Saturday, July 06, 2013

On Rue Tatin by Susan Hermann Loomis

It won't be that much of a surprise to any frequent visitors to my blog to find out that I was instantly attracted to a book that is set in France and features lots of food related stories. This isn't the first time that combination catches my attention, and I expect it won't be the last time either.

This book is a foodie memoir by Susan Loomis who has lived in France for many years now and who has written numerous cookbooks as well as running a cooking school in the small town of Louviers in Normandy among other things.

She first headed to France as a young woman, serving a foodie apprenticeship before heading back to America and starting a family. Years later she gets commissioned to write a French farmhouse style cookbook. Her husband is an artist and so has no real restriction against him working in France and so they, along with their small son, get the opportunity to move to live in France. Initially intended to be a short to medium term move, soon they find themselves buying a 16th century house that used to be the convent and neck deep in renovations to make it into a home, first and foremost, but also into a test kitchen. Now, years later, this same house is home to a successful cooking school.

This was a pretty easy read, and is overwhelmingly a positive take on life and, given that the subtitle of this book is Living and Cooking in a French Town, includes lots of delicious recipes, one of which I have included below.

While there is no doubt that Loomis and her family are living the dream of so many people, I can't help but think that the way the book is written kind of glosses over many of the issues that they must have had. There were lots of times when she mentioned being broke and yet her husband, son and herself managed to move to France, buy a basically derelict but huge building and do it up. Maybe it was that she didn't want to dwell on how hard that really was, especially seeing as her husband did a lot of the work and the process took several years to complete. After a while that could have gotten a bit monotonous to read but still....it just seemed pretty easy. There were altercations with the neighbours and some ruminations on the difference between America and France (including a long search to buy the perfect oven) but overall this was a glass half full type of foodie memoir.

These days the author runs a cooking school based in her house and after reading the book I was once again left wishing that I could go to France (or I would be happy with Italy or wherever) and attend a cooking school like this one. Here's a video where Loomis talks about the experience of attending her cooking school.


Synopsis

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.

Because this post isn't long enough I will share one of the recipes that is in the book, one that I have made and really liked, especially with a big dollop of double cream on the side. Next week I will share another recipe from the book.

Audrey's Yogurt Cake

1 1/2 cups/210g plain flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3 drops vanilla essence
Pinch of fine sea salt
3 large eggs
1 cup /210g sugar
1/2 cup/125ml plain, full-fat yogurt (I used low-fat)
8 tablespoons/120 g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 ounces/90g bitter chocolate, melted in a double boiler, then cooled
icing' sugar

Butter and flour one 91/2-inch round cake pan. Preheat oven to 375 degrees 190C

Sift together the flour, the baking powder, and the salt onto a piece of waxed or parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and the sugar until they are light and pale yellow. Sprinkle the dry ingredients over the eggs and sugar, whisking to incorporate then. Fold in the yogurt and vanilla, then the melted butter.

Pour half the batter into the prepared cake pan; fold the melted chocolate into the remaining batter until it is thoroughly combined. Pour the chocolate batter on top of the plain batter that is already in the cake pan and run a rubber scraper through the batter several times to make a marble pattern.

Bake the cake in the center of the oven until it is slightly mounded and your finger leaves a very slight impression when you touch the top of it, about 35 minutes.

Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool in the pan for about 15 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire rack. Serve when it is fully cool or the following day. If you like, dust the top with icing sugar.


Weekend Cooking 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, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post.

This post also counts for my participation in the Paris in July event hosted by Tamara at Thyme for Tea and Karen at Bookbath, 

23 comments:

  1. I enjoyed this book very much. Pretty much any book, memoir and ex pat stuff set in France, is a winner for me.

    This book has many good recipes, great post!

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    1. Tina, I am pretty much the same!

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  2. I have a ton of her cookbooks but haven't read this memoir. Must, must, must add it to my list, despite the fact that she likely glosses over the true hardships. Oh wouldn't it be wonderful to take a cooking class like that? BTW: Your opening sentences cracked me up.

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    1. It would be so amazing to take this kind of cooking class! Definitely an item on my bucket list.

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  3. I am not usually a memoir fan, but if you throw in enough food stuff, I might be sold!

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    1. I don't read many non food related memoirs to be honest.

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  4. Next time I'm in Normandy, I'm going to check out her cooking school.

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    1. I am just a tiny bit jealous that you can even think about the next time I'm in Normandy!

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  5. I have to echo caite's comment. Also: that cake recipe looks wonderful! I may have to try it out this week...

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    1. Let me know if you do try it.

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  6. Food, France... what more could I want? - and that cake sounds wonderful!

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    1. I know... it's like the perfect combination right?

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  7. I think my sister-in-law would love this book!

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    1. It would make a good gift for the foodie focused Francophiles in your life!

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  8. Sounds like an interesting memoir. I think you're right that she didn't want to make it depressing by emphasizing the difficulty! Also readers tend to see it as whining when memoirists complain about how hard their glamorous lives can be! ;)

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    1. I wondered if she really knew how glamourous her life appeared?

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  9. That cooking school sounds like a great item to add to the itinerary of our next France trip. I'm going to have to start planning it because I keep finding new great ideas like this one!

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    1. I love the idea of going to a cooking school anywhere. Italy, France...I'd be happy anywhere. I might just have to find a foodie experience to take part in here in Melbourne instead.

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  10. Food and France - what a wonderful combination for a book! I started my 'virtual tip' to Paris with a lovely guide book that's older me and now I'm compiling a list of things to do and things to read which is getting longer and longer. My post is at http://goo.gl/BjpB9

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    1. Christine, my trips are only virtual at the moment. One day I am hoping to make it real again!

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  11. This book is on my shelf in line to be read, but first I have to finish Paris by Edward Rutherfurd. It's a huge saga. Thanks for the review. Maybe she doesn't describe the hard parts of settling into France and renovating a house because it's like having kids -- you forget the really hard parts or you would never do it again. I have a French meme every Monday if you ever want to play along. Here’s my Dreaming of France meme

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    1. I think I would really enjoy Rutherford, particularly his Paris books, but whereas years ago I chose my books for how thick they were, these days I find big chunksters a little intimidating purely in terms of the time investment required to read them.

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  12. Living the dream alright, I think I'd love this one and the cooking class would be awesome. I loved our Indonesian cooking class in Bali, a class in France is on my bucket list. Lovely review Marg :)

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