Publisher: Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House (New York)
Publication Date: September 8, 2020
Genre: Fiction; 352 pages
As a child, Sophie Valroux spent summers visiting her grandmother in southwestern France. Sophie credits “Grand-mère Odette” for instilling a love of food and cooking in her.
Today, 26-year-old Sophie is a chef living in New York City. She dreams of being part of the 1% of female chefs running a 3-star Michelin restaurant. At the restaurant where she is a chef de partie, Sophie is sabotaged by another chef, causing her to lose her job.
She is in the process of figuring out her next steps when she learns that her grandmother has suffered a stroke. Sophie travels back to France to care for her and finds out that the home where she spent her childhood summers is now a château with two restaurants and a vineyard.
As a Francophile who also loves good food, I couldn’t wait to read this book. Usually, in this type of novel (or, at least, the ones I’m drawn to), the main character moves to France, specifically Paris. In this novel, the main character is actually French-born; Sophie and her mother, Céleste, moved to New York when Sophie was a baby.
In addition, this story is set in the Toulouse area in southwestern France, bringing a welcome change. Lively descriptions of the Place du Capitole and surrounding areas reminded me of my own visit to La Ville Rose, or the Pink City.
I also liked how Sophie is not obsessed with romance. She’s not coy or playing hard to get either. She merely has a pragmatic and take-it-slow attitude toward relationships.
However, Sophie is indecisive and she gets in her own way at times. Her pride doesn’t let her easily accept gifts that she didn’t work for (namely, the gift of running the château’s restaurants while her grandmother recovers).
Nevertheless, the one area that Sophie does not waver in is food. For example, she knows exactly what she wants when developing menus, which I noticed almost always includes a velouté (a velvety savory sauce) and daurade (sea bream fish)!
Apart from Grand-mère Odette, the other characters in the novel were well-developed. I got the sense that they’re more like family than staff working at the château. Rémi and Jane provide tension throughout the narrative, as they weren’t thrilled about Sophie’s arrival. Fortunately, Sophie has supportive friends in Walter, his boyfriend, Robert, and Phillipa, who happens to be Jane’s sister.
The loose ends are tied up rather quickly, but happily-ever-after isn’t what you’d expect it to be. It’s Sophie’s own indecisiveness that keeps her happy enough.
I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about good food, family secrets, and supportive friendships. (Content warning: mentions of sexual harassment, depression, and suicide).
Not to miss: At the end of the book, Sophie shares a few recipes, including one for crème brûlée, which I’m inspired to make one of these days!
About the author
Samantha (Sam) Vérant is a travel addict, a self-professed oenophile, and a determined, if occasionally unconventional, at home French chef. She lives in southwestern France, where she’s married to a French rocket scientist she met in 1989 (but ignored for twenty years), a stepmom to two incredible kids, and the adoptive mother to a ridiculously adorable French cat. When she’s not trekking from Provence to the Pyrénées or embracing her inner Julia Child, Sam is making her best effort to relearn those dreaded conjugations.
Thank you to Berkley/Penguin Random House for inviting me to read The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux by Samantha Vérant. I received a digital advance review copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Paris, Part Time will appeal to readers interested in food, parenting, photography, travel, France, and specifically, the process of buying property in Paris!
For authorand personal chef, Lisa Baker Morgan, her affinity for France began in her French class at her Southern California high school. She later dreamed of visiting France, but her college classes and job offered little free time for her to travel or take part in study-abroad programs.
But thanks to her father, who gave her a plane ticket as a college graduation gift, Morgan finally got the chance to visit Paris! Soon after, she went to law school and fell in love with a fellow aspiring litigator. Eventually they got married and had two daughters.
After several years, however, the marriage ended. Morgan’s child custody arrangement allowed her to travel to Paris while her daughters were on school breaks and staying with their father in Los Angeles.
During one winter break, Morgan spent the holidays with friends in the south of France. During that trip, she contracted a bacterial infection that required surgery. While recovering in a Monaco hospital and consumed with thoughts of her mortality, Morgan decided to transform her dreams into an active “To-Do” list. At the top of that list were her dreams to become a chef and to move to Paris.
The book moves at an urgent pace illustrating Morgan’s determination to reach her goals. For instance, while her daughters were at school, she attended early morning cooking classes or created new recipes. While she was in France looking at Paris apartments, she took the opportunity to visit other parts of France to do some food research.
On occasion, she would unwind by meeting friends over cocktails or having dinner with a love interest. It seems that meeting new people was easy for her; she became acquainted with well-connected people wherever she went.
Through it all, I found myself cheering her on, much like a supporter on the sidelines handing out cups of water to runners at marathons, which Morgan also likes to run.
While she admits to having moments of doubt and wonders whether she was acting selfishly in pursuit of her dreams, she remained focused and optimistic.
“While it seems I am juggling a thousand things at once – from escrow and raising children on one continent to cultivating contacts and researching food and apartments on another – I know things will come together” (p.79)
Before reading this book, I had no clue about the process of buying property in Paris. The bottom line: learn all about the notaire (notary) process before you start. It’s helpful advice should you ever want to buy your own pied-à-terre in the French capital.
I liked how Morgan provides a realistic view of the process. Things didn’t always go as planned. There were misunderstandings. There were delays. There was even a stubborn lamp that just wouldn’t work, even with fresh lightbulbs! Since she was splitting her time between Los Angeles and Paris, coordinating telephone meetings across time zones made the process extra challenging.
In her writing, you do get the sense of Paris being part time as chapters alternate between her life in Los Angeles and her life in France. Throughout the book, Morgan sprinkles in some French words and expressions, which are followed smoothly by English translations. In addition, she tells time using the AM/PM 12-hour clock system that’s used in the United States.
Furthermore, she employs arrondissement numbers when describing movement from one Parisian district to another. This presumes the reader has prior knowledge of the snail-like configuration of the City of Light. Pas de problème! It’s not a problem, though – just keep a Paris map handy.
In the book’s slower parts, she effectively conveys the sense of calm she feels in certain moments, like shopping for fresh produce then slicing celery, onion, and carrots, or mirepoix, to make a flavor base for soup; tucking her daughters into bed, or folding and packing her daughters’ summer clothes into a suitcase.
Her writing contains beautiful descriptions. When she talks about the dishes she prepares, it makes you wish you had the recipes. Then, as if she’d just read your mind, voilà! The recettes (recipes) appear like tasty hors d’oeuvres in between chapters leaving you wanting more.
The book also features over 100 photographs taken by Morgan. Like the recipes, the black & white and color photographs are in between chapters so you can enjoy them in batches.
The book includes images of her young daughters, food from the marché, and the varied landscapes of the places she’s visited, like the French regions of Alsace, Normandy, Loberon, and Provence. Other French cities she’s traveled to include Gordes, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, and Colmar.
The takeaway from this gripping memoir is: You must follow your dream – if not now, when?
About the author:
Lisa Baker Morgan graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in English literature. She obtained her Juris Doctorate from Southwestern Law School and her culinary degree from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. Today, Morgan continues to divide her time between Paris and Los Angeles. Her eldest daughter will begin college in fall 2020. In 2022, her youngest daughter will follow, and Paris can then be “full-time.”
I’ve been going to Specialty’s Café & Bakery for work lunches for over 15 years. So when I learned that the San Francisco Bay Area-based chain would be permanently closing their doors after today, May 19, 2020, I was shocked!
The reason for the closure? The pandemic.
Their website explains that “Current market conditions attributed to COVID-19 and shelter-in-place policies have decimated company revenues.”
Founded in 1987, the company operated over 55 cafes in California, Illinois, and Washington state. Before the pandemic, Specialty’s was popular among busy office workers who wanted a quick, but nutritious lunch, like salads, sandwiches, and soups.
I will miss their Priority Pick-up mobile order system. It was convenient and easy to use.
Most of all, I will miss their Spicy Thai Salad, Chicken Tortilla Soup, Spinach and Cheese croissants, avocado on toasted ciabatta, walnut brownies, and giant fresh-baked cookies.
my favorites from Specialty’s
Thanks for all the work lunches, Specialty’s! You’ll be missed! 🍪
Bonjour! This week’s carte postale features the Old City Hall in Gilroy, located about 79 miles/ 127 km south of San Francisco, California.
The Old City Hall is located at 7410 Monterey Street in Gilroy. The “1905” on the building represents the date construction began. It was damaged during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, but it was renovated in 1994. Today, it’s a restaurant aptly named Old City Hall Restaurant.
Known as the Garlic Capital of the World, Gilroy hosts the popular 3-day Gilroy Garlic Festival that takes place every year during the last weekend in July.*
Their famous garlic ice cream is my favorite! When served in a chilled cantaloupe bowl, it’s refreshingly sweet, with just the right amount of kick from the savory garlic! 🧄
After my connecting flight to Paris was cancelled due to severe weather conditions, the airline gave passengers hotel accommodations for the night. There were several airport hotels, but to our delight, the airline booked a rather fancy one for my family and me.
Look at the gorgeous chandelier that welcomes guests in the lobby:
We spent a couple of minutes fumbling in the dark before we read the sign saying you had to insert your door card (room key) in a slot on the wall to make the power sockets and lights work:
Snacks we bought from Marks & Spencer and Boots in the airport:
fish and chips with a side of pea purée (mushy peas)
non-alcoholic Elderflower Collins
Breakfast buffet at Steak & Lobster (restaurant in hotel):
Our stay was brief, but it was comfortable.
Like it says on the umbrella tag, the lovely hotel provided shelter from the storm:
After the tasty breakfast, we checked out of the hotel and caught a shuttle back to the airport.
Finally, we were on our way to Paris. Or, were we?
We experienced a 90-minute delay in London. The captain told us that he was not confident to fly due to an earlier issue with one of the instruments. This meant we had to board another plane!
While we waited for the tram to take us to the new aircraft, the captain invited passengers to visit the flight deck of the plane, an Airbus A320! We got to briefly chat with both the captain and first officer!
After we boarded the new plane and got settled in, the captain informed us that the ramps and passenger stairs were stuck and couldn’t be removed from the side of the plane!
About 30 minutes later, we were ready for take off. Finally, we were on our way to Paris, for real.
From there, we’d catch our flight to our third/final stop: Berlin, Germany!
Bonjour! This week’s carte postale features a salmon processing plant in Pederson Point, Alaska. My neighbor is a school teacher and in the summer of 2011 she worked at a salmon processing plant and brought me this postcard.
Pederson Point is located near the village of Naknek, which is 280 miles/ 451 km southwest of Anchorage.
I want to share a few of my favorite things that I discovered this year (2019). These things are not the most expensive, most popular, most beautiful. These things are simple. But they bring joy to all my senses and that’s what matters! Check ’em out – they might just make you happy, too!
For fun, I wrote this list set to the melody of the Rodgers & Hammerstein song, “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music.
Come sing along with me:
🎶 Gratitude bracelet and pecan tea cookies
Tiramisù kit and ‘Big Island’ shortbread
Two ‘Frozen 2’ songs that I love to sing
These are a few of my favorite things…
Lavender chamomile probiotic tea
‘Typo’ metal pens with monogram ‘D’
Organic deodorant that will not sting
These are a few of my favorite things…
Croissants from ‘Tartine’ and ‘Topdrawer’ postcards
“[Take] 15 minutes per day for one week to take the photos.”
Instead I did the following:
From my phone’s camera roll, I selected nine favorite photos that were taken over the past year or so. I figure I hadn’t deleted them for a reason – the photos are meaningful to me!
So here are my nine photos and my nine answers to the question:
“What does this photo represent, and why is it meaningful?”
Left: This is a picture of the sky over Paris, taken from the Meudon Observatory and Park. It is meaningful because it reminds me that my attitude can make or break my day. People will sometimes say, “It was a perfect day, not a cloud in the sky” as if clouds were bad/ugly things that mar an otherwise good day. I was feeling pretty good and positive being in Paris, so no amount of cloud cover could get me down!
Center: This is a picture of my Navigo Découverte transit pass. It is meaningful because it represents freedom. I could tap on and off on various modes of public transportation in Paris. It made me feel like a local and less of a tourist. Plus the lady who sold it to me said the pass was good for 10 years. She told me, “That’s good because you will be back within 10 years!” Did she know something I didn’t? I certainly hope to return to Paris!
Right: This is a picture of a sunset over Toulouse. It is meaningful because it reminds me that beauty and art are everywhere if you only pay attention. When I snapped this picture, my friend, Rachael, jokingly asked me, “Aren’t there sunsets in California?” Well, of course, but I hadn’t seen a pink sunset from the Pink City of Toulouse, which, for me, doesn’t happen every day!
Left: This is a picture of homemade beef empanadas I made. It is meaningful because it reminds me that the younger me who dreamed of being a pastry chef is alive and well in me!
Center: This is a picture of me with lavender. It is meaningful because it reminds me to be original. They say, “stop and smell the roses.” Why not say “linger with the lavender?” (Read the health benefits of lavender here.)
Right: This is a picture of a margarita. It is meaningful because it represents life and fun with family and friends because they give me one for my birthday each year.
Left: This is a picture of the Louvre WiFi login screen. It is meaningful because it serves as a reminder of how dependent I’ve become on my phone and other electronic gadgets. I was in the world famous museum for goodness’ sake! Yet, there I was — sitting criss-cross applesauce on the floor — charging my phone because it didn’t have enough juice for me to take and share pictures of my visit to the Louvre! Had I brought a battery-operated digital camera, I would have had more time to enjoy the museum. In our so-called wireless world, why do we constantly find ourselves tethered to power outlets?
Center: This is a picture of home from a plane. It is meaningful because it reminds me not to take anything for granted (OMG, oh my gratitude, I am able to travel and on a plane!?!) Also, no matter how wonderful your travels have been, there’s nothing better than your own place with your own bed and stuff at home!
Right: This is a picture of “This too shall pass” on a crosswalk button. It is meaningful because it reminds me to live in the moment. Don’t worry about the bad moments because they won’t always be bad! Also enjoy the good moments because they won’t last forever either!
I recently attended a community screening of Modified, a French-Canadian documentary about “a food lover’s journey into GMOs,” or genetically modified/engineered organisms.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue, this film is a must-see for anyone who eats food. So, yes, it’s for everyone!
In the 90-minute award-winning film, filmmaker, Aube Giroux, takes viewers on her journey as she tries to understand why over 60 countries label their genetically modified food, while countries, like Canada and the United States, do not.
Traveling from Québec and Nova Scotia, Canada to Paris, France, then to Davis and San Francisco, California, followed by stops in Washington, DC, and Montpelier, Vermont, she interviews small town farmers and big city university agricultural engineering professors. She also shares her frustration with government health officials who refuse to discuss GMOs.
In between scenes, she is shown using fresh ingredients to make a few dishes, like mouthwatering pear crisp with oatmeal topping, a savory cherry tomato galette, and a hearty green pasta, while soft French music plays in the background.
Aube Giroux credits her mother for igniting her passion for home cooked meals made with garden-grown ingredients. The clips of old home movies featuring her jovial mother will tug at your heartstrings.
One of my favorite things to do with my family is visiting market halls and open-air farmers’ markets. I love the idea that many food vendors prepare their artisan cuisine on site using fresh ingredients produced by local farmers. I appreciate the abundance and the variety. Plus, I love the possibility of discovering something new.
I’ll never forget the time I went with François, Rachael, and their boys to the Sunday Farmers’ Market in Tournefeuille (about 12 km/7.46 miles from Toulouse in southwest France). In addition to food grown locally, the market featured produce from other countries in Europe, as well as Asia, and Africa. Talk about a treat for the senses!
I marveled at all kinds of marinated olives from Morocco…
There were organic Medjool dates from Israel, fennel from Italy, and dried apricots from Tunisia. I also saw deep purple eggplants, bright green avocados, and Napa cabbage from Spain.
Apricots from Tunisia, fennel from Italy and eggplant from Spain
Avocados from Spain
I heard the tapping noise of a steel skimmer spoon as the chef scooped a generous portion of his aromatic paella from a 3-foot wide pan into a paper container for a customer…
I was mesmerized by the machine making radiatori pasta. François got some fresh mushroom ravioli, which he made with a rich and creamy Parmesan sauce for dinner that evening.
I remember seeing jars of what looked like foie gras (fatty liver of duck or goose) and feeling a bit guilty. I know I shouldn’t have felt bad since the delicacy is not banned in France like it is in California. On the other hand, seeing the French-style salami had me hankering for a saucisson-beurre-cornichon (sausage, butter, and mini pickle) sandwich!
One of the things I enjoy most at farmers’ markets is the aroma of fresh baked bread. When I noticed the man selling fresh baked baguettes and pastries had one chocolate croissant left, I had to have it!
For breakfast, I usually have yogurt, a banana, and dark roast coffee with a splash of half-and-half. When I want to treat myself, I have a butter croissant. And when I really want to be indulgent, I have a chocolate croissant. I learned that, in France, these goodies are called different names depending on the region.
So when I ordered the chocolate croissant, I was delighted to ask for it by name the Toulousain way: Je voudrais une chocolatine, s’il vous plaît!