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.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Short Leash

Over the course of a dozen years or so, I walked my dog, Jenny, a "flashy fawn" Boxer, in the park on a regular basis, until she was no longer able to do so.  Jenny loved to take walks.  She was my protector and most reliable walking-friend, and with her by my side, I never worried as we trudged through the wooded areas of the park.  Jenny lived to be 14 1/2, which is quite old for a boxer, and I believe some of her longevity was due to our walks.  One morning she smacked her head hard against the back of my truck while trying to jump into the back of the SUV for the drive to the park.  When we got there, I saw that she had an egg-like bump and a gash on top of her head.  She still wanted to walk--she was ready and willing.  Instead, to her disappointment, I took her straight to the vet, who stitched up her head wound (she was still woozy from the anesthesia and looked like Frankenstein  when I brought her home).  The point is that dogs love to go on walks with their owners, in almost all circumstances.  Our puppy, a Chihuahua and Terrier mix, Daisy, already adores walks in the park.  In fact, when Daisy sees my car in the driveway, she gets excited and heads toward it if she's outside because she thinks that we may drive to the park for a walk.  Walks are grand adventures to dogs, a chance to roam and gambol and explore together.

Published in 2013, Short Leash: A Memoir of Dog Walking and Deliverance  by Janice Gary, is the story of the author and a dog she found on the streets of Savannah, Georgia, an extra-large Lab-Rottweiler puppy she named Barney.  Initially, the thought of reading this memoir appealed to me because of my many years of dog-walking.  I felt that this memoir would probably resonate with me in a myriad of ways.

"A map in the beginning would have limited our horizons.  Now it confirms them."
~ Short Leash, Janice Gary

In Short Leash, the author recounts her story in under 250 pages, over the course of thirty-seven chapters, which are dated from 1991 through 2006.  We gradually learn that both the dog and the author suffered attacks, at different times and in different locations.  Barney becomes "dog-aggressive" immediately after being attacked by a Shepherd, whereas the author needs more time to heal from her attack, and from other painful events in her past.  Many years later in Maryland, she carries Mace in her pocket when she begins to take Barney out for walks on trails at the park near her home.  She's vigilant and keeps Barney on a short leash, because of his aggressive behavior toward other dogs, and it's difficult for the author to enjoy the walks because of her fear and apprehension of dogs and people.  Like Barney, she is also on a short leash.

"This is how the sole and the soul grow skin:  by continuously walking through rough territory."
~ Short Leash, Janice Gary

In her memoir, Janice reveals a lot about her life, and focuses on the joy, trauma, and sorrow she's experienced.  Her writing is beautiful and insightful, and she writes honestly about her thoughts and feelings.  As a dog lover, I enjoyed the many "doggie details" in Short Leash, although it was  heartbreaking when Barney's health started to decline--I was moved to tears at times.  She also writes about the writing life, which will resonate with writers.  The author feels guilty when she can't take Barney out for walks due to her writing (which demands great, somewhat unpredictable periods of time and concentration), although Barney does seem to take this in stride.  Her writing and her walks with Barney are both important, and help her to heal from a painful past.  She describes a "Muse Tree" in the park that inspires her writing, and also more generally, the sights and scents of nature in the park which delight and inspire both the author and Barney.  (I, too, love nature, and relish the exquisite scents of the park that I walk in.)  Walking with Barney, she pays attention to Barney's instinctive dog-wisdom, which entices her to slowly but surely let go of fear, face adventure head-on, trust her feelings, and enjoy her surroundings.  A wonderful and hopeful memoir, Short Leash will appeal to dog lovers, writers, and readers who simply enjoy inspiring stories and memoirs.

Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for sending me this book. For additional reviews, please visit the other stops on TLC's Short Leash book blog tour.

Thanks for reading!  Your comments are welcomed. 

Jenny, 1997 - 2012
Daisy,  2013

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Wondrous Words Wednesday, and a Winner

New words for the new year, from guess where?  I found these in my 2014 365 New Words-a-Year calendar.  My page-a-day calendar is chock-full of wonderful words, and once again, I'm putting it to use.

1. ab initio: from the beginning

Ab initio is a Latin term and is on the first page of this 2014 calendar.  It's a clever opening!

2. gambol: to skip about; frolic

The school children would gambol happily in the park on field trips.

This word may be used as a verb or as a noun, and is used mostly in relation to children or animals.  I should have known this word, which is French in origin, and which originally referred to the spring of a jumping horse. 

3. zillionaire: a person of incalculably great wealth

Yes, it's really a word!  This word is not used in the most formal writing, but it's been used in many serious publications.  According to my calendar, the turn of the century brought with it a turn of fortune, and by the 1940s we needed words to describe this wealth--millionaire, billionaire, and even zillionaire!  How many zeros are in a zillion?  Although it's a real word, it's used as an indefinite, fictitious number, in a comic sense for exaggeration, so there's no set number of zeros in a zillion.


The winner of my extra 365 New Words-a-Year calendar is Lady in Read from MyRandRSpace.  Congratulations, Lady in Read!  I'm certain you'll enjoy this word-a-day calendar, which is a sensational source of new words!  Perhaps you'll use it as I do, for Wondrous Words Wednesday.  (If you didn't win this desk calendar, you may be able to find a discounted copy somewhere, as calendars go on sale after the start of a new year.)

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme for wordies, created and hosted by Kathy from BermudaOnion's Weblog.  What new words have wowed you recently?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Really Random Tuesday #75: Greenlight, Snow, a Winner, and a Giveaway

Do your bookstacks defy gravity?  I know many of us have enormous stacks of books, but I've never seen anything quite like this!

After Christmas, we traveled to NY to visit family.  As a book blogger, I keep an eye out for anything book-related while I'm on trips.  Armed with my iPhone (eye phone), it's easy to take pictures of my discoveries.  I found this zany "book bike" at an Anthropologie store in  Chelsea.  (Click on photos to make them larger.)


For the past year or two, I've been getting email about events at the Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn.  It was exciting to visit the store and spend some time browsing.  I was somewhat tempted to introduce myself as a book blogger to the cashier, but she didn't seem particularly interested in chatting, so I didn't.

Inside the Greenlight Bookstore
Surrounded  by books
Daughter browsing


Nothing says winter back east more clearly than snow.  During our trip, we experienced a snowstorm.  My favorite thing about snow is that it makes everything appear beautiful and magical. And of course it's lovely to be inside cozily reading when there's snow within view.
My other daughter, enjoying the snowstorm
Snow-covered morning, Brooklyn

As is often the case in these Really Random Tuesday posts, I have a book winner to announce.  Please help me to congratulate Paulita from An Accidental Blog.  She's won Almost Always by Bobbi Reed.  Congratulations, Paulita!  I hope you'll enjoy this book as much as I did.  If you didn't win this time,  please don't despair as I host and list many giveaways.  In fact, I have a brand new giveaway, below.

I'm starting off the new year with a giveaway for a copy of a 365 New Words-a-Year calendar.  I bought one yesterday, only to receive another from my hubby in the mail later in the day.  I love this desk calendar, and have been getting it for the past several years.  I keep it by my computer, and often use it as a source of words for Wondrous Words Wednesday, a meme for wordies hosted by Kathy from BermudaOnion's Weblog.  This giveaway will run for a shorter time than usual, due to the nature of the item (U.S./Canada only).

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment.
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or indicate that you're already a follower.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter.

Enter by 5 PM PST on Tuesday, January 14.  One winner will be selected randomly and announced on Wednesday, January 15.


Appearing on random Tuesdays, Really Random Tuesday is a way to post odds and ends--announcements, musings, quotes, photos--any blogging and book-related things you can think of.  I often announce book winners in these posts.  If you have miscellaneous book news to gather up and are inspired by this idea, "grab" the button for use on your own blog, then add your link to the "master" Mister Linky on the Really Random Tuesday page.  

Wishing my readers a fabulous 2014, replete with reading time! 

Some of the books featured here were given to me free of charge by authors, publishers, and agents. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.


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