C’est Magnifique: The Suitors by Cecile David-Weill

Seaside Resort in the South of France 1927 by Paul Klee 1879-1940

“Seaside Resort in the South of France,” by Paul Klee

In Cecile David-Weill’s delightful romp through the South of France, two sisters attempt to save the family’s summer home, a seaside villa near Cap d’Antibes, from their father’s intended sale by romancing wealthy men.  The plan is to seduce some unsuspecting rich guy, get him to either buy the place or cause enough fear in Dear Old Dad to make him rethink his position.  Along the way, the girls relive some favorite childhood memories, reencounter old loves, reacquaint with one another and find out their mom uses cocaine to remain svelte.  Ah, sisters.

maas 129 “Two Sisters,” Jean Claude Richard

The Suitors‘ action occurs over three weekends in the family’s final summer at their bonne maison.  Laure and Marie take turns inviting prey, ahem, I mean potential suitors.  Oprah’s magazine called the novel “Downtown Abbey” set in France during our current century.  http://www.oprah.com/book/The-Suitors?editors_pick_id=40551.  The Wall Street Journal review compared it to Nancy Mitford’s work.  http://online.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324678604578342244051488344.

I think it has some elements of Jane Austen myself.  Societal chasms, money issues, mother-daughter tete-a-tetes in the bathroom of the luxurious estate.

L’Agapanthe has nothing flashy about it.  No balustrade or row of columns overlooking the sea.  It is a Mediterranean villa, built around a loggia like a monastery around its cloister, the complete opposite of a house with a view.  As if the sea had decided to behave like an experienced courtesan and simply suggest its presence, with bright touches shimmering through the shad of lush plants and undergrowth, instead of flaunting itself under the windows of L’Agapanthe like a trollop.

Of the many divine things about The Suitors, I particularly enjoyed the meticulous detailing of the daily life which guides the servants.  David-Weill includes menus for each lunch and dinner, the room assignments of each weekends guests on the Secretary’s Name Board, the chauffeur pick-up schedules, the staff lunch notebook and even the cupboard inventory. I also enjoyed the weary wisdom of narrator Laure, a recently divorced, single mom.

I agreed with all my single friends who had looked around without finding anyone seriously desirable, and I had taken up their mantra:  “where are all the men?”  As far as I was concerned, the answer was “Wyoming!” – and only half in jest, because on a trip there I’d seen lots of men who seemed completely well-adjusted, perfectly happy with their horses, their cowboy duds.  . . .

I used to say that I loved men but not unconditionally.  I wanted them to be, in descending order of importance:  nice, intelligent, ready to be happy, forgiving of themselves and others, generous, and wise.  They had to have no fear of women, be virile, fond of making love but at eh same time past the frolicking-with-bimbos stage.  I’m demanding, I know.  Especially since they had to be successful in their careers; otherwise they were bitter or limited in their outlook on life.

Good luck with that, girlfriend.

the suitors

David-Weill knows whereof she writes:  her father was chairman of the merchant bank Lazard Frères, and the family spent their holidays at Cap d’Antibes.  I discovered that salient fact after reading The Suitors and wish I had known there was a potential roman a clef element to the novel.

I’m hosting book club next week and I hope the other members of my group enjoyed The Suitors as much as I did.

MENU

David-Weill includes two recipes in the back of the book.  I will be using her recipe for Coeur a la Creme.  But since it’s December and hovering around 40 degrees, I will not be serving the warm weather food that makes up most of the menus in the book.

Cheese Sticks — made with puff pastry (much easier than gougeres)

Haricots Vertes

Chicken with Cremini and Chestnuts (adapted from The Barefoot Contessa’s Barefoot in Paris)

1 cup mushrooms, cleaned and sliced thinly

1 cup of roasted, peeled chestnuts (I used Trader Joe’s package of peeled chestnuts, the whole thing)

6 chicken breasts

Shallots

Minced garlic (3 cloves)

1 cup red wine

1 cup creme fraiche

1 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Butter, salt, pepper, flour

Preheat oven to 375. Salt and pepper the chicken, then dredge it in flour.  Heat 2 tbsp butter in large sauté pan and cook the chicken over medium-low heat until browned on both sides.  Then place in a dutch oven or large casserole dish.

Add 2 tablespoons melted butter, to the pan with shallots, mushrooms, chestnuts and garlic and sauté over medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Add the mix into the pan and reduce the liquid by half over high heat.  Add the creme fraiche, cream, lemon juice, 1 teaspoon salt and 3/4 teaspoon pepper.  Pour the sauce over the chicken and bake for 15 minutes until the chicken is heated through.

Potato Gratin

Coeur a la Creme

MUSIC

I’m very excited about the music.  I found a C.D. of 20 songs for $9.99 on iTunes — A Christmas Eve in Paris!

Happy Reading!

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To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

mockin001/397x450px/8/28/09/DS

Hush little baby, don’t say a word,

Mama’s gonna buy you a Mockingbird.

And if that mockingbird don’t sing

Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring

  To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s 1960 coming-of-age novel won the Pulitzer Prize, made the names Boo Radley, Scout and Atticus Finch cultural touchstones and arguably, at least in the case of Atticus Finch, archetypes, and may well have helped pave the way for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

    The story is a familiar one, not only in terms of this book, but to childhood itself.  There’s a new kid in town who challenges the norms.  Figuring an offensive burst is better than defending himself for his exotic background and petite frame, Dill taunts Scout and her brother Jem into confronting the stranger who lives in the spooky house within their midst:  Boo Radley.

   All the while, Jem and Scout’s widowed father Atticus Finch, a small town lawyer in the town of Macomb, Alabama, is fighting the struggle of his life, in court and out, in defending a black man, Tom Robinson, from the unfounded accusations of Mayella Ewell and her father Bob Ewell.  The book, and the film adaptation, are so full of iconic moments that one simply needs to see an image or read a brief quote and be reminded of the fullness of feeling contained throughout this beautiful novel.

.   Atticus and Tom   mocking book     to_kill_a_mockingbird_photo

  On the eve of the novel’s fiftieth anniversary, American media outlets celebrated the novel in the way only American media outlets would:  by unleashing venom upon the book, Harper Lee and the novel’s fans.  The Wall Street Journal said, “It’s time to stop pretending that “To Kill a Mockingbird” is some kind of timeless classic that ranks with the great works of American literature.”  http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052748703561604575283354059763326.  The New Yorker published Malcolm Gladwell’s interestingly harsh criticism of To Kill A Mockingbird on the eve of the novel’s 50th anniversary.  Gladwell’s hypothesis is that Atticus should have been a stronger defender of civil rights and lacked moral fiber.  http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/08/10/the-courthouse-ring.

It just seems to me that to judge Atticus Finch by 2009 standards is unfair.  Atticus was a man of his time and place, as Harper Lee makes very clear.  “He liked Maycomb, he was Maycomb County born and bred; he knew his people, they knew him and because of Simon Finch’s industry, Atticus was related by blood or marriage to nearly every family in town.”  He treats everyone with respect; including some people the New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal writers deem unworthy.  And everyone, almost everyone, in the town respects him.

A jury never looks at a defendant it has convicted, and when this jury came in, not one of them looked at Tom Robinson.  The foreman handed a piece of peer to Mr. Tate who handed it to the clerk who handed it to the judge. . . .

I shut my eyes.  Judge Taylor was polling the jury:  “Guilty . . . guilty . . . guilty . . . guilty . . . ”  I peeked at Jem:  his hands were white from gipping the balcony rail, and his shoulders jerked as if each “guilty” was a separate stage between them.

. . .

Atticus took his coat off the back of his chair and pulled it over his shoulder.  Then he left the courtroom, but not by his usual exit.  He must have wanted to go home the short way, because he walked quickly down the middle aisle toward the south exit.  I followed the top of his head as he made his way to the door.  He did not look up.

Someone was punching me, but I was reluctant to take my eyes from the people below us, and from the image of Atticus’s lonely walk down the aisle.

“Miss Jean Louise?”

I looked around.  They were all standing.  All around us and in the balcony on the opposite wall, the Negroes were getting to their feet.  Reverend Sykes’s voice was as distant as Judge Taylor’s:

“Miss Jean Louise, stand up.  Your father’s passin’.”

atticus-finch-1

MENU

The book is plumb full of great food, from Calpurnia’s summertime daily does of lemonade, to the many angel food cakes, to the Halloween pageant costumes of Maycomb County agricultural products including ham, beef, butter beans and peanuts.

My book club menu for To Kill A Mockingbird would include:

County ham and biscuits

Butterbeans (baby lima beans) with butter, salt and pepper

Roasted new potatoes (400 degree oven, salt & pepper and olive oil til crispy)

My grandmother’s angel food cake

1 1/4 up soften cake flour

1/2 cup sugar

12 egg whites at room temperature

1 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 1/3 cup sugar

Measure sifted four, add 1/2 cup sugar and sift four times.  Combine egg whites, cram of tartar, salt and flavorings in large bowl.  Beat at high sped until soft peaks form.  Sprinkle in rest of sugar in 4 additions beating until blended after each addition.  Sift in flour mixture in four additions, folding in with large spoon, turn bowl often.  Pour into ungreased 10 inch tube pan and bake at 375 for 35-40 minutes.  Cook cake upside down in pan on cake rack.

And of course, Tequila Mockingbirds

  • 1 Jalapeño pepper slice
  • 2 oz Patrón Silver Tequila
  • 1.5 oz Watermelon-Basil Purée*
  • .75 oz Fresh lime juice
  • .75 oz Agave syrup (one part agave nectar, one part water)

In a shaker, muddle the jalapeño slice. Add the remaining ingredients and fill with ice. Shake for 10 seconds and double strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice.

*Watermelon-Basil Purée

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups Chopped fresh watermelon
  • 7 Basil leaves

PREPARATION:
Purée both ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth. Refrigerate until needed.

 MUSIC

Must start with James Taylor and Carly Simon’s Mockingbird!  This video is too much fun, to see Sweet Baby James and Carly dancing the shag mid-song.  http://youtu.be/4WM_R-6AKHE

Rocking Robin, Jackson Five

Blackbird, the Beatles

Freebird (if you can stand it)

Little Bird, Annie Lennox

MOVIE CASTING

There’s no need to remake To Kill a Mockingbird, but if Hollywood should ever decide it wants to, I can only hope George Clooney will be cast as Atticus Finch.

 

Happy Reading & Eating!

 

 

Mockingbird illustration by Jon Janoski, credit Encyclopedia Britannica