I picked up Edible French by Clotilde Dusoulier with delight. Being somewhat of a Francophile, and a connoisseur of arcane knowledge, this book hit several of my sweet spots. While I don’t speak French fluently, I did study the language for five years through high school and college and I still retain much of the vocabulary I learned, as well as the idiomatic expressions that so often had food derivations. As I picked my way through the pages, I was nourished by a colorful menu of French expressions, complete with their translations, usage and tasteful watercolor illustrations.
Some of the expressions Dusoulier has collected in her 128 page volume, you’ve likely heard before. Favorites like “mon petit chou,” (my little cabbage), or “papa gateau,” (sugar or cake daddy) are as common as onions or bread – staples of the French peasant cuisine. I was tickled to find a host of more unusual and specific expressions invoking artichokes, sardines, oysters and goats just to name a few.
Images of a falling soufflé to describe a short lived success, a brioche to describe a bulging belly, or dragging saucepans as a corollary to carrying the baggage of a past mistake epitomize the poetic ability of the French to compare human nature to the idiosyncrasies of the foods that are essential elements of culture. The fun for me is going to be working some of these expressions, either in French or in English, into my daily repartee. Perhaps the next time my wife changes my mind with that look she’s so good at, I’ll be picturing “the typical crepe-making technique in which you flip the crepe in the pan with a swift jolt of the wrist.” Perhaps she’ll hear me saying, “Comme une crepe!”
Aside from serving up fifty fun idiomatic expressions, Dusoulier offers seven classic French recipes that are elegant and accessible. For me, the simple pleasures are never more appreciated than when an easy recipe meets fresh local ingredients and the results are supremely gratifying. One of my favorites offered is Radishes with Maitre d’ Butter, which is a regular in my home during the growing season when we get lots of fresh radishes in our weekly farmshare. I also tried the Zucchini Gratin recipe, which made a beautiful and ample main course at my vegetarian dinner table. I think the next step will be to try her Flourless Lemon Soufflee. It sounds daunting, but I think one must not be afraid to take a chance and “mettre du piment dans sa vie!”
Edible French: Tasty Expressions and Cultural Bites (Perigee Trade 2014) by Clotilde Dusoulier , Illustrated by Melina Josser and is available in hardcover or kindle edition. Clotilde Dusoulier lives in Paris, France and operates the award-winning food blog Chocolate & Zucchini.