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Saturday November 1st 2014

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Self-Help Never Sexier

“Eat, Pray, Love” Opens in Theaters this Weekend

It seems international travel is the new American highway. Kerouac’s road has all but been replaced with Eurail and foreign bistros, no doubt crammed with Americans who are “finding themselves.”

Perhaps it’s no surprise then that travelogues are amassing astounding popularity: the one of the moment being “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert. Released in 2006, the book made leaps and bounds up the New York Times Best Seller list. This weekend, the film starring Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem will be released into theaters. Self-discovery has never been sexier.

I read “Eat, Pray, Love,” when I lived overseas. Therefore, it’s hard for me to discern whether I liked it because it was good, or because it was in English. At the time, I was living in a vastly isolated village without running water or cafes or the slightest chance of finding Alfredo sauce on anything. I remember being painfully envious of Gilbert’s romps around the world — of her journey of self-discovery that drove her to spend a year exploring “the art of pleasure in Italy, the art of devotion in India, and in Indonesia, the art of balancing the two.”

Oh, the jealousy. I desperately wanted to find an excuse to not like this book. I finished it in three days however, relishing the escape it provided. A book that devotes entire chapters to meditation in an Indian ashram yet idolizes food? A tale that encompasses three continents, countless men and an ungodly amount of airline miles? Who could deny its appeal? Upon self-reflection I too will admit that damn it, I really liked Gilbert’s book — grandiose self-help references and all.

Though travelogues that have the basis of “self-discovery” as their motive often spiral into self-indulgent narratives, Gilbert does a good job of keeping that inclination at bay. She’s also a very good traveler, and conscientious that she shouldn’t inflict her Western perception of cultural norms onto foreign cultures.

Since its publication, it has become quite the fad to have book club parties replete with themed foods for this book. And while I generally cringe at the thought of themed meals, I can see the allure, especially when it comes to this book. Like “Julie and Julia” or “Like Water for Chocolate,” this is a foodie novel and one that begs to be read within walking distance of the refrigerator.

So if you’re planning to flock to the theaters to see the beauty of Italy and the lush greenery of Bali, perforated by Javier Bardem’s abs, then consider indulging in these dishes beforehand.

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Italian Antipasto
Simple Italian at its best. Dress a platter with thin slices of salami, mortadella (Italian sausage), prosciutto and capicola (Italian ham, similar to prosciutto). Add Italian cheeses like Taleggio (one of the oldest soft cheeses in the world), Parmigiano-Reggiano, fresh mozzarella, and Asiago cheese. On the side, offer sliced, marinated red peppers, anchovies, an assortment of olives, marinated mushrooms, fresh basil, apples and raisins. And of course, have lots of crusty Italian bread ready. A bottle of red couldn’t hurt, either.

Cream Puffs
If you’re craving cream puffs (and how could you not, considering how often they are brought up by Gilbert), then consider making your own. Think of all the calories you’ll burn off while mixing up the batter — surely enough to warrant an excuse to eat five cream puffs instead of just one.

Ingredients:
Custard
Half cup white sugar
5 tbsp. all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
2 cups milk
2 egg yolks, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. butter
Pastry
Half cup shortening
1 cup water
1 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
4 eggs

To make the custard, combine Half cup sugar, 5 tablespoons flour and a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan. Stir in the milk slowly, whisking thoroughly to ensure no clumps develop. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil for 60 seconds (to cook out the flour taste and thicken), then pour a small amount of the hot liquid into the eggs. Add the warmed egg mixture to the saucepan (this is called “tempering” the eggs). Cook mixture until it starts to bubble again. Remove from heat and add the vanilla extract and butter, which will give it a nice sheen. Transfer to bowl, cover, and allow to chill in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. To make the pastry, combine shortening and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. While heating, sift together 1 cup of flour and pinch of salt and add to the boiling water/shortening mix. Stir until mixture forms into a ball. Remove from heat and add the eggs, one at a time, stirring after each addition. When all four eggs are added and dough is fully combined, drop by the spoonful onto baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes at 450 degrees, then reduce heat to 400 degrees and bake for another 25 minutes, or until golden brown.

Cool baked pastries, then split in half and fill with the chilled custard mixture. Cap it with other half. Garnish with whipped cream and fresh berries.