of missing her husband while never falling into the maudelin. V, you of all people would love this book--I have learned SO much! About French food! Food in general! Really sharp and funny as well.

Aaaand, the navette is the cookie in the second photo down. Ask Henrietta if we had them while she was here--I often serve them to guests. They are a really basic cookie (supposedly harder and drier the closer you get to Marseille) but these are stuffed with lavender. Insanely good. Ben did a massive pee right in front of the door to my friend Christine's boutique and so I bought her one to say "sorry" and bought one for myself too!

Heather Robinson said...

Yay Libby!! I am super lucky in that I have Actes Sud here in Arles--a major French publishing house with a store that has a small but really good English literature section. I buy from them whenever possible...

breadispain.me said...

Yay-rah! I will be scooping this up shortly, I love a book that talks about food. Fabulous! Anyway, I know that if Kipling likes it then it must pass muster! :)

La Contessa said...

BEN APPROVED I BETTER GO GET IT!

Meredith said...

I'm reading this book right now! I've been craving steak frites since chapter one, and I've come to realize that reading it before bed (without a snack) is not a good idea. Also, how adorable are your dogs?!

Paris-Chien said...

Great Post! I just finished this book. I especially like the way she incorporates history and recipes into a personal story of adapting to a new city.

I found Lost in Arles by googling Ann Mah, and look forward to following you now!

Heather Robinson said...

Hooray! Lovely to have you here and oh my your book is wonderful!!! And I was crazy for Ann's book for exactly the same reasons you felt as well. So well done. Although I won't be trying the andouillette recipe anytime soon...