Julia Child’s “The French Chef, ” by Dana Polan

“a history of early American television telescoped through the persona and history of Julia Child. . . . fascinating . . .” When you walk the streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts, you can’t miss the lingering traces of heroes and history. From the names of the men who brought you the Boston Tea Party to the…

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French Bistro: Seasonal Recipes

“A visual feast as well as a gastronomic one . . . Organized by ten essentials that any successful bistro must have, French Bistro almost reads like a graphic novel, thanks to the prolific and colorful photographs.” When you walk into a Paris bistro straight off the street on a cool fall day, the odd leaf rustling…

At My French Table

If as a child you loved fairy tales and dreamt of being Cinderella, or if you longed to be the handsome prince with a turreted castle, you’re going to adore Jane Webster’s gloriously illustrated At My French Table: Food, Family and Joie de Vivre in a Corner of Normandy. The book imparts the warm feeling you get…

Cooking Classic French Food, the Easy Way

If French cuisine, or at least the cooking of it, intimidates you, you're not alone. A perception of too many fussy techniques and hard-to-obtain ingredients stops people who might otherwise wield a wooden spoon with Julia Child's enthusiasm. The great popularity of Italian food testifies to people's desire to take simple ingredients and transform them…

Dawn of the Belle Epoque: The Paris of Monet, Zola, Bernhardt, Eiffel, Debussy, Clemenceau, and Their Friends

“Rich with the flavor of words . . . a marvelous and kaleidoscopic view of Paris . . .” Gazing on Paris now from the vantage point of the Pont Neuf or the top of the Eiffel Tower or down the Champs Élysées, it’s nearly impossible to grasp the fact that in 1871 Paris lay…

Paris to the Past – Traveling Through French History by Train: A Book to Love and Cherish

“If you’ve even the slightest interest in France and her history, you will enjoy this highly innovative book. If you love France, and you’re a committed Francophile, you will swoon over Paris to the Past. As Ina Caro writes in her introduction to this delicious book, ‘I charted a route you could follow.’ And indeed she does.”…

La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life: Explaining the French

In celebration of the 2012 French elections ... “. . . your best bet for understanding the French would be to pick up La Séduction and read it at your leisure, preferably with a glass of wine and Debussy playing on your iPod.” While making coffee one morning in Paris, where she now lives, journalist Elaine Sciolino…

La Tour d’argent poinct ne leurre*, or, Pressed Duck, Blood and Guts and All

What is sauce for the goose may be sauce for the gander but is not necessarily sauce for the chicken, the duck, the turkey or the guinea hen. ~ Alice B. Toklas The famed, if slightly faded, Parisian restaurant, La Tour d’Argent, embodies the French idea of culinary hegemony. So do ducks. As you stand…

Un vrai canard: Duck and French Culinary Traditions

Do you associate ducks, along with snails and frogs, with traditional French cuisine? If so, you're hardly alone. I do, too. And I often wonder, like many of us who write about food, just how some of these traditions begin. I think the answers might appall or thrill us. Last week, I read an old…

Assimilating “The Other”

Leslie Page Moch, author of Moving Europeans: Migration in Western Europe Since 1650 (1992, Indiana U. Press), has written another book, Pariahs of Yesterday: Breton Migrants in Paris (Duke University Press, 2012). Her book promises insights into the process of integration, a very useful understanding of present-day migrants in France, people from France's former colonies:…

Rationing and the Black Market in Nazi-Occupied France: Some Thoughts

"Life is hard (On vit mal). Everyone grows thinner. A kilo of butter costs one thousand francs. A kilo of peas forty-five francs. A kilo of potatoes forty francs. Still we must find them." - Jean Guéhenno, August 1944 Speaking as the beneficiary of an immense system of food production in the twenty-first century, as…

It Might Be a Stereotype, but ….

I love this picture of a snail. Like many mollusks, snails seem to have been  eaten in substantial quantities by early man, as witness the mounds of snail shells found in archaeological sites. See Prehistoric edible land snails in the cirum Mediterranean: the archaeological evidence (2004) (Extensive bibliography)

France and the Food of War : I

Food offers us so much – nourishment, familial connections, status, comfort, security, and - above all - survival. Truth be told, food allows us to wake up each day and face the world again. With our bellies churning with adequate fodder, we trudge or dance along the path of life, free to create art or…

Dreaming of France on a Foggy February Morning

This morning I woke up to fog so thick that I wondered if perhaps I'd morphed into a another place altogether, like London. The branches of the large oak clinging to the hillside resembled nothing less than a print of a retina found in an old medical book. I started thinking of France as I…

The Ancient Sin of Gluttony: What’s Really Behind the Shunning of Paula Deen

We need strategies that do not drag us back to the dispositional focus of the Inquisition's witch-hunts, that propelled the notion of the "Satan Within," when much good and evil is the product of situational and systemic forces acting on the same ordinary, often good people.  ~~ Philip Zimbardo  It’s been with a great deal…

Arabs in France: An Early Account by an Egyptian Imam

Rare is the native English speaker who reads and writes Arabic, classical or otherwise. And thus a vast body of literary work lies inaccessible to those who desire to increase their understanding and appreciation of the Arabic-speaking world. Because there is this hole in the material available to scholars and others, the scholarship of much…

The Expert (French) Cook in Enlightenment France: A Review

If you scrutinize sixteenth-century Dutch artist Pieter Aertsen’s painting, “The Cook in Front of the Stove,” you will see a rather stereotypical image of servant cooks, one that persisted in popular memory in Europe until well into the nineteenth century. Sean Takats, assistant professor of history at George Mason University and codirector of Zotero, attempts…

A Few Marrons Glacés for the Season … A Gift for You

Photo credit: Robyn Lee A while ago, I promised you a short list of facsimile/translated French cookbooks. The following list represents a number of old French-language cookbooks translated into English that you’ll find freely available on the Internet, something quite helpful when you’ve dropped your last holiday dollar on the fixings for Beef Wellington and…

Give the Gift of Cooking French Food at Home: Some Cookbooks That Make a Seemingly Impossible Task Possible

I have to tell you that the cookbook lists that come out every year around Christmas time drive me crazy. Like you’re really going to savor, say, 101 Recipes Using ___________? (Fill in the blank.) Or you’re going to run out and buy another Italian cookbook when you already own somewhere in the neighborhood of…

Memoirs of a Breton Peasant: Sifting Through the Nostalgia

It’s not often that the words of poor peasants appear in print. And when they do, it’s a cause for rejoicing, especially for scholars pertaining to the Braudel/Certeau school of the history of daily life. What's more, our current nostalgic longings for a more paradisiacal past evaporate quickly in the light of these often ruthlessly real…

Who was Ginette Mathiot? And Why Should You Care?

Ginette Mathiot wrote books that bring up long-lost taste memories in France, much as Marcel Proust's oft-quoted prattle about about madeleines. Only her work proves infinitely more readable and enjoyable. She also basically sticks it to Julia and makes French cooking seem less like a prolonged session at the dentist's. One of her books, Je…

The Cardinal and the Chef

Sauce Madère 2 cups brown sauce (you can use prepared demi-glace like that sold by D'Artagnan ) 2 T. good Madeira Cook down the brown sauce for 20 minutes over medium heat. Add the Madeira, raise the heat, and cook rapidly; the sauce should look syrupy and lightly coat a metal spoon. Serve with beef or…

Unquenchable: Natalie MacLean’s Terrific New Book on Wine

If, like me - overwhelmed by the hundreds of possible choices in front of you at the grocery store or local wine shop - you’ve ever stood in front of the endless shelves of stunning wine bottles and felt like just closing your eyes and grabbing a bottle, any bottle (preferably one on the lower…

Cris de Paris: The Street Criers of Paris in Bygone Days

Mushrooms abound in the markets of France in October and early November. And since I found stalls bursting with all sorts of mushrooms, I began to wonder if there were any "street cries" or market songs or whatever you might wish  to call them peculiar to mushrooms. Associated with various métiers (or trades) dating back…

For French Cooks Who …

have everything - or nearly everything - in their batterie de cuisine. A Turbotière, for cooking, well, turbots. Available, the pan, that is, at E. DEHILLERIN in Paris ( 18 et 20, rue Coquillière - 51, rue Jean- Jacques Rousseau, 1st arrondissement) for the princely sum of nearly 570 euros ($826.25). Considering the size of turbots, the price…

L’Armagnac Vieux of the Tour d’Argent (and More)

Beauty comes in many guises. Appropriately for a restaurant in full view of Notre Dame and its mythical hunchback, the dining room of the Tour d'Argent in Paris resembles the prow of a ship sailing off into the sunset. Some critics say its reputation for good food departed some time ago. An auction in December…

The Creation of French Africa: Officialdom at Work

True, the British colonized the Gambia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, and Nigeria, but for all practical purposes, like a roll of the dice, West Africa fell to the French. And it wasn't an easy roll of the dice, either. Carton after carton of documents from the late 1800s arrive at my assigned reading space in the…