I just finished Mireille Guiliano’s French Women for All Seasons, the sequel to her bestselling French Women Don’t Get Fat. Like the first, this book is a guide to thinness and the good life. The name for this blog entry comes from one of her section headings on wine; and just like champagne, this work is effervescent, sometimes silly or dry, but always a pleasure and always in style. Guiliano, somewhat mischievously, makes a big point of writing “I don’t do or recommend diets.” Surely that is a bit tongue-in-cheek as much of the text is about finding that slim you and learning to feel bien dans sa peau, or good in your skin, about it. Her fairly well-worn idea is that faddish, American-style diets don’t work. Well, duh. She offers, then, a plan for reshaping your outlook on food, drink and life in order to reshape your body; instead of starving yourself over a few weeks and then ballooning up again and again.
The book is divided into four main sections, representing the traditional four seasons. In them she develops her fashion ideas for each season with accompanying recipes using seasonal ingredients. These chapters are followed by a last few which offer specific guidance on other, related subjects; like developing a taste for wine, planning parties and entertaining, a special commentary on unusual (to Americans) French foods, and an amusing section in which she describes the meanings of some of the various French expressions that she sprinkles so liberally throughout the book. That last bit is rather infectious, non?
The book glows with Guiliano’s personal anecdotes about her childhood in France as well as her adulthood living and working in New York. She’s full of opinions about women’s fashion and deportment, exercise and the culture of food. Sometimes these bons mots seem harsh. This example struck me particularly, both because of its obvious validity and the writer’s brutal humor in exposing this common foible: “Others take the arrival of summer sun as the occasion to roast like poulets on a spit, heedless of common sense, let alone medical fact. Raising the bar for what constitutes a healthy glow, they compel their more vampirish sisters to slather on the tanner-in-a-tube, which leaves virtually all complexions some shade of cantaloupe.” She’s not that tough all of the time. Usually, Guiliano’s advice is more businesslike yet compassionate. To the nervous potential hostess, she writes:
I know a lot of people panic or obsess over looking and doing their best. We can all become insecure about hosting and sometimes have the feeling that people are coming to judge us. But that’s nonsense. Most of them will have made up their minds about you well before they ever show up; if they’ve accepted your invitation, that already says a lot. Besides, even reluctant acceptors still want to have a good time. Nobody shows up determined not to. Really, you’ve got them from hello.
No truer words were ever written!
Despite the book’s title, her helpful suggestions about weight and portion control can apply equally to both sexes. I’m curious about several of her recipes, especially the fiddle head fern pasta for springtime. I hope to make that one when fiddle heads return. A lot of the recipes call for dairy. This is French cooking after all. Guiliano’s not shy about using butter, eggs, milk and cream, seemingly with abandon. She’s no stranger to meat dishes, either. I passed over those recipes without incident. She confesses her chocolate addiction openly. This is one of her personal “offenders” that leads her down the path to overweight. This problem doesn’t prevent her from offering loads of decadent chocolate dessert recipes for the reader to drool over. Fortunately, I’m not that into chocolate, so I can handle it.
Many of the dishes that she describes are standard French stuff. She has her version of vichyssoise, also known as cold leek and potato soup, a few kinds of mousse, and oysters prepared several ways. I was enchanted with that last but still remain too intimidated by shucking them to really test-drive those recipes. Perhaps someday… She does have some more adventurous fare, like farfalle with edamame, and frogs’ legs, though these are few and far between. I liked her emphasis on eating good foods in season and frequenting farmers’ markets as a way to improve taste.
No doubt Guiliano’s central idea is correct: portion control and regular exercise accompanied by the occasional indulgence probably is the best way to reduce and maintain your desired weight. What makes her program innovative compared to the run-of-the-mill diet plan is that last, indulge-yourself-occasionally part. Have fun, but in moderation, s’il vous plait!
I enjoyed this book quite a lot but sort of wonder about what makes it so pleasant. The recipes are fairly traditional, her fashion suggestions are positively old-school (no jeans, now really!?!) and the plan for weight control is the same thing that my primary care physician tells me whenever I go in for a visit. I think that it must be all of the Frenchie stuff.
Guiliano’s life seems terribly glamorous. She lives in Paris and New York, where she owns apartments in both places; she has a summer home in Provence; she and her husband frequently travel to Italy where they go wine tasting with ancient barons and baronesses in Tuscany; she is a high level executive for the famous champagne house, Veuve Cliquot. She seems to have done everything, and with such style! Amazing!
What is it about French people criticizing America that makes a book such a delight?