reconfort: a farewell to a reader with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease

bonne lecture + a newly-released memoir that will satisfy your hunger for France (and maybe even andouillette)

stone cottage and window shutters on shaded patio in Provence. Manicured garden with euphorbia and pruned hedges (c) Ann Mah for
Today's story and photos are by Ann Mah, whose Paris memoir is out now! If you love France, language, and food, you will appreciate Mastering the Art of French Eating! Wishing you 'bonne lecture.'

bonne lecture (bown-leh-ktewr)

    : happy reading, enjoy the story or article or paper

Audio File/Example Sentance: Download MP3 or Wav file

En vous souhaitant bonne lecture.Wishing you happy reading.

Exercises in French Phonics
 - read this book and learn the proper way to pronounce French. Buy it here

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

While putting together today's guest post, I suddenly realized the story column did not have a title. Normally this wouldn't be a problem--except today's missive was not written by me. Que faire? What to do? No time to contact Ann Mah, the author of the essay.

Then it dawned on me: I'm the editor of this blog. It's my job to title the articles, you nincompoop, or espèce d'andouille!

Speaking of andouille (also a topic in Ann's book), I was suddenly weak-stomached by my newfound authority as namer-of-another's-opus. What if I blew it? Ended up dishonoring my writer with a cheesy or flippant title? I mean, it's one thing to slap a title above your own essay, but quite another to sum up the thoughtful words of another. 

I reread Ann's tender remembrance, below, about her vacation in Provence, when something came to mind: "Ode to an Endearing Stone Cottage in Provence..." 

....Only, when I looked up the word "ode," I learned it means "poem." Ah, dommage! Too bad! Unless... Could an essay be a poem?

I paused to consider how Ann's story reminded me of the chapters in her douce, or sweet-hearted memoir. "Ode" is exactly how Ann's writing comes across to me.  After all, an ode, according to Merriam-Webster, is "a poem in which a person expresses a strong feeling of love or respect for someone or something."

Ann's book is bubbling over with tenderness for a country she has always dreamed of living in. One day when her husband, a diplomat, is assigned to Paris, she gets the chance to move to the City of Light... only, Ann's dream-come-true has a bittersweet twist--one that will render her stay in France that much richer, that much more meaningful and memorable. As virtual travelers alongside Ann, we reap the very same rewards reading her memoir, and we are left with mouths watering for France and its culinary treasures.   

What a treat to have Ann with us here today! More than an excerpt from her book, she has written an extra for us. Wishing you bonne lecture as you read Ann's offering, below. 


Ode to an Endearing Stone Cottage in Provence--and to La Soupe au Pistou!
by Ann Mah 

The first time I saw the house, I was delirious with jet lag. I had arrived in Paris from Boston at dawn and taken the high-speed train from the airport, my head bobbing heavily as I struggled against sleep. At Avignon, the hot wind hit me like the blast of a hair dryer, sweeping along the quai, billowing against my wrinkled clothes. In the station, I found my friends – newly arrived from London – and a rental car, and we sped along country roads, squinting against the blazing sun, past olive groves and apricot orchards. We climbed a hill towards a pretty, pink, proud village, circled a roundabout, crept past shops shut against the heat of the afternoon, parked the car next to a fig tree. The house was covered in ivy, an unassuming stone cottage at the edge of town. But when the door creaked open, I smelled lavender and I knew I was in Provence.

lavender garden and stone bench and terrace in Provence

The house was filled with charming nooks, soft couches where I longed to tuck myself away with a good book, a stone basin filled with dried lavender blossoms, rough sisal carpets on the floors, linen curtains softening the windows, the occasional scorpion scuttling across thickly plastered walls. But the true magic lay beyond the kitchen door, in the garden. When I stepped outside, I fell – that is, I tumbled under a spell of fig trees and umbrella pines, wild mint and thyme sprouting from rocky corners, lavender plants clipped into balls, terraces tamed into polished wilderness, the scent of savage herbs, and sun-warmed pine needles, and a hint of wood smoke.

When I think back to that vacation, I can’t remember exactly how we spent the languid days. Eventually my husband arrived, and I do recall late-afternoon swims in the pool, ice cubes in rosé, toasts spread with olive tapenade. And trips to the open market, of course, wicker basket in hand. The produce was so bright, so soft-skinned and bursting with flavor. I bought speckled shell beans, fragrant pots of tiny-leafed basil, a liter of golden olive oil. But even as I cooked these things, I wondered how a real Provençal housewife would prepare them.

We went back to the house the next year, and the next, and the next – for six years in a row – and each time I fell a little more in love with the garden, the market, the village, the soft air of Provence. By the second year, I learned about soupe au pistou – a summer soup filled with shell beans and courgettes, laced with olive oil and a fragrant basil pesto – but tasting it eluded me. Soupe au pistou, someone told me, was eaten at home, not in restaurants, a recipe prepared by Granny’s loving, patient hands.

The culinary and travel memoir "Mastering the Art of French Eating : Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris" by Ann MahI thought I would never learn how to make authentic soupe au pistou. But then, I started researching a book about French cuisine, diving into the history of regional specialties. On my annual trip to Provence, a group of local ladies invited me to help cook soupe au pistou for the village fête – for a crowd of 200 – and I eagerly joined them at 5am, with my chopping board and vegetable peeler in hand. My adventures with these formidable women – excellent cooks all of them – are recounted in my book, Mastering the Art of French Eating – but I will say here that it was a wonderful experience, albeit mildly terrifying.

What I didn’t know then was that the summer I finally discovered soupe au pistou would be my last in the house with the magical garden. A few months after our vacation, the owner put it on the market and the next summer we planned a holiday somewhere else. But I still think of the proud, pink village on the hill, the hot breezes and umbrella pines, the feeling of peach juice dripping down my chin. I still miss the long, lazy afternoons, the sound of the neighbor’s lawnmower punctuating a nap, the smell of lavender tumbling in on a breeze. But the truth is, I’m hesitant to go back to Provence, to stay in another house, for fear the spell will be broken. Instead, I buy big bunches of basil in my local farmer’s market, and I cook soupe au pistou again and again, and I dream.

*    *    *

serving of La Soupe au Pistou, plated;
Thank you, Ann, for this endearing portrait of a place close to our hearts! Reading your stories reminds us just what it is that draws us to France. 

 To comment on Ann's article, please click here. 

Mastering the Art of French eating is available in hardcover here, or in ebook here

PortraitAnn Mah is a journalist and the author of the novel, Kitchen Chinese. Ann was awarded a James Beard Foundation culinary scholarship in 2005 and her articles about food, travel, fashion, style, and the arts have appeared in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, The Huffington Post, the International Herald Tribune, Washingtonian magazine, and the South China Morning Post, among other publications. 

The wife of a U.S. diplomat, Mah lives in New York City. For more information, please visit


You can order your copy here, too:

*Barnes and Noble

"Whether you’re French or Francophile, a long-time connoisseur of French food or someone who’s just figuring out the difference between frites and frangipane, feasting through France with Ann Mah is a delicious adventure. Ann’s writing is lovely, her curiosity boundless and her good taste assured. Spending time with her in Mastering the Art of French Eating is a treat."
—Dorie Greenspan, author of Around My French Table and owner of Beurre & Sel Cookies

"Ann Mah dishes up a welcoming concoction, a good dose of French history, a personal, vibrant, enthusiastic picture of life in a country she adores, without apology. I am hungry already!"
—Patricia Wells, author of The Food Lover's Guide to Paris and Simply Truffles

"Excellent ingredients, carefully prepared and very elegantly served. A really tasty book."
—Peter Mayle, author of The Marseille Caper and A Year in Provence

*    *    *

Determined to improve your French so that you may travel to France and taste the different regions? Check out these helpful language-learning tips submitted by our generous community at French Word-A-Day:

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


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Geraldine Ventura

Ann's story reminds me of ours. We had real anxiety about the house we had rented from Gites de France, but when we arrived we discovered a beautiful old villa with a beautiful garden and a fig tree. We made a wonderful veal roast with pears from the market and figs from our tree. From the local farm market we bought the ingredients for Soupe Pistou. Our month in the house was followed by four more months in later years. Sadly, the owner became ill and stopped renting out the house and we had to find other rentals . We truly fell in love with Provence that year and have been blessed to return many times since. We cherish the friends we made there, and our introduction to French food and French life will never be forgotten.

MJH DesignArts

Love of place. I am now craving more of Ann's writing....her book is going on my list. Thank you.

Eileen deCamp

Thanks Kristin and Ann! I wish I could visit Provence right now after reading this! The photos are lovely too!


Such a story, with so many rythm in the descriptions of flowers, herbs and smells (that we can really smell by reading the text), seem to me like that kind of lovely songs we call - in french - "berceuses". They make the babies falling asleep with words which make them already dream just before sleeping.
This is not really a text, if I may say, it's quite an ode to Provence.
I can say that because I'm "provençale" !

As for the Soupe au pistou, the picture shows "normal" green beans. But the right green bean we must use for this Soupe is called "écheleur" in Provence and is.... flat. If you can't find it - it's rather expensive nowadays - you can use the other ones, for sure.

I guess I'll buy Ann's book to listen to my Provence singing through her words !



I hope you will have a nice autographed copy of Ann´s new book tucked under my pillow to savor on my next trip. I will never forget the fun I had reading her book ´KITCHEN CHINESE´at the vineyard while everyone else was out sweating in the sun picking those lovely grapes. I laughed and cried all the way through her book then and I can´t wait for this new one. The will make great Christmas presents for all of your readers to give this year.



Jenny Barton

As I read through Ann's 'lecture' I suddenly realised the photos of the garden looked familiar - is it La Louve, in Bonnieux? Those topped cypress trees are such a signature. I have lived in the Luberon for three years now and spent 18 months working on a much neglected garden. Then I visited La Louve, came home and started all over again - such a beautiful, peaceful, inspirational place, full of simplicity, wonderful green shapes, and an integral part of the surrounding landscape. Nicole de Vesian designed La Louve when she was 70, so I still have (a little!) time, but I am happy to read I am not the only person to remember it with such joy!


So sorry... I forgot to add an "s" at "rythm" ! But I know I could have written "such a rythm" instead of... so many rythms".

Julie Farrar

I've already ordered Ann's book and it should arrive later this week. Someday I'll stay in France long enough to head south of Burgundy. I want to smell the lavender.

Just to let you know, Kristin, that "ode" would be perfectly acceptable because there is the genre called "prose poem." You also often write prose poems for your posts.


Thank you Kristin and Ann! I am not a cook by any means, but with the cooler winter months coming up, I will definitely be trying to create this yummy taste of Provence for myself and my friends.



Thanks to your wonderful comment I have spent the past two hours surfing the internet discovering even more fabulous photos of La Louve and have decided Kristi and I must spend a weekend in this area. I will continue with my search all the while sending you big hugs for your great information. I can´t wait to find out all I can about Nicole de Vesian, in a few years I will be 70 too, so I will have a three year start working on Kristi´s garden. I adore the comment section here at FWAD - and today you blessed me with your generous sharing.




It's so lovely to read all these nice comments -- merci tout le monde! I'm thrilled to find so many fellow Provence lovers here.

Jenny -- Yes, the garden was La Louve! You have sharp eyes. It's a magical place. Your garden sounds beautiful, too.

Julie -- Thank you for ordering my book. Your note made my day!

Kathleen from Connecticut

I will have to order Ann's book...I am a Francophile and a foodie, well a gourmet, plus I love to the book sounds perfect.


Ellen from BH

What a beautiful face Ann has! Like the Mona Lisa, so full of secrets, intelligence and warmth. Can't wait to read your book(s)!

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks, Jenny! I was going to send the info you shared to my mom, but I see she has already ran with it! Ann, thanks for the confirmation. It was such a pleasure to visit this garden, and to share a meal here with you there. I am kicking myself for not taking photos, but an inner hunch (or was it the lavender that whispered?) pas de paparazzi! P.S. your note about Nicole de Vesian is inspiring!

Diane Young

What a treat to read about the sights and smells of Provence! Though I'll never get there in person, I'll travel through the eyes of others and enjoy so much. Thank you, Kristi and Ann, for this gift of special memories.

Carolyn  Dahm,  Sharon, MA

Thank you Kristi for giving Ann the opportunity to share her beautiful and delicious story with us. Ann, I can't wait to read your book and make my own soupe au pistou! Thank you for sharing your experience and lovely photos as well.

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