September 30, 2007
On Rue Tatin
On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town by Susan Hermann Loomis
Nonfiction - Travelogue/Culinary Memoir
Finished on 9/24/07
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)
Armchair Travel Reading Challenge #2
When I arrived at the train station in Normandy I was met by a tall, thin, harried-looking woman who drove me to her large stone house. We entered a huge courtyard with its sculpted privets and riotous dahlias and I saw the image of all I love in France. Solid and square with graceful proportions, it was a maison bourgeoise, its facade a parade of tall windows each hung with a different antique lace curtain. Geraniums and pansies spilled out of window boxes, an antique bicycle leaned against the wall, the wicker basket on its back fender overflowing with petunias.
Susan Loomis arrived in Paris twenty years ago with little more than a student loan and the contents of a suitcase to sustain her. But what began then as an apprenticeship at La Varenne École de Cuisine evolved into a lifelong immersion in French cuisine and culture, culminating in permanent residency in 1994. On Rue Tatin chronicles her journey to an ancient little street in Louviers, one of Normandy’s most picturesque towns.
With lyrical prose and wry candor, Loomis recalls the miraculous restoration that she and her husband performed on the dilapidated convent they chose for their new residence. As its ochre and azure floor tiles emerged, challenges outside the dwelling mounted. From squatters to a surly priest next door, along with a close-knit community wary of outsiders, Loomis tackled the social challenges head-on, through persistent dialogue--and baking.
On Rue Tatin includes delicious recipes that evoke the essence of this region, such as Apple and Thyme Tart, Duck Breast with Cider, and Braised Chicken in White Wine and Mustard. Transporting readers to a world where tradition is cherished, On Rue Tatin provides a touching glimpse of the camaraderie, exquisite food, and simple pleasures of daily life in a truly glorious corner of Normandy.
What a charming book! And, I have absolutely no idea when or where I got it. I suspect the pretty cover enticed me, but I have no recollection of the purchase. Thanks to Lesley's Armchair Traveler Reading Challenge, I picked it out of my nonfiction stack, and am so pleased to have discovered such an entertaining author. It's a wonderfully readable narrative, which pulled me in right from the very beginning, making me long for a trip to France (and a larger kitchen!). Loomis writes with a very conversational voice and I found it easy to envision her home, family and the surrounding village. She's the type of person I'd love to have for a next door neighbor. Imagine the delicious treats and cooking tips shared over a cup of café au lait!
I have several pages marked with sticky notes, but the majority turn out to be references to the town of Louviers. I want to be prepared should I ever get lucky enough to visit this quaint village.
The book is filled with lots of tempting recipes, all of which are preceded by one or two paragraphs describing either the origin of the recipe or why it's one of the author's favorites. Here are just a few mouth-watering examples: Melting Apple Custard, Pear and Honey Clafoutis, and Audrey's Yogurt Cake. I didn't find quite as many to test as I did in Consuming Passions, but I wound up enjoying this delightful book much more so than West's. And, should I ever find myself wondering how in the world to prepare leg of wild boar, I can simply turn to page 202 and follow Loomis' detailed recipe for Rôti de Cuisse de Sanglier. Then again, seeing as how wild boar are a bit scarce in Nebraska, I suppose I can always substitute with a pork shoulder or haunch.
And, of course now I'm tempted to buy everything Loomis has written, starting with Cooking at Home on Rue Tatin and Tarte Tatin.
But even more tempting is to make plans to do this!