A NEW BOOK
BY ANN MAH

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A rare and dazzling portrait of Jacqueline Bouvier's college year abroad in postwar Paris, an intimate and electrifying story of love and betrayal, and the coming-of-age of an American icon—before the world knew her as Jackie.

"Vibrant and sensitive. This is the Jackie Kennedy origin story we've all been waiting for."

ALLISON LARKIN, author of The People We Keep

 

EXCERPT: Jacqueline in Paris 

Afterwards I said I would rather not go back for a while. I had lived in Paris for a year and become so enchanted by its pleasures and so despondent when I returned that I felt it would have been better not to go in the first place. I said it partly to appease Mummy, but I meant it too, for when I allowed myself to think of the city—its seasons and moods, the curved shadows cast by wrought-iron grillwork upon limestone walls, the reek of stale cigarettes in the métro, the drizzly rain that softened colors and angles into a Caillebotte painting—I desired it so intensely I felt sick at the thought of losing it again.

 

It is so different the feeling you have for a place when you're living there. My first visit with Bow and the other girls, I thought the city was all glamour and glitter and rush. Yusha took us to a nightclub on the Champs-Élysées where we stared goggle-eyed at the revue with its full orchestra and satin-voiced siren belting torch songs, the gymnasts and puppeteers and flock of cabaret girls wearing rhinestones, ostrich feathers and very little else. Miss Shearman, conscious of her duties as our chaperone, feigned shock at the latter, but my darling stepbrother gave her one of his gentle smiles and asked her to dance, leaving us girls to be dazzled in peace. I was eighteen years old and on my first trip to Europe, and I thought everything was marvelous.  

When I went to the nightclub again, about a year later, to my surprise it seemed so garish. The orchestra sounded leaden, the torch songs overwrought, the cabaret girls' smiles stretched to a snap, their flimsy costumes glittering like tinsel. By this time I had been studying in Paris for a few months, flying between the Comtesse's apartment and my classes at the Sorbonne and Reid Hall in a lovely, tranquil, misty world. I really liked that quiet contemplative side of Paris the best.  

My feet have never been so cold as that year, nor have I ever craved coffee and sugar as I did under postwar rationing. Five years after the Liberation, the city was still struggling to recover from the dark days, neglected buildings crumbling and coated with grime, graceful façades pockmarked with bullet holes. Central heating and hot water were rarer than an Akhal-Teke stallion. Threadbare clothes hung off spare frames—everyone was still so thin—and women clattered about in wood-soled clogs left over from the Occupation, when shoe leather had disappeared.

Memories of the war lurked everywhere, as I discovered, but no one would admit it. Even as the mood grew steadily more hopeful—the Marshall Plan fulfilling its promise, fine food in the shops again, and tourists flooding back to the hotels on the Right Bank and Left—the ghosts drifted among us. I tried to ignore them; I wished they would disappear. Sometimes I could lose myself in a gallery at the Louvre, of the wild jazz of an airless basement nightclub in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. But then—a flinch at an unexpected knock on the door; the recoil at the sight of a single boiled potato on a plate; the sobs, quickly stifled, that woke me in the night. Eventually I came to understand that accepting the ghosts was part of loving France too.

But this is not a ghost story. Or, if it is, I am also among the ghosts: me, the reserved girl who arrived in postwar France with an uncertain grasp of the subjunctive tense and a blush for every opinion I expressed. I hadn't known what to expect from a year abroad in Paris, but some of what I'd hoped for came true: freedom from Mummy's critical eye and Daddy's adoring one, the unending wonder of travel in Europe, even a love affair...

One morning I woke from a dream: a dinner party in the carved wood-paneled dining from of a grand château. I was bantering with the heavy-browed Frenchman seated beside me, my voice you longer soft and sing-songy but nimble and sure. I was holding my own—in French! As I lay there blinking myself awake in the lustrous chill of a winter dawn, I realized it wasn't a dream but a memory of the night before. I had shed the role of the coy debutante who so often pretended to by empty-headed, and become a young woman unashamed of my hunger for knowledge.

 

I loved it the most of any year of my life.

PREORDER  Jacqueline in Paris

 
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"A MADE-FOR-VACATION READ." –GOOP 

National bestseller  |  Indie Next pick

Sweetbitter meets The Nightingale in this page-turner about a woman who returns to her family's ancestral vineyard in Burgundy to study for her Master of Wine test, and uncovers a lost diary, a forgotten relative, and a secret her family has been keeping since World War II.

"The perfect read for mystery lovers, history buffs, wine drinkers, Francophiles, and anyone interested in visiting the French wine country from a comfortable chair at home."

MEG WAITE CLAYTON, author of The Postmistress of Paris

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EXCERPT: The Lost Vintage  

I had spent enough time in France to know that the words "chez moi" meant something a thousand times more profound than one's current home. "Chez moi" was the place your parents came from, or maybe even the region of your parents' parents. The food you ate at Christmas, your favorite kind of cheese, your best childhood memories of summer vacation—all of these derived from "chez moi." And even if you had never lived there, "chez moi" was knitted into your very identity; it colored the way you viewed the world and the way the world viewed you.

 

Where was my "chez moi"? Northern California, I supposed—I'd spent my entire life there—though, beyond my friends and colleagues, I didn't feel a particular affinity for the place. I liked to eat take-out Chinese food at Christmas, my favorite kind of cheese was aged Gouda from the Netherlands—where I'd never set foot—and the best vacation I'd ever taken as a kid was a three-day pioneer camp in Yosemite with my eighth grade class. We had chopped wood, square-danced, and slept under the stars on burlap sacks stuffed with pine needles—no arguing parents allowed. At this point, my "chez moi" was more a space within myself—the dreams and ambitions that I carried with me—rather than any tangible place. For years I had been proud of this self-sufficiency, this minimalism—the ability to shape-shift into new jobs and new restaurants, or to pack up an apartment and move within two days. 

 

But ever since I'd arrived in Burgundy, I had felt unsettled. Something about being here in the land of my ancestors, ensconced among the layered souvenirs of several generations, made me feel small and vulnerable. Alone. Maybe it came from cleaning out the neglected cellar—the dust of melancholy hanging over items no longer beloved. Maybe it was the effort of communicating in my faded French. Maybe it was the strain of forging a new normalcy with Jean-Luc. Or maybe it was the constant reminder of what I'd given up all those years ago: not only love, but also a home. 

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"LUSCIOUS."
–ELLE

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"Mah admirably fits her research into easily digested bites... the reader's enthusiasm mirroring her own."

THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

Winner of the Elle Readers Prize

The memoir of a young diplomat’s wife who must reinvent her dream of living in Paris—one dish at a time. Journeying through Paris and the surrounding regions, Mah seeks out the true stories behind France's signature regional dishes. And somewhere between Paris and the south of France she uncovers a few of life's truths.
 

EXCERPT: Mastering the Art of French Eating 

I'm not a voracious carnivore, but there's something about being in Paris that makes me want to sink my teeth into a bloody piece of beef. Perhaps it's the French paradox, the seductive theory that a diet rich in cheese, meat, and red wine actually lowers cholesterol. Perhaps it's watching all those sexy French women purse their lipsticked mouths while slicing through a juicy chop.

 

Steak frites is a relatively easy thing to order if, like me, you're still struggling to master those nasal French vowels. The words fly off the tongue, without any hidden surprises—unlike, say, asking the waiter about preservatives only to find out you've interrogated him on condoms. But, as I found out during one of my first meals in a classic Paris bistro, ordering a steak leads to more questions.

 

"Quel cuisson désirez–vous?" said the waiter in an offhand way, like asking my date of birth of my hair color. He wore round glasses, a white shirt with a black bow tie, and a long black apron that reached past his knees. It was difficult to discern who was older: him or the desiccated leg of ham hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the room. 

 

Thus far I had tricked the waiter into thinking I spoke French, but now, I realized, the jig was up. Medium, I thought, and tried a quick desperate translation. "Uh... moyen?"

 

A look of weary disappointment crossed his face. But he'd been around enough American tourists to know what I meant. "À point," he corrected me.

 

Later I would memorize all my steak vocabulary—the hot sear and chilled interior of bleu, the rosy glow of à point, the tough brown gnaw of bien cuit. I would learn how to enjoy a steak the French way—saignant—with a magenta center and juices that ran red. But at that moment I just repeated the words after him and washed them down with a gulp of wine.

 

BUY  Mastering the Art of French Eating

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"SPLENDID."
–ROMANTIC TIMES

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In the wake of a career-ending catastrophe, Isabelle Lee is ready for a change—so she takes off for Beijing to stay with her older sister, Claire, whom she's never really known, and finds a job writing restaurant reviews for an expat magazine. Was coming to China a mistake? Or an extraordinary chance to find out who she really is.

"A delicious debut novel, seasoned with just the right balance of humor and heart, and sprinkled with fascinating tidbits. Read thoroughly. Share with friends."

CLAIRE COOK , author of Must Love Dogs

 

EXCERPT: Kitchen Chinese 

 

My first meal in Beijing is roasted duck, or kaoya as it's called in Chinese. Glossy and brown, with crisp skin and meltingly moist flesh, the bird is cut into over one hundred pieces, in the traditional way. We silently fill our pancakes, dipping meat and skin into the dark, salty-sweet sauce, adding slivers of scallion and cucumber, and rolling the packages up like cigars. I arrived in Beijing only two hours ago, and my head feels pinched with tiredness and jet lag, but I eat until my fingers are greasy and my jeans feel snug. When the pancakes run out, I eat the duck alone, dipping morsels of skin into the brown sauce, relishing the crisp richness. 

 

My sister, Claire, watches me from across the table. We haven't seen each other in almost two years, yet the sly arch of her eyebrows is still familiar. 

 

"It's delicious," I say, smiling to hide my nervousness. "Almost as good as Mom's."

 

"Mom's is better," she replies. But I see her hands falter as she lights a cigarette. I try not to stare at the unfamiliar purse of her mouth as she exhales a plume of smoke. The cigarettes are a new accessory, but then again, everything seems a little different about my sister. 

 

I devour almost the whole duck, savoring its familiar, gamey flavor, so evocative of the scraps I used to scrounge from my mother's cutting board. The other dishes are stranger, and after one taste I ignore the cubes of tofu that drift within a deep puddle of bright red oil, and the plate of stir-fried mutton that releases an unwashed whiff. Around me, voices warble incomprehensibly in Chinese, faces grow rosy from beer, my sister, ever vigilant of her waistline, coolly smokes a string of cigarettes and watches me eat.

 

"Aren't you hungry?" I ask.

 

"I had a huge lunch." She slides her plate away. "How's your jet lag? You should take a melatonin before you go to bed tonight. Or I have some Ambien if you're really desperate. They say that's what all the flight attendants take between shifts." She flits from topic to topic, like she's trying to avoid something.

 

"I'm pretty sleepy." I swallow a yawn. "But thanks again for letting me stay with you," I say, feeling shy under her gaze.

 

"It's great to have you here, mei." She uses the Chinese word for younger sister, something we never did as children.

 

After dinner we stroll among the narrow tangle of hutong alleys that make up old Beijing. The warm summer evening feels festive; families sit outside, trying to escape the close heat of their tiny, traditional courtyard homes. Men, their pants rolled to the knees, t-shirts pushed high to expose solid bellies, smoke cigarettes, and turn to stare balefully at Claire's tall and sleek figure. Bicycles whiz perilously close to pedestrians, and everywhere the air is heavy with odors—garlic, grease, and other, grubbier, smells.

 

We wind our way through the slender alleyways, and suddenly the quaint village atmosphere disappears, choked off by a vast avenue that teems with bicyclists and honking cars. Claire stops abruptly. "I'm supposed to meet some friends," she says. "But if you're too tired..." Her voice trails off.

 

"I'm exhausted. But don't worry about me. I can find my way back to your apartment."

 

"It's your first night," she says distantly, before hailing me a cab. As I climb in, she leans over to give the driver directions, kisses my cheek, and closes the door. "See you tomorrow, Iz. Sleep well."

 

As the cab speeds away, I see her chatting and laughing on her cell phone, her whole face alight with animation. I remember those abrupt mood swings from my childhood, along with something else: Claire has always hated Peking duck.

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FRENCH FOOD IN THE INSTANT POT

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The first book of electric pressure cooker recipes devoted specifically to French food, Instantly French brings the scrumptious flavors of traditional French cuisine to your table—without the hours of slow cooking French food normally requires.

"From soups and stews to beloved coq au vin and pears belle Hélène, Ann Mah has figured out how we can master the soul of French cooking and do it in less time than maman did.”

DORIE GREENSPAN, author of Baking with Dorie

 

EXCERPT: Instantly French! 

 

One of the first things I noticed when I moved to Paris ten years ago is that time moves more slowly in France. Shopping in the open market, ordering coffee at the café, or even dropping off clothes at the dry cleaner are all tasks that proceed at a stately pace. The sense of leisure extends to the kitchen, where les cocottes de Mémé—Granny's slow-simmered dishes, like cassoulet, boeuf bourguignon, or blanquette de veau—form some of the earliest childhood memoires. Above all, French people adore small indulgences—and time is, perhaps, the great luxury of all.

 

As an ardent Francophile and enthusiastic home cook, I have long loved preparing French meals, elegant affairs that unfurl over four courses of entrée (appetizer), plat (main course), fromage (cheese), and dessert (a universal word of joy). But when my husband and I welcomed a baby daughter, my time and patience for lengthy meals grew short. Cooking became a form of survival, and eating solely about sustenance. I would look at my beloved cast-iron Dutch oven and give a wistful sigh for all the hearty French braises, soups, and stews of yore. 

 

And then my dad sent me a multifunction pressure cooker. I admit, I was skeptical at first. Too many viewings of the exploding dinner scene in Breakfast at Tiffany's had made me wary of pressure cookers. Also, like anyone who lives in an urban—i.e., cramped—environment, I am averse to single-use gadgets. And yet my friends raved about them, swapping recipes and tips with an almost cult-like devotion.

 

One Saturday morning, I finally gave the thing a shot, pressure-cooking a pot of beans with the tentative push of a button. Thirty minutes later, I had a batch of astonishingly delicious, uniformly creamy beans—they were, in fact, the best beans I had ever cooked. I began experimenting with other recipes, my delight and amazement growing with each dish. 

 

When I began talking to French friends about this newfangled device, I was surprised to find that their passion for the pressure cooker matched my own. As I discovered, French households have relied on the conventional pressure cooker for decades. In fact, they seem to regard it with a nostalgia more powerful that Proust's emotions for the madeleine. "I grew up with the constant whistling of the pressure cooker, and I find the music of it pretty soothing," said my friend Thomas.

 

Called la cococtte-minute, the pressure cooker was invented by a French physicist, Denis Papin, in the seventeenth century—and it has long been considered a secret weapon among French home cooks. "As a busy parent, my maman would use her pressure cooker every day," my friend Jérôme told me. Indeed, with its ability to speedily render tough cuts of meat spoon-tender, the pressure cooker is ideal for the hearty braises that are the hallmark of great French cuisine. Savvy French cooks also use it as a kitchen shortcut, to quickly soften winter squash for a gratin, for example, or endives for endives au jambon. In many French home kitchens, the pressure cooker is always at hand—even at the expense of precious real estate—because it's such a useful tool. Rather than keep the device in the back of a cupboard, it's stored on a convenient shelf so it's always ready for use.

 

The beauty of the multifunction cooker, however, is that it's more than a pressure cooker—it also offers options to sauté, steam, slow cook, and even make rice or yogurt. Aside from meaty mains, the device can help prepare vegetarian dishes, elegant starters, soups, and desserts, with ease and speed. In this book, the chapters are organized by courses, but all the recipes (except desserts) are designed to work as stand-alone dishes, satisfying enough for a meal, paired with cheese, bread, or a simple salad on the side.

 

These days I divide my time between Paris and Washington, DC, and my appetite for French cuisine—with its appreciation for home-cooked, seasonal food—remians undiminished. And though I—like most working people—still struggle to find the time and energy to cook every day, the multifunction pressure cooker has allowed me to reclaim all the recipes that felt too laborious to tackle. In this book, I share these recipes along with tips from French pressure cooker aficionados, shortcuts, observations on French culture, and advice for using the multifunction pressure cooker to create authentic French food. Finally, elegant French fare is accessible every day!

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