Vie de France differs from other expatriate fantasy memoirs in that James Haller didn't pick up and move to an adorable French village – he just rented a house in an adorable French Village for a one-month vacation with friends. In a precursor to the blog-to-book idea, he kept notes about their daily activities and turned those notes into a book, descriptively subtitled "Sharing Food, Friendship, and a Kitchen in the Loire Valley."
Haller is a self-taught chef who owned the popular Blue Strawbery restaurant in Portsmouth, New Hampshire for over 16 years. In the late 1990s, when Haller turned 60, he and a group of friends started planning their dream trip to France. The resulting book focuses on the food the group enjoyed, some in cafes and fancy restaurants, but mostly what they bought, cooked, and ate together in their 17th Century country house.
Because Haller is not a haute cuisine chef (his cookbooks are both subtitled "Cooking (Brilliantly) Without Recipes"), his recipes are replicable as well as tasty sounding. He was inspired by traditional French cuisine and the fresh, local ingredients they found, but he cooked up easy dishes and, refreshingly, even included his creative use of leftovers. For example, after giving the instructions for his simplified version of cassoulet, he described using the leftovers to stuff a roasted chicken the next day.
The day-to-day details get a little repetitive, but for the most part Haller does a good job of bringing the reader into the party to share the group's enthusiasm. The relatively modest scope of their enterprise brings the armchair travel fantasies down to inspirational levels, leaving readers planning their own month-long visits to France.
JIM HALLER'S APRICOT LAVENDER TART
Line a tart pan with a circle of pre-made puff pastry dough. Put a layer of pitted, but not peeled, fresh apricot halves on the dough. Beat together one cup of sugar, six eggs, and a "little" vanilla, and pour over the apricots. Lay three perfect strands of lavender across the top. Bake at 325 for about one hour.
A custard made with just sugar and eggs but no cream sounds odd to me, but according to Haller, "The eggs combined with the juice from the apricots formed a custard gently flavored with the lavender." I haven't made this yet, but I am willing to give it a try.
It counts as one of my books for the Foodie Reading Challenge, hosted by Margot at Joyfully Retired, and for the Memorable Memoirs Challenge, hosted by Melissa at The Betty and Boo Chronicles. It is also another book scratched off my French Connections list.