I don’t know about you but these days when I travel, I tend to bring different kinds of guide books. With the advent of the smartphone, the need for the maps in guidebooks is lessened as pretty much wherever you are in the world, you can download a map (and increasingly, maps that don’t require an internet connection). Similarly, with the huge amount of information available online now, quite often I arrive at a destination with just my phone and some printouts and a list of places I have been keeping on an ongoing basis as I read articles online (the equivalent of Neil’s filing cabinets filled with files named for every possible destination you can imagine – both places we have been and places we want to go). A lot of the information I gather about a place I am going to visit these days is also from blogs, Twitter and Instagram – that up-to-the minute aspect of life online can’t be beat for recommendations that are as current as they can possibly be.
As well as being great for recommendations, the online world has been good to me in terms connections over the past few years – take, for instance, Summer 2012, when I spent the month of July working at La Cuisine Paris (because of the connection I had made with Jane, the owner, the previous year when I went to the school to take a class – having known nothing about the school except that it had great reviews from some people I followed online). One evening that summer at an event at La Cuisine, I was fortunate enough to meet the lovely Ann Mah – someone I had known about (again through online connections) but had never met in person. We got along famously and from there, kept in touch across the pond. I was featured on her site in her fabulous Tuesday Dinner with… series and followed along her trials and tribulations as she worked on the manuscript of her latest book, released last week in the US and today in Canada – Mastering the Art of French Eating. Which may just have become the book I recommend to anyone interested in food and France as THE guide book they must read before they travel there!
(full disclosure here: I do consider Ann a friend but I honestly wouldn’t have written about her book if I didn’t truly love it. I loved it so much I have read it twice, in fact).
When I posted the cover of Ann’s book on my Instagram feed, it elicited a comment from someone saying they thought I had pretty much mastered it (the art of French eating). But you know what? The book isn’t just about food and eating. It’s about Ann’s life, actually Ann’s struggle to build a life for herself in her dream city when her husband is taken to a posting in Iraq unexpectedly. It’s about Ann’s life in Paris which, contrary to what many people believe, is not always the city the movies depict. Living in Paris (I know this firsthand) can be damn hard work. But it’s also magical and wonderful (that would be what draws me back every summer) and Ann’s journey will draw you in. She’s an excellent writer (her work has appeared in Condé Nast Traveller and The New York Times and this would be her second novel, after Kitchen Chinese) so for me, the combination of a well-written book about food set in my own dream city was definitely a winner.
In an attempt to build her life whilst her husband is off in Iraq, Ann sets about learning all about French cuisine, in a fashion not-unlike Julia Child who set about, well, mastering the art of French cooking! Ann sets off on a journey around France (10 different regions) to research the signature dishes of those areas. Ann is fastidious in her research (it’s a tough job but someone has to do it!) and painstaking in her attempts to reproduce those dishes once back in her own kitchen. The result is part French cookbook, part travel guide, part memoir – basically a book you won’t want to put down!
Case in point, when I was wanting to make buckwheat crêpes from the book over the weekend, I was double-checking the ratio of flour to water in the book. When it came to cooking the crêpes, I got distracted by the book next to the stove and picked it up, diving in all over again to the “Brittany” chapter. And when I glanced over at my “nearly ready I shouldn’t really be taking my eyes off it for one second” crêpe, it was, shall we say, a little crispy. As I picked at the crunchy edge, ready to toss it and start again, I was struck by the texture that actually quite suits a buckwheat crêpe mix. And figured I’d make a little pizza with it. No, not quite the “galette complète” I had in mind, and certainly not the recipe described in the book, but much like Ann did when she moved to France, I adapted to the circumstance. And it was good.
Go – buy this book. But don’t just take my word for it – check out the reviews so far:
“Whether you’re French or Francophile, a long-time connoisseur of French food or someone who’s just figuring out the difference between frites and frangipane, feasting through France with Ann Mah is a delicious adventure. Ann’s writing is lovely, her curiosity boundless and her good taste assured. Spending time with her in Mastering the Art of French Eating is a treat.”
—Dorie Greenspan, author of Around My French Table and owner of Beurre & Sel Cookies
“Ann Mah dishes up a welcoming concoction, a good dose of French history, a personal, vibrant, enthusiastic picture of life in a country she adores, without apology. I am hungry already!”
—Patricia Wells, author of The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris and Simply Truffles
“Excellent ingredients, carefully prepared and very elegantly served. A really tasty book.”
—Peter Mayle, author of The Marseille Caper and A Year in Provence
“Ann Mah writes inspiringly about basic French dishes we thought we knew all about. She joins Elizabeth David in being a joy and an instruction to read.”
—Diane Johnson, author of Le Divorce
“A tour de force through French cuisine, Ann Mah crisscrossed France, learning about all my favorite foods—from buckwheat galettes to the secrets of authentic cassoulet. Her personal culinary tale will have you packing your bags. But if you can’t make it to France, Ann offers delicious recipes, culled from experts!”
—David Lebovitz, author of The Sweet Life in Paris
To read an excerpt from Mastering the Art of French Eating, click here.
Win one of three copies of Ann Mah’s Mastering the Art of French Eating (worldwide)!
That’s right – thanks to the kind folks at Pamela Dorman Books, I have two hardback copies of Mastering the Art of French Eating up for grabs for readers in the US and Canada as well as one digital copy for an international reader!
1. Leave a comment below telling me which one of the recipes featured in the book would you like to try and why?
Andouillette (euh… tripe sausages)
Salade Lyonnaise (salad with perfectly soft boiled eggs)
Soupe au Pistou
Aligot (a dish made with mashed potatoes, melted cheese, garlic and crème fraîche)
2. For a bonus entry, tweet the following message:
I entered to win Mastering the Art of French Eating by @annmahnet from @eatlivtravwrite + @PamelaDormanBks http://bit.ly/19aeNPh
Then come back to leave me a comment telling me you did.
Contest closes on Tuesday, October 8th 2013 at 6pm EST. Winner will be chosen by random.org and will be notified by email on October 9th 2013.
Disclosure: Pamela Dorman Books provided me with a review copy of Mastering the Art of French Eating. I was not required to post about this, nor am I being compensated for doing so. All opinions are my own.
Canadian readers: Win a copy of In the Kitchen with Stefano Faita. Ends Wednesday October 2nd 2013 at 6pm EST.