Friday, January 31, 2014

Freedom Fries and Café Crème

To the French, dining is not just an experience, it's also an art.  First published in 2012, Freedom Fries and Café Crème: Transatlantic Tales of Food and Love by French author Jocelyne Rapinac is a collection of short fiction in twelve chapters that coincide with the months of the year.  Each chapter has a food-related title, and features a food-related quotation, starting with, January - The Height of Good Taste - "To eat is a necessity, to eat intelligently is an art."  In the first chapter we meet Armand, who lives in a spacious NY apartment with his young daughter, Juliette, and a buoyant married couple who employ him as a "good-and-healthy-life coach", Carla and Rick, who've just returned from a trip to Paris.  This first story sets the tone for the entire book, whose stories form a novel of sorts, with many characters, connected by intertwined themes of food, travel, and love. When Armand's daughter, Juliette, asks her father if he has a new year's resolution, he defers his answer, because he's truly content with the present; he doesn't really see the need to resolve to change anything--he simply wants to continue to "go on trying to be as happy as he could, and to keep certain habits that he believed were good for him and Juliette."  In fact, this is a main theme which sets the tone for the entire book: to notice, appreciate, savor, and protect what's in front of us, what one already has.  And to nourish and nurture our loved ones with good food.

"Flavour was very important to me:  the freshness and smell of fruit without the sugar or ice cream on it, or a vegetable cooked without oil; the texture and savour of a perfectly ripened Vacherin cheese, the bouquet of a full-bodied wine--all were perfectly wrapped gifts straight from Mother Nature."
~ Freedom Fries and Café Crème, Jocelyne Rapinac


Freedom Fries and Café Crème is chock-full of wisdom about food, travel, and love, and I savored the stories in this collection, which are set in the U.S. as well as France.  In chapter 8, August - The American Dream, we learn about "la France profonde", when Matt visits Montpellier in Southern France to broaden his experience, where he also encounters love (fittingly, she's a waitress named after a type of spice).  Not only do these stories uniquely combine food, travel, and love, but they're also imaginative and engaging, although some worked better for me than others (a few seemed a tad unfinished, more like sketches).  Additionally, the book has recipes for the food mentioned in the stories at the conclusion of chapters, such as Armand's Yummy Soup, Tapenade Maison (Black Olive Spread), and Victoria's New Orleans Chocolate Truffles.  I can imagine dazzling others--as well as myself--with homemade chocolate truffles in the near future.

Jocelyne Rapinac's ideas and philosophy about food reign supreme in Freedom Fries and Café Crème, and her more general ideas about living a good life are also presented throughout the pages (a simple life doesn't necessarily mean a boring one, except perhaps to the uninitiated).  In a nutshell, the author believes in preparing meals from fresh and seasonal ingredients, letting the real flavors come through fully.  She thinks that cooking and eating well are vital arts, essential to la bonne vie, which may entail living more simply, and getting back to basics (because basics can be really good, better than the newfangled).  For example, I pose this "question" to coffee drinkers: what can compare to the taste and aroma of a cup of fresh, regular coffee?  I don't usually care for overly-sweetened coffee drinks, and much prefer a good cup of "plain" coffee (with a dash of soymilk, or some frothed milk and cinnamon).  

Like the author, I believe that dining should be a healthy (but not orthorexic) experience which provides pleasure.  Sharing a meal with others, with family or friends or romantic partners (who will hopefully be compatible, foodwise), is important to the author, who encourages us to dine in a more leisurely fashion, and to enjoy home-cooked meals on a regular basis.  In the last chapter of the book, December - Food, Comfort and Joy, the narrator, a therapist, who is talking to a very obese patient, Dominic, notes that she decided to work part time while she was raising her children, so that she'd have enough time to shop and cook for her family, because this is what she values (rather than a larger paycheck); cooking is caring.  This therapist also has a reproduction of a vibrant Matisse painting (pictured below) in her office that I have in my own home, a picture that highlights the perfection of colorful produce, and the broader idea of dining as an elegant art, which added to the kinship I already felt toward the author. 

The Red Room by Henri Matisse

Freedom Fries and Café Crème will appeal to those who enjoy intelligent, reflective short stories with a French flavor, about food, travel, and love.  Thanks to Meryl and Rachel from Meryl Zegarek Public Relations for sending me a copy of this wonderful book to review.

17 comments:

  1. Thank you for the timely review, and the intriguing idea from the first chapter that a New Years resolution might not be needed at all! I'm inspired to explore more French cuisine :)

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  2. Oh, the French certainly do know how to make a meal an occasion. This book sounds terrific!

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  3. This one sounds like a good one. Oh my gosh, homemade chocolate truffles, yum. I do agree, cooking is caring.

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  4. Nice review. Just reading the review made me hungry. Glad you enjoyed the book.

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  5. What a nice review; it sounds like a terrific book as well.

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  6. I agree with that : "Cooking is caring" and with all your post. What a wonderful painting too thank you, Suko to give us happiness.

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  7. The ideas espoused in this book are ones that I think about and talk about a lot.

    As someone who used to overeat and do so on low quality foods all the time, I embraced a more a leisurely eating quality over quantity philosophy and habits a few years ago.

    Sounds like a great book.

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  8. I've added this to my wish list. Sounds like a lovely book to enjoy.

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  9. Matisse is one of my favorite artists. I love his brilliant colors.

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  10. Yes, the French know how to make a meal an art. Just last month we were at a French restaurant and the meal was exquisite! This book sounds lovely. Just the right reading to perk you up and make you hungry, no doubt. :-)

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  11. I enjoyed reading your review. This sounds like a creative book. Food can be an expression of caring.

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  12. I love the title of this book! So creative :) This does sound like a good read, and I am glad to hear that you enjoyed it so much. What a lovely review!

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  13. I love this quote - "To eat is a necessity, to eat intelligently is an art." ! So so true! I love the sound of this book, Suko and it being short makes me want to read it right away. Awesome review as always :)

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  14. Sounds goods even if I'm not really into books with a French flavour. Great review though I was a little thrown by the title as Cafe Creme is a brand of cigar here.

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  15. Great review! This sounds fantastic!

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  16. This book sounds wonderful and I just love the title!

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