This week, due to a bout with the flu, I grew an aversion to almost all things food related — smelling it, cooking it, eating it — though strangely, not reading about it. My nightstand is usually stacked with food memoirs, cookbooks and gourmet magazines. Who says, cookbooks are for reference only? I think they make excellent bedtime reading and they provide adults one of the few opportunities where it is perfectly acceptable to choose a book based on the pictures.
I just finished reading Chez Panisse alum, David Lebovitz’s book, The Sweet Life in Paris. It is a witty, smart and a little bit snarky account of his adventures upon moving to Paris from San Francisco. The Parisian lifestyle is a realization of just about every gourmand’s dream until they are faced with the practicalities. The book, part memoir, part cookbook and part ethnography, teaches us that life in Paris is sometimes not-so-sweet. Lebovitz’s attempts to get accustomed to cultural quirks, such as the French habit of eating everything with a knife and fork (even bananas!), are often hilarious. He advises readers to use the loo before going to a dinner party, as the French rarely allow guests in their restrooms (it explains why their glasses are so tiny and no one ever serves water). One particularly funny episode has Lebovitz, after many frustrating attempts, finally succeed in opening a bank account by presenting the ornery bank manager with his métier, one of his dessert cookbooks. He recalls,
“ You would have thought I’d told her Johnny Depp was dumping Vanessa Paradis and was on his way over, ready to take her away from this drudgery on his private yacht to spend the summer sailing the Cote d’Azur.”
Evidently, the French love of food and foodies is “le clé to success.” He quickly learns to win over French shopkeepers, handymen and housekeepers by baking batch after batch of les brownies americaines.
Readers who live abroad will be familiar with Lebovitz’s hoarding of ordinary American foodstuffs which, in his case, included organic peanut butter and Lipton onion soup mix. “…A guest has to be someone pretty dip-worthy for me to tear into one of my prized foil wrapped pouches,” he writes.
Even the recipes display the expat tendency to be betwixt and between. French discoveries (Absinthe Cake and Fromage Blanc Soufflé) are interspersed with American classics (Chicken Molé, Roast Pork with Brown Sugar-Bourbon Glaze) much in the same way a new life in a new place is flitted with moments of nostalgia. This is perfect weekend reading for any foodie or Francophile while in the comforts of their home, wherever that may be.
The Sweet Life in Paris is available on Amazon.com and by order through Magrudy’s. For more recipes and Parisian adventures, you can read his blog at http://www.davidlebovitz.com/