The Christmas holidays didn’t leave me much time for writing, but I did manage to capture some precious, hide-in-the-corner-and-read time fortunately. It has always been a habit to happily contemplate which books I might read on vacation and it is crucial to match the event. A “beach book” to take to the Carolina coast or Florida panhandle is a different animal from the novel or travel read that might take you somewhere your heart yearns to go while the snow falls outside and a fire crackles on the hearth.
In a book lover’s life you run through many beloved and rare books but you also happen upon some that you would have done well to not spend valuable reading time wading through. Well, before the holidays came I started and finished a book that was both tedious and dry…sigh… so it made this John Baxter holiday read all the better.
A Paris Christmas – Immoveable Feast was fun to read as Christmas week approached and we headed out on vacation for a long-awaited visit with family and friends. I was able to curl up in happy proximity to a lovely sister and sweet, laughing nieces and then in the fragrant, pine scented cottage of dear friends and savor the preparations for a sumptuous Christmas dinner that Mr. Baxter was planning for his family outside of Paris.
“Ernest Hemingway called Paris “a moveable feast.” He meant to compare it to those events of the Christian calendar – Lent, Pentecost – that change their date depending on when Easter falls. There is, the term implies, no “right” time to discover Paris. Its pleasures can be relished at any moment in one’s life.
But the phrase is subject to another interpretation. At certain times of year, the spirit of Paris moves elsewhere. It’s soul migrates, and this most beautiful of cities briefly falls empty.
One such moment is August, when Parisians reaffirm their cultural roots by returning to the regions of their ancestors.
Another is Christmas.
But where do the French go at Christmas? And what takes place there?
That, among other things, is what this book is about.”
From the Preface
This book is wonderfully atmospheric. From descriptions of a table set up in a generations old French mansion to dishes well planned and prepared. It’s a delicious slice of French life… exactly what I like to read.
“That night, I pan-fried two pork chops in a little butter, peeled and sliced one of the apples (a ‘clochard’), scattered the pieces over and around the pork, reduced the heat almost to nothing, and put on a lid.
When I lifted it twenty minutes later, a wave of steam carried the odors of fruit and meat through the house. Cooked in their own juices, the chops were succulent and tender. The pieces of apple, far from turning to mush, were translucent and intact. Better still, heat at the bottom of the pan had caramelized their sugar, turning the lower surfaces a rich brown.
Lifting the chops onto a plate, I surrounded them with the apple pieces, deglazed the pan with a little Calvados, tossed in a pinch of salt, and poured the sauce over the dish.
It was the kind of simple cooking France has made its own: local ingredients, bought fresh, prepared quickly and simply, and served with care.”
I was not reveling in French food in the sensory paradise of Paris this Christmas, but thanks to this book – the gift of a friend who knows me very well – I was able to taste, smell and imagine the experience while having my own memory-forged time with people I love and tasting the foods of home and friendship.
Booklovers – find this book and tuck it away on a shelf to pull out next December for your holiday reading list!
A Paris Christmas – Immoveable Feast
By John Baxter
Harper Perennial © 2008