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La vie parisienne

(article, Christina Eng)

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The chocolate, she says, refers to her “decidedly marked taste for all things sweet.” The zucchini is a nod to her “love of vegetables, \[her\] preference for healthy and natural foods.” 

In Chocolate & Zucchini: Daily Adventures in a Parisian Kitchen, Clotilde Dusoulier brings these two sides of her cooking personality together. 

A follow-up of sorts to her popular blog, Chocolate & Zucchini, the book provides another peek inside her Montmartre apartment and the dishes she creates there, and at the meat, cheese, produce, wine, and bakery specialists in her thriving neighborhood. It allows us to live vicariously in her City of Lights.

A Paris native, Dusoulier paid little attention to food as a child. Though she often watched her mother in the kitchen, she says, she took no exceptional interest in cooking. Or eating, for that matter. There were items she liked, of course (plastic-wrapped Gruyère from the store, for example, and “square slices of white bread”), and items she loathed (white beans, raw fennel). But away from the table, she focused on other endeavors, such as school and comic books. 

After college, however, Dusoulier moved to Silicon Valley for a job as a software engineer. There, everything changed. In northern California, she found herself surrounded — and intrigued — by a host of unfamiliar foods. 

Curious and anxious to taste them all, she spent hours among the aisles, “buying cartloads of ingredients I barely knew what to do with,” she writes, “filling the house with books and cooking gear, calling my mother for advice, and experimenting in the kitchen.”

Two years later, Dusoulier returned to Paris, where her fascination with food and her reconnection to childhood classics continued. She explored the French capital with renewed energy. She cooked for close friends and family. She tried different recipes, documenting accomplishments and failures in a notebook. In September 2003, she created chocolateandzucchini.com.

[%image promo-image float=left width=350 caption="Dusoulier loves zucchini as much as chocolate." credit="Photo: iStockphoto/Ekspansio"]

Though a handful of dishes in the book appeared first on the site, the majority of the recipes here are original. Some use simple ingredients in everyday ways, while others call for atypical combinations. 

Dusoulier’s Onion and Cumin Quiche, for example, marries thinly sliced onions and whole cumin seeds with an egg-custard filling and a nice crust. Meanwhile, a Tomato, Pistachio and Chorizo Loaf gathers disparate items into a moist, nutty, and savory cake.

Some recipes prove ideal for casual lunches; others seem suited to evenings of effortless but impressive entertaining. Chicken Salad with Peaches and Hazelnuts, for example, is perfect for a quick meal in the back yard or a nearby park. Meanwhile, Lamb and Prune Meatballs, served with rice or couscous perhaps, could be terrific for a small group dinner.

And some, like Almond, Pear and Chocolate Brioche, or Dusoulier’s signature Chocolate & Zucchini Cake, prove entirely irresistible. They are lovely, accessible, and inventive.

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The author prefaces each recipe with brief but informative prose. She recalls suppers her mother prepared on Sunday nights, for example, and places her father took her on Saturday mornings — cafés where pastries filled with almond cream were “pure buttery bliss, the elbows of \[a croissant\] having crisped up and caramelized in the oven while its heart remained tender and chewy.”

She also includes vibrant, appetizing food photos she took herself in her apartment in natural light, as well as affordable pairing suggestions from New York wine writer Lenn Thompson.

Describing dishes and desserts she makes now and the neighborhood in which she lives, Dusoulier fuels our culinary imagination about Paris. She gives us a good sense of contemporary French cooking. Writing intelligently of ingredients she finds and techniques she learns, she conveys a genuine affection for food and everything related to it. 

These elements contribute to the wide appeal of her site. They help to make this book a success too.

p(bio). [christina_eng@hotmail.com "Christina Eng"] is a writer in Oakland, California.


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