Because some parts make me sad. The statement “Southerners like their iced tea sweet.” is fair and accurate. Most Southerners do like their tea sweet. The statement “All Southerners like their iced tea sweet.” is not fair and accurate. The naivete of regional blanket statements comes across as provincial to me. I envision helmet haired women in Christmas sweaters having salad for dessert because “That’s the en Francee way.” For the record, I’m a Southerner and I like my tea unsweet even if the WordPress spell check tells me unsweet isn’t a word. (Side note: Rojo, one of my favorite local counter service lunchering holes offers Sweet Tea and Cruel Tea. I like that pun more than I should.) Joie De Vivre by Robert Arbor (probably pronounced Robere urBOOR) suffers from the above mentioned provincialism.
Joie de Vivre is part memoir, part cookbook, and part guide to living. It is the guide to living part that I have problems with. It may be that all French people think eggs for breakfast is mal and drink coffee from a bowl that is a cherished family heirloom, and the world stops the nation over for meal times, but that doesn’t pass the initial smell test. Odds are good that his family and some close friends do this, but I bet Paris bond traders live on cigarettes, caffeine, and shitty take-out during the hours that trading is open. McDonald’s French division is not pauvre. Monsieur Arbor is not provincial. He’s lived in more countries than I’ve visited and he certainly knows France as he’s traveled the nation top to bottom. That’s what makes this book such a pain in the ass. If he had just written “in the village of my childhood,” rather than “in France,” I would have been able to get through more than twenty-nine pages of this book’s text.
Then there are the recipes. I have read them all. I have only made two, but based on the results, I want to try them all.
“Pasta and Homemade Tomato Sauce with Prosciutto,” (page 125) calls to a tomato sauce junky like me. Olive oil, garlic, whole tomatoes, bay, herbes de Provence, salt and pepper, basil, prosciutto, and Parmesan cheese. I’ve never considered herbes de Provence in a tomato sauce that wasn’t to be served over fish, but it made me curious. The smells from the pot are astounding. Lavender and tomatoes are the kitchen’s Jamie Lee Curtis and Christopher Guest. You never would have put them together but once you think about it, it makes sense. The recipe calls for torn prosciutto to be added right before serving once the sauce has been removed from heat. Having a pregnant woman with a pregnant woman’s doctor proscribed injunctions against uncooked or unradiated cold cuts in the house, I added the prosciutto to the sauce ten minutes before taking it off the heat. Fat melted into the sauce and made my day. I’m looking for fattier prosciutto these days. Follow me and find enlightenment.
“Smoked Salmon Sandwich,” (page 122) cures cancer, breaks the speed of light, and saved my marriage*. Light, delicious, and, considering that it’s smoked, curiously fresh tasting. Baguette, smoked salmon, sliced hard boiled egg, cucumber, and tomato and done. The recipe calls for good quality mayonnaise but that’s a disgusting remnant of the Vichy era so we decided instead to toss the sliced tomato and cucumber in a a simple vinaigrette of extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper. Gorge on it and try to feel bloated. I dare you.
So, my extrapolation from two recipes and twenty-nine pages of text is that this book extrapolates and applies to the whole of France a lifestyle that is only verified in a small portion of the nation’s populace. That’s just lazy.
* Results may vary.