Format: Trade Paperback, 352 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4000-3264-8 (1-4000-3264-4)
Pub Date: April 8, 2003
Add this item to your cart
After losing her advertising job in San Francisco and canceling her wedding (though not her engagement) an unencumbered Melissa, who harbors grand illusions about life in England, heads off to a new job as au pair to the family of a Member of Parliament. But the minorly aristocratic Haig-Ereildouns’ household falls far short of Melissa’s imaginings. Mrs. Haig-Ereildoun refers to Melissa as "her American girl" with a mixture of pride and contempt, expects her to share the children’s bathwater and, most importantly, entreats Melissa to " try to speak as we do." Heaven forbid the children pick up an American accent!
But then there is Nanny, the gloriously eccentric octogenarian who raised Mrs. H-E, who offers comfort, and much comic relief; nine-year-old Trevor, Melissa’s charge, whose wisdom and companionship redeem many a lonely day; and her budding friendship with a mysterious Englishman who is miles from her fiancé in every way. Melissa converses with Scotish fishermen, breakfasts with a French Minister of Culture, frequents island castles and sixteenth century manor houses, all the while straddling her ill-defined role (somewhere between houseguest and servant) with humor and grace. Melissa’s immersion in this unforgettable world teaches her more than she could possibly have imagined not only about the culture she has come to inhabit but, most importantly, about herself.
The Recipes of an American Au Pair
created by Marjorie Leet Ford
Mrs. West’s Lemon Bars
"I have to describe those lemon bars. Shortbread crust, all buttery. It’s a mystery how the crumbs can be so crisp, and so soft-satin rich at the same time, and so breakable that some lingers on the hand you’re using, some on your lips, to lick off. On top of the crust, this thick, puddingish goo of bright yellow — another mystery, how the sourness of the lemon and the bitterness of the rind, plus a hint of sweetness, can all be together in one creamy taste. The dusting of powdered sugar also comes off on your hand and your lips, giving you more to lick." (The Diary of an American Au Pair, p. 74)
Amazingly, these are almost as easy to make as they are hard to resist.
2 cups flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter
Juice of 2 lemons
Grated rind of 2 lemons
2 cups sugar
4 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
More powdered sugar, for dusting
Preheat oven to 350.
Mix the crust ingredients, press into a 9" x 13" baking pan.
Bake for 15 minutes.
Beat topping ingredients together and spread over crust.
Bake 30 minutes at 350.
Dust with powdered sugar.
Cut into serving-sized squares.
Makes: About 40 squares
Granny Aitchee’s Shortbread
"I feel like swooping down, my large presence, and hugging Granny Aitchee’s tiny presence, clothed in plaid.... Every day she wears her family’s tartan, the MacLaren plaid.... [She’s] completely Scottish. In her dining room she arranges flowers reciting Robert Burns:"My love is like a red red rose." Her favorite book is Ivanhoe. She makes delicious scones, and shortbread that tastes ninety percent butter." (The Diary of an American Au Pair, p. 82)
At the touch of your teeth, these shortbread cookies crumble and melt in your mouth.
1/2 cup sugar (can be granulated or powdered or half and half)
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Beat the butter and sugar till creamy.
Beat in the vanilla.
Mix flour, salt, and baking powder together and beat them into the butter-sugar.
Form the dough into 2 or 3 logs, each about 1-1/2" in diameter. Wrap logs in plastic or waxed paper and chill 1/2 hour or more.
Preheat oven to 375.
Slice logs into 1/4" rounds.
Lay rounds out on cookie sheet, leaving 1" between each.
Bake about 12 minutes, until brown around the edges, still pale gold on top.
About 40 1-1/2" crispy, buttery shortbread rounds
It’s easy to over-bake these. They should look under-done. They crisp as they cool.
Mrs. West Ginger Biscuits
"[Old Nanny] leaned forward, pushing the plate of biscuits toward me again. 'And Mrs. Haig-Ereildoun? Do you find her kind? Does she care about people’s feelings?' Oh, God. I had another biscuit.... The shine in Nanny’s eyes was almost lascivious." (The Diary of an American Au Pair, p. 72)
Nanny and the Chipchase family loved ginger biscuits. They’re like what we call ginger snaps—but snappier with spice. Mrs. West, the cook, had a secret ingredient: little pieces of crystallized ginger, mixed into the batter. If you can get this candied ginger at a specialty store, try it. You bite into little texture surprises—and you taste the meaning of the word "gingerly."
1-1/2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup molasses
4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons ground ginger
1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped crystallized ginger (optional, but terrific)
Preheat oven to 350.
Beat the butter and sugar until fluffy.
Beat in the eggs and molasses.
Combine flour, salt, baking soda and spices and beat into the batter.
Stir in the chopped, crystallized ginger.
Drop by teaspoonfuls onto a cookie sheet, leaving 2" space between biscuits.
Bake about 10 minutes.
About 8 dozen ginger biscuits.
“Beguiling. . .wryly details the great divide between Brits and Americans. . .a sweet charmer.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Brings to life a charming character suffering from culture shock.”–NY Daily News
“Her eye is as deadly as her nature is forbearing; her dissection of the goings on in those cold castles and manors is so funny you can't help but wonder if the real-life people will dare read it, and we as readers are just lucky the put-upon au pair girl didn't walk out.”—Diane Johnson
“Majorie Leet Ford had written a touching, gentle account of life amongst those peculiar people who seem to flourish in Britain’s unlikely corners. This is a refreshing work, rich in the sort of social observation which lifts a book from the realm of light fiction into something much more satisfying.”—Alexander McCall Smith
“What a pleasure to discover these charmingly complex characters--a displaced American braving the chill of the British Isles and a glacially inconsiderate employer/mom who could have sprung from Dickens. Marjorie Leet Ford's novel is rich, sweet, funny, intelligent, and utterly satisfying.” —Elinor Lipman
“A romantic comedy with a biting literary edge”–Books Magazine, London
“In the most charming, gleeful way, a work of comparative anthropology.”–The Observer, London
“A character we’re prepared to stick with.”–The Times, London
“[W]ell written, insightful and amusing. . .definitely deserves a place in your holiday bag. (4 stars)”–Heat magazine, London
“The reader chuckles knowingly as Melissa struggles with the idiosyncracies of British life.”–The Guardian, London
“More than just another romantic comedy, this is the story of a sassy American who cancels her wedding to the safest man ever, in favour of heading for the UK to work as an au pair–a move she soon begins to regret.”–OK Magazine, UK
“This utterly delightful first-person account of American au-pair Melissa’s time spent amongst the aristocracy has the charm of a latter-day ‘Love in a Cold Climate’. . .with gentle wit and acute perception. . .Melissa recounts the everyday eccentricities of an upper-class family whilst weaving the story of her own romances: with England, with food and, particularly, with an Englishman.”–Hello, London
Marjorie Leet Ford is a broadcaster and writer living in San Francisco. She conceived the long-running National Public Radio series Tell Me a Story, traveling around the world to record great writers, including John Updike, Eudora Welty, Jamaica Kincaid, Raymond Carver, Roald Dahl, reading their short stories. She was also once herself an au pair in Britain.
Upgrade to the Flash 9 viewer for enhanced content, including the ability to browse & search through your favorite titles.
Click here to learn more!