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June 16, 2010
It Happened in Paris
In the photo: Restaurateur Michel Jacob attended the book launch for "Cooking For Me and Sometimes You" at Barbara-Jo's Books to Cooks.

Cooking for Me and Sometimes You: A Parisienne Romance with Recipes.
French Apple Press, 2010
Clothbound, $29.95

“Did I tell you how much I love Paris?”

This is a question that Barbara-Jo McIntosh asks more than once in her new book “Cooking For Me and Sometimes You: A Parisienne Romance with Recipes”.

It is also a sentiment that will strike a chord with many readers. After all, who doesn’t love Paris? Who wouldn’t want to run away there if they could? Even if the escape was but a brief interlude in the ongoing sameness of everyday life.

The difference between McIntosh and the rest of us however, is that she goes about making this popular fantasy come true – a month living in the City of Lights, with nothing to do but eat, drink, read, enjoy the discoveries of each day, and wait for romantic adventure to happen.

What could be more delightful than that? Unless it is the book itself, which is a compact little charmer with its cloth bound cover, satin ribbon marker and whimsical soft pencil drawings by local illustrator Bernie Lyon. The presentation is as elegant and misty as the French capitol itself during the gray month of February when the narrative takes place.

For those of us whose Paris fantasies are flavoured à la Julia Child, McIntosh hits the sweet spot again when she rents an Isle St. Louis apartment with a fully equipped kitchen – for the express purpose of exploring the bounty of her adopted neighbourhood's little food shops and markets, then bringing home each edible treasure to cook, reflect upon and savour. In diary fashion, she records the passage of each day, slipping recipes between each personal highlight like leaves of pâte à choux between the sweetened cream layers of a Parisienne mille-feuille.

The resulting book is what one might term a “Luddite’s blog”, and we mean that in a good way. It’s the way a blogger would have had to express herself before Wordpress, digital cameras and Facebook made the sharing of experience a pastime easily available to everyone. The fact that the medium of her hardcover book makes the imagery a little more opaque, a little less graphically realistic than the modern electronic version only helps us to integrate our own fantasies of Paris with that of McIntosh's, and thus participate more fully in her observation of it.

The awaited romance with an exotic stranger does take place, but, it is only secondary to the love affair that McIntosh has with the city of Paris itself. And like any relationship, it has its moments of exhilaration as well as letdown. One interesting element is the many times her encounters with the fabled bistro food of France falls short of expectation. She writes:

“But, I am disappointed with a rather plain piece of salmon, most likely farmed, accompanied with steamed white rice and sautéed green beans. Did I already say you can find bad food in Paris? I allow my thoughts to wander to create a recipe with wild salmon that would make me happier, by simply adding a pat of artichoke butter on a roasted fillet and serving it with a fava bean succotash.

The meal is finished with a delicious tarte tatin with heirloom apples, though the centre is a little chilly as the tarte was obviously frozen and warmed in the microwave. I decide to finish the menu in my head instead with sautéed apple wedges and Armagnac ice cream.”

If there is a point made clear by McIntosh’s mental adjustments to the unexpected, it is that a dream fulfilled is seldom served up to you straight from the dish as imagined. It’s what comes together when you reach for the basic ingredients and then make them into something lovely of your own.

Note: Barbara-Jo McIntosh lives in Vancouver and is the owner of Barbara-Jo's Books to Cooks, the city's leading cookbook store and culinary events centre. Asked by a publisher to create a book of recipes suitable for one or two people, McIntosh went to Paris to give herself concentration time to plan and write, and then found she could not separate her recipes from the life she was leading in the city. The result was "Cooking for Me and Sometimes You." Not being the book the publisher had in mind, they left it on the table. So McIntosh created her own company, French Apple Press, to bring her project to fruition. Again proving, sometimes in life you need to stop waiting for permission, and just go ahead and do it.

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Copyright Cityfood Magazine 2009