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Authors: Jocelyne Rapinac

Freedom Fries and Cafe Creme

BOOK: Freedom Fries and Cafe Creme
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Freedom Fries
and
Café Crème

Jocelyne Rapinac

To James

 

Special thanks to James, Jane, Kat, Yvonne and all of you who made me believe in my writing and cooking.

 

This book is also dedicated to all of you who work very hard in a kitchen trying to please the palates of so many of us!

‘
To eat is a necessity, to eat intelligently is an art.'

François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld,
1613–1680, French writer

‘Papa, what's a New Year's resolution?'

Armand, reading and sipping his coffee, was a little taken aback by this sudden question. He got up from the comfortable sofa and turned up the flames of the gas fire until he could feel an agreeable warmth on his face. Then he settled back down, inviting Juliette to sit beside him …

A few minutes later, she seemed satisfied with her father's explanation.

‘Have you made one, Papa?'

‘Well, er, let me think about it …'

The little girl was all ears.

‘I promise I'll tell you later, Juliette.'

‘OK, Papa! Then I might make one myself.'

Juliette was always so conciliatory.

January and its New Year's resolutions! And what
were
Armand's, since, for once, he was feeling rather satisfied with his life? He simply wanted to go on trying to be as happy as he could, and to keep certain habits that he believed were good for him and Juliette.

Would a relationship actually contribute more to his happiness? Or would it simply be a call of the flesh, since he felt no lack of companionship or affection right now? And he had hardly been able to trust anyone after what Han had done to him and Juliette.

On the other hand, there was Liana, whom he'd met at Brenda's New Year's Eve dinner party. How attractive, friendly and witty she was. Even though they'd been seated at a table with other people, the two of them had managed a good bit of subtle flirtation throughout the evening, while enjoying Brenda's exquisite festive dinner.

Much of their flirting had been based around the sensual enjoyment of the food – the aroma, the deliciousness and beautiful presentation of dishes – and the sweetness of the champagne had helped oil the wheels.

They'd been having such a very good time … until Armand had had to leave when his mobile phone rang to remind him it was late and he should return home.

‘So soon?' said Liana, disappointed, feeling that the spell of the evening had been broken.

Armand muttered a vague excuse, but his face showed his regret.

‘Anyway, it was very nice to meet you, Armand!'

Liana was smart enough to see she couldn't say anything to detain him, and though she could imagine many scenarios that would explain his sudden departure, she didn't ask.

‘I hope I'll see you again,' she added, summoning her self-confidence. After all, they'd established a bond through their conversation and their shared love of gourmet food.

‘I hope so, too,' Armand replied sincerely.

He left, thinking that he would definitely contact Brenda to learn more about Liana, and possibly to ask her for Liana's phone number.

Actually, Brenda had called Armand the day after to tell him that Liana had asked for
his
phone number.

Women nowadays do take the initiative, don't they? And why not? thought Armand.

That had been a few days ago and Liana hadn't called. Not that Armand really expected her to, but one never knew. He hadn't called her, after all. Even if he'd felt very attracted to her – he had never enjoyed such sensuous dining with anyone before – he was a little afraid he might be disappointed if they met in other circumstances.

Snow was falling slowly, bringing an atmosphere of peace to the neighbourhood.

It's hard to believe we're in Manhattan, mused Armand, watching the snowflakes drifting down. As his mind wandered back to Liana and New Year's Eve, Suzanne Ciani's piano music, playing soothingly in the background, added a little melancholy note to his mood.

Later on, Armand knew, he would have much less time to relax since Rick and Carla, his employers, would be back.

He turned from the window to look at Juliette. She was drawing a very colourful picture to give to Rick and Carla. The couple were portrayed with outsized smiley faces, standing beneath a dark, slim Eiffel Tower, and with a big sun shining in the background.

Juliette was really into her drawing, the tip of her little
tongue pressed against her upper lip in concentration. Even her teachers were amazed, and happy to see that, unlike many of her peers, she did other things besides watching TV or playing computer games.

Armand walked around the spacious, overly decorated apartment to check that everything was in order before Rick and Carla arrived. The cleaning lady was just finishing and he was satisfied that the place had never looked better.

 

Three strident buzzes from the doorbell.

‘Papa, they're back!' Juliette ran to the front door.

Yes, Rick and Carla had returned. Although it was their home, they always rang the bell to announce their arrival since Armand and Juliette lived in. ‘It's a question of respect,' they insisted.

The door opened on a pair of smiling, artificially tanned faces. Tony, the apartment block concierge, was behind them, pushing their abundant luggage on a trolley.

‘Hello, Rick and Carla. Welcome home! You look great,' Armand greeted them.

‘Yeah,' Juliette confirmed, animated, jumping up and clapping her hands.

‘
Bonjour, tous les deux
, so good to see you! And to be home!' Carla and Rick said almost in unison.

They skipped into the living room, took their coats off, sat down on the big white sofa and sighed with pleasure. Juliette immediately seated herself between the new arrivals. The three of them giggled with delight. Rick and Carla admired the picture Juliette had drawn for them. It
would be added to their significant collection, as they were the lucky recipients of most of Juliette's artwork.

Armand told Tony where to leave the luggage. Then the concierge departed with a contented smile, showing Armand the bottle of Armagnac that Rick and Carla had given him.

Carla sought out the presents she and Rick had brought for Juliette: a beautiful vintage doll and a French book.

‘I'll call her Armande, after Papa.'

Rick, Carla and Armand smiled because that's what the little girl called all her dolls.

‘We had a nice, peaceful time with my parents over Christmas,' Rick said. ‘They send their regards. The Paris trip was—'

‘We had a blast!' Carla burst out.

‘Yes, what a wonderful trip!'

‘Too much food and drink, though! You'll need to get us back on the straight and narrow. Anyway, it's good to be back.'

They both looked sincerely at Armand and his daughter.

‘And you? How are you doing, Armand, and little princess Juliette?' Carla asked.

Armand told them that everything was fine.

‘Any exciting news? How is your family?'

‘Just give me a few moments to fix you some drinks and I'll tell you,' Armand replied, getting up and going to the kitchen.

Even if the kitchen still felt a little too clinical to him – more like a laboratory than a place to prepare food, owing to its cutting-edge designer style – Armand was more
comfortable there since he'd humanised it with antique culinary equipment and jars of aromatic herbs. The first time he'd seen the kitchen in which he was to do much of his work he'd felt as out of place as poor Monsieur Hulot experimenting with the ultra-modern appliances in his sister's kitchen in
Mon Oncle
. But, since Armand had brought his influence to bear, the kitchen looked and functioned much better, with a rather eclectic mix of styles that Rick and Carla found so chic.

Armand returned with a vegetable cocktail and a tray of mini blinis, and gave a brief account of his holiday. His mother and sister had come for a visit, which was a big event for them, since neither travelled frequently as they didn't have much money and were continually busy with their small strawberry farm in Quebec. They'd really enjoyed New York – it was only their second visit – but who wouldn't like this wonderful city, especially when they could stay with Armand in this huge, fabulous apartment on the Upper West Side?

‘How was Brenda's dinner party? Did you meet anyone, er, interesting?' Rick enquired.

Armand was perfectly aware that Rick and Carla wanted him to meet someone, but he also knew they would be devastated if he left them.

‘I'm saving that news for later,' he told them. ‘I'd rather hear about your trip first.'

‘Yes, me too!' Juliette added enthusiastically.

Rick and Carla loved it when Armand and Juliette showed an interest in their lives, which they themselves believed to be so exciting, though Armand actually found
their lifestyle a bit too tiring for his taste, and Juliette, a young girl, was still easily impressed.

The couple didn't really know where to start, and their story was a little jumbled and confused, but Armand and his daughter listened patiently.

How very relaxed and re-energised Rick and Carla look, Armand thought, gazing at the couple chatting effervescently, even if they've just spent seven hours on a plane. Since they flew business class on Hexagone Air it certainly ought to have been relaxing.

Suddenly Rick got up and turned to his wife.

‘Carla, why don't we go have a quick shower? Then we'll be ready for dinner.'

‘Sounds good to me!' Looking at herself in the big mirror above the sofa, she added, ‘Oh, yes, I definitely need to freshen up.'

They disappeared to their gigantic, immaculate, elegantly tiled bathroom, giggling like teenagers.

Armand admired how happy the couple were. Even though he was only thirty-one, he was convinced he'd never be in such a beautiful relationship.

Armand had a high regard for the integrity of Rick and Carla's affection. He had never seen anything like it, except in romantic films. Was it because they had met when they were in their early forties, and already knew a good deal about life? Did the fact that they didn't have any children have something to do with it?

Love always looks more glamorous when you live in a big, beautiful apartment, and when you never have to think about money and trivial chores, reflected Armand
cynically, while going back to the kitchen to prepare a delicious but healthy welcome-home dinner.

 

‘… And happy New Year!'

Exceptionally, Armand and Juliette were to have dinner with Rick and Carla in the dining room to celebrate their return. Armand laid the table with Carla's best tableware, the dishes were inlaid with tricolour pearls and the cutlery was encrusted with semi-precious stones. It was a little too rococo for his taste, but Carla liked it.

Armand and Juliette usually had their dinner in the kitchen before Rick and Carla ate theirs after they'd come home from work.

Since they hadn't seen each other for a couple of weeks, the evening's discussion was to consist of:

 

l. More details about Rick and Carla's exclusive luxury culinary and cultural tour, staying in an exclusive
world-class
hotel in Paris

2. All the new healthy food and drink Armand had discovered while they were away

3. Rick and Carla's resolutions for this New Year

4. The week's to-do list, starting tomorrow morning at six fifteen sharp – the toughest transition for Armand after two weeks of morning laziness

 

Rick and Carla sat down at the dining-room table, refreshed by their shower, still in a festive mood.

The dining room's imposing baroque clock struck twice: it was only 4.30 p.m., but in view of Rick and Carla's
jet lag it seemed wise to have an early dinner.

‘Home sweet home,' crooned Rick, kissing Juliette on her forehead.

The little girl sat in her place with the new Armande doll on a chair to her right. The happy couple were clearly ready for dinner as well. Armand went over to put on some music, which Rick and Carla always insisted on while they were eating. Armand was still in the mood for Suzanne Ciani's relaxing piano notes.

‘Dinner smells divine!' Carla enthused. ‘I'm starved!'

‘After everything we ate on the plane!'

‘It was very good, actually …' she admitted.

Well, I hope so, since you were in business class, Armand thought but didn't say.

‘… and I don't know why, but I always have such a big appetite when I'm in the air!' she added with that naivety that suited her so well.

I would too if I were being served champagne
nonstop
, and a gourmet meal, maybe with foie gras, Armand reflected a little enviously.

‘I'm sure I put on at least four pounds! Armand, I'm counting on you to help me regain my figure!' she continued.

‘Of course! That means veggie cocktails and more stomach exercises!' Armand smiled.
Well, it is part of my job, isn't it?

‘We ate very well most of the time, but we missed your cooking, Armand,' Rick said, visibly enjoying the soup. ‘This is delicious – a new recipe?'

‘Sort of,' Armand answered vaguely.

‘To be added to your book? Have you worked on it, since, after all, you have had some time off?' Carla enquired.

‘Well, you know, with my mother and sister visiting …'

‘But they were only here for a week, weren't they?'

Armand was not going to tell her that, besides spending time with Juliette, he had lounged in the most comfortable armchair in front of the fire, reading books, watching silly comedies, or – on a less agreeable note – just staring out of the window and dwelling on bitter memories from the past and worries for the future.

‘Leave him alone, Carla. Armand needed some time off,' said Rick, winking at Armand, knowing full well what he'd been through. Rick, too, was writing a book – had been for almost ten years now – with the curious title of
It's Unfortunate that Socialism Will Never Flourish in America.

BOOK: Freedom Fries and Cafe Creme
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