Lunch in Paris: A Love Story With Recipes, is Elizabeth Bard's memoir of the early days of her relationship and marriage, when she fell in love with a new country as much as with a new man.
To be honest, I wasn't expecting much from the current Cook the Books bookclub selection. I was expecting a bit of the cliché: affectionate mocking of the quaint local customs, realisation that they are so much more in touch with the circle of life than we are (whichever peasantry is the exotic other on this occasion), self-deprecating stories about cultural ineptitude and a couple of recipes featuring ingredients that are hard to come by outside that particular village. That is doing it a great disservice; Lunch in Paris is not that book.
Having moved to a new country soon after getting married, and not being able to get work for a while, I found the parts where Bard talks about feeling like she'd lost her identity resonated. There is a rawness and openness in this book that you don't often get with this genre that I found moving.
One part of blogging that I quite like is the fact that you can re-imagine your life. When I blog, I don't have to think about the rent being due, being grouchy with Paul, problems at work, piles of laundry that need doing, a cough that I can't shake or any other unpleasantness that I don't want to think about. It can all be homemade bread and freshly cut flowers. It reminds me in a way of a story I once read about Margaret Olley - apparently her house is very cluttered, with piles of things all over the place, but when she paints, she paints out all the clutter and just paints the one vase or bowl of fruit she is interested in. I admire that Bard didn't take the easy, sanitised option and paint out all the clutter; that her father in law's illness and death are included along with the amazing meals and romance.
When I was thinking about what to cook, to go alongside this book, I found myself taking a meandering path through other women who have gone to France, fallen in love with the food and written movingly about it. I piled up books by Elizabeth David, MFK Fisher, Patricia Wells and Susan Loomis, indulged in some magnificent writing and changed my mind about what to cook every other page.
I've been approached recently to join with Monaghan Mushrooms and Simon Rimmer to wave the flag for mushrooms (it was simply a suggestion: I received no payment or product). Paul maintains that I don't like them very much, which is an absolute slander, so I wanted something that would really show mushrooms off to their best advantage.
I finally settled on Susan Loomis's Wild Mushroom and Walnut Tarte Tatin.
I used a mixture of chestnut, button and oyster mushrooms, with a handful of dried porcini for extra "wild" flavour. I rinsed the porcini but just let them plump up in the juices released by the other mushrooms. And I used bought puff pastry.
Rather than drizzling it with walnut vinaigrette, I topped it with the remainder of our asparagus harvest (two more fat spears) dressed with lemon juice and butter. It was a revelation! Intensely flavoured, satisfying and yet light. Paul thought it would make an excellent accompaniment to barbecued venison. It would, but it more than stands up on its own.