No boeuf bourguignon in this tasty memoir

Blogger’s Note: When I’m not cooking, I’m typically reading about food (and fashion). So in addition to my entries on the food I make, I wanted to expand my blog’s focus to include reviews of books with a culinary angle.

Just when you thought you’ve read it all – unhappy career woman embarks on path as chef or unlucky single girl finds romance in the kitchen – there’s Elizabeth Bard’s Lunch in Paris. In this memoir/part cookbook, a young woman turns to food as a means of chronicling the milestones of an intercultural romance and new life that sidelines her from her path to success. From recipes for seduction to dishes to substitute for central heating, Bard endearingly reflects on those life events that shape her very happy yet tumultuous twenties.

Initially, it’s an enviable plot. Bard is an American girl who meets an intelligent French man (“Gwen-DAL”) at an academic convention. He sweeps her off of her feet with improvised, but elegant, meals and swiftly lures her permanently to one of the world’s most romantic cities in the world – Paris. Her reality is every girl’s fantasy.

But, Bard is not every girl. Ivy League educated and driven, Bard struggles with the fact that Paris isn’t part of the plan. She’s of a breed of ambitious college graduates who decide that in order to live in the lap of luxury in their thirties, they must slave away at work in their twenties. Unemployed with no clear direction, Bard’s days primarily revolve around the farmer’s market and that night’s dinner. She finds challenges in culinary feats such as gutting and pan-frying a pair of mackerel.

When she’s inevitably presented with a marriage proposal, Bard waffles and tells Gwendal she needs time to decide as her stagnant writing career drives a wedge between her head and heart. With the ring idling in its plush box, Bard puts on a pot of rice pudding as she weighs what matters most to her in a man. Did she want a life of wealth, status, and security with one of the New England Wasps she used to date? Or, could she endure more cultural compromises and personal dissatisfaction and forge a new life with her true love? It’s a relatable turning point in her evolving adult relationship.

Of the foodie chick lit books circulating today, Bard’s story cements a spot in this genre as something more than just fluffy romantic fare. She shares with us the sweet and heartwarming moments of her Parisian love affair, but it’s not all fancy food and leisurely strolls on cobblestone walkways. There’s a Yankee who can’t wrap her head around the French reinforcement of mediocrity, their fierce resistance to any sort of substantial leap between social ranks, and their disdain for macaroni and cheese out of a box. And, other than her name on the gas bill, Bard struggles to get her own career off of the ground, let alone even decide what she’s out to accomplish. Friends even attempt an intervention over coffee and carrot muffins.

My first attempt at Parisian macarons.

Yes, the constant focus on her lack of direction does get annoying, but that’s what gives Bard credibility on the whole matter. There’s never been another time in history where young adults are lost and frustrated by the haunting “what do I do with my life” question. For some, it inflicts more internal agony than for others.

Of course Bard’s story ends on a hopeful note and obviously she finds success as a writer with the publication of this book (and, she’s got a blog that’s worth a view). Overall, it’s a delightful read with the kind of depth that makes it a worthy piece that’s almost like a comforting compote or strawberry rhubarb crumble for those younger readers stumbling through their twenties, trying to make of sense of everything that they didn’t anticipate – maybe even a lunch date in Paris.

Note: I haven’t prepared any of the recipes from any of the 22 Chapters and Epilogue yet, but here are some that have me salivating:

– Potato and Celery Root Mash (this would be wonderful with some meatloaf)

–  “Student” Charlotte (semi-homemade version of the real deal)

–  Lentils with White Wine, Herbs, and Tomatoes (I’m on a lentil kick right now, and this sounds rich yet figure friendly)

– Omelet with Goat Cheese and Artichoke Hearts (Simple but appropriate dish for spring)

– Gwendal’s Quick and Dirty Chocolate Soufflé Cake (Chocolate in one of its more sinful forms)

NYC’s other “Mast-erpieces”

Sailing to South America for cocoa beans. Hand-sorting each and every seed. Separating the nibs from their husks in a specially designed contraption that could double as a ventilator. Letting the ground beans rest for periods of up to 2 weeks. Then lovingly wrapping those glossy chocolate bars in paper pretty enough for fancy soaps. The Mast brothers, Rick and Michael, take pride in personally hand crafting each chocolate bar that leaves their store. Based in Brooklyn this familial duo is New York City’s only bean to chocolate maker of its kind.

Even though this video has been posted on various blogs, I wanted to show it here as I count down the days until my trip to New York City on the 15th, and hopefully, a trip to one of the stores in Manhattan that carries Mast Brothers Chocolate. One day at the MOMA, the next in Dean & Deluca’s confection aisle.