Book Reviews

Mastering the Art of French Eating
by Ann Mah

Ivan Ramen
by Ivan Ramen

Third Thursday Potluck Cookbook
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Mint Tea & Minarets
by Kitty Morse

Prospero’s Kitchen
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Mushroom: A Global History
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One Straw Revolution
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Fried Walleye & Cherry Pie
by Peggy Wolff

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War
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unrest
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The Hungry Ear
by Kevin Young

Best Food Writing 2012
by Holly Hughes

Dinner: a Love Story
by Jenny Rosenstrach

My Kitchen Wars
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American Cookery
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Apron Anxiety
by Alyssa Shelasky

Cucina Povera
by Pamela Sheldon Johns

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
by Laurie Colwin

The Social Life of Coffee
by Brian Cowan

The Raw and the Cooked
by Jim Harrison

Modernist Cuisine
by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet

Horsemen of the Esophagus
by Jason Fagone

Coffee Philosophy for Everyone
by Scott F. Parker and Michael W. Austin

Corked
by Kathryn Borel

Food Rules
by Michael Pollan

On Reading
by Rilke and Ruskin

America the Edible
by Adam Richman

Interview with the author of Party Girls,
Diane Goodman

Death Warmed Over
by Lisa Rogak

How to Cook a Crocodile
by Bonnie Lee Black

Great Food,
All Day Long

by Maya Angelou

Love Bites: Marital Skirmishes in the Kitchen
by Christopher Hirst

Best Food Writing 2011
edited by Holly Hughes

Balzac's Omelette
by Anka Muhlstein

The Little House Cookbook
by Barbara M. Walker

Muffins and Mayhem
by Suzanne Beecher

As Always, Julia:
The Letters of Julia Child and Avis De Voto

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by Jason Wilson

The Particular Sadness
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by Aimee Bender

The Bluberry Years
by Jim Minick

Livingston and the Tomato
by A. W. Livingston

Tomatoland
by Barry Estabrook

Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey
by Robert V. Camuto

Best Food Writing 2010 edited
by Holly Hughes

Curry
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Four Fish
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The Physiology
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Far Flung
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The Food of a Younger Land
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The Dirty Life
by Kristin Kimball

Ratio
by Michael Ruhlman

Cooking with Italian Grandmothers
by Jessica Theroux

Blood, Bones & Butter
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Candyfreak
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The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book
by Alice B. Toklas

Medium Raw
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Appetite City
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Twain's Feast
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97 Orchard
by Jane Ziegelman

Born Round
by Frank Bruni

Cakewalk
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Full English by
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Following Fish by
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Eating Animals by
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Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese
by Eric LeMay

For You, Mom. Finally
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Farm City
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Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant
edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler

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The Hamburger
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Gastrology
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Eat, Memory edited by Amanda Hesser

Eat My Globe
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Eating
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What We Eat When We Eat Alone
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The Sweet Life
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Modern Spice
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Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris

 

by Ann Mah
Pemela Dorman Books/Viking Press, 2013
273 pages
ISBN: 0670025992

Review by Leo Racicot

I knew a woman who suffered a series of sudden losses and shocks, left herself for dead and was spending the greater part of her days and nights lost deep inside an easy chair, a grey fleece blanket pulled up over her head and her sorrow. Nothing her friends and family did -- not cajoling, not prayers, not promises -- would wrest her from this big and powerful weight until a neighbor she hardly knew or spoke to, hearing of this woman's flight from daily life and living, walked her over a small, hot bowl of homemade soup, and fed her. Yes. Here was an adult woman carefully spoon-feeding another, and silently, and the other not resisting but leaning in hungrily to the spoon with its magic elixir and the kind hand casting it. The neighbor returned to perform this ritual every day. Slowly, the Wounded One came back to herself. She remembered the beautiful flower she had once been and allowed herself to blossom again...

Author Ann Mah reminded me of this story when I was given her Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris to read. Mah's story is so similar --

As her book begins, Mah is beside herself with excitement when her Diplomatic Corps husband, Calvin, is given a three-year assignment in Paris, a city Mah has dreamed about ever since she was a kid. The newly-married couple happily leave their New York City apartment and lifestyle behind and Paris becomes a honeymoon land for them, so in love with each other are they, and with France and its capital city. But no sooner does France roll out its Welcome Mat than a sudden change of plans whisks Mah's husband away to a solo gig in Iraq, a danger spot where no spouses are allowed to go. Devastated, Mah sinks to her bed in a heap where she cries until not a tear is left to wet her pillow. But -- formidable spirit that she is, the author resolves to combat her husband's departure by reminding herself that a Paris apartment and all of France at her feet is not the worst way to cope with an absent husband (and a possibly faltering marriage ?) Interested from a young age in cuisine and in the origins of where a particular, traditional recipe originated, she latches on to the idea of going on a hunt, a sure pilgrimage, to discover how and where and why certain French foods came to be, and evolved into how they are prepared and eaten today.

Thus, we are treated to Paris where Steak Frites was born, to Brittany and its honeycombed, laced crepes, so airy-thin, they melt in your mouth, to Lyon and its famous Salade, to Provence's Soupe au Pistou and to the regions of Toulouse, Castelnaudary and Carcassone and their divinely-inspired Cassoulet. Further adventures find Mah drooling over Choucroute in Alsace-Lorraine, Fondue at Savoie, a practically orgasmic Boeuf Bourgignon courtesy of Burgundy and in Aveyron, an undeniably unequalled Aligot guaranteed to make you hungry or honey, you're dead.

Mah swiftly and handily won me over from the get-go; her story is immediately involving and her made-to-order prose is so satisfying, I gulped it down in one sitting, something I hardly ever do with any book. She extends the hand of her culinary curiosity and we greedily take hold and follow, for she understands well the concept of 'spirit of place', so important in travelogues of this kind. Her explorations into the land and ways of France, the French way of eating and French customs and culture, are so uniquely hers -- she makes them hers -- we feel we are walking beside her through the alleys and avenues, vineyards and forests she visits, or sitting beside her in the restaurants as she tastes her first Andouillette (Yuk!) or a perfect, lovingly-concocted Pistou au Chocolat (Glorious!).

Mah comes to know the spiritually healing properties of food and of being cooked for, and fed or, lacking someone to hold the spoon, of feeding oneself. Her odyssey here is culinary, yes, but also an emotional Hejira made to that Holiest of Cities -- the Self.

I won't dare spoil her story by revealing if Calvin comes back to her from Iraq, or if she joins him there. Or whether they ever see each other again. Whether her husband returns or not, Mah's real journey is propelled by a brave and deliberate choice to replace loneliness with the far more desirable Solitude, to use the curative powers of a foreign country and foreign food to resurrect her flattened spirit, to awaken in her a new Ann Mah, to say hello to a new tomorrow...