Thursday, April 9, 2015

Picnic in Provence

By Elizabeth Bard
Little, Brown 2015
384 Pages Memoir/Cookbook

"Impose your chance, hold tight to your happiness, and go toward your risk. Looking your way, they’ll follow." Rene Char.
I am trying to understand why I am attracted to memoirs about cooking. I have read several over the past few years. Picnic in Provence attracted me because I am feeling trapped in my house and traveling to Provence via food seemed like a good idea.

This is the second in a series of memoirs Bard has written that involves her life cooking, eating and creating a life in France. The first, Lunch in Paris, takes Bard from the United States to Paris where she meets her husband, Gwendal, who is a digital movie producer. Picnic in Provence begins with the couple and their infant son traveling “en vacance” to a small village in Provence, CĂ©reste, following the trail of a French poet and resistance fighter, Rene Char. When they were offered an opportunity to buy the house where Char had lived and worked, they jumped at the chance, bought the house, and changed their lives, entirely. As Bard says, “We have stumbled into an unlikely life. All the five-year plans in the world wouldn’t have gotten us here. Yet it’s exactly the right place to be.”

Even though she has been in France for ten years, Bard still feels like she has a lot to learn in order to be considered French. At the same time that she feels this personal alienation, she  also feels very close to the community that they have adopted, and that has adopted them. Bard is bold enough to ask lots of food questions, and the villagers are eager to help her. She learns to make the foods of the region, and enjoys meeting the farmers of the area and learning how the foods of the area are picked and are cooked.
Intermingled with the cooking, there are some moving moments as Bard learns how to be a mother and how to forgive some of the circumstances from her past. This is primarily an upbeat memoir, because Bard is an upbeat person. At times her narrative is poignant, but mostly it is fun.

Now, about the cooking. Each chapter has several examples of meals cooked, either by her or by someone close to her. She is learning the French diet and French cooking, so she is willing to explore all the staples of the diet in Provence. Figs are her favorite. (I don’t think I have ever done anything with a fig but eat one.) These recipes are mostly not 15 minutes to the table recipes, although she does include some of those. Primarily, her recipes are cooked with the natural ingredients of the region. All of them look delicious.

The biggest news of the book is that Bard and her husband decide to go into the ice cream business. It takes a year to get Scaramouche Artisan Glacier up and running, but within two years it has been named one of the ten best ice cream shops in France. Everything they make is with natural ingredients from the region, and they are not afraid to put unusual ingredients together. I am not sure that Lavender Honey and Thyme Ice Cream would sell in the United States, but it is a favorite at their shop.

The recipe that looked the best to me was the Arugula Salad with butternut squash, roasted red onions, walnuts and fresh goat cheese salad. I’m going to try that next week.

I traveled to Provence years ago, but I was able to travel there again by reading Picnic in Provence. You will love it, too.
Some other cookbook/memoirs that I can recommend are: Life from Scratch by Sasha Martin and Day of Honey by Annia Ciezadlo.

Elizabeth Bard's website.

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