Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Book Tour Stops Here: "French Lessons" by Ellen Sussman with a Delectable Fig Relish & French Cheeses (+ a Giveaway!)

I have never been to France. I hope to go there someday and when I do, I want to get a sexy French tutor and spend the day walking the streets of Paris and being immersed in the culture and the language. In Ellen Sussman's new novel French Lessons, three American tourists do just that, each one paired with their own French tutor and each of their stories unfolding as the day goes on.

In the first chapter we meet the three French tutors; Nico, an about-to-be-published poet who has fallen for fellow tutor Chantal and has recently spent the night with her. Chantal has been in a relationship with tutor Philippe, who has a tendency to sleep around, so it has become a bit of a strained triangle. Their clients are three different Americans and Sussman tells each of their stories separately. Nico is paired with high school French teacher Josie, who was supposed to be on a vacation to Paris to buy shoes with her married lover. His sudden death has left her alone and grieving. Philippe's client is Riley, a frustrated ex-pat wife with two small children and a husband who grows ever more distant every day. Chantal has been working with Jeremy, a carpenter and husband of a famous actress. Jeremy has tagged along on the film shoot for his wife's new movie and is fighting feelings of attraction to Chantal.

All of the characters are flawed, some are not all that likable, but their stories pulled me in and moved me in different ways. The city is such a large part of the stories, it is almost its own character, and Sussman's descriptive writing immediately swept me away to Paris. I read most of this book in one sitting, while going through a long day of jury duty, mostly spent waiting around to see if I would have to serve. The story took me from the stuffy, noisy jury lounge and the cold silent gallery of the courtroom to another country, providing much needed escape. If you can't actually break away to Paris, this novel will help you get least in your mind.

You can see what some other bloggers had to say about this book by going to the TLC Book Tours page and following the links. you can read more about French Lessons author Ellen Sussman, here.

The book inspired me to put together a simple market-style meal of baguette and cheese, jazzed up with some delectable Fig Relish from "Plum Gorgeous" by Romney Steele. (You can read my review of this wonderful cookbook and see the recipes for Cherry Clafoutis and Cherry Salsa here.) I bought a small quantity of fresh sweet figs from the farmers market and this relish seemed like the perfect way to make the most out of them.

Steele says, "The relish can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator. ...enjoy with cheese and wine in the afternoon. It will keep for several months in the refrigerator."

Fig Relish
From "Plum Gorgeous" by Romney Steele
(Makes About 1 Cup)

1 basket Kadota or Mission figs (about 1/2 lb), stemmed and peeled
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar or champagne vinegar
1 tsp mustard seed
pinch salt
about 1 tsp dry mustard (optional)

Coarsely chop the figs and place in a small pot with the sugar, vinegar, mustard seed, salt and 1/4 cup water. Bring to a boil over medium heat and simmer, stirring on occasion, for 20 minutes, until it resembles a loose jam. Stir in the dry mustard to taste, if using. Transfer to a glass bowl or jar. Refrigerate once cool.

Notes/Results: A great use for figs--if you can stop eating them long enough to make the relish. ;-) The relish is sweet and delicious, with the mustard seed and chunks of fig adding texture and the dry mustard and vinegar keeping it from being too sweet. My figs were ultra ripe, so I didn't bother peeling them and it was just fine. The book uses the relish in a ham panini, but I wanted to serve it with a baguette from the farmers market and some French cheeses from the gourmet cheese section of a local store. I thought I would like it best with my favorite Fromager d’Affinois, a double cream, brie-like cheese, but it was equally nice with the lightly tangy herbed Le Roulé. A few cherries and a glass of sparking wine rounded out this simple summer dinner. I will definitely make the relish again.

***French Lessons Giveaway***

In need of a little Parisian escape of your own? TLC Book Tours and the publishers have offered to send one lucky U.S. reader their own copy of French Lessons.
  • If you would like a chance to win, just leave a comment telling me where in the world you would like to escape to. Be sure to leave a way for me to get in touch with you if you win.
  • You have until 10:00 PM (Hawaii time) on Monday, August 1 to enter.
  • I'll randomly draw a winner and post it on Tuesday, August 2.
  • Good Luck!

Speaking of giveaways...

The randomly-drawn, lucky winner of a copy of the beach-friendly novel Sunset Bridge, plus a couple of small fun Hawaii foodie treats is...

Vicki of I'd Rather Be Reading At The Beach. (With a blog title like that, it must be fate that her name was drawn for this book!) ;-)

Vicki said, "My favorite thing about summer is lounging on the beach with a good book. That's why my blog is called "I'd Rather Be Reading At The Beach!"

Congratulations Vicki! Email me with your mailing address and I will get your prizes out to you.

Happy Summer Reading!

Obligatory Disclosure Statement: Review and giveaway copies of French Lessons were provided by the publisher and TLC Book Tours but I was not compensated for this review or influenced by anyone--as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.


  1. Spectacular relish! I really want cheese now.

  2. Sexy french tutor...exactly my thoughts.

    Fig relish!!! I can't wait until the figs on my parents' fig tree are ripe so I can try this.

  3. I want to read this book so bad!

  4. What a great summer read. And that fig jam sounds so great. I wish I could get my hands on figs more often around here. Any place in the world? At this particular moment, Vienna.

  5. Nice review...I'd love to escape to Tuscany... but if I can't, I'd make do with a basket filled with your lovely goodies and a copy of this book ;)

  6. This fig relish from Plum Gorgeous is certainly making the rounds. It leaves me thinking that I really have to buy that book and make the relish too. I love having a cheese plate like the one you made. I should do that more often.

    The book sounds great. I'd love to escape to the Amalfi coast in Italy right about now. It always looks so pretty in pictures.

  7. I'd love to escape to Tahiti.

    Love reading your blog. :)

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  9. Goat cheese and figs and a sexy French tutor--I'm in.

  10. That fig relish looks absolutely delicious!

    Thanks for being on the tour. I'm glad you enjoyed the book.

  11. thank you for sharing that fabulous fig relish with me, I've had it with baked chicken nuggets and also on a toasted bagel with some melted white cheddar...mmm!

  12. I want to escape to France! This book sounds fantastic. (Contact: booksdistilled at gmail.)

  13. I'd love to escape to a quiet pristine beach in the Seychelles. Cheers!


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