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"Mastering the Art of French Eating" by Ann Mah

This is a fun and informative read. Mah and her diplomat husband were offered a post in France, but just after they moved into their apartment, hubbie's orders were changed: a year in Baghdad, no spouses allowed. It was a plum assignment, not to be turned down.

That left Mah on her own, bereft, bored, and lonely. So she thinks about another diplomat's wife: Julia Child. She decides to spend the year studying, researching, cooking, and eating classic French dishes, including boeuf bourgignon, cassoulet, and even the dreaded andouillette.

There are lots of tidbits of French culture buried here, and a few forays into French history. It's a quick read - highly readable and worth picking up.

My only negative comment is that Mah is a bit too self-deprecating. For example, when a waiter corrects her when she tries to order her steak frites "moyen" and he suggests "a point" she cringes at the criticism. (I would have thanked the waiter gratefully.) This kind of behavior is repeated several times. But this is a minor quibble; the book is well worth reading.

I've now started "A Bite-Sized History of France" by Stéphane Hénaut and Jeni Mitchell. So far, so good. I'll report back later.

Posted by
3612 posts

I too enjoyed that book. I read it in 2014 and Amazon then led me down a rabbit hole that I am still immersed in of interesting books on food and eating in France. Have you read Mimi Thorisson’s “A Kitchen in France?” Mimi is an impossibly photogenic woman who wrote the book about seasonal recipes that she made and served her family while living in Medoc. Talk about living a dream life. The pictures and recipes are lovely.

Posted by
2460 posts

Also, I recommend a book by Graham Robb, a British writer who specializes in French history and literature. The Discovery of France: A Historic Geography from the Revolution to the First World War. The author cycled 14,000 miles over 4 years over the parts of France outside Paris to gather information about how the geography influenced the language and culture of the French people. Fascinating and written in a witty, charming style. Not at all dry. Wonderful read.
I know this is not about food but might interest you before your trip to France.

Posted by
6198 posts

Thank you both for the recommendations. The Robb book sounds familiar... I'll look for both of these. I also picked up "C'est la Vie" by Suzy Gershman, but haven't had a chance to look at it yet.

We're about a month out from our trip, and I woke up this morning in full panic mode. I don't know enough! I'm not ready! Quelle horreur!