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Desperate to be a Housewife

By Ann | January 8, 2014

Desperate  2

Happy New Year! I’m back from my annual Christmas sojourn in sunny Southern California… which seems very, very far away today, as the polar vortex sweeps through New York. Two weeks ago, I was watching surfers from the Huntington Beach pier and lunching al fresco; my mother turned on the air conditioning on Christmas day and we cheered. Today, I forgot my gloves and my frozen fingers almost snapped off.

Along with baking a chocolate cake, basking in the sunshine (I now can’t believe there were days when I told my husband it was too bright), tucking into my dad’s Hatch green chile pork stew, and meeting so many new Francophile friends at my fantastic event at Laguna Beach Books, I spent some time re-reading my friend Meg Bortin’s rollicking new memoir, Desperate to be a Housewife. Set against the backdrop of the 1960s and 70s, this is the story of Mona Venture (Meg’s alter ego), a young woman struggling to reconcile her life as an independent journalist with her desire for a happy family life.

We first meet Mona as a student at the University of Wisconsin, and accompany her as she suffers the throes of suddenly requited love, joins student protests, and hides it all from her parents. We follow her to 1970s Paris and watch as she falls in love with an eccentric Frenchman and his funny, quirky band of lefty friends — and with France itself, with the beauty, joie de vivre, and exhilaration of being amidst the Left Bank intelligentsia. Meg’s journalism career takes off and she moves to Moscow, London, and beyond, a witness to some of the era’s most important news stories while continuing to look for love. Her tale, which juxtaposes unlucky romance against her feminist ideals, kept me turning the pages, hoping that Meg would find her happy ending.


Among young Mona’s suitors is a Frenchman named Jacques, a dynamic, quirky intellectual who seems ripped from a Truffaut film (amusing for the reader, less so for poor Mona). Jacques woos Mona with sumptuous food — a pear tart, a plate of icy, briny oysters. But when they eventually move in together, Mona discovers Jacques has a rigid cooking routine: une semaine de soupe, une semaine de riz. One week of soup, one week of rice. Just like today’s harried working parents, Jacques does all his shopping and cooking on Sundays. On soup weeks, he prepares a potage of carrots, leeks and bacon (Meg offers a recipe on her wonderful food blog, here), which “he ate for the next five nights, accompanied by wine, bread and cheese.” Rice weeks feature similar ingredients, but in a less liquid form.


Some might call Jacques’s weekly routine monotonous, but as a harried working parent myself (or — ironic side note — the housewife, Mona is so desperate to become?!), I found it appealing. Meg sent me the recipe for Rice Week and I made it on a rare, quiet afternoon home alone. I intended to save the food, as Jacques did, and eat it for dinner during the week. But the rice was so delicious, hearty with bacon and winter vegetables, I ended up sampling an overly large portion. (We polished off the rest for a quick lunch the next day, standing up scoffing it in the kitchen, before the baby woke up from her nap.) It reminded me of something familiar, and I realized later what it was: fried rice. Perfumed with herbes de Provence (I used thyme), this was fried rice French style. Next time, I’ll add more vegetables — shredded kale or Brussels sprouts? — and maybe scramble an egg at the finish. Et voilà, a one-pot meal enjoyed by housewives, singletons, French intellos, American feminists, and/or Chinese-American families everywhere. No spoilers here, but you might agree with Mona that the happy ending is the one you create for yourself.

Une semaine de riz

1 cup brown rice
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 leek
3 large carrots
1/4 pound thick-cut bacon
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. herbes de Provence or dried basil

Rinse the rice and transfer it to a saucepan. Cover with the water and add the salt. Bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low, cover the saucepan, and simmer until most of the water has been absorbed, about 20 minutes.

While the rice is cooking, pare the leek and chop it crosswise into rounds about 1/2 inch thick. Peel the carrots and chop them crosswise into slices about 1/4 inch thick. Chop the bacon into lardons about 1/2 inch wide.

Heat the olive oil to sizzling in a large frying pan. Add the leek and carrots, and stir fry for 5 minutes. Add the bacon and stir fry for 5 minutes more.

When the rice is ready, add it with its liquid to the frying pan. Add the herbs. Cover and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes.

Serves two generously, and it’s delicious as is, or with a dash of soy sauce.

Topics: Cooking the Books | 15 Comments »

15 Responses to “Desperate to be a Housewife”

  1. Lindy Says:
    January 8th, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    Welcome back to the real winter Ann! Great to read your blog again.

  2. Camille Says:
    January 8th, 2014 at 8:25 pm

    I agree, the idea of getting all my week’s cooking done in one fell swoop is mighty appealing! This rice looks delicious, I can’t wait to try it.

  3. Christine Griffith Says:
    January 8th, 2014 at 10:13 pm

    Summer is in full swing down here in NZ……we have been amazed at the wintry scenes from USA on the television news each night.
    I gave a copy of your book to my sister for Xmas, Ann,and she says she can’t put it down,as she is enjoying it so much! She stayed with us in Paris several times and we both agree that your book evokes mnay wonderful memories of the markets, cafes, and cooking up a storm in our tiny kitchen.
    She now understands why your book made me homesick for Paris!! Happy New Year….really enjoyed your latest blog…Meg’s book is next on my list of “must reads”.

  4. Susan Carter Says:
    January 9th, 2014 at 12:00 am

    This rice dish looks delicious & I can already think of several things to add to change it up. Will try it next week.

  5. Sandy Maberly Says:
    January 9th, 2014 at 9:32 am

    First of all, I love the thought of the Hatch chili with pork that your dad made. I’ve spent time in New Mexico with many a Hatch chili meal. The rice dish looks amazing. I’m always trying to find a good brown rice recipe so I can wean my man off of the nutrition lacking white rice dishes. Plus, leeks are a staple veg here in Wales ( ever try Angelsey eggs? ) Thanks for the inspiration on this cold, wet, windy day!

  6. Anne Says:
    January 9th, 2014 at 11:40 am

    I think this dish will be a hit with my crew. Thanks.

  7. Lynde Says:
    January 9th, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    This looks just great. As a near vegan, I want to try this without the bacon. Do you think that will alter the flavor significantly?

  8. Heather in Arles Says:
    January 11th, 2014 at 6:47 pm

    Oh yum. I am a bit late but I would have suggested to Lynde to substitute roasted shredded cabbage for the bacon. As I am a piggy, I will definitely be making this–with the cabbage AND the bacon! :)

    Ann, Happy New Year to you and your beautiful family!!!
    Sending Gros Bisous from Provence,

  9. Shut Up and Cook Says:
    January 11th, 2014 at 11:08 pm

    Thanks for the tip! Once I’m done with your book, I’ll start in on this one! :-)

  10. French Basketeer Says:
    January 12th, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    Glad you had a great break in Laguna but sorry to have missed you. Just arrived back from Beaune, and will be trying this lovely rice dish! Bonne Annee!!

  11. Lynde Says:
    January 12th, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    Thank you, Heather. I love cabbage so I will definitely try that in lieu of bacon. I roast vegetables several times each week and had not thought of shredding cabbage and roasting it. I may also roast the carrots and leeks and add all three roasted vegetables to the dish.

  12. Voie de Vie Says:
    January 14th, 2014 at 1:32 am

    Sounds like a great read – thanks. And thanks also for the excellent blog post – it’s nice read your words.

    I don’t cook for the entire week, but I do try and cook two big dishes that can last me (with varying sides) for 2-3 days. That way, I only do “involved” cooking twice a week. One of them in many instances is roasting a whole chicken. I love all the additional weeknight possibilities. :)

  13. Ann Says:
    January 15th, 2014 at 9:13 pm

    Lindy — Hi! Happy New Year! It’s nice to be back in my virtual home!

    Camille — The rice is delicious and I’m a new convert to cooking in one swoop. I just need to work on my multitasking (e.g. making many dishes at once).

    Christine — Thanks so much! I’m so honored to be a part of your holiday gift giving! You’ll love Meg’s book.

    Susan — It’s wonderfully versatile!

  14. Ann Says:
    January 15th, 2014 at 9:17 pm

    Sandy — The Hatch chile pork stew had pork neck and tomatillos and it was fantastic. I must know: what are Anglesey eggs?

    Anne — I hope they like it!

    Lynde — This would be different without bacon but different isn’t bad! If I were going a vegetarian route, I might add dried shiitake mushrooms or browned cabbage or brussels sprouts as Heather suggests.

    Heather — Thanks for the suggestion. Cabbage AND bacon — now you’re talking!

  15. Ann Says:
    January 15th, 2014 at 9:19 pm

    Shut Up and Cook — Meg’s book would be a great companion to your sabbatical of adventure!

    French Basketeer — I was so sorry to miss you in Laguna, but loved all your Beaune photos on Instagram!

    Voie de Vie — Now that I’ve hit on this new strategy, I’m not sure why I wasn’t using it sooner! This week’s post has another way to use those roast chicken leftovers…

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