Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Joie de Vivre by Robert Arbor & Katherine Whiteside

16. Joie de Vivre
Simple French Style For Everyday Living
by Robert Arbor & Katherine Whiteside
nonfiction, 2003
third book for the Foodie's Reading Challenge
finished, 2/20/11

A lot of the books I read about living in France or Italy leave me with just a touch of sadness because I can't seem to find a way to incorporate the lifestyle into my own on this hilltop so far away. But this is exactly what Robert Arbor sets out to do in his book, Joie de Vivre. In the introduction he says:
I have written this book because, in my business [Le Gamin restaurants in New York City and Boston], I see a constant flow of Americans looking for that thing that the French call joie de vivre. Americans are fascinated with how the French manage to live so well, and so contentedly, in their ordinary, day-to-day life. It's not just about cooking, decorating, or entertaining - it's about enjoying all the small details of domestic life. It's about making time for family, growing some vegetables in your garden, chatting with the butcher, and cooking for your family and friends.
Joie de Vivre: Simple French Style for Everyday Living tells all about the joy I find in French home life and shows my American friends how to find this particular French style of happiness. Although I say this with all humbleness, I truly feel that this book may help you enhance your life. I know that Americans are looking for and deserve their bit of joie de vivre, and in these pages are many tips and some advice that may help you in your search for domestic happiness. Take away what you like, make it your own, and most importantly, enjoy what you do.
Well, that is simply an irresistible proposition, isn't it?! Who wouldn't want to read this book?

Robert Arbor takes us through a day, beginning with breakfast.
the basic, delicious French breakfast consists primarily of coffee and bread. ... in my country adults do not eat eggs for breakfast. We do enjoy eggs cooked in many different ways for lunch or dinner, but at home, the French have only coffee and bread for breakfast.
I was pleased to read that my beginning of the day is already quite French. He writes of the café press which I've used for a few years now. I find it much simpler, and the coffee more delicious than using an electric coffeemaker. I even wrote about it here a few years ago.

I came upon a connection with Hercule Poirot who spoke of 'tartine.' I didn't know what it was until I read it is 'a piece of baguette, split and toasted.' Robert Arbor goes on to say that:

At breakfast, everyone drinks from their own bowl, which takes the place of a cup or mug. ... Drinking coffee, hot chocolate, or hot milk from a bowl is very comforting. The hemispheric shape lets you cup your hands around the warmth.

I was so smitten with the notion of drinking my morning coffee from a bowl that I went online to see about buying a couple French coffee bowls. I found them but one morning I thought, why not use my Fiestaware bowl? And it was perfectly wonderful. The bowl added a whole new dimension to this simple activity. I'm hooked. It's a bowl for me from now on. I used to drink my coffee at the computer. Now I sit at the table with my bowl of coffee and homemade toast topped with butter and St. Dalfour jam, which I've used for years. It is a peaceful time for me. The sun comes in the kitchen windows and I happily read my New Yorker magazines.

The author lives part of the year in France and part in America. At this writing he did not have a garden but he hoped to in the future, and writes about the French vegetable gardens in a chapter called Le Potager. Here, as in all the chapters, he offers recipes. You shall soon be seeing a post on Oven Fries a`la Nicole, and in the summer,Tomato Provençal.

There's a chapter on his kitchens in both countries. You might expect a chef to have all the modern appliances and gadgets, but not Robert Arbor. His French kitchen;
has a lovely big table but not one inch of counter space. Most French kitchens do not have built-in cabinets or drawers or special light fixtures. Several old pieces of furniture hold everything we need for cooking and serving food and also function as the pantry space. ... The entire space measures about ten by twenty-five feet.

His American kitchen:
is as joyfully simple as my kitchen in Flaujac. Surprising, no? But this is the point - you do not need to spend a lot of money to have a pleasant and workable kitchen. Having all the bells and whistles will not make your food taste better nor will it turn you into a happier cook. Every recipe in this book, and those in most basic cookbooks, can be made using standard appliances and inexpensive tools. ... The entire kitchen measures about eight by ten feet.
His counters are not the ubiquitous granite, but formica! And he is not a fan of islands. He says the most important thing about a kitchen is 'not how modern it is or how much money it has cost but how much you enjoy being there.' Amen!!

He writes about something which will delight the dog lovers - when he was a child, his dog sat at the table! He sat on a chair and ate off a plate.
The story about Agos demonstrates how relaxed and loving the atmosphere was during those childhood dinners.
In France, they have a 'pause gourmande' - an afternoon snack between 4 and 6 p.m., and have dinner at 7:30 or 8.
A 6:00 p.m. mealtime means that someone has to be home to cook by 4:00 p.m. and, let's face it, working people just aren't home then. If you ask all the family members to have a pause gourmande, ... then a 7:30 p.m. or even an 8:00 p.m. dinner becomes a reasonable thing. A bit to eat and something to drink [he doesn't mean alcohol] around 5:00 p.m. keeps the hunger at bay and helps make the entire afternoon a little more pleasant. Adopting the custom of pause gourmande allows the cook to get home from work at a reasonable hour and still have adequate time to make something nice. ... When you eat at 6:00, you are still wound up from the day; a later dinner gives everyone more time, so that they can be fully relaxed by the time that the napkin goes on their knees.
And if it can't work for people every night, he has further suggestions. This is what the book is all about. He doesn't preach, he doesn't coerce. He simply suggests. He offers ideas to help each one of us to live a little more joyously from the time we awake until the time we go to sleep. It is a wonderful guide to living and I deeply enjoyed this third book in the Foodie's Reading Challenge.


  1. I will DEFINITELY be reading this. It sounds like a true joy. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention, Nan. I love toasted baguette slices. Yum. So I'm already part of the way there. I love fresh bread in the morning. When I can't get it, I feel deprived. :(

  2. Thanks so much for sharing this. Definitely one to order! There's a lovely light alcohol free scent for children (or their mums!) called Tartine et Chocolat and your post has made me remember it!

  3. I despise granite counters and love Formica so hurray!

    But, even as a childhood memory, the dog at the table makes me shudder.

  4. This sounds wonderful, Nan. I've just added it to my wishlist!

  5. Such a delightful post! You made my day. It is morning here, tea at my side, but that bowl of coffee looks so inviting. I love the way you "Americanized" this ritual with Fiestaware.

    Joie de Vivre. I shall look for the book and embrace the lifestyle whenever I can.

  6. Yvette, it is a great 'joy' (joie!) You'll love it.

    Rambling Fancy, it is definitely worth owning. I think I'll go back to it again and again.

    Is this what you remember?

    Lynn, my counters are thirty year old butcher block. If my dog could sit in a chair, I'd be all for it. :<)

    JoAnn, this is a wonderful book.

    Life on the cut off, and you,mine. What nice words to read. Thanks. I'm wild for Fiestaware.

  7. Nan I have a small collection of the french cafe au lait bowls and do love to drink from them. I make quite a to do of heating my milk and adding the coffee every morning.
    this book is a must have for me!

  8. Julie, you will adore this book! I love the quiet rituals of the day.

  9. "Joie de Vivre" -- now who doesn't want that! The books sounds wonderful, and I like the idea of finding ways to appreciate, to savor the moments!

  10. Yes that's the scent Nan, thank you!

  11. Yes, this does sound like the loveliest book. The blessing of loving what you have.

  12. Jenclair, that's just what the author does! You'll love it.

    Rambling Fancy, now you can get some. :<)

    Colleen, it really is lovely.

  13. I can't remember exactly what drew me to French cuisine - but it was in the 70's, I was living in NYC and I'd met the woman I'd marry.

    I'd like to hold her responsible - for introducing me to French breads, pates, croissants, and coffee. We explored restaurants and bakeries, and specialty grocery shops. I started baking and collecting tins and utensils - all in a 2 room apartment with nothing more than a formica table and butcher block side board to work on.

    Remember spending one long weekend building my own puff pastry and eventually turning them into chausson aux pomme ("apple slippers"). But that was my last great feat.

    Not much energy left to do that - but my kids are taking over. And that woman who influenced me? We're hoping to see Paris for our 30th wedding anniversary this summer. Just a coupla kids from Brooklyn and Queens

    Baguettes all around!

    - Jeff

  14. What a delightful post.

    When I was a child, I read and fell in love with the book Heidi. I was completely taken with Heidi's life on the mountain with her grandfather, and resolved to live as nearly like her as possible.

    If Heidi drank her milk from a bowl, I would drink my milk from a bowl - and so I did, for a year or so. I had to do it by myself though, as Mama would not allow it at the table. Perhaps I will show this post to her, and see if Mama, now 93, might reconsider her position!

  15. Thank you for coming by and leaving a note, Shoreacres. Imagine the days when that would be a big deal to a mother. Not like getting a tattoo! I love it that you wanted to live like Heidi. I don't think I read it as a child, but I did read it to my daughter and we delighted in it together. I loved the 'li' on the ends of the goats names. (am I remembering that right?)

  16. Jeff, that was so wonderful to read. I just loved it. I am really happy you are going to Paris. Perfect, perfect.

  17. This is one of those books that I checked out so many times from the library over the years that I finally bought my own copy. It's probably one of my very favorite French lifestyle books. I've adopted several of the ideas over the years. So delightful!

  18. Karla, that is so, so wonderful!

  19. I need to find a copy of this book for my personal library! It sounds like a delightful read.

    BTW, I loved reading Jeff's comment. Congratulations on your upcoming anniversary, Jeff!

    And to Shoreacres: I, too, wanted to live just like Heidi on her grandfather's mountain, eating cheese and sausage with a slice of bread (toasted, as I recall). Thanks for the memories. I might have to give that book another read. :)

  20. Les, it is well-worth owning. I know I will use it for recipes but also to just reread some lovely passages. I hope Jeff and shoreacres come back to see your note.
    Did you read Heidi to Amy? I don't believe I had ever read it until reading it with Margaret. I so loved it. I might like to read it again myself. Maybe we will have granddaughters someday to read it to.


I'll answer your comments as soon as I possibly can. Please do come back if you've asked a question.
Also, you may comment on any post, no matter how old, and I will see it.