Confinement reading list, part 2: Books on French food and culture
Even though it seems like we’re THIS CLOSE to being out of confinement, the reality is that we’re still probably going to be spending more time inside – or at least apart from others – than we have in the past. I’ve been using this time to catch up on all that reading I’ve been promising to do (especially as a way to balance out my time on social media…). So here’s a list of books I’ve compiled to keep you entertained while we do what we can to flatten the curve and keep it that way. These are books that I love and have found entertaining and helpful for learning about French food and culture. Many of them are available as e-books for instant gratification!
Good, Independent Resources for Buying Books
Wondering where to buy books while supporting independent retailers? Here are some good places to start!
Bookshop (beta) – United States-based Bookshop is on a mission to help you support your local bookstore from the convenience of your home. At least 10% of each purchase is split among participating independent bookstores. They do have some books available in digital format through My Must Reads.
Hive.co.uk – UK indie bookshop lovers will love Hive, as they also give back a portion of every purchase to independent bookstores (and you can choose which one, if you like). Delivery within the UK is free and (once this coronavirus thing is over) you can even choose to pick up your book at a participating bookstore. They also offer ebooks!
Wordery – If you live outside of the United States or the United Kingdom, no worries! Wordery has free delivery to over 100 countries – and you can be confident that your money isn’t going to Amazon or one of the bookselling sites that they sneakily own (I’m looking at you, Book Depository). They only sell physical books.
Rakuten Kobo – I love how buying e-books through Kobo allows you to support your local indie bookstore if you sign up through them. For quite some time, Kobo has been my e-book app of choice because a portion of each of my purchases go to support Women & Children First (my local bookshop when I lived in Chicago). So, check the website of your local bookstore and sign up through them if you want them to get credit for your purchases. If not, consider buying e-books through Bookshop or Hive (links above). It’s a little less convenient than buying them on your Kindle, but your money will go to a much better place!
A note on affiliate links: There are links on this post that are affiliate links, which allow me to earn a small commission at no extra cost to you when you purchase something using one of those links. I only post things that I love, and think are worth the investment. You can always search for the books I mention directly if you prefer (though I hope you’ll choose this easy and free way to support my work). I chose my affiliates carefully and you won’t see Amazon or any company owned by them on this list.
French Wine & Beverage Books
Cork Dork, by Bianca Bosker
I loved this book so much I have read it at least twice! An entertaining, funny, and educational look at what happens when the author decides to try to pass the Court of Master Sommeliers certified sommelier exam – in only one year! Interspersed with the story are insights on learning how to taste wine, breaking into the wine industry, what goes on behind the scenes in restaurants and wineries, and more.
The Wine Bible, by Karen MacNeil
This was one of the first “big” books I bought when I started to study wine. The Wine Bible is approachable, fun, and will make you want to get out there and start tasting wines from all over the world. I love how I can open to any page and read something interesting and enlightening. My one word of caution is that she skips over southwest France entirely. (sad face)
Aperitif: Cocktail Hour the French Way, by Rebekah Peppler
Written by a James Beard Award finalist, Aperitif: Cocktail Hour the French Way was named one of the best cookbooks of the year by the Food Network. It covers everything that celebrates the French tradition of the aperitif – kicking off the evening with light drinks and snacks. The book includes 100 recipes for cocktails and snacks, all which are easy to make at home, but still will impress your guests. For anyone who has ever wondered what is in all those bottles behind a French bar!
French Cheese Books
The Whole Fromage: Adventure in the Delectable World of French Cheese, by Kathe Lison
This book does an admirable job of covering why French cheese is so delicious and amazing. Author Kathe Lison travels around France with the goal to learn all about cheese and to share her lessons gleaned from volcanic rock cheese caves to ancient monasteries, and everywhere in between. Each chapter takes a look at different French cheese, from Comté to Roquefort and more.
Ending the War on Artisan Cheese: The Inside Story of Government Overreach and the Struggle to Save Traditional Raw Milk Cheesemakers, by Catherine Donnelly
Another one on my “to be read” pile: “A prominent food scientist defends the use of raw milk in traditional artisan cheesemaking… Centuries-old cheese styles like Fourme d’Ambert and Cantal are nearing extinction, leading Prince Charles to decry the “bacteriological correctness” of European regulators. The dirty secret is that Listeria and other bacterial outbreaks occur in pasteurized cheeses more often than in raw milk cheeses, and traditional processes like ash-ripening have been proven safe.”
Other French Food Books
The Foie Gras Wars: How a 5,000 Year Old Delicacy Inspired the World’s Fiercest Food Fight, by Mark Caro
A cornerstone of my research into foie gras as I was developing my Victor Hugo Market tour! This book, written by a Chicago journalist, uses the city’s foie gras ban to explore both sides of this controversial – but delicious – food that is such an integral part of the cuisine in southwest France. I connected with this book on many levels, having lived through the period of Chicago history when foie gras was banned (my neighborhood alderman was the author of the ban and is a prominent figure in the book) and now living in Toulouse, so close to the epicenter of foie gras production in France. You’ll learn about the history of foie gras, how it is produced, and arguments both for and against its production. The writing is also excellent and I enjoyed every minute of this book!
Mastering the Art of French Eating: From Paris Bistros to Farmhouse Kitchens, Lessons in Food and Love, by Ann Mah
Another book I’ve read multiple times, this book is the memoir of journalist Ann Mah who is the wife of a diplomat assigned to Paris for a three-year stint. When her husband is sent to Iraq, Mah has to create a new life in her new country, which she does through discovering the culinary delights of Paris and the surrounding regions. Accompanied by a recipes, this book explores French delicacies like salted butter caramel, soupe au pistou, andouillette, and more.
Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light, by Mort Rosenblum
Chocolate is delicious, but there’s so much more to the delicious food than it being, well, delicious. Author and famed foodie, Mort Rosenblum, explores the world of chocolate. From Mexican dishes that incorporate it to French chocolatiers who create artisan bonbons and from cacao plantations to the world chocolate empire producers, this book will give you the history and the background of one of the world’s favorite foods. When I was doing research for my Chocolate & Pastry tour, this was one of the books that I most enjoyed reading.
Let’s Eat France!: 1,250 Specialty Foods, 375 Iconic Recipes, 350 Topics, 260 Personalities, Plus Hundreds of Maps, Charts, Tricks, Tips, and Anecdotes and Everything Else You Want to Know about the Food of France, by Francois-Regis Gaudry
My newest purchase was delivered just before we went into lock-down, for which I am grateful since this gorgeous book is not one you want to sit down and read through all at once. Take your time, flip through and graze the interesting illustrations, anecdotes, graphics, recipes, and deep dives about almost everything you never thought you needed to know about French gastronomy. Seriously, there is a whole page devoted to pictures of different varieties of figs and another page devoted to vintage Camembert labels!
Any books by David Lebovitz
An author who deserves his own section on this list! If you love France and French cooking, you need to read everything by Devid Lebovitz, including his eponymous blog. However, here are some of my favorite books featuring his trademark dry humor and impeccable recipes:
Drinking French: The Iconic Cocktails, Apéritifs, and Café Traditions of France, with 160 Recipes
His latest book that again, I was lucky enough to have delivered just before the lockdown. I haven’t had a chance to thoroughly read it yet, but I appreciate how it’s not just about alcoholic drinks. It also includes hot and cold non-alcoholic beverages that are central to French café culture, as well as recipes for snacks to go with those drinks.
L’Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making Paris my Home
If you’ve ever dreamed about buying a little apartment in Paris, this book is your nightmare. The true (and disaster-filled) story of purchasing and renovating his Parisian apartment is funny, cringe-worthy, highly entertaining, and instructive.
The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious–And Perplexing–City
Both cookbook and autobiography, The Sweet Life in Paris gives glimpses of Lebovitz’s daily life in Paris, some hysterical tips that he’s learned the hard way in some cases, and amazing recipes for dishes and desserts that have become a part of his Parisian story.
My Paris Kitchen: Recipe and Stories (A Cookbook)
Another fantastic collection of stories and 100 French-inspired recipes from Lebovitz, with beautiful photography to highlight how Parisians eat today. He takes classic French dishes and puts his own, modern touch on them, as well as introduces some lesser-known French fare.
The French Market Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes from My Parisian Kitchen, by Clotilde Dusoulier
Confession: I love this cookbook so much I have both the physical and e-book copies. As the wife of a vegetarian (we cook mostly vegetarian at home). One of my favorite features of this cookbook is that it is organized by the seasons, showing you what treasures you’ll find at the market during the course of the year. This cookbook proves that French cooking doesn’t have to revolve around meat! My favorite recipes include the Very Green Salad, Poor Man’s Bouillabaisse, and Goat Cheese and Rosemary Sablés.
Tasting Paris: 100 Recipes to Eat Like a Local: A Cookbook, by Clotilde Dusoulier
My second favorite cookbook by the blogger behind Chocolate & Zucchini. This one takes you on a tour by recipe through her favorite Parisian restaurants for any time of day. The selections I find myself making over and over are the Oven-roasted Ratatouille, Mushroom Bourguignon, and Earl Grey Madeleines (though I substitute my favorite black rose tea for the Early Grey). Interspersed with the recipes are profiles of beloved Parisian institutions, businesses, and artisans.
A Year in Cheese: A Seasonal Cheese Cookbook, by Alex Guarneri, Leo Guarneri, and Alessandro Grano
This book is brought to you by the team from the famous Parisian artisan cheese shop, Androuet, which was established in 1909. The fromagerie – and their associated restaurant in London Spitalfields – specializes in seasonal cheeses from France and Britain. Yes, you read that right. Just like fruits and vegetables, cheese is also seasonal (I tell this to guests on each of my market tours)! Learn more about what goes into creating delicious, seasonal cheese, and benefit from dozens of delicious seasonal cheese recipes as well.
In the French Kitchen with Kids: Easy, Everyday Dishes for the Whole Family to Make and Enjoy, by Mardi Michels
Are you stuck at home with your kids? Then this is a great book for you! Brought to you by Mardi Michels, a French teacher and the blogger behind eat. live. travel. write (as well as a person friend of mine), this book features recipes you can easily make with your young ones. It breaks down the notion that French food has to be fancy and complex to be delicious, and you’ll have your children helping you put together yummy meals in no time!
Books about French Culture
The New Paris: The People, Places & Ideas Fueling a Movement, by Lindsey Tramuta
Journalist Lindsey Tramuta documents the rapidly changing culture of a city that has been mired in tradition for centuries. She spotlights the trends and the new ways Parisians are approaching the food, wine, coffee, desserts, fashion, and art. I love how this book captures the innovative, entrepreneurial spirit of a new generation of French people in the nation’s capital.
60 Million Frenchmen Can’t be Wrong and The Bonjour Effect, by Julie Barlow and Jean-Benoit Nadeau
These two books by a husband and wife team of Canadian journalists/anthropologists explain why the French are the way they are and how to communicate with them effectively. Fascinating, with both a historical and modern perspective, these were some of the most useful books I have read before moving to France.
my first book! Its just come from the publishers "Are you the foie gras correspondent? Another slow news day in south west France"— chris bockman (@chrisbockman) May 17, 2018
First interview with @ladepechedumidi coming up…available to buy in bulk from @matadorbooks publishing etc for all friends and family pic.twitter.com/QG6M1Qn9vm
Are You the Foie Gras Correspondent?: Another Slow News Day in Southwest France, by Chris Bockman
Life here in SW France is by turns idyllic and bizarre and freelance BBC journalist Chris Bockman is here to report on all of it. This collection of stories and anecdotes from his years of covering the news of SW France for the benefit of Anglophones is entertaining and endearing. I gave my copy of this book to my dad for Christmas last year!
Paris Letters: One Woman’s Journey from the Fast Lane to a Slow Stroll in Paris, by Janice MacLeod
A real-life romance based on the author’s decision to make the life-changing move of leaving her job behind to travel the world in search of a different life. Author Janice MacLeod chronicles her adventures of leaving her life in North America and what drew her to Paris where she started an Etsy business selling watercolor ‘Paris Letters’ that capture glimpses of life there. This book is really inspiring, in that it makes you think about the changes you can make in your life, no matter where you are, to begin to create the life you really want to have.
Seven Letters from Paris: A Memoir, by Samantha Verant
I know what you’re thinking…another memoir about Paris…Hear me out, though! In this one, she actually ends up in southwest France! ” At age 40, Samantha Verant’s life is falling apart-she’s jobless, in debt, and feeling stuck… until she stumbles upon seven old love letters from Jean-Luc, the sexy Frenchman she’d met in Paris when she was 19. With a quick Google search, she finds him, and both are quick to realize that the passion they felt 20 years prior hasn’t faded with time and distance.” And if you enjoy this one, there are also sequels – written from just outside of Toulouse – that explore what it’s like to have a multi-cultural, blended family while making your home in a new country.
Wine Girl: The Obstacles, Humiliations, and Triumphs of America’s Youngest Sommelier, by Victoria James
This book just came out recently, so it’s still on my “to be read” pile, but based on some of the interviews with the author (and her cameo in Cork Dork – see above), I can’t wait to start reading! ” At just twenty-one, the age when most people are starting to drink (well, legally at least), Victoria James became the country’s youngest sommelier at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Even as Victoria was selling bottles worth hundreds and thousands of dollars during the day, passing sommelier certification exams with flying colors, and receiving distinction from all kinds of press, there were still groping patrons, bosses who abused their role and status, and a trip to the hospital emergency room.”
The Lost Vintage, by Ann Mah
I really enjoyed food and travel writer Ann Mah’s first foray into fiction. This book is set in both the modern day (following a woman who returns to her family’s home in Burgundy to study for the incredibly difficult Master of Wine exam) and during WWII (following a great half-aunt she never knew existed, who was a teenager during the Nazi occupation). It explores the line between resistance and collaboration, family secrets, and the human toll of not only the occupation and resistance, but also the liberation of France.
The Chocolate Touch, by Laura Florand (part of the Amour et Chocolat series)
Because sometimes we all need a hunky, French chocolatier to sweep us off our feet. The Amour et Chocolat series takes place in the world of Parisian chocolatiers and the setting of The Chocolate Touch is a dead-ringer for the Parisian chocolate shop, Jacques Genin. This series is fun, lighthearted and guaranteed to keep your mind off our current confinement situation. (note: this is the second book in the series, but doesn’t necessarily have to be read in order.) Make sure you stock up on the chocolate before you start reading…don’t say I didn’t warn you!
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And if you missed it, check out Part 1 of this series, where I list my favorite blogs and postcasts.