Books & Cookbooks

Mary Frances! I’ve heard so much about you!


I had been told wonderful things about MFK Fisher (1908-1992, full name Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher), but had never had a chance to read the work of the brightest shining light in American food writing. I had been looking for her books in the English-language bookstores I frequent, but they never seemed to have them in stock and since I wasn’t sure which one I wanted, I didn’t wish to have them ordered for me.

Just last week though, I stopped by Galignani on the rue de Rivoli, went straight to the section I had been pointed to on a previous visit, and with a jolt of excitement discovered a selection of five. There was just one copy of each so I pulled them all out from the shelf, lest another customer snidely took one before I had time to examine each of them properly.

After an intense session of picking up, leafing through, putting down and picking up again, the finalists were announced: The Gastronomical Me (food memories from 1912 to 1941, from California to Mexico by way of Dijon) and An Alphabet for Gourmets, which compiles 26 of her essays and instantly won me over with the first chapter I read standing in the store: “A is for dining Alone”.

Unable to decide between the two, I did what any sensible book lover would do and bought both, even though the price tags very clearly stated: “1 arm + 1 leg”. (The cost of imported books in Paris is one of my pet peeves, so I suggest we not go there.) Now I can’t wait to finish the book I’m currently reading and immerse myself into Mary Frances’ world — but one problem remains: which one will I start with?

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Pastelarias, Here I Come!

Pastelarias, Here I Come!

Last year, Maxence and I went on a little week-end getaway to Lisbon. A blissful, dazzling few days of walks along the narrow little streets, funicular rides up and down the hills, stunning views of the city, and sunny drives along the beautiful coast.

But all of this wouldn’t have been quite as magical without the stupendous Portuguese cuisine : seafood galore — grilled marinated fried salted or otherwise smoked — tasty little nibbles, scandalously underrated cheese, head-spinning port, the freshest fruit and, last but by no means least, out-of-this-world pastries.

In Lisbon, you cannot walk one block without hearing thousands of sweet little voices calling your name from pastelaria windows, teasing you with promises of puff pastry, custard fillings, orange flower water, almonds and nuts, fruits and chocolate, crispy crusts and spongy dough.

The interesting thing was that they didn’t look all that appealing to me at first : they have a much more homely, unsophisticated look than French pastries, which admittedly tend to look like they’re dressed to go to the prom. They also look a bit like they’re all the same, to the untrained eye at least, cancelling each other out somewhat.

But I can tell you, all it takes is a few bites to turn you into an absolute, enraptured, die-hard convert to the Religion of Portuguese Pastelaria. And I, for one, belong without a doubt to the Church of Queijadas de Sintra

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The Belly of Paris

Le Ventre de Paris

Le Ventre de Paris, translated into The Belly of Paris, is a novel written by Emile Zola in 1873. It is the third of the twenty novels of his naturalist cycle of books, Les Rougon Macquart. The series is about two branches of a large family and their members — the rich and powerful Rougon, and the poor and miserable Macquart — whose lives intertwine from the middle of the 18th to the late 19th century.

Each novel focuses on certain nodes of the family tree, and is the occasion to cast a sharp and crude light on the different social layers, situations and worlds of that time : miners, farmers, department stores employees, priests, financial magnates, small-town inhabitants, workers, prostitutes, artists, doctors, soldiers…

In this one, Zola takes a dive into the fascinating universe of the Paris food market, Les Halles. Since the 12th century, this area in the center of Paris has been devoted to food vendors of all kinds, selling a vast profusion of goods, coming in fresh every morning. Huge halls of iron and glass, Les Pavillons Baltard, were constructed in the 1850’s to organize the different markets, and each street around the pavilions was specialized in a type of product. In 1969 however, the area had become too small to accommodate all the activity, and the traffic was terrible : Les Halles were moved to Rungis, in the South of Paris, and the beautiful Pavillons Baltard were torn down, to the scandalized clamor of the Parisians. The only remnants of that era are some buildings and restaurants, and the presence of many cooking apparel stores, E. Dehillerin in particular.

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Kitchen Confidential

Kitchen Confidential

[Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly]

Anthony Bourdain attended the Culinary Institute of America 25 years ago, has been in the restaurant business ever since, and is currently the executive chef of the restaurant “Les Halles” in New York. His book “Kitchen Confidential” is both an autobiography and an essay on the world of restaurants, and is written in an unusual tone of honesty and bluntness. A highly entertaining, instructive and fascinating read.

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In Which She Finally Gets Her Hands On Pierre Hermé’s Book

In Which She Finally Gets Her Hands On Pierre Hermé's Book

Last fall, I met the friend of a friend at a party and discovered to my great excitement that he worked for none other than pastry chef Pierre Hermé, at his rue Bonaparte pâtisserie. I had been coveting his new recipe book called “Mes Desserts Préférés” for a little while, and when I mentioned that to my new friend, he said he could try and have a copy signed for me. I nodded. Vigorously.

It took a number of weeks, missed calls and missed appointments to arrange it, but my daydreams about this beautiful book easily carried me through the wait. I finally went to collect it at the production center in the 15th arrondissement, in a small pastry shop with a discreet sign which the untrained eye would miss. It was just before new year’s eve, and this was where the huge quantity of holiday orders were being made and assembled, fresh from the morning. A lot of these are orders for Pierre Hermé’s signature macarons. (A macaron is made of two disks of light almond meringue, held together by a layer of cream.) Since nothing but the perfect macarons make it into the gift boxes, my friend was sweet enough to also give me a few small broken ones, which I shared with my parents and Maxence (aren’t they the luckiest bunch?).

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