Saturday, December 03, 2011

Weekend Cooking: Immoveable Feast: A Paris Christmas by John Baxter

A witty cultural and culinary education, Immoveable Feast is the charming, funny, and improbable tale of how a man who was raised on white bread—and didn't speak a word of French—unexpectedly ended up with the sacred duty of preparing the annual Christmas dinner for a venerable Parisian family.

Ernest Hemingway called Paris "a moveable feast"—a city ready to embrace you at any time in life. For Los Angeles–based film critic John Baxter, that moment came when he fell in love with a French woman and impulsively moved to Paris to marry her. As a test of his love, his skeptical in-laws charged him with cooking the next Christmas banquet—for eighteen people in their ancestral country home. Baxter's memoir of his yearlong quest takes readers along his misadventures and delicious triumphs as he visits the farthest corners of France in search of the country's best recipes and ingredients. Irresistible and fascinating, Immoveable Feast is a warmhearted tale of good food, romance, family, and the Christmas spirit, Parisian style.

One day I was listening to The Book Show on our ABC and they interviewed an Australian author who had spent many years living in Paris after shorter stints in the US and Britain. They were talking about his book The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: a Pedestrian in Paris and given my infatuation with all things Paris recently I knew I wanted to read it. Unfortunately, my library didn't have it but they did have this book! Whilst I still want to read that one this was a worthy substitute!

John Baxter grew up in country Australia and dined on the bland food that was staple of the past. Whilst now Australian cuisine is varied, multicultural and based on fresh ingredients, it wasn't always the case. Baxter compares the Australia of his past and share how he learned to cook, how he impressed dates by being able to cook after he left Australia and compares and contrasts both the different dining experiences of the various countries he has lived in around the world and the way that Christmas is celebrated in Australia and France.

The main focus of the book however is detailing his quest for the perfect Christmas menu. After being accepted by his now wife's French family he took on the cooking duties each Christmas often trying new dishes that wouldn't normally grace the French table. Later this month I will share a passage from the book about his first French Christmas.

He takes us with us as he searches for the perfect ingredients - oysters, cheese, a piglet with skin so that he could share the perfect crackling - one of the great pleasures in life that is virtually unknown in France where most pork is sold without the skin! And with this list of perfect ingredients he can create an unforgettable menu for the Christmas festivities.

This was such a fun read. It was warm and funny and made me salivate as I read it! I can't wait to read more from Baxter. There were whole sections that I could have quoted from for weeks of Weekend Cooking posts, and it gave me several other ideas as well!

If you fancy indulging in some French festivities this Christmas, then this is a perfect book to read!

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs.


  1. Hmm... I am not sure about the whole pig thing as a vegetarian. But come to think, I don't think they generally sell pig meat with the skin in the Netherlands either. At least I never came across it in the supermarket or at the butchers.

    However I do like the concept of this book :) Searching for the perfect x-mas dinner sounds like a fun read :)

  2. since I am not a vegetarian, I am totally sure about the roast pig thing. yum!! ;-)

  3. Did you say roast pig? Yes, please. This sounds like a great book -- foodie, Paris, and memoir. I'll have to look for it here. I love that there were whole sections you could have quoted.

  4. Roast pig sounds good to me too. Is he inviting us all to dinner?I think he should!!

  5. I think this book sounds delightful!!!

  6. This does sound like a scrumptious book, in more than one way! I am so glad that you enjoyed it, and I really want to read it now! You are always reading such wonderful things, Marg!

  7. I have this book on my to-read list but I haven't started it yet. You've made me move it up near the top. It sounds so enjoyable. (My son had a roasted pig at his outdoor wedding - pure pleasure.)

  8. This one and The Most Beautiful Walk in the World sound wonderful. Like you I love reading books that are set in Paris--but adding food to that? Yum! One of my favorite Paris books is entitled Paris Times Eight--also has some bits about Christmas in Paris and trying to figure out how to plan a French Christmas dinner.

    Thanks for the heads up on this one!

  9. Oh, thanks for the rec on Paris Times Eight Trish. I will see if I can get it.

    Margot, I hope you get to read it soon. There is something awesome about pig on a spit.

    Zibilee, I try! I definitely was made hungry reading this one.

    Staci, it was a lot of fun.

    Kaye, I would be more than happy for him to pay for us all to go to Paris to eat his food!

    Candace, I have limited myself to just one which will be up soon, but there were definitely more. Actually, I meant to add that this book inspired a previous Weekend Cooking post about crackling from the book Dissertation on Roast Pig and Other Essays

    Caite, me too!

    Uniflame, I get how it wouldn't be appealing to vegetarians. Crackling is one of the pleasures in life for this meat eater.

  10. How interesting! I love the nod to Hemingway.

  11. This sounds like a wonderful read. I have added it to my reading list. Thanks.

  12. What a neat premise for this book. I'm glad to see you enjoyed it so much. My husband is Filipino so a whole roast pig with that crispy skin (lechon) is a must at major parties.