Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Bonjour Kale: A Memoir of Paris, Love, and Recipes by Kristen Beddard

My first read of 2017 was about Paris and kale.  Yes, you read it correctly.  Sounds a bit strange, but actually it was an interesting read about moving to a completely brand new environment and having a bit of a rough time adjusting.  Paris may appear to be a dream, but it can often times prove to be a difficult place to make a new home. 

Kristen Beddard was living in New York City, happily single, when she met Philip at work.  They dated, fell in love, and got married with the realization that Philip's job was sending him to Paris for long periods of time and the best plan was to move to Paris and live there for the next five years.  Kristen had been to Paris years earlier, and loved it.  She was excited to go, and read heaps of blogs about Americans living in Paris.  She thought she was prepared, and was headed to a lovely life, complete with ballet flats, red lipstick and, hopefully, a job teaching in English.

She was, sadly, wrong on all counts.  And to top it all off, she quickly realized one of her most beloved foods was nowhere to be found in Paris:  kale.  Yes, kale.  Kristen grew up eating it, and never had a problem finding it in the United States.  But for some reason, all of the farmer's markets, and all of the stores she visited had no idea what she was talking about.  Her frustration led her to create a blog called The Kale Project, with her desire to bring kale back to France. This all happened at a time when the French were at the cusp of a new food revolution, and kale was a part of it.  If only Kristen could convince enough farmers to grow and sell it.  

There is more to this story.  Kristen's young marriage is under a bit of strain because of her frustration at living in Paris.  One of the main points in this memoir made it, for me, a refreshing read:  that it is not easy, and often very difficult, to move to another country.  Struggling to learn French, learning the intricate dance of grocery shopping, conversing with vendors, and the tricky bits of French government added to Kristen's stress, and that caused some growing pains in her marriage.  Happily, Kristen's husband is pretty supportive and understanding of her struggles.  He too finds himself underestimating life in France. 

 Kale, for Kristen, is more than just a vegetable.  It reminds her of her home, of her childhood, and is her favorite vegetable.  Each chapter has recipes for different kale dishes.  Some are strictly vegetarian, others can be made with meat.  I had no idea just how many different varieties of kale there are, and that every other country in Europe regularly grows and eats kale.  Everyone but France.  Until Kristen and the Kale Project came along. She is a perfect example of taking what you love and making something wonderful out of it just through sheer passion.

I have read many memoirs about living in Paris, and I think this was the first authentically honest one I've read.  The people Kristen meets along her journey are kind, rude, indifferent, charming, friendly, and a lot of times difficult to understand. Many colorful characters form the backdrop to Kristen's Paris.  You can check out her blog by clicking on The Kale Project.  

Rating:  7/10 for a new look at moving to and living in Paris, and how a passion for something can lead each of us in a surprising direction.

Available in paperback and e-book.

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