February 21, 2014
Book Club Bites: The Paris Wife
This is the beginning of a new series! Once a month I'm going to write a post about a book perfect to discuss at your book club and match it to a recipe. Sometimes it will be a book I read for my own local book club and sometimes it will just be a book I think would make for great discussion. I'm going to include a link to discussion questions, and other books to read for more information or to continue the theme.
I'm really excited to start with The Paris Wife by Paula McClain, which just happens to be my real life book club's pick for February. This is the story of Ernest Hemingway's early years in Paris as he was beginning his career, told through his first wife Hadley. They had a whirlwind courtship in the United States before heading abroad as newlyweds. They became part of the circle of intellectual ex-pats living in Paris they socialize with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound (among others). McClain brings their relationship through it's complete arc with respect and intimacy. It's heartbreaking to watch each of them struggle with their values and sense of self as they navigate their troubled marriage.
The first thing I did when I finished this book was run to my computer and Google Hadley Hemingway. I needed to see a picture of her and find out what happened after the end of the book. Being inspired to find out more about a subject is one of my favorite parts of historical fiction. I added two books to my reading list after I finished The Paris Wife. The first was Paris Without End by Gioia Diliberto, the non-fiction story of Hadley and Ernest's marriage and the second was A Moveable Feast by Hemingway himself. This was the last book he wrote before his death and he finally tells the tale of those early years in his own words.
To get your own discussion started here is a list of book club questions from Random House.
Now on to what food to serve at your book club for The Paris Wife. I wanted something French, since the city of Paris is almost more character than setting, but I needed to keep it simple. I looked through cookbooks, decided to make a dessert (because, well…dessert!) and then began debating what fit best with the book. Crepes are lovely but more complex than either Hadley or I would be capable of. Then I stumbled on Clafloutis. It is a simple dish- a little bit cake, a little bit custard. It reminded me of the contrast between Hadley and flashy Jazz Age Paris. This is simple and unpretentious.
It is traditionally made with cherries but I wanted to experiment a little. It was the perfect excuse to use the end of last summer's rhubarb in my freezer, something I am very stingy about! I can't wait to try more variations as different fruit and vegetables come into season. The leftovers will be perfect the morning after book club with your coffee!
adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck
3 cups chopped rhubarb (about 1 inch pieces)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup milk
In a saucepan (oven proof preferable) place the rhubarb and sugar and cook over medium-low heat until the rhubarb begins to caramelize-about 10-15 minutes.
In a mixing bowl whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the eggs and whisk until combined. Then pour in the milk and vanilla and stir until completely combined. It will be a very loose batter so don't panic.
Take the rhubarb off the heat and let it cool for 2-3 minutes. Pour the batter over the fruit. Bake in the oven for 50-55 minutes. It is done when a cake tester comes out clean and the cake has browned slightly. It will fall a little as it cools and just before serving dust with powdered sugar. Serve warm.