February 15, 2007

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French Women For All Seasons: A Year of Secrets, Recipes & Pleasures, by Mireille Guiliano (Alfred A. Knopf, 2006, 359 pages)
By Amy Diaz news@hippopress.com

Shut up, Mireille Guiliano.

Fairly early in French Women for All Seasons, Guiliano, author of the insanely popular French Women Don’t Get Fat, is talking about a visit to Paris and how a meal there set her thinking about her love of pasta. Though her basic point about pasta is sound — that it can be enjoyed, often, as part of a healthy diet if enjoyed in the right portion — it is set forth with a kind of chipperness littered with French phrases that can make Guiliano’s perfectly sensible advice irritate me beyond belief. And then this:

“And I heard myself, perhaps the kid in me, say ‘You know, Edward,’ — actually, in France I call him Edouard — ‘I could eat pasta every day.’”

“In France I call him Edouard” — Why must she tell us this? Why is it so important to her pasta lust that she break up a sentence by telling us that she calls her husband by the French pronunciation of his name in France? Does that moment of preciousness push forward her storytelling in some subtle way? Or is it meant to leave me momentarily breathless at how much her book is making me dislike her?

The shame of French Women For All Seasons is that, despite plenty of needless en familles and joi de vives and a baffling belief that truly sophisticated fashion requires a scarf, it’s not a bad book. Anyone looking for sensible “eat well, live well” advice — especially those who own French Women Don’t Get Fat — will find smart, fairly realistic suggestions here (“fairly” because Guiliano is a CEO who owns homes in New York City and France and regularly spends time in Provence). The book is more or less a guide to eating seasonally and one that is about as applicable in New Hampshire as it is in Guiliano’s haunts — berries in the summer, squash in the winter, early greens in the spring. Her idea is to go after food when it’s at its flavor peak and when it requires the smallest amount of potentially calorie-adding adornment. Her other ruling principle is to be strict with portions — eat an actual serving size, not an American serving size; eat half of what’s on your plate and then stop and consider if you need any more before eating half of what is left.

Guiliano’s advice is no-nonsense, no-deprivation stuff — perfect for the Food Network fan who wants to drop a few pounds and cut out the high fructose corn syrup. Her recipes (divided into seasons) are a mix of bistro-style dishes with extremely simple soups and salads, a kind of ideal version of everyone’s personal recipe box. Some of these eats might sound pretentiously fancy, but usually simple baked or sautéed dishes with fennel, potatoes, chicken or spinach hide behind French terms. Eating this way would be a bit of a project for those in the takeout groove but three or four of these meals a week might not be out of the question for the beginner.

If the fortune that follows Guiliano to this second French Women book causes her to write a third, it will probably be worth reading or at least considering reading as well. Perhaps by that time, I will have forgotten all about “Edouard” and the unbearable cutesyFrenchness of Guiliano’s writing voice. C+