Monday, August 31, 2009

The Kitchen Reader - The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz

(Picture courtesy of

I am proud to be a member of a new online book group, The Kitchen Reader. Each month, we vote for a foodie book to be read by the group, and write up our reviews on the last day of the month.

Our first book is The Sweet Life in Paris - Delicious Adventures in the World's Most Glorious and Perplexing City by David Lebovitz. In this book, David describes various aspects of his daily life in Paris through his American eyes.

The book opens with a chapter on David's pre-Parisian existence and the reason why he moved to Paris, followed by a chapter on his trials and tribulations of settling in, with the remaining chapters each dealing with a distinct aspect of Parisian life. Some of the diverse topics covered include dress, manners, fish, coffee, strikes, queue jumping and cheese. The book concludes with David stating that, even though not every day in Paris is sweet, he now counts himself among the quirky people that make Paris a special place.

The standout factor of this book for me is David's humour - on a number of occasions, I found myself chuckling or, in the case of the chapter on David's earlier attempts at the French language, laughing out loud! I was laughing with him, not at him, as I am one of the large numbers of people in English-speaking countries who, sadly, only speak English. One of my favourite anecdotes was David's recounting of how he tried to impress his fellow guests at a dinner party by describing his visit to a statue of the Virgin Mary, when he instead rendered them speechless by confusing the French word for "virgin" with the French word for the male appendage!

If I ever visit Paris again, I am sure that David's etiquette tips will be invaluable. Knowing to dress smartly in public, not to cut the nose off the cheese wedge, to always greet shopkeepers on entering and leaving shops and to not touch anything I don't want to buy are tips that are sure to stand me in good stead. There are also other useful tips, such as where to buy a terrific hot chocolate, how to survive the street where the said hot chocolate shop is located, and to heed mother's tip to "go" before going out because of the dearth of working public conveniences in Paris.

For the cook or baker, this book is liberally peppered with sweet and savoury French or French-style recipes, which is an added bonus. I have not yet had the chance to make any of these recipes, but rest assured I will be when I get the time (to be added to my ever growing list!). Accompanying each recipe is a short anecdote from David about its significance, together with tips for making, storing and/or serving the dish concerned. There is a handy recipe index at the back of the book so that you need not frantically flip through the pages to find that too-die-for expresso caramel icecream recipe or the bacon and blue cheese cake that you have been day-dreaming about. As for me, I have bookmarked the chocolate macarons and the dulce de leche brownies - mmm, mmm. There are also some fabulous sounding main courses that I would like to try my hand at, including the braised turkey in beaujolais noveau with prunes and the chicken tagine with apricots and almonds.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, as it had a little bit of everything - some good travel stories, a sprinkle of humour, a dash of interesting local recipes and some downright interesting and useful information about life in Paris.

Thank you to the founder of The Kitchen Reader, Jennifer of Cooking for Comfort, for establishing this group. I've had fun reading this month's book, and look forward to next month's selection, which is Julie & Julia: 365 days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Kitchen Apartment. And don't forget to see what the other Kitchen Readers though of David's book by visiting the links in the Kitchen Reader blogroll.


Jennifer said...

What a WONDERFUL review! You thought of EVERYTHING!

David's book was really awesome...what a wonderful selection for our first read as a group!

I'm so happy that you loved the book and that you are a part of our group!!!

Cakelaw said...

And thank you, Jennifer, for setting up this group!

TeaLady said...

I think I have almost all of the recipes marked. Will I have time to actually try them!! Hope so.

Loved your review - you did cover all the really good parts.

I will definitely read this one again.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Ahh I wish this book was out before our trip to Paris! I knew about greeting the shopkeepers on entering and leaving a shop but didn't know that about the cheese!

Karen said...

This was a fun book to read. Lucky for us David has such a great sense of humor, while offering some good tips for surviving Paris without making too many Parisians angry.

I plan to make the bacon blue cheese cake and the dulce de leche brownies, for sure!

Cakelaw said...

Hi Margie, I agree - it is hard to choose from all the great recipes, and it is indeed a good book.

Hi Lorraine, me either - the first thing I do with a cheese wedge is to lop off the pointy end, so it's kind of a shock to learn that this is a no-no. (But surely better than cutting it into cubes like some others mentioned by David?/)

Hi Karen, I loved it - David managed to make his observations funny but respectful.

Peabody said...

I have yet to read this. Looks awesome.

Cakelaw said...

Hi Peabody, It is a LOL kind of book - well worth a read.

margot said...

This was such a great book, I also laughed out loud many times. A good friend of mine lives (and blogs about) living in Paris and shares some similar anecdotes to adjusting to life in France.

Cakelaw said...

Hi Margot, I loved it too. How fun to have a friend living in Paris! What is your friend's blog address (if public)? I'd love to read it.

Julia @ Mélanger said...

What a fabulous review. I have this book and not read it yet. I'm now itching to pick it up! :)

Cakelaw said...

Hi Julia, Do - especially when you need a good laugh.

Anonymous said...

I am finally back in town and able to read everyone's reviews.

What a nice overview of the book! I laughed out loud a few times too, which I don't usually do when I'm reading. I agree that this was funny as well as practical; when I'm back in Paris someday, I'll review his tips and I'm sure my trip will go smoothly (except for the language part).

I'm looking forward to seeing what recipes people try, but I know that we all have LONG lists and it's hard to get to everything!