One of my goals for 2015 is to get back to my roots and read more books. As the great Frederick Douglass said, ‘Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.’ Books are a passion – nay, an obsession of mine and always have been. I grew up in the library and my parents fostered my love of reading and learning. With books I have lived a thousand lives, found myself absorbed in different worlds, and learned immensely more than I could have otherwise. So put up your feet, grab a good paperback and let’s get reading!
I was expecting a lot from ‘Picnic in Provence’ by Elizabeth Bard after having read her novel ‘Lunch in Paris‘ years ago and loving it so much I purchased it. For the most part, ‘Picnic in Provence‘ did not disappoint. Bard invites you right in. You feel like you are there with her in Southern France, exploring the french market, smelling the strawberries, and choosing the perfect bread for your picnic in the french countryside. It brings on the wanderlust that’s always on the back burner big time.
In her first novel Bard moves to Paris and spends her time integrating herself into the community, spending time with her boyfriend then fiancee, and cooking. A lot. ‘Picnic’ has a slower start, and is probably meatier – unnecessary, especially at the beginning. I do wish that there was more of an explanation of the transition time from when the now married couple decided to move to a rambling French providential home in the south of France from the bustling Paris they both love. We are along for the ride as Bard finds out she is pregnant (finally!) and as she learns how to be a good mother (you have to actually try/be involved). We see her cooking, but we also see her fitting her and her family into this new life in the country. Eventually they have another upheaval, her husband quits his amazing job and they spend over a year getting the licence and perfecting recipes for their new business endeavor- an ice cream shop called ‘Scaramouche- Artisan Glacier – Adventures in Ice Cream.’ (Look it up online, if you’re in the area – ha – you can go there! I believe you can order Christmas cakes online during the holidays too, but as it’s not the time for it currently I am not sure how far away they ship).
Bard is a storyteller, and so we gain the most satisfaction at the end of the novel when all of the lines she has been weaving are wrapped up. Some of my favorite passages were picking the saffron stems from the flowers that grow abundantly in the fields, and going along for their truffle hunting adventure. I loved hearing the process of starting the ice cream business and how she learned to carve out special time with her son. Some of my favorite passages were the descriptive ones. “When you’re hungry, textures take on a particular pleasure. Cold rice moistened with the juice from the tomatoes and a bit of olive oil feels summery yet substantial. The crackle of a fresh baguette is suddenly the perfect partner for toothsome bits of ground port; even the slippery bits of fat find their place. It tastes even better if you’ve spent the morning walking uphill. Tonight we are making pasta.” pg. 185
Bard includes LOTS of recipes in the book, and I had to try one out. This is the birthday cake she mentions, the Gâteau au yaourt- or the Yogurt Cake. It is delicious- and looks even better than the other recipes I saw online as she has added the special touch of raspberry jam in the center and powdered sugar on the top! Enjoy the book, and the recipe I’ve added!
A SIMPLE BIRTHDAY CAKE, Gâteau au yaourt
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- A pinch of fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- Zest of one lemon
- 3 eggs
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 10-inch cake pan with a sheet of parchment paper.
In a small bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
In a medium bowl, whisk together yogurt, sugar, oil, and lemon zest until sugar is dissolved. Add the eggs one by one and whisk to incorporate. Add the flour mixture and stir to combine.
Bake for 40 minutes, until firm and golden. Cool on a rack, then un-mold and cool completely. It’s terrific plain, but to make it birthday festive, cut the cake in half horizontally, into 2 equal-size disks. Spread the bottom half with 1/2 cup raspberry jam, then gently replace the top layer. Dust with powdered sugar and get out the candles.
Tip: If you want to make a super-simple chocolate glaze like Isabelle did with the kids: Melt together 5 ounces of dark chocolate with 4 tablespoons each of light cream and water. Pour evenly over the cake, letting some dribble down the sides.
Serves 8, store wrapped in aluminum foil
Click here to see my goals for 2015