Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted by Bridget Asher

How does one go about picking a foodie novel?

It is not an exact genre like horror, fantasy or romance nor does it have its own shelf in a bookstore. If you ask a salesperson for a suggestion, you will get a blank look in return and a hand pointing you to the recipe section. Trawling through online bookstores gives pretty much the same result. I don't want recipe books! I want novels that feature food as an expression of a deeper story line. 

The first thing to catch the eye is the book's cover which usually features an artistic picture of produce, table settings or cooking utensils; or it will have a food word in the title, or mention a foodie destination such as France or Italy or perhaps a location such as a cafe or bakery. You can also read the blurb on the dust jacket and the first paragraph to test out the author's style - but, be warned - there is no real measure of whether the story will rise or flop.

"The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted" by Bridget Asher met this criteria - an enticing  location,  a romantic stone house and a blurb that told of "a journey from grief to happiness with the the help of magic and delicious pistou soup." Unfortunately, this book promised a lot and delivered very little.

The entire book waffled on in every mundane detail. It was like talking to someone who never gets to the point. But that is just me. There are many people who enjoy the gossipy details of a Woman's Weekly read. If you are one of these people, then the book is for you. For me, it was like wading through sticky dough as every minute detail of the main character's every day life, and all she came in contact with, was sliced and diced.

Are we there yet?

I kept asking myself when will this story start?  At page 128 she finally gets to Paris "without being prepared and without time to brace." 

It took her all of Part One and she still wasn't prepared??

And even then she told us about her 'to do' lists, passports and hotel bookings, reservations, internal clocks, airports and taxis, and then the sightseeing, the posing in front of statues, how they got robbed, how it started to rain. Even the car breaks down in this endless list of ingredients that delivers a half baked idea. 

Can we get to the food please?
Are we at the centuries old stone house yet?
Where is the magic?
And the dusty box of old recipes you promised?

I never got  up the appetite to reach the end of the book, although it does come highly recommended as an "enchanting tale", a "sumptuous exploration" that "brims with wisdom and laughter". 

Do we really need to be told when the character got her first period or how she thought her father's swimming trunks were too short? Do we really need to read about all the generations that came before her husband's untimely death in a car accident? 

Food has no real role in this book or storyline, other than as sparse decoration - a sprinkling here or there. The main character tells us she is a baker but she didn't bake a thing.

Pistou Soup

In provencal language "pistou" means pounded and refers to the herbs used in this dish. Think pesto!

50g butter
3 leeks thinly sliced
2 carrots diced
2 stalks celery chopped
10 cups chicken stock
Black and white peppercorns
Fresh thyme and parsley for garnish
12 green beans
3 potatoes
2 medium zucchinis diced
2 tomatoes chopped
4 tablespoons pesto
1 can cannelloni beans
1 cup small macaroni


Fry leeks in butter until soft. Add leeks to chicken stock together with the vegetables. Half way through cooking add 2 tablespoons  pesto. Add macaroni and when soft heat through the canneloni beans. Add the remaining pesto. Season. Add fresh herbs. Serve with croutons or in my case, bruschetta topped with grilled cheese.

 "I could see the pale golden chicken resting in its deep sauce of tomatoes, garlic and peppers. I could smell the wine, the garlic and the fennel." p241

Provencal Crockpot Chicken

12 pieces of skinned chicken (I used 2 chickens cut in to pieces)
2 large capsicum seeded and cut in to wide strips
2 large onions thinly sliced
1 cup black olives
1 large can of diced tomatoes
1 cup white wine
1 large fennel sliced
Fresh  peel of 1 orange (optional)
2 teaspoons herbs "provencal"

Note: Provencal herbs include thyme, majoram, oregano, basil, savory, lavender. In supermarkets you will find all sorts of spices - Italian, Moroccan etc but no French. The Italian mix comes the closest or, make your own or, settle for Bouquet Garni or a bayleaf.

It is a Crockpot! so put all the ingredients in at once, close the lid, pour yourself a glass of wine and sit in the sun. Takes 4-6 hours

©2011 My Novel Idea by Ann Etcell-Ly/All Rights Reserved

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