Archive for August, 2009

Mastering the Art of Selling a French Cookbook

Monday, August 24th, 2009

In the weeks running up to the release of the film Julie &Julia, we worried (only a bit) that the film might trivialize the iconic American chef, we wondered how the two books My Life in France and Julie & Julia would be woven together, and we looked forward to Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Julia Child. When we saw the film last Monday, our worries were erased and our anticipation for Streep’s acting was rewarded. It was great fun. But we hadn’t expected that Mastering the Art of French Cooking would be a hit alongside the movie. In fact, we barely ordered more copies. The regular versions of the books have been replaced with movie tie-in editions, with photos of the stars included, and there’s little in the book world I care for less than movie tie-ins. Besides, didn’t everybody who eats already own these books?
Apparently not. This Sunday, MTAFC will top the NYTimes bestseller list. The weighty, serious cookbook which brought French cooking to America’s home kitchens has surpassed sales of the two popular and slightly breezy books the movie was based on, and even Sam’s Club and Costco are ordering palettes to be parked next to skids of the toothy Rachel Ray and the slinky Giada Delaurentis.
It’s a surprise bestseller. And I really mean surprise. The publisher ran out within what seemed like minutes of the movie opening, and the distributors are still playing catch up (as of this writing, one of our distributors has none in stock, 6000 on order, but 15,000 currently on order with them – so they’re already 9000 copies behind). And it warms my heart to see that not even the inventory wizards over at Amazon got this one right, and are taking orders for books they hope will arrive in the next few weeks.
Used copies of the book have been selling quickly also. At Abebooks, only 41 copies of the title are listed for sale, which for a books of this sort – in print for nearly 70 years – is a tiny number. And many of the copies listed are paperbacks, or listed by foreign dealers. Prices have escalated as rapidly as supply has dwindled, with ordinary copies of vol. 1 or vol. 2 selling for two or three hundred dollars. My favorite is offered by the ever amusing dealer, “Extremely Reliable” of Richmond Texas, for $48675 (for the paperback). A near very good copy of the first edition, first edition, sold recently on eBay for around $2300, where someone else lists a first with underlining for $3000.
The good news is that Julia and the book are reaching a new generation (or two) of readers and cooks. It’s fun to watch teenagers come in with their parents and ask about the Julia books (it was more fun when we had MTAFC in stock). The kids are excited, and making a beef bourguignon as something they too can do. After all Julie Powell did it, right?
So now we wait for the backorders to arrive, and steer customers to some of Julia’s many other great books that we do have in stock. Or show off the first edition, first printing that we have, or the signed Julia’s in the case. Or best of all, remember to go back to the MTAFC on our own shelves when we wonder what to do for dinner.

The Best Part of Summer

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

It’s the time of year when gardening starts to really pay off. Besides a short battle with tomato horn worms earlier in the month, and now the first appearance of blight on those same tomatoes, things are looking good. Here’s a look at the ingredients for breakfast this morning. The chanterelles are from the edge of the woods, picked this morning; the tarragon is a day or so old, left over from pruning back the out-of-control herb; the beautiful potatoes are Purple Majesty, and the eggs are from what’s left of our three year old layers.

Last night at Peter and Natalie’s we shared three
lovely haddock from a local CSF (Community Supported Fishery), with potatoes, roasted cherry tomatoes, and an olive oil, lemon, fresh-crushed coriander sauce. My favorite item of the evening was a fresh crabapple juice, from
Portland’s own foraged crabapples. It was a beautiful color.
Finally, although Samantha thinks I’m a bit batty for this, I’ve taken a shine to a pair of fully bolted lettuce plants. They’ve gone through flower and now are in seed. They’re a handsome five foot tall, colorful, with a full head of small yellow flowers. They’re deer tongue lettuce, and now I can see where it gets its name. I’m now fully tempted to plant lettuces and other plants which seem to me quite lovely when allowed to grow at will.

I’m already leaning toward lovage, which is a beautiful, large, dark green leafy thing in spring, hyssop, with its August purple flowers, and the lettuces.

Farm Lunch

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

Did you know that August is National Goat Cheese month? I am celebrating on my day off with a delicious and simple farm lunch that includes some beet greens newly harvested from the garden, a couple of recently layed eggs and a healthy dose of fresh Chevre from our friends Karl and Margaret over at Ten Apple Farm. The recipe (such as it is ) is borrowed from The Improvisational Cook by Sally Schneider, a marvelous book that flies wonderfully under the radar. This makes a lovely lunch but can also be a delicious last minute dinner. The following is more of an outline than an actual recipe, not to be repeated slavishly but rather to be interpreted in your own style.

Some greens: beet, mustard, kale, broccoli raab, chard etc.
A couple of eggs (fresh from the laying box if possible)
A generous handful of Chevre.
Oil for the pan, S&P, a splash of vinegar.

The whole thing can be done in one pan, unless you are a poached egg fan, in which case you will need two. Wash and coarsely chop the greens. Heat your pan with the oil of your choice and then gently saute your greens until they are soft, but not brown. You could add some chopped garlic, some hot pepper, some sliced onions/shallots/scallions…. I like to hit the grens with a shot of vinegar, but that’s just me. Transfer greens to a plate and cover with your Chevre, as much as you desire. Then in the same pan gently fry your eggs: sunnyside up, over easy, but don’t over cook them, you want your yolks runny. That’s what makes your ‘sauce’. Then layer your eggs over your cheese covered greens, sprinkle with some salt and pepper and dig in. Delightful….