Lunch in Paris

I just finished reading a book I thoroughly enjoyed—Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard. It’s a little bit romance, a little bit travelogue, a little bit foodie … in other words, tailor-made for me. The American Bard (mid-twenties) met a Frenchman (also mid-twenties) at an academic conference in London, which led, eventually, to that fateful lunch in Paris.

Lunch in Paris

Toward the end of the book, Bard describes a New Year’s Eve dinner at the home of some of her French family; her parents flew in from New York for the occasion. The host had cooked sixteen separate dishes (because there were sixteen guests).

We sat down at eight p.m. and didn’t get up from the table until four thirty in the morning, except for a brief pause at midnight for champagne. It was the most spectacular meal I’ve ever eaten. Like the triumphal procession in Act II of Aida, after the spear carriers come the chariots, after the chariots the cavalry, after the cavalry the dancing girls. And just when you think the stage can’t hold another thing, they bring out the elephants.

To start, there were small salads—the thinnest slivers of red and yellow pepper, slow roasted and glistening with olive oil, and the simplest blend of carrots and golden onions, heady with the smell of cumin.

Then came the fish, its sauce simmered with saffron and tomatoes, thickened with ground almonds. I served myself the merest spoonful or two. “Elle est stratégique.” Affif winked with approval. “She knows what’s coming.” I wanted to savor every bite, even if it was a small one, nothing blurred by the rebellion of a tired palate. I plucked a toothpick out of an oblong white calamari. It was stuffed with rice and peppers, a curly violet-tipped tentacle poking out here and there.

I looked around the table. … I had been working so hard these past few years to figure out what France was about—how it operates, what makes it tick. In fact, most of what was important to the French was around this table: close family, old friends, and fabulous food. I knew I would never entirely leave my New York self behind—never stop wanting, never stop striving—but I also had my place here, among these people.*

The book has two or three recipes at the end of each chapter, and lots of interesting observations from an American, loved by a Frenchman, trying to assimilate and be accepted. If you like this type of book, I think you’ll be delighted by Lunch in Paris.

It turns out there is a Lunch in Paris website, which includes a blog with recipes and luscious photos. (Sadly, not updated in a while, but it seems Bard and her husband opened an ice cream company. They’ve been busy.) Also since the first book, they’ve moved to Provence and started a family. You can see more about this on the Facebook page. (Scaramouche has a Facebook page too.) Here I learned Bard has a new book due in April 2015: Picnic in Provence. I’m looking forward to it.

* Transcribed by me from pages 296–286 of the hardcover edition of Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes (Little, Brown, 2010).

I’m Going on a Trip and I’m Taking …

My friend, author Laura L. Smith, likes to travel as much as I do, and when I saw this piece she wrote on packing for an international trip, I knew I wanted to share it with you. Laura has a whole alphabet of things you shouldn’t forget to pack. I particularly loved these:

N You’ll see smell and experience so many amazing things on your travels. You’ll want a place to jot them down. It also comes in handy to play tic tac toe if your flight/train/bus is delayed.

Open mind. Things will be different. You might have your meal served to you on a leaf instead of a plate. You may order chips and get fries. There may not be air-conditioning. You might not be able to drink the water. But life is an adventure. Be open to the people, culture and experience God has in store for you.

Yes. Yes, you would like to try the fried plantains. Yes, you would like to try jumping in the lake. Yes, you would like to hear the local’s explanation of the plants growing at the side of the road or why there’s a parade on a random Tuesday. You will learn so much if you’re willing to try. Never agree to something that makes you feel uncomfortable like going off with strangers, taking a ride somewhere you hadn’t prearranged or drinking the water in Central America, but be ready to say yes to something new.

Laura’s attitude and mine are the same—I tell people all the time they must be prepared to be out of their comfort zone when they travel to another country. It always astonishes me when people whine about some little thing that is “different.” I say so what? I’ll be home soon enough. 🙂

(If you’d like a for-real packing checklist, here’s Mike Hyatt’s, another friend of mine. I’m especially impressed that he includes a corkscrew for opening wine.)

I Want to Take This Trip!

I’ve just finished reading Ben Hatch’s Are We Nearly There Yet?: A Family’s 8,000-Mile Car Journey Around Britain, which I bought because it was a travelogue and (as you’ve probably guessed) I’m a fan of those. Hatch is a humorist, too, so he made this five-month trip with two “under-fours” (that is, children under the age of four) hilarious, though at times I was squirming. (It should be noted there is also a moving subplot about his father’s final illness and death.)

Then I discovered this article, in which Pamela Paul (editor of the New York Times Book Review) also discusses the trials and rewards of traveling with children.

The hope is that despite them, participants young and old manage to eke out some modicum of enjoyment, drawn into one another’s world by the sheer force of parental or filial appetite, tolerating or tantruming through the rest.

But when, I wondered, would my children want to do more of what I want to do, or vice versa, and when might those tendencies magically converge? At what age can a child truly appreciate the cultural value of an international journey, on mutually agreeable terms?

As spring break approached this year, I thought I might have finally hit that moment with my nearly 9-year-old daughter — especially if I left my two smaller children, boys whose predilections would confine us largely to playgrounds and ice cream parlors, behind. Perhaps I could take Beatrice to London, a city I lived in 15 years ago and have traveled to frequently since, as a test case: Would she be old enough to appreciate my London — a city of quirky bookshops, World War history and street scenery straight out of “Bleak House” — and also make it her own? By pursuing our shared passions for books and theater in a city that specializes in both, might we achieve that elusive family-travel synchronicity?

The answer is yes. Honestly, the trip looks like so much fun I’m saving this article in case I get a chance to go back to London. And I won’t need a kid to love it as much as Paul did. It just looks like an interesting itinerary.

I didn’t get to truly travel with my child until he was sixteen (interestingly, also a trip to England), so I missed the particular joys described by both Hatch and Paul. But it is, in fact, really delightful to introduce one’s offspring to something special like international travel when they are old enough to appreciate the privilege. Enjoy!

It was a fun trip! And a dream come true.

It was a fun trip! And a dream come true.

An Introduction to a Wonderful Blog: Patrick Comerford

The “about” blurb at this blogsite

I am a priest in the Church of Ireland (Anglican), Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Adjunct Assistant Professor in the University of Dublin (Trinity College Dublin) and a Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. For many years I worked as a journalist with the Lichfield Mercury, the Wexford People and The Irish Times, where I was Foreign Desk Editor until 2002.

… is intriguing, to be sure, but it just doesn’t begin to describe how much delight I get from it.

Part of it, I think, is Patrick (and I feel entitled to call him that since we’ve met, shared a meal, and had a good conversation) is based in Dublin and often writes about places I’ve been or am otherwise familiar with. But it’s also because we share similar interests: travel, history, culture, genealogy, old buildings, the beauty of nature … and good eating!

Yes, the Reverend Comerford knows a good meal when he sees one, and restaurant mentions often turn up in the blog. When I am planning an Ireland itinerary, I search his archives for ideas of places to eat—because I know he has good taste (ahem). And since he’s been blogging since 2007, that’s a pretty substantial backlog to search, friends.

He’s done quite a bit of traveling—a quick glance through the tags turns up Italy, Greece, Spain, Turkey, England, Sicily and others (check city names too)—and those posts are full of photos and historical background and everything else I’ve come to love from this blog.

Patrick likes to walk and ruminate … and he takes lovely photos too. Here are some sample of posts I’ve been delighted by:

Bloomsday in Dublin

Achill Island

St. Lachtain’s Church (almost fifteen centuries in use!)

• search results for Happy Pear (restaurant)

Scroll through the tags. You’ll see things like “beach walks” and “river walks” too. Some posts are short and fun, others are longer and in depth. And use the search function to drill even deeper. I think you’ll really love this one!

Note: I’m going to start introducing you to some other interesting bloggers, so stay tuned. 🙂