Saturday, February 13, 2010

Food for Thought

Very Valentine****

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In my little reading corner 'chick lit' always has its place. Sometimes I need a pick me up, or I know I'll have limited reading time. In those cases, I need a novel that's a quick read and not too thought provoking. But most frequently, I treat myself to this genre in between 'heavier' reads.

A good piece of chick lit can serve the same purpose as a sorbet served between courses in a fine restaurant. It can cleanse the mind the way the sorbet cleanses the palate. The very best chick lit can also stand alone as dessert, and that's where I would place Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani. The only reason I didn't give this book 5 stars is that it's part of a trilogy, and the novel ends with unresolved story lines. A fifth star will have to be earned by books 2 and 3. (The second book, Brava, Valentine, was release last Tuesday and is on its way to me now.)

The main character is Valentine Roncalli, a 33 year old, single, Italian-American woman who abandons her career as a high school teacher to become an apprentice to her octogenarian Grandmother. Together they create handmade bridal shoes in their workshop/home in Greenwich Village. Along the way, Val has a proposal of marriage from her long standing boy friend, Brett. Here's her reaction:

"...I felt the great relief that comes with being alone. I needed to seek my own counsel, to think things through. So I made a dish of spaghetti with fresh tomatoes from this garden, olive oil from Arezzo, and sweet white garlic. I made a salad of artichokes and black olives. I opened a bottle of wine...Then I sat down to eat a glorious meal, slowly savoring every bite and sip.

I realized that my answer to his proposal, upon his return, would not be the great moment; the great moment had already happened. He had asked."
Valentine is a woman who enjoys good food and she's also a thinker.
She turns down Brett's offer of marriage, because she realizes that they're heading down different paths.
Of course another love interest pops up in the form of restaurateur Roman Falco. He's a hunk and he cooks...need I say more? He prepares a meal for Valentine's family on a night that his restaurant is closed. Truffle ravioli is the pasta course, followed by roast pork with root vegetables and preceded by a fabulous sounding antipasto. Despite the sumptuous fare, the evening is ruined by a Roncalli family squabble.
Roman has issues with the in-fighting in his own family, and he is not amused.
Roman and Val are both devoting huge amounts of time to their careers and business problems, and not making enough time for each other. To make amends, Roman makes plans to meet Val on the Isle of Capri after she concludes a buying trip to Tuscany with her Grandmother.

On their arrival in Tuscany, they check in to an inn where the proprietor knows Gran from her previous trips. The Senora serves them each a crock of perfect minestrone, crusty bread, fresh butter and wine.
In Tuscany, Gran reveals a few secrets about her past and present. Val meets one of Gran's suppliers who is also a special friend, and his son Gianluca. Gianluca becomes Valentine's tour guide in Tuscany and when Roman has to cancel his trip to Capri because of problems at the restaurant back in Manhattan he also shows up on the Isle. Val is attracted to Gianluca, but basically remains faithful to Roman, despite his no show status and her subsequent anger.

Left to her own devices on Capri, Valentine spends her days working with an elderly master shoemaker, Costanzo, who is 'besotted' with her. He approves of the fine shoemaking skills that she has aquired. She learns much in only a week and she hates to leave him. He feeds her breakfasts of fresh figs and pizza alige, and makes a special lunch of fresh tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella on her final day. He calls it their 'last supper.'
Valentine falls in love with Tuscany and the relaxed lifestyle, but she has to admit that she also loves Manhattan. She ponders how to bring elements of Tuscany into her New York life. Ironically, I was reading Frances Mayes Bringing Tuscany Home while I was reading Very Valentine, and they made perfect companions.

Not too long after Valentine and Gran return home, Gran takes a fall and is hospitalized. Gianluca and his father fly to New York as soon as they hear, and in an amazing hospital room scene many things occur, including a face to face meeting between Gianluca and Roman. Roman is there because Gran was complaining about hospital food and he had specially prepared panne cotta for her.

I liked this book for many reasons. I've always loved New York city. I learned to love Long Island, (although it took a while), and I love Forest Hills where Val's parents live. (We actually have Italian family there.) We always go to Ferrara's in Little Italy for pastry, and we've been to a wedding at Leonard's of Great Neck. All of these places are exactly as Trigiani describes them. She writes with warmth, humor and great affection for her characters. You really can't ask for much more.

I love this Italian family and found it refreshing, and much more realistic, that they were portrayed as just a loud, large Italian family and not cast members of the Sopranos. The family members as written are people I've met. Gran is a very hip 80 year old, Valentine is the quintessential 30 something New Yorker, and Val's mom is the chic middle aged Italian matron that I've encountered several times over.

I also liked the fact that there were no shortage of food scenes in this book. If I illustrated them all, I'd still be in the kitchen! I even finally used the pasta machine and ravioli press that my husband bought me last year! Thank you Adriana.


  1. Excellent review & Amen to the chick lit sorbet/dessert analogy! Your food looks great...I want to dig right into it and the book too!

  2. Love your story and those food photos are wow!
    I can almost taste that great food.
    Thank you for your visit; I must say I love it here.
    Happy Valentines Day!

  3. What a review! I know I would like this book..and really the photos..w/ the food..and your kudos..that's enough for me..Well done!

  4. Nancy, what a great analogy..."a sorbet served between courses "! How perfect for this Valentines Day weekend, too. :D

    We've been to Capri & Tuscany as well, so I am DEFINITELY getting this book!! I just finished reading Frances Mayes Bringing Tuscany Home, too.

    You've wet my appetite for both the book & some good Italian pasta...thanks!!

  5. i am just like you, i love a light read after some chunky topics~ i have had one of her books on my nightstand for about 5 years, i don't know why i never grab it, she has so many books i need to get on with it and give her a go!

    oh your pics are delish, its not often i crave salad in the morn, but it looks perfecto to me today! and your pasta, just gorgeous! oh you take breathtaking crystal clear pics, the type that dent my tines when i jab my fork in the screen! each pic gets more and more deadly to my silverware and or health of the computer screen! truly, your food pictures are beyond fabulous...

    and i see your are multitasking with 2 wonderful books to keep on dazzling us, right down to a beautiful little dessert... heavy sigh, i love love love food for thought, its just one heck of a satisfying meal for me, food, thought, and your glorious pics, egads its a visual jackpot!

    thank you so much for playing, i LOVED it all!

  6. I think I want to move into your house! I adore Italian food and everyone of these dishes look divine. Great review with wonderful food. I'm definitely getting a copy of this book. Thanks for sharing. I've added myself as a follower. Nice to meet you! ~ Sarah

  7. Your Review is great and your food photos are incredible! Thanks so much I really enjoyed reading it!

    ~Really Rainey~

  8. that sounds like an interesting read. wonderful review an d wow!! to the food you prepared....they look amazing and each u have done to perfection! so glad u dropped by. tq ^^

  9. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  10. Now Nancy, if I had known you when you lived on LI I would have made you love it!
    We would be flitting all over shopping and cooking up a storm!
    We could have Babka marathons for Easter!

    Your food looks fave pic is the ravioli with the freshly shredded cheese...

    You mean families fight? Oh no! :) I have only read about that...:)

  11. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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