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Mussels with White Wine and Fennel inspired by Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard for Cook the Books

A love story set in Paris that is NOT over-romanticised. But IS utterly romantic. That is what Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard is to me. The trials and tribulations of a courtship, a marriage, and the relationships that form during this time from across seas and language barriers and cultural differences are honest. Their union is almost unlikely...an American woman who (of course) who believes that anything is possible and a Frenchman who automatically respects his station...his "place"... in life learn to embrace each others cultures and come up with a life that fits them. But not without fear and tears and frustration.

The scenes at the French markets entranced me. I could close my eyes (okay, not actually close my eyes...I was reading, duh) and hear the coo of the French farmer selling his speckled apricots to the Americana. I could see the impatience of the perennially thin, polished, experienced French women...I could see it in their eyes as they wait for Elizabeth to take her time fumbling through the correct terms in a language that was not (initially) her own. I could feel the sense of wonder...and I wanted to be stuck, twirling in the midst of it...soaking it all in.

The food scenes and the recipes woven into every chapter...every tale...are probably my favorite parts of the book. And guess what? They're as integral to Bard's story as any of her difficult trials. From the comfort meals of her childhood...super-sized Jewish American feasts...always having plenty of food for leftovers to the "French way" of eating...and the real reason that French women don't get fat. I love that food is not an afterthought, but a normal part of everyday life for Elizabeth, Gwendal, and her new extended family. I'm pretty sure food is one of the reasons she fits into the French scene so well. While I was on the verge of making "Better than French" Onion Soup and the Lemon Sorbet with Vodka, I decided that I really, really wanted to make some mussels...I was inspired by the vacation on the island of Bell-Ile, off the coast of Brittany...and American body image vs. French body image. Plus, my own husband has been passively reminding me that he's been wanting mussels for more than a year (far more) now. What better time than while reading about another cross-culture marriage? He was full and smiling when nothing remained in front of him but a pile of shells. And so was I.
Mussels with White Wine and Fennel
Moules Mariniéres
adapted from Lunch in Paris
serves 2
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2 lb. mussels, debearded (discard any open or broken shells)
2 Tbs. butter
2 Tbs. olive oil
½ lg. red onion, diced
1 small fennel bulb, finely diced
5 cloves garlic, sliced paper thin
1 ripe tomato,diced
1 c. white wine
freshly ground black pepper
fennel fronds
big loaf of French bread, for sopping up the juices
In a large, wide, heavy skillet or frying pan (with a cover), melt the butter with the oil.  Sauté onion, garlic, & fennel until soft, ~5-10 minutes.  Add tomato and cook for another couple of minutes.  Add wine and mussels, then stir to coat.  Put the lid on your pan and steam for up to 10 minutes over medium-low heat (you may want to start checking your mussels after 3 or 4 minutes...different varieties may cook faster).    When all of the mussels are open, they are ready.  Discard any that do not open.  Grate some pepper over the whole dish and run your knife through the fennel fronds a few times, then add them to the pot.  Toss everything together, then divide amongst bowls and serve.  Use the bread for sopping up the wine-tinged, sea-scented juices.  Wash down with a bottle of wine.
This month's Cook the Books selection, Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard was chosen by one of our three CTB hosts, Johanna of Food Junkie not Junk Food.

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