In a memoir fully deserving of its moodiness, food writer Rossant (Memoirs of a Lost Egypt, not reviewed) tells of her fitful, melancholy life before she married her husband of 47 years.
Rossant’s mother probably thought of it as freedom, her tendency to drift in and out of her children’s lives, but Rossant experienced it as treachery: all the promises that went begging, being left in the hands of stewards who might or might not have Rossant’s best interests in mind. From a warm childhood among her extended family in Cairo, Rossant was spirited to Paris immediately following WWII, only to wind up in the care of her grandmother, an abrupt and sarcastic woman, after her mother made herself scarce yet again. Having learned in Cairo that the kitchen was a very special place, she was thrilled by her introduction to French food, an omelet aux fines herbs that stole her breath away. And so food steadied her course through the difficulties of her youth, a way in which she could find her footing in uneasy relationships with her family and her boyfriends. Despite the melancholy that pervades the story, there is so much charm in Rossant’s voice—she was baffled when she was 16 that she and her friends were without boyfriends, though “we were actually frumpy, badly dressed, and not a la mode”—that you can smile through the disappointments and drear. And when she finds her focus, it shines: “I discovered that I loved gambling—the rush it gave me. I also liked the olives and slices of saucisson sec they served at the end of the gambling session.” It wasn’t the roulette table that got the last laugh, either. At appropriate moments, Rossant inserts recipes—a friture, a tomato salad, blanquette de veau, raspberry tart—that are little stories in themselves.
Never was the kitchen a more welcome port in the storm, or more nurturing, than for the buffeted Rossant, who is a sympathetic character, and all the more so for her measure of pride. (Photographs)