Archive for the ‘Paris’ Tag

Improving the Palate   Leave a comment

After watching the HBO series about Julia Child and how she not only elevated American cuisine but also played a significant role in the rise of Public Television, I became interested in Judith Jones.

Jones edited Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. As a fictional work, the TV series played with some facts, not just about the Childs, but also Jones. This led me to her memoir The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food.

Jones grew up in a privileged family where food was given little attention. If not for the family cook, meals would have been completely uninspired. Food was meant to be consumed not talked about. This makes it fascinating to learn about how not only her palate but also her passion evolved.

Jones approach is unassuming and engaging. Yes, she drops names, as in culinary celebrities, but not before she shares her experiences as a college coed in New York City and Paris. The City of Lights is where she met the loves of her life: Evan who she would marry and fine cuisine.

After spending several years in Paris, The Joneses return to New York, where she worked first at Doubleday and later at Knopf. It was there she saved The Diary of Anne Frank from oblivion and made her name as an editor.

Jones recounts her interaction with chefs, her own cooking endeavors and her efforts that helped home cooks move from the bland to the sublime. Jones also includes many recipes in the memoir.

The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food

Four Bookmarks

Anchor Books, 2007

290 pages, includes photos and index

An Old Lease   Leave a comment

The Paris Apartment proves I never have to read another book by Lucy Foley again. Her perspectives- from-a-handful-of-characters-with-a-motive-for-murder-in-the-early-pages formula is tiresome.

I appreciate a good mystery with unexpected twists. This worked in The Guest List, the first Foley novel I read, but not in two I’ve read since.

This one offers a variation in that one of the characters, Jess, is clearly not the guilty party. In fact, after arriving in Paris, she discovers her brother, Ben, has gone missing and, at great risk to herself, is determined to find him.

Ben had given Jess directions to his apartment of an old Parisian building, so he knew his ne’er-do-well sister was expected. She’s not only taken aback by his absence but also the swanky digs where he’s been living.

As with Foley’s other novels, nothing is as it seems – in more ways than one, as Jess soon realizes. Her fellow tenants include an alcoholic, an unstable young woman, the concierge, a socialite and Nick, Ben’s friend and the only one who’s helpful to Jess. They all lack depth and none spark a connection with the reader.

The focus is on Jess, with references to her troubled past and an inconsistent relationship with her brother. Still, he is her only living relative, which motivates her to learn what might have happened to him.

Foley’s style is tedious. Yes, it’s important to find out what happened to Ben, but Cliff Notes for this one would have worked just as well.

The Paris Apartment

(Barely) Three Bookmarks

William Morrow 2022

358 pages

AIDS, Friendship and Acceptance   Leave a comment

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The Great Believers begins in 1985 Chicago when a group of friends, who’ve been excluded from a funeral, gather to celebrate Nico’s life. He died of AIDS. It’s early days of the epidemic and their friend’s death foretells of what lies ahead for many.

Yale Tishman is among the group, as is Fiona, younger sister of the deceased. Nico’s parents kicked him out of the family home years ago, but Fiona stayed in contact providing him food, money and support as best she could. Consequently, she grew up around Nico’s circle of friends, including Yale.

Time is an element of Rebecca Makkai’s novel which alternates between Chicago 1985/86 and Paris 2015. The earlier period focuses on Yale. He’s a development director for an art gallery, is in a monogamous relationship and comes across as an intelligent, sensitive young man. Through Fiona he’s put in touch with her aunt with an art collection from the 1920s Yale tries to secure for his gallery.

The latter time frame follows Fiona to Paris in her attempt to locate her estranged daughter and granddaughter. The younger Fiona is more interesting than the older version. She took care of Nico, and many of his friends, as they contracted AIDS. She apparently exhausted her caretaking abilities when it came to her immediate family.

Still, the beauty of the novel lies in the power of friendship and acceptance. Yale, and others, faced threats and, initially, medical care for AIDS patients was scattered, at best.

The Great Believers

Four Bookmarks

Viking, 2018

421 pages

Binge reading   Leave a comment

I finally did it: binged on three* Louise Penny novels back to back. There’s still another to read, but since it isn’t on my nightstand (per my New Year’s Books Resolution), it has to wait.

Most readers I know are fans of the Inspector Armand Gamache series. To those few who admit to me they aren’t, we can still be friends; although, I am disappointed.

Nonetheless, I’ll focus on All the Devils are Here, which allows me to also highlight what I enjoy so much about Penny’s work: the relatable characters, the descriptions (and significance) of settings, and, of course, the mystery to be solved. Unlike most of the previous novels, this one is set in Paris, with brief references to Three Pines, the small, tight-knit community in rural Quebec.  I was initially disappointed the usual cast of characters (residents of Three Pines) was relegated to barely-existent roles. Yet, Paris is, after all, a magical place, which comes to life through the author’s vivid imagery of people, sites and food – lots of food.

In addition to the mystery at hand, are several back stories: Armand’s relationship with his estranged son Daniel; the imminent birth of his granddaughter; and his memories of visiting the City of Lights.

Suspicions abound as Gamache works to discover who tried to kill his godfather. The inspector encounters corporate espionage, corrupt police and rumors involving the French Resistance. It’s an intriguing combination. This and the benevolent qualities of her main character are what Penny does best.

All the Devils are Here

Four Bookmarks

Minotaur Books, 2020

439 pages

*Kingdom of the Blind

A Better Man

All the Devils are Here

Laying Past Lives to Rest   Leave a comment

The Burial Society

The title of The Burial Society by Nina Sadowsky is a bit misleading. It’s not the dead who are laid to rest, but the past identities of those who need rescuing from abusive or dangerous situations. Catherine, a narrator, oversees everything necessary in creating an unofficial witness protection service. Although it’s never clearly stated, the implication is that most of those she helps are women.

In the midst of assisting a Russian model begin a new life away from the grip of her rich, sadistic husband, Catherine faces reminders of one of her covert endeavors gone wrong.

Chapters alternate  between Catherine’s first person voice to an omniscient narrator detailing the activities of Natalie Burrows, her brother Jake and Uncle Frank. The siblings’ father has just been murdered, and their mother disappeared several years ago, independent of the Burial Society. Catherine is certain an uncharacteristic lack of judgment on her part is responsible for the woman’s death.

Set mostly in Paris, the action involves Catherine not only ensuring the Russian model is safe, but that Natalie and Jake are, too. It’s the latter that takes the narrator out of her comfort zone.

Confident, clever and apparently wealthy, Catherine is almost like a female James Bond with plenty of sophisticated tricks and technology at hand to accomplish her tasks. The author creates s sense of urgency and uncertainty in Catherine’s ability to assist the Burrows without revealing her clandestine operation. The result is a briskly-paced mystery with a lot to be solved.

The Burial Society
Four Bookmarks
Ballantine Books, 2018
319 pages

Sculpting a Life From Wax   Leave a comment

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Period novels usually aren’t my thing. It could be the often flowery language, the popular use of first person narrative, the topic, the je ne sais pas. Little by Edward Carey, while guilty of the above, including the French, is captivating. The story, based on the early life of Madame Tussaud known for her wax sculptures of celebrities, is rich with humor, pathos, historical references and lively characters.

Born Anne Marie Grosholtz in 1761, Marie, as she was generally called until her diminutive size warranted the nickname “Little,” recounts her family background. She literally begins with her birth. Interspersed among the details of her life are drawings. The first identified as “Drawn by herself. In graphite, charcoal, and black chalk. (This being a likeness of her pencil.)” It’s difficult not to smile, although not all of the subsequent illustrations are humorous.

As a child, her life circumstances dramatically change following the death of her parents when she’s relegated to becoming a servant. Yet, Little is witty, intelligent and has a sharp power of observation: Traits that serve her well as her creativity and talents expand.

Little learns the craft of waxwork from the odd Dr. Curtius, who at first sculpted body parts and organs out of wax. Initially, he treats her as a ward. When the pair moves to Paris from Switzerland, her station is reduced to kitchen maid.

Carey’s epic follows the French Revolution with Little’s indomitable spirit whose name bears no reflection on her inner strength and kindness.

Little
Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2018
435 pages

Hippie Meals   Leave a comment

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Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook by Alice Waters is like dining at what’s supposed to be a very good restaurant but only a few of the entrees are enjoyable. Unfortunately, not all of Waters’s memoir is interesting. The parts that are, really are though.

Waters is credited with helping change the culinary scene in the 1960s by opening Chez Panisse which relied on a prix fixe menu that changed according to what was fresh that day.

Waters shared too much minutiae from her childhood. I don’t care about a costume party when she was four years old or that her step-grandmother was a cold woman. Things pick up when she transfers from college in Santa Barbara to Berkeley. What I found most interesting was how a trip to Paris her junior year of college and her years in Berkeley made such an impact.

The narrative is told mostly in chronological order leading up to the opening of the restaurant. Anecdotes about life post-opening are indicated in italics throughout most of the chapters. These asides are noteworthy, but they are also distracting.

The story of Chez Panisse begins with Waters’s desire to replicate flavors she experienced in Paris through a cozy, hip bistro-like ambiance. What set her apart at the time was what is now recognized as the slow food movement and the reliance on the freshest possible ingredients. Yet, there’s scant mention of either, nor of her recognition today as an advocate of sustainable agriculture.

Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook
Three-and-three-fourths Bookmarks
Clarkson Potter Publishing, 2017
306 pages

 

Schooled in Cooking   3 comments


The title of Kathleen Flinn’s experience at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris is what initially caught my eye: The Shaper Your Knife, The Less You Cry. These words are advice from one of her chef instructors as begins the first of three sections required to earn a diploma from the prestigious cooking school. The subtitle offered more foreshadowing than I would have liked, though: “Love, Laughter and Tears in Paris at the World’s Most Famous Cooking School.”

Flinn’s account combines her background, her romance and her Parisian education, which involved much more than cooking as she learned to navigate a new city with only un petit peu knowledge of French.

The book is divided into the three parts that correspond with the units at the school: Basic, Intermediate and Superior Cuisine. Flinn’s culinary undertaking is humorous, honest and, unfortunately, predictable. Of course she grows through this journey; of course she learned techniques that were as foreign as the language; and of course she is with the man of her dreams. The latter requires no spoiler alert; this is revealed early in the narrative.

Despite its predictability, Flinn gives an insider’s view of how the classes are taught, the types of people who enroll (not surprisingly from all over the world) and the friendliness of the French people. She also includes several recipes and even includes a menu guide for book groups. Fortunately, none require deboning a chicken or dealing with dead rabbit heads.

The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Penguin Books, 2007
278 pages

The Spirit of Place, Love and Art   Leave a comment

I’m a fan of Alice Hoffman’s prolific work and her most recent, The Marriage of Opposites, reminds me why. She often incorporates elements of little-known history with a touch of the mystical. On the surface that may not sound enticing, but in Hoffman’s hands it is never overwhelming.

Set on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas in the early 1800s, Rachel’s father is among a group of Jewish immigrants who fled persecution from the European Inquisition. To describe his daughter as headstrong is an understatement.

The narrative primarily focuses on Rachel’s life, but later alternates with others. While still in her teens, Rachel is forced to marry Isaac, a man nearly twice her age. Following his death she’s left without property of own and seven children – three from Isaac’s first marriage.

This is not a tale of survival, though. It is part biography but largely a love story. It’s full of passion that emerges when Rachel meets Isaac’s young cousin, Frederic Pizzaro*, who arrives from Paris to take over the family business.

Going against their religion and social mores, Rachel and Frederic marry. Their youngest son, Camille, shares his mother’s obstinate nature; she acknowledges him as her favorite, although the two are often in conflict. The story soon becomes his as he struggles to pursue his artistic endeavors and eventually find his place among the French Impressionists.

Hoffman’s tale is also about of the influence of the island’s bright colors, cultural expectations and what happens when they collide with dreams.

The Marriage of Opposites
Four Bookmarks
Simon & Schuster, 2015
365 pages

*Camile changed the spelling of the name when he moved to Paris.