Book Review: Mastering the Art of French Eating


I will admit, I bought this book after a friend recommended it solely based off the title. I had a vague idea of what it was about, a woman eating dishes known for their French roots,  I like food and I dream of international travel so I was sold. But what I was not prepared for was her honest look at being married to someone in public service, and the emotional hurdles that come with it. Some might find it similar to that of a military spouse… Hm… It may or may not have struck a nerve.

The author, Ann Mah, is married to a diplomat, who gets the dream station assignment of Paris. It was a life they had wanted, Paris together for a few years to explore and find their neighborhood spots to eat and drink and be merry. Unfortunately, soon after the move her husband was sent to Baghdad where he was needed (the book takes place during the early 2000s to give refernce). This left Ann alone in Paris for a whole year by herself, with her shaky French and few acquaintances. With a background in writing, a love of food and some encouragement to follow her curiosity, Ann delved into the history of classic French dishes.

She explored the origins of Steak Frites in Paris, Andouillete in Troyes, Crepes in Brittany, Salade Lyonnaise in Lyon (duh), Soup au Pistou in Provence, Cassoulet in Toulouse/Castelnaudaey/Carcassone, Choucroute in Alsace, Fondue in Savoie/Haute-Savoie, Boeuf Bourguignon in Burgundy, and Aligot in Aveyron. Before I read this book, I had heard of and/or was vaguely familiar with 5 of the above dishes, French cuisine is somewhat uncharted territory for someone who hails from the land of Tex-Mex. In each region, Mah speaks to local experts on the dish about where it came from, who ate it, why these ingredients to give a well rounded story of the region and the food, before trying them all herself.

While I enjoyed learning about the French food and history of the regions, it was really Mah’s honesty about her emotional experiences during this time of separation and exploration that made me enjoy the book the most. While spending a year in Paris traveling to the different regions to eat may sound like a dream come true, I thought Mah’s expression of her nervousness for traveling alone, self-consciousness about her speaking ability, and struggle to enjoy balanced with the worry over a spouse in a conflict zone made it an honest account. It did not read as a privileged person bragging about their travels and name-dropping. Instead we find Mah in humble settings with locals. Much more relatable. I haven’t read that much about Julia Child (shame on me) but Mah referenced her often, and

Spring has Sprung in NC

“The Earth laughs in flowers”

If that is true, then North Carolina is hilarious. I have never seen so many colors pop up so quickly and vibrantly for Spring before and I love all the pinks! I took advantage of this colorful show and snapped some pictures around the neighborhood:

I found another creature enjoying all the flowers, a giant bumble-bee, seen in some of the photos; albeit, not well. A skill I need to work on, but enjoy!

Also, so we’ve found out: New Season, New State, New Allergies. May your sniffles be short and your eyes water the least this happy spring. Get outside and take in the views!

Quick Life Update

Hi friends,

It’s been forever, I know, and a lot has changed and there hasn’t been a lot of stability around us recently so most of my time and energy has been going into trying to create a sense of “home”. So where have we been? What have we been up to? Here’s a quick life update on Jon and I so we’re all on the same page and hopefully you can excuse my absence.

First and foremost, Jon and I got married in April 2015. Two days later, I moved out to Georgia where Jon was currently stationed. That lasted a whole five months then we moved to North Carolina where Jon is permanently stationed as long as he is in the military.

Now that we’re more settled and spring is coming up, we’re hoping to explore North Carolina and get to share our travels with you. I will also continue to post book reviews because books = life.

I may have not been posting on here but if you would like to see little snapshots of our life in Georgia and NC,  you can check out my Instagram!

Peace and Blessings,

Rachel & Jon & Kira

Book Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette

In the ever-buzzing hub of Seattle, there is Bee and her eccentric family. With two successful parents, and a free spirit of a mom–Bernadette, as an example, Bee excels in school and her reward is a family trip to Antartica. But amidst all the chaos of Bernadette’s job and her ever growing dislike of Seattle and its population, Bernadette disappears before the trip even starts to take form. It’s up to Bee to find her mom by piecing together what emails, messages and documents she can find to make sense of her mom’s life that lead her to leave.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette (by Maria Semple)

I wish I could begin this review with a sigh (sigh). This book had so much hype about it and I kept hearing great reviews first-person, face to face was told that they’ll just loved it. So why did I not enjoy it? What happened? Oh yeah, it never got past the surface. Why did no one warn me?? I feel like I would have enjoyed it more, going in knowing that it would be that shallow and far-fetched. I get it, it’s satirical, criticizing a certain population of Seattle, but it wasn’t clever enough. I barely cracked a smile. Gone are the days of Wilde and Moliere.

I found Bee to be the only truly likeable character and the story kept my interest even with so little consequential action but don’t go looking for anything deeper than a series of correspondances and official papers can go. Unfortunately, we do not get a glimpse at how all of this information about her mom affects Bee and her relationship with Bernadette. It’s a quick read and just lightly touches on mother-daughter roles and what genius looks like. Overall I think my expectations might have tainted what could have been a nice “fluff” read but there still was so little going on and I could not get attached to any of the characters that I found it frustrating. You can read the GoodReads reviews/summary here.

Has anyone else read Where’d You Go, Bernadette and found it as wonderful as so many others did? Or did anyone share my opinion or part of it?

Book Review: A Marker to Measure Drift

A young Liberian woman, Jacqueline, who has escaped the civil war to Greece, is on her own in a strange new place. No food, no home, no money, she is forced to make her way on an island where it is not certain if she will be greeted with pity and hospitality or by suspicion or even harm. To escape the haunting memories of what she left behind, Jacqueline focuses instead on her most basic and sensory needs: protection from the sun, water, a bath, enough food to make it through the day, and dignity. But it is these solely physical feelings that drag her back through the vivid nightmare of what she is trying to forget, each relief from an ailment bringing flashbacks of sensory equivalence from home. Her companion when she needs it the least, is her mother’s nagging voice in her head, or is it exactly what she needed to hear to keep her in check? Jacqueline’s story is one that brings to question whether it is better to strive to forget what has hurt us with a blissful facade or to confront them head on and tackle them with all our consciousness.

I found Maksik’s novel quite simple to read. You’re never confused as to where she is in time or place and the prose is not strewn out, but rather choppy. It does follow her conscious thoughts with very little dialogue with the occasional banter with her mother’s voice inside her head, but who doesn’t have that going on. The story, although not a light one does have a satisfactory ending that left me content. I found Jacqueline to be a strong female protagonist that although we don’t see her rise out of the ashes like a phoenix, she certainly prevailed by leaving safely from a doomed fate. I didn’t love it but I certainly didn’t hate it. I thought it was a good read and for some reason I keep picking up stories about refugees or people who have escaped from civil unrest, which I find enlightening. I enjoy books that transport me into different cultures. Is that not one of the joys of reading: To experience countries and cultures without actually leaving our homes?

Has anyone else had the chance to read A Marker to Measure Drift? Any thoughts? (Goodreads link through the title if you would like to read another synopsis and/or reviews)

Finishing the 3M Half Marathon

The sun hasn’t come up, its 40 something degrees outside and there are around 6000 people standing around in very little and tight clothing, only runners on race day. As we waited to get started, we all stood a little more closely to the person in front of us, everyone wins with shared body heat and I was ok with using the man in front of as a wind shield. Then it starts and gloves, hats, jackets, shirts all start being shed as we shuffle forward. Let’s go.

time to wake up

time to wake up

13.1 can be done! Make that your new mantra. You’ll need it when you drag yourself out of bed before the sun comes up 6 out of 7 days of the week, when you find it hard to bend your knees after your distance days, when you find yourself “running out the soreness” and when you cross that finish line. Because truly, that’s what it took for me, and I can’t be that far off from other people new to distance running. A while ago I posted about how I was learning to actually enjoy learning and now look at what I accomplished!

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I followed Hal Higdon’s Half Marathon plan for Intermediate runners because I had run some 5Ks and a 10K and was regularly running 6 miles on my distance days already but he has other plans for Novice 1 and Novice 2. Hal Higdon’s plans came highly recommended to me by a close family friend, my cousin, and a neighbor who all have followed them and completed half and full marathons. I didn’t follow it to a T and I gave myself more time to cover holidays out of town (yeah right like I’d run in the Colorado mountains) but I still recommend taking a look.

I didn’t join a running group, I didn’t follow a running plan exactly, I didn’t give up any food or drinking and I certainly didn’t start from a lot of experience in running and I still completed a half marathon and even beat my goal time (thank you adrenaline for kicking in). Basically, I just gave up some sleep and a few hours on my weekends and I was able to finish without walking and without practically killing myself. 13.1 can be done. It may seem like an insurmountable goal right now when you run 3 miles but that’s where it starts. These things take time and effort and commitment but it was totally worth it.

I chose the 3M half marathon for a couple reasons, one my dad works for 3M and he’s been trying to get me to run one since I was in highschool, second is he got me free registration (put those 80 dollars back in my pocket), but most importantly is that this half marathon is mostly downhill or little change in elevation. Hallelujah to that! 13.1 miles is not the time for hills. It’s just not. Of course Austin and the surrounding area and just Texas in general has a lot of half marathons and full marathons going on, but I highly recommend doing some research into the course.

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And you know what? I actually enjoyed it. Even after the endorphin induced joy wore off. I thought it was fun and already looking for my next one. And don’t forget the swag. I definitely rocked that bad boy all over Whole Foods for my post race feast.

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So to all my runner friends out there, buena suerte and see you at the start line!

Book Review: And the Mountains Echoed

Oh Khaled Hosseini! How your words both move me to go see the places so dense with history and warn me of why I shouldn’t. And the Mountains Echoed is a beautiful paradox composed of the tenderest emotions shared between family and confidants and the harsh reality of a war torn country and what it reduces it’s inhabitants to. In a expansive web of characters spanning the US, Europe and the middle East, Hosseini weaves together generations of life-altering decisions that all culminate in coming face to face with the truths that have been kept from them.

This is definitely one of Hosseini’s lighter books, especially after reading A Thousand Splendid Suns (which I balled through the entirety of) because it touches on softer emotions like the love between brother and sister, the devotion of a daughter to her ailing father, and the kindness of a foreign doctor. What I loved about these characters is that their struggles were actually approachable for someone with “first-world problems”. And their struggles weren’t viewed as flaws but instead as what makes them the strong, if not stubborn, individuals that they are. I am a big fan of this whole trend in literature where stories cross generations and come to a satisfying ending which is what I got from And the Mountains Echoed. No, it wasn’t exactly a happy ending but I think that all the pieces fell into place neatly and no story was wasted or used as filler. And to be fair, it was a bittersweet ending. My personal favorite character was the Greek doctor Markos and his story of growing up in Greece and what led him to Afghanistan.

Everyone in the story has a family story clouded by poor judgement and each chapter delves deeper and deeper into how far the consequences of those poor judgement reach. I enjoyed reading this book and I recommend reading it.

Has anyone else read And the Mountains Echoed or any other of Hosseini’s books?