I bought Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris without knowing anything about it because I was about to go to Paris and also it seemed kind of absurd. The back cover describes the author’s experience as a “Rabelaisian initiation into life’s finer pleasures,” and I emitted a Ha! so loud I knew I had to buy the book.
The author is AJ Liebling, a journalist and noted glutton. In James Salter’s introduction to the book, Liebling is said to be someone whose “pull was towards the disreputable elements of society, the seamy part of life, men who lived by their wits.” He was “a big, rumpled figure with a homely face and his navel showing through an unbuttoned shirt,” and his gluttony, “however it had begun it had become an essential part of him, a rebellion, a plume.”
“He had given up on his appearance but was living lavishly.”
I know that there is something fundamentally wrong with me, and I am aware of Liebling’s suffering and ill health toward his end, but something about all of this is very appealing. Who doesn’t want to eschew convention and expectation and just eat all of everything that Paris has to offer? I can’t just be speaking for myself when I say that it’s hard not to feel the burden of moderation? Real life is so restrictive. Let’s all take a study abroad term in France.
“The optimum financial position for a serious feeder is to have funds in hand for three more days, with a reasonable, but not certain, prospect for reinforcements thereafter. The student at the Sorbonne waiting for his remittance, the newspaperman waiting for his salary, the free-lance writer waiting for a check that he has cause to believe is in the mail – all are favorably situated to learn. (It goes without saying that it is essential to be in France.) The man of appetite who will stint himself when he can see three days ahead has no vocation, and I dismiss from consideration, as manic, the fellow who will spend the lot on one great feast and then live on fried potatoes until his next increment; Tuaregs eat that way, only because they never know when they are next going to come by their next sheep. The clear-headed voracious man learns because he tries to compose his meals to obtain an appreciable quantity of pleasure from each. It is from this weighing of delights against their cost that the student eater (particularly if he is a student at the University of Paris) erects the scale of values that will serve him until he dies or has to reside in the Middle West for a long period. The scale is different for each eater, as it is for each writer.”
AJ Liebling was a lush and a “feeder” and a talented writer and a lover of France in that snapshot of time when Paris was the stuff of romance, of longing, the stuff of so much good fiction at a specific time in our history, the stuff of fantasy that endures. Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris is funny and indulgent, the kind of thing you read and think “I have made so many poor life choices,” the kind of thing you should read on a rainy weekend with a lot of pinot noir and pâté close at hand.
Chicken liver pâté
(Serves four regular people or two gluttonous fiends.)
- ½ cup room-temperature unsalted butter
- 2 shallots, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ lb. chicken livers, membranes removed
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 whole sprig of fresh thyme
- ½ tsp. ground white pepper
- ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
- 1 tbsp. cognac (I’m poor, so I use brandy)
- 2 tbsp. heavy cream
Over medium heat, melt two tablespoons of butter in a pan. Add the shallots and garlic, and cook until the onions have turned shimmery and translucent.
Add the livers, thyme, bay leaf, nutmeg, pepper and a pinch of salt. Cook for three to five minutes, until the livers are just barely pink in the centre. Remove from heat and let cool.
Remove the bay leaf and the sprig of thyme. Dump the contents of the skillet into a food processor, and pulse until smooth.
Scoop the liver mixture out of the food processor and into a bowl. Beat the remaining butter into the mix, then add cognac (*cough* brandy). Stir until well combined, then gently mix in the cream. Taste, adjusting seasonings to your preference. Spread the pâté on bread or crackers, and feel very gourmet about the whole thing.