Monthly Archives: March 2011
Just having the word Paris in the title of this book grabbed my attention. After reading a short synopsis, I requested it through the Goodreads giveaway program. I love reading novels set in France and Italy so, I felt fortunate to be the recipient of this book – free of charge!
Secrets of Paris is a story of friendship and a troubled marriage. Lydie, one of the main characters, moves to Paris with her husband Michael in a cultural exchange program. Michael is an architect with an assignment to redesign a room at the Louvre. Lydie is a photographer stylist. Both have their work but …c’mon….the city of lights and love is at their disposal for romantic date nights….they should take advantage of it!
Lydie is still in mourning over her father’s death in a murder suicide where Dad kills his lover and offs himself. Naturally this affair comes as a total shock to Lydie and her mother. It just does not help to find out Michael knew of the affair. In his defense, his father-in-law told him about it one day and swore him to secrecy. What a rotten position to be put in. The novel progress with Lydie making friends with Patrice d’Origny ( a woman from Boston who is married to jewelry store owner) and Kelly (a Filipino woman who is Patrice’s maid). These three women bond and become friends as they unite to help Kelly move to the United States .
In the meantime Michael starts up an affair with a French biographer Anne Dumas. Lydie and Michael are absorbed with their own projects and work but still want to rekindle the spark of their marriage.
From what I have heard from fans of Luanne Rice – this wasn’t their favorite novel. Sad for me that it’s the first one I have read by this author. It just didn’t engage me. I didn’t hate it but I didn’t love it. I was able to read it. There was my “French fix” in a literary form but…..I couldn’t warm up to the characters. This would be suggested as a “beach read” in my opinion.
Since I was not engaged with the people and their problems I was not inspired to make much more than a chicken salad on croissant – the French twist being some of the ingredients.
Cheers…uh…….I meant Bon Appetit!
Fleur de Sel De Guerande (French sea salt)
Ground black pepper
A few teaspoons of white wine Dijon mustard
Happy Reading !
For info on Luanne Rice:
Radishes with butter and sea salt, grilled lamb sausages, smoky eggplant and flatbread. Some of those delectable images are a far cry from what my own childhood dinner table offered. I am missing the lamb sausages but continue to dream about acquiring such.
WARNING: Some Spoilers
Reading this memoir by Gabrielle Hamilton, a fellow Pennsylvanian, was a treat. The first few chapters, where she talks about crossing the state lines between Jersey and PA could have been written by one of my childhood pals. For me, growing up in the tri-state area running between Pennsylvania, Delaware and Jersey (not to mention how close Maryland was for us) this portion of the memoir spoke to me…….so much, that I Googled an image of Gabrielle to be sure I didn’t grow up with her. Really! The experiences she had from say….10 years through 17 – mirror some of my own. Nuff said.
There are just so many chapters in this book that I enjoyed that it’s hard to tack one down as a favorite. Her unconventional upbringing by a French ex-ballet dancer mother and good ol’ Pennsylvanian craftsman were a treat to read. I will admit to wanting to know more about her brothers whom she did not write about very much. Except Todd…and even then, she didn’t share much. Her sister played a bigger role in Gabrielle’s life and evidently still does.
When her parents started the road toward divorce and mom moved out – young teenager Gabrielle and her brother Simon were abandoned at the family home/farm. Dad disappeared, wallowing in grief over his broken marriage. Simon also disappeared and Gabrielle made do …living on the canned goods and eggs and anything she found at her home to survive. Lying about her age to get a job at a restaurant (been there, done that) she had her first taste of the food industry.
Moving way on in the book, when she was in college working on her Masters degree, she landed back into the catering business to supplement her income while finishing her coursework. That is when she met Misty and realizing way later on ….. Misty was her mentor. Unbeknownst to both of them….but nonetheless true. They worked together in the catering kitchen preparing cold smoked chicken with apricot glaze and sirloin tips in molasses black-pepper sauce ….quietly moving through the prep, cooking, set ups in comfortable silences many times. But getting to know Misty in her natural environment awakened something in Gabrielle.
“My resolve to start a new kitchen-free life was further weakening in the direct warmth of Misty’s home style of cooking, her bumpy misshapen tomatoes ripening on her back steps, her cabbages shredded and broken down with salt and vinegar, her hunks of pork swimming in smoky, deep, earthy juices. Unwittingly, she was un-tethering me from my ten-pound knife kit, propane torches and ring molds and showing me that what I had been doing these past twenty years – and what I had come to think of as cooking – was just the impressive fourteen-ring string of a twelve-year old exhaling her first lungfuls of a Marlboro.
Nothing more than tricks of the trade. She was waking me, in her nearly monosyllabic way, out of a dark and decades-long amnesia.”
When Gabrielle walked through the wreckage of what would become her restaurant, Prune, she had images of her childhood and hoped to share some of the important ones with future patrons. “I might serve walnuts from the Perigord and a small perfect tangerine so that the restaurant patrons could also sit at their table after the meal and squeeze the citrus peel into the candle flame to make fragrant blue and yellow sparks as I had done on my mother’s lap as a child.”
So by dusk that evening, she decided to have a second look around the property.
She gets energized just thinking about cooking in her restaurant:
“Every time I step in front of those burners, in that egregiously tight space, less than 12 inches between the wall I am backed up against and the burning stovetop in front of me, I feel like we are two boxers—me and the heat—meeting in the center of the ring to tap gloves.”
The storyline involving her dating life with an Italian doctor, he being 10+ years older than she, was something you just can’t make up. Dr. Michele Fuortes, a teacher and researcher at Weill Cornell Medical College , was wooing a lesbian so he may bed the 35 year old chef-owner of Prune and persuade her to marry him for US citizenship. As this courtship heats up, Gabrielle is still living with her girlfriend and still working her ass off at Prune. They had an unconventional courtship and marriage.
Some of my favorite chapters were her interactions with her mother-in-law Alda. It was clear Alda was beloved by her Italian family and Gabrielle fell in love with her too. Even without the fluency in Italian she could see, by actions, how the people coming to see Alda held her in great esteem with respect and kindness. As she studied her mother-in-law, and cooked beside her (cooking being a common language of its own) Gabrielle knew she needed to teach her young sons, Marco and Leone, about their Italian side. About kindness and respect. “Somehow, July with Alda and the Fuortes family has become the most important and anticipated month of my year.”
I was between a few meals which I was inspired to prepare after reading this book. But ultimately it came down to the love and shared experiences between Gabrielle and Alda. – a rich meaty eggplant dish with the appropriate accompaniments.
If you enjoyed Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, I think you’ll devour this book. It was hard to put down.
Happy Reading !
Links for more on Gabrielle Hamilton:
NY Times Articles and more links!
From the Washington Post:
“Like Bourdain, she strips the work of restaurateuring – and catering before it – down to its least glamorous realities. There are maggot-filled rats to deal with, a neighbor wanting to talk about the water bill during the chaos of the Sunday brunch rush, a line cook giving eight days’ notice when Hamilton is nine months pregnant.”
I was recently telling my friend Heather that I probably have more books stacked around the house than I can possibly read before I die. Hopefully that isn’t true….but it might be!
Many of the books I have are ex-pat memoirs or books set in locales I would like to live and/or visit. Such as Italy.
Lo and behold, a blog I had been checking in on from time to time has a reading challenge which interests me.
“Italy in Books” Reading Challenge 2011 is going on at the blog Book after Book
The goal is to read 12 books (or more) that are set in Italy. For more information please click on the link I placed above and join in. There are suggestions for books and guidelines for participating. Bella Tuscany
I am finishing up two books and working on reviews and meals…..after that, I think I will be reading Bella Tuscany by Frances Mayes.
I have long been a fan of Carol Drinkwater. She was my favorite Helen in the series All Creatures Great and Small, and admit I couldn’t warm up to the actress who replaced her after Drinkwater left the series in 1985.
When I read the books, after seeing some of the BBC television shows, it is Carol whom I pictures as Helen. It was her voice I heard when Helen was speaking in those books.
Combining one of my favorite actresses with one of my favorite genres (expatriates-in-paradise genre) it was a sweet treat – finding Drinkwater had penned The Olive Farm. This is the first book in her bestselling trilogy, all of it set on her Provencal olive farm.
Carol met her husband Michel while they were involved in making a movie in Australia . He proposed to her on the first date and they eventually married four years later. Eventually they find this gorgeous ruin of a villa built in 1904, located in Provence . The villa is named Appassionata – meaning passion – and very appropriate for Carol and Michel as they fall heels over ears in love with the place.
“I am in the south of France , gazing at the not-so-distant Mediterranean , falling in love with an abandoned olive farm,” Carol Drinkwater writes. “The property, once stylish and now little better than a ruin, is for sale with ten acres of land.”
After investing all the money she has they are able to move into their new home, devoid of electricity and water. French law is a different animal altogether from British and American laws as Carol learns while sifting through the endless paperwork and awaiting the many appointments to sign one or two papers. Finally, Appassionata is theirs!
Carol, Michel and his teenaged daughters Clarice and Vanessa arrive one extremely hot afternoon, with the promise of a swim in the pool. Alas….no water and the pool is a pit of sticks and branches. Carol struggles to make it a positive experience and tries to speak her limited French to the girls. The stepdaughters can speak English but make Carol work at communicating. Eventually they are a close knit family along with a number of stray dogs, good friends among the local citizenry.
The experiences she writes about were fancinating to me and she clearly has a better work ethic than I do. Restoring an old villa like that is hard work. HARD work! They uncovered ancient Roman looking steps and tiles. They found some of their olive trees were over 500 years old…..it’s an expat’s dream IF you don’t mind hard work – both physically and culturally.
Eventually Carol took language classes to improve her French and she is, as you may imagine, quite fluent. An engaging book about France , olive harvesting, conquering cultural barriers and love. Above all…love.
If you like the works of Peter Mayle and Frances Mayes I feel certain you would enjoy Carol’s musings about Appasionata and her love of southern France .
To learn more, check out the links below:
When I read my escapist ex-pat literature and dream of southern France or Italy, the mental images of eggplants, caponata and tapenade come to mind. The little bites of appetizers you might enjoy sitting in the shade of Carol Drinkwater’s patio, the hot breeze licking your cheek as you sip an ice cold glass of white wine and nibble bruschetta.
Eggplants from the southern Mediterranean area would have a different taste from what I can lay hands on in Northern Florida but….still a wonderful treat.
Eggplant, tomatoes, celery, onions, olive oil, wine vinegar, capers and sea salt……..all natural stuff…..