"You have to look at the pictures I started with. They're horrible!" she says, with a surprisingly boisterous laugh that bursts from her small frame. "Absolutely horrible. I had a point-and-shoot, and I was very proud of my pictures. Now I look back and wonder what I was thinking!"
The manifestation of her blog as a hardcover is something she, along with the thousands of readers who regularly flock to her site, have been waiting for since its projected release date in 2010. Two years later, the book is seeing the light of day.
"We wanted a lot of storytelling and strong visuals, because those are big parts of my blog," she explains. "But it's not just a book about recipes and pictures, it's more my life and personality on the pages. I wanted the book to truly stick to who I am."
Peltre spent her childhood in Albestroff, a rural village in the Lorraine region of northern France, an upbringing she gives full credit to for instilling her with a love of fresh ingredients.
"Everyone in my family always had vegetable gardens. I remember my mom would never buy things out of season," she says, recalling tending to the chickens and rabbits kept by her grandparents. I recall the potted herbs on my shady windowsill that just flopped over and died recently, and sigh. "She cooked every single meal, and take-out doesn't really exist because the village is so small. I kind of took it all for granted until I left."
Peltre spent time teaching in New Zealand before making the move to Boston to be with her boyfriend at the time — now her husband — and attributes her foolproof style of cooking and recipe-writing to experiencing the world as an expat. Ingredients must be simple, and easily manipulated for a similar end result. While many of the recipes in the book are indeed quintessential examples of French country cooking at its best, a good handful are inspired by moments abroad.
The dishes within this cookbook are show-stoppers in their simplicity. I served one of her recipes, an elegant mille-feuille (a reference to a multilayered French pastry) of avocado, grapefruit, and sautéed shrimp, to a group of friends once. They all looked at me like I had just fished the shrimp out of the sea and coaxed the grapefruits off the branch.
"What I do want to convey through the book is that cooking doesn't need to be complicated, if you start with beautiful ingredients," she says, setting a plate in front of me. "Every meal should be a celebration. You deserve to eat well, you deserve nice food."
As I take a bite of the tart, still warm from the oven and exploding with layers of flavor — rich, buttery cheese, the tang of caramelized onion, summery bursts of tomato — I understand that she is absolutely right. And then I close my eyes, chew, and try to forget the pile of dishes in my sink.
Béatrice Peltre reads from her book, La Tartine Gourmande: Recipes for an Inspired Life, at Trident Booksellers and Café, 338 Newbury St, on Thursday, March 1, at 7 pm. Call 617.267.8688 or visit tridentbookscafe.com for more information. Cassandra Landry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.