Heart health, safe tomatoes and a broth shortcut

June 18, 2008

Mice get all the breaks. Scientists have been testing the benefits of red wine on them. Again.

In this latest study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, results indicate that “the chemical resveratrol, commonly found in red wine, can help keep heart tissues young and delay aging—and at levels lower than previously expected.” In fact, researchers “believe that a glass of red wine a day might provide all the resveratrol the heart needs.”

Delaying the effects of aging on the heart is huge; the aging process itself apparently causes more health issues than age-related diseases. In tests on middle-aged mice [did that phrase make you smile too?], the hearts of the mice on resveratrol stayed stronger and the tissue maintained its health longer.

Resveratrol has been known for some time to offer significant health benefits, but previous studies involved levels of resveratrol found in hundreds of bottles of wine. If this latest study is correct, one or two glasses of red wine a day could actually prevent changes in heart cells that lead to aging.

Red wine-based pharmaceuticals are suddenly becoming big business, as heavy hitters like GlaxoSmithKline aim to cash in on these findings with resveratrol supplements. They’re already commercially available. Personally, it sounds like an answer for which there was no question, to quote a former boss. I mean, a nice glass of Cabernet versus a pill? No contest, as far as I can see.

Tomatoes and salmonella scare update

Last week I wrote about an outbreak of Salmonella serotype Saintpaul linked to consumption of certain kinds of raw tomatoes in the United States. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA] has not yet pinpointed the source for the tainted tomatoes, but they have cleared the tomato crops in 39 states and the District of Columbia as well as Baja California [Mexico], Belgium, Canada, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, Netherlands and Puerto Rico. To see if your state’s tomatoes are safe to eat and for the latest updates on the outbreak, visit the FDA’s website.

Better Than Bouillon: Good broth, good and fast

Yeah, broth or stock made from scratch is best. No argument here. But often, we don’t have time to make it. And just as often, it’s playing a supporting role in a dish and, quite frankly, the time and effort to produce a cup or less of homemade broth just isn’t worth the payoff, at least not in my kitchen.

The good news is that choices for store-bought stock have gone way beyond the soup can and the bouillon cube. Reduced fat and reduced sodium options abound. And at Trader Joe’s [as well as other places], you can even buy organic chicken stock made from free range chickens. One of our favorite “stock options” is the Superior Touch line of Better Than Bouillon bases. They now offer an amazing 18 varieties in all, but what first caught our attention is the mushroom base. We first discovered it at Fairway Market in New York. And we loved it so much, we pestered the Chicago chain Treasure Island to add it to the varieties they already carried.

What makes Better Than Bouillon bases, well, better is that the main ingredient in whatever variety you choose is the name on the label: Beef, chicken, mushroom, lobster… not salt. That said, they do pack plenty of sodium too, so it’s good to taste whatever you’re adding it to before adding more salt. But by way of contrast, bouillon cubes can deliver anywhere from 38 to a whopping 56 percent of your DVA for sodium in a single one-cup serving! Superior Touch does offer reduced sodium versions of their beef, chicken and vegetable bases too.

And you can’t beat them for convenience or value. A single teaspoon makes a cup of broth; an 8-ounce jar makes 38 cups of broth. And it keeps in the fridge for up to 18 months, ready to grab at a moment’s notice when you need a little liquid for a dish. The mushroom base remains our favorite, but we also keep chicken and vegetable on hand. If your local store doesn’t carry Better Than Bouillon, you can order it at Amazon.com or direct from Superior Touch.

You say “tomato”—I say “salmonella”

June 11, 2008

Salmonella is usually viewed as a problem in meat, particularly chicken. But last year, there was the lettuce salmonella and E. Coli scare, involving bagged lettuce. And this year, it’s tomatoes and salmonella.

Yep, just as it’s getting to be prime tomato season, they’re being yanked from supermarket shelves. Fast food chains from McDonald’s to Chipotle have also pulled them from their menus. About 150 people in nine states have been sickened by salmonella-tainted tomatoes, and at least one death has been linked to the outbreak.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “Salmonella is characterized by diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps that occur within 12 to 72 hours of infection … While most people do not need treatment, the disease can be dangerous to infants, elderly people and those with impaired immune systems.”

Large tomatoes, including Roma and round red, are suspected of carrying the strain Salmonella sereotype Saintpaul. Red plum tomatoes also may be affected.

So what tomatoes are safe to eat? First and foremost, homegrown tomatoes. Smaller tomatoes, such as cherry and grape tomatoes are also safe. But if you crave big tomato taste, go for tomatoes sold on the vine. As I’ve written before, the vine continues to supply nutrients to the tomatoes in the store, making them more flavorful. I suspect that the vines themselves don’t protect the tomatoes from salmonella; I’m guessing it’s more the growing and processing conditions.

So enjoy your tomatoes this season, but just shop carefully. And as always, wash your produce before eating it.

You can’t spell “team” without c-h-o-c-o-l-a-t-e

May 28, 2008

I am not a sports guy. Ever. The sports section of the newspaper only sees action in our house when we’re painting. So when I got an email invitation to meet Team USA, I came thisclose to hitting DELETE.

Then I saw it was Team USA of the Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie. The World Pastry Cup. This was a decidedly different story. So it was, a couple of Mondays ago, that Marion and I found ourselves at the lovely Sofitel Chicago Water Tower Hotel, sipping wine, nibbling on delightful little appetizers and anxiously awaiting the dessert portion of the evening.

Established in 1989, the Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie is the most prestigious event in the industry. It takes place bi-annually in Lyon, France, during SIRHA, the International Hotel Catering and Food Trade Exhibition. This year, after a grueling selection process followed by months of intense training, teams of pastry chefs from 20 countries will convene in Lyon in January to dazzle a panel of 22 judges and a live audience with their technical and artistic wizardry in the realm of desserts, chocolate, sugar and ice. Specifically, each team is required to perform live before an audience and prepare in ten hours:

A Chocolate Cake, composed of Valrhona Grand Cru Chocolat, presented on an all-sugar sculpture
A Plated Dessert, representative of the team’s country, presented on an all-chocolate sculpture
A Frozen Dessert, using Ravifruit Frozen Fruit Purées, presented on an ice carving.

The official partner and founder of the Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie is Valrhona, a premier French chocolatier. Since 1922, Valrhona has been producing chocolate couverture in the middle of the famous vineyards of Tain l’Hermitage in the Rhone Valley, France, near Lyon. The company is literally “Aux sources du Grand Chocolat” in its role as a planter, discoverer, selector and blender of fine and rare cocoa beans. The French are nothing if not obsessive about food, and we are all beneficiaries of their perfectionist tendencies. Valrhona, for instance, is committed to the creation and enhancement of authentic, intensely-flavored and unique chocolates; they are unique among chocolate producers in offering more than 10 dark chocolates with a cocoa percentage above 64%. And they are currently the only company in the world that produces vintage chocolate made from beans of a single year’s harvest from a specific plantation.

Valrhona’s business is also concerned with encouraging initiative and talent. They have sponsored the Coupe du Monde from its beginnings nearly 20 years ago.

Geographically spread out, Team USA’s training schedule forces them to be organized and focused. Once a month, throughout 2008, the team will meet for intensive weekend training sessions at L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, Maryland. This year, the team consists of President and pastry chef consultant En-Ming Hsu; Team Captain David Ramirez, Executive Pastry Chef at The Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando, Florida; Rémy Fünfrock, Executive Restaurant Pastry Chef at The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs, Colorado; Roy Pell, Executive Pastry Chef at The Phoenician, Scottsdale, Arizona; and Team Alternate Jim Mullaney, Executive Chef at The Cloisters Hotel, Sea Island, Georgia.

The United States has sent a team to Lyon since the competition’s inaugural event in 1989 and has come home with the Gold in 2001, the Silver in 1997 and the Bronze in 1995, 1999 and 2005. Team President Hsu served as Team Captain in 2001 when Team USA was awarded the gold.

So what are Team USA’s prospects for winning this year? Well, if the Chocolate Passion Fruit Cake we sampled [winner of the Best Chocolate Cake in 2007, and yes, those are little flecks of gold leaf on the top] is any indication, I’d say they’re pretty delicious—er, good.

Small Bites: Drinks, a cool tool and a sharp blog

May 21, 2008

Worst drink on the planet?

According to Men’s Health magazine, it’s the Heath Shake, part of Baskin-Robbins’ Candy Bar Madness promotion. The Baskin-Robbins website describes it tantalizingly thus: “Toffee and coffee have never been better! This blend of Heath and Jamoca ice creams, chopped Heath Bar pieces and caramel, are layered on top of caramel, then topped with whipped cream and chopped Heath Bar pieces.”

Their nutritional chart on the site tells a different story, though. The medium-sized 1,420-calorie drink [more than 2/3 of your daily calories needs, by the way] delivers 103% of your Daily Value for total fat and a whopping 200% for saturated fat. If that’s not enough of a fat bomb for you, they have a large size that packs an amazing 2,300 calories!

And the best drink? White tea is the new black.

Black tea is by far the most popular tea in the world. I’m a big fan of black tea myself, but lately green tea has been getting loads of press for its antioxidants. We all know by now that antioxidants fight cancer, reduce the risk of strokes, heart diseases and diabetes and generally slow the aging process.

Well, it turns out that white tea not only outperforms black tea when it comes to antioxidants—it blows the doors off everybody’s darling green tea in this regard too, delivering three times the antioxidants found in green tea. What’s more, According to ScienceDaily, white tea outstrips green in fighting germs, including Staphylococcus infections, Streptococcus infections and pneumonia. And studies by Oregon State University show that consumption of white tea can fight colon cancer, actually reducing tumors.

Is there anything white tea can’t do? Well, it doesn’t have the satisfyingly robust, slightly bitter taste of black tea. On the other hand, its somewhat subtler taste doesn’t carry any of the grassy aftertaste of green tea. And as an added bonus, its pale gold color is far less likely to stain than black tea. For everything you’d ever want to know about white tea, visit White Tea Central.

This cool kitchen tool can really take the heat.

Heat resistant, nonstick silicone has been showing up all over kitchens these days. And one of the best uses we’ve seen of it is these handy Cuisipro Silicone Locking Tongs.

They’re made with commercial-quality stainless steel, and the nonstick silicone ends are heat-resistant to 575°F [300°C]. Pull on the hanging hoop and you lock them closed for easy storage in a drawer. Pop the hoop against your hip or the counter and you can open them with one hand—a useful feature in a busy kitchen.

But what really makes these tongs for me are the silicone tips. You can flip chops or chicken breasts or whatever in a hot nonstick pan without fear of scratching. You can grab green beans or asparagus spears or other cooked vegetables without bruising them. And best of all, as far as I’m concerned, they’re ideal for handling cooked pasta. You get a sure grip without breakage, and the pasta can’t get stuck in them the way they can with open metal tongs [am I the only person bugged by this?].

Cuisipro Silicone Locking Tongs come in a dazzling array of sizes and colors. Whichever you choose, they’ll make life in the kitchen just a little bit easier.

A sharp new blog. Seriously.

The first rule of blogging if you want to build a loyal readership of more than just friends and family is to specialize. Your readers need to know that each time they visit, they’ll find something on a topic that interests them. Well, I recently heard from a blogger named Ken who has carved out quite a specific niche for himself.

The blog is called Only Knives. You’ll find plenty of useful information about kitchen knives—including this exhaustive article called The Best Kitchen Knives For Any Budget. You’ll also find posts about hunting knives, survival knives [did anyone else shudder just then?] and even swords!

Besides thorough, helpful product information, you’ll find plenty of articles on the industry and history of knives and blades. Like this post on The Rise and Fall of The Great Kitchen Knife-Makers. So if you’re in the market for new kitchen knives, check out Ken’s blog. And if you’re in the market for a survival knife, I’d just as soon not know about it.

Goodbye, Robert Rauschenberg. Thank you.

May 14, 2008

This will be a short post. I just saw on the New York Times website that American artist Robert Rauschenberg died Monday night at his home on Captiva Island, Florida. Please read their excellent obituary of this seminal artist. It is far more articulate than anything I might write here.

Rauschenberg is sometimes identified as a Pop Artist, but he actually predated Pop Art of the ’60s, emerging in the early ’50s. And his work over his long career defied definition or pigeonholing. Here’s how Michael Kimmelman of the Times puts it: “A painter, photographer, printmaker, choreographer, onstage performer, set designer and, in later years, even a composer, Mr. Rauschenberg defied the traditional idea that an artist stick to one medium or style. He pushed, prodded and sometimes reconceived all the mediums in which he worked.”

Jasper Johns came to prominence about this same time and while both he and Rauschenberg embraced and, in fact, heavily shaped Pop Art, they transcended it as well. Coming out of the Abstract Expressionism of Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline and others, their work was more painterly than other Pop Artists. And this only served to make their inclusion of found objects and mixing of media more exciting, more shocking, more energizing.

A couple of years ago, I had the amazing good fortune to see the show Robert Rauschenberg: Combines at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Combines was his term for pieces that included painting, collage and sculpture. I considered myself to be reasonably familiar with Rauschenberg’s work and a big fan of his. But suddenly seeing these 67 works, all created between 1954 and 1964 and all in one place, was electrifying.

In looking back at art from other periods, I’m sometimes frustrated by not seeing it with eyes of the time in which it was created. Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art is among the most beloved today—Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh… But when the work was first exhibited, it was revolutionary and caused an absolute uproar. Walking among these Combines at the Metropolitan some 40 or 50 years after they were created, I could get some sense of either how outrageous or wonderfully fresh they must have seemed when they were first exhibited.

It was an amazing show. An amazing career. An amazing life. Thank you, Mr. Rauschenberg.

RIP, The Spindle: Big art in Berwyn dies

May 7, 2008

Last fall I wrote about an unusual landmark in suburban Chicago that was threatened with demolition. Sadly, it fell last week, another victim of progress, if yet another Walgreens can be deemed progress. We learned about it first at Curious Feet St. Louis. Be sure to read this brief, heartfelt post. You’ll also find links there to photos and video of the demolition. Here’s my original post:

We bought a new bed this weekend out in the western suburbs of Chicago. Some assembly required, of course. The two boxes it came in, one of them 76 inches long, meant that even with our back seat folded down, the trunk would be partially open, secured by a bungee cord. To me, that meant taking surface streets instead of the expressway.

And that meant driving through Berwyn, Illinois. Berwyn is a working class suburb of Chicago and the butt of a long-running joke for a local TV celeb and bad horror movie host [I’ll wait while all Chicagoans do their best Son of Svengoolie impersonation: “BER-wyn?!?”].

It’s also, at least for now, home of The Spindle. Created in 1989 by California artist Dustin Shuler, it has given many people a reason to visit less than glitzy Cermak Plaza [to me, the way cool vintage mall sign is another].

But if you’d like to see The Spindle, you’d better visit Cermak Plaza soon. It is likely to be moved—and possibly demolished—soon to make way for a Walgreens. Yeah, we really need another one of those in the Chicago area. The national drugstore chain is headquartered here, and they loooove to build in their hometown. If you walk or drive five or six blocks in any direction without passing a Walgreens—or the site of a future Walgreens—you’ve probably somehow accidentally left Chicago. But for some reason, a Walgreens is urgently needed, right where The Spindle now stands.

The Spindle is not without its supporters, though. There’s a grassroots organization, complete with a Save The Spindle website. And the Illinois State Senate has passed a resolution to save The Spindle. If enough funds are raised, it could be moved elsewhere on the parking lot and have needed restoration work done by the artist. But as with most noble human endeavors, details of any such effort are a little sketchy and more than a little messy—questions of copyright and marketing and control [aka follow the money].

So your best bet is to get out there now and see it. Oh. And while you’re in Berwyn, be sure to check out the world’s largest laundromat, with 161 washers and 140 dryers, a kids’ play area, big screen TVs, a bird sanctuary [speaking of WTF?] and free pizza on Wednesday nights.

Alas, it is now gone. And the world is just a little bit blander.

Beyond organic: Biodynamic wines

April 29, 2008

When we were in California last November, we visited the Bonny Doon Vineyard in California’s Central Coast region. I later wrote about its quirky owner Randall Grahm leading the way in introducing biodynamic growing practices in producing his wines.

The biodynamic movement is growing in the industry, slowly but surely. Wineries are finding that they’re not only able to have a smaller negative impact on the environment, but they’re actually producing better wines and improving their own working environment at the same time.

As this Wine Spectator video shows, biodynamics is more than just replacing pesticides and chemical fertilizers with organic alternatives—it’s about achieving biodiversity and a natural balance.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

video source posted with vodpod

New, new, new: Dance, art and a restaurant

April 23, 2008

“New.” There’s just something enticing—something promising—about that word.

Last week, we got a triple dose of new, starting Monday with a lucky find in the Chicago Reader.

New Dance. There’s plenty of wonderful dance to be had in Chicago. The always exciting Hubbard Street Dance Chicago has been a fixture here since its founding in 1974. And the Joffrey Ballet made Chicago its home in 1995. Numerous smaller companies also flourish here.

But where do all the new dancers and choreographers come from? Where do they build their skills and try out their ideas? One answer is Dance Chance, a new program produced by DanceWorks Chicago and hosted at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts.

Once a month, Dance Chance offers three rising choreographers 15 minutes each in a one-hour program to share some of their latest work. The final 15 minutes provides an opportunity for the artists and audience to discuss the performances. At the end of the show, three new choreographers’ names are drawn from a fish bowl for the next performance—hence the “chance.”

The choreographers for the April 14 performance were Christopher McCray, Monique Haley and Dario Gabriel Mejia. Their works and styles were all quite different, but all quite polished. And their dancers did the works justice, displaying poise, grace and amazing athleticism.

Most of the audience of 50 or so seemed to be made up of other dancers and choreographers. And everyone was thrilled to witness all this exciting new work. I know we were. And we’ll be back for the next performance May 12.

New Art. Twice a year, the students of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago get a real gut check on how they’re doing, in the form of a two-day sale of their wares.

The Spring Art Sale last Friday and Saturday featured the work of more than 120 current students, all for sale, in the school’s historic ballroom on South Michigan Avenue. The work was diverse—a mix of jewelry, paintings, sculpture, photography, prints, multimedia and even fashion. Some of it felt like the kind of stuff produced for class assignments, but some was genuinely exciting, work that gave you the sense of a young artist actively pursuing his or her vision. And the prices were quite reasonable—sometimes even bargain basement.

There were of course any number of things that caught our eye. But in the end, we narrowed it down to this piece of ceramic sculpture by Erin McGarry. Not sure if it says more about us as ornithology lovers or pigeon haters.

New Food. Does anyone need to be told that the restaurant business is a risky one, that more new restaurants fail than succeed? So it’s that much cooler to see a wonderful place like mado get off to such a great start. When we went there on Friday night after the art sale, it had been open exactly two days. I know it takes a while to work out all the little bugs in any new endeavor, especially a restaurant. So I was prepared to overlook them. Only none happened. The food was impeccable; Marion called the lamb loin with toasted garlic and olives, cooked on their formidable wood grill, the best lamb she’s ever eaten. Of course everything our party of four ordered was perfect. The service was friendly and welcoming, the atmosphere relaxing and conducive to conversation.

mado is owned by a husband and wife team of self-professed green-market dorks, Rob and Allison Levitt. Their menu states simply, “At mado, we strive to use responsibly raised local products; mado proudly supports Chicago farmers’ markets.” And they mean it. When we ordered ramps as one of our appetizers, we were told that the farmer was stuck in traffic on his way to the restaurant with them. Our server later let us know they’d arrived; even though we were mid-entrée by then, we ordered some. It was worth the wait.

As impressive as the food was, so were the affordable prices. By the time the four of us were done, we’d ordered four appetizers, four entrées, four sides, four desserts and two coffees. The grand total before tip was a modest $125. They don’t have a liquor license yet, so you can bring your own wine, making meals an even better deal.

If you’d like to know more about mado and Rob and Allison Levitt, there’s an excellent article in a recent issue of New City Chicago. The article is why we were there on the second night they were open. The food is why we will be back again and again.

mado 1647 North Milwaukee, 773/342-2340

Revisiting the French film that got me hooked

April 16, 2008

I wasn’t always a sucker for French movies. And I don’t unconditionally love them all—there are some amazingly bad ones out there, after all. But whether roaming the video store or checking the movie listings, I find myself inordinately ready to give French films a chance. I can trace it all back to wandering into an art theater in St. Louis one evening and seeing the quietly charming The Two of Us.

Set in German-occupied France, it tells the story of a young Jewish boy in Paris sent by his parents to live in the country with an elderly Catholic couple until the liberation. The old man is “staunchly anti-Semitic,” as one reviewer put it, so the boy must hide his identity.

The intense bond that forms between the two of them is the story. And the brilliant performances of the two leads—Michel Simon as Grampa and nine-year-old, first-time actor Alain Cohen as Claude—make the story come alive.

As does acclaimed director Claude Berri’s deft touch in his feature film debut. He avoids descending into cliché cuteness, showing the characters warts and all. Before being whisked off to the country, young Claude gets caught smoking, fighting and shoplifting, thus calling attention to his family and forcing them to move. And when the old man tries to pass along his anti-Semitic views to Claude, he pretends to go along with his views, but then teases him. At one point, Grampa is trying to teach Claude how to spot a Jew; he tells him they always have big noses and wear their hats to the dinner table. The boy points out Simon’s beret and his impressively bulbous nose, then runs through the house, yelling in mock alarm, “Grampa’s a Jew!”

Equally charming is Berri’s affectionate but unsentimental view of country life in France in the 1940s. The scenes with the schoolchildren at the one-room country school especially capture the rough edges of rural life, and the outdoor Sunday dinner with Grampa’s grown son and his wife, its delights.

For all these reasons, The Two of Us is a film to see. When it was rereleased in 2005, actor Alain Cohen said in an interview in the New York Times that the theme of the film was “the ambivalent difference between real evil and evil lightly performed. It’s impossible to hate the character played by Michel Simon. Yet he does say hateful things. You might think that’s Claude Berri’s way of telling us that anti-Semitism isn’t really all that bad. But I think it suggests just the opposite—that even under the appearance of good, evil can exist, that this nice grandfather, who adores his little rabbits, could be on the dark side of history.”

Perhaps so. But I think the theme could as easily be the folly of prejudice. We are taught certain prejudicial views—by our families and friends, by society, the media, church, government… But when we actually have a chance to explore them, we find they are false.

If you like French films, see The Two of Us. And if you think you don’t like them, see it anyway. It’s a misconception you’ll be happy to let go of.

The dark side of Paris, by way of San Francisco

April 9, 2008

San Francisco-based mystery writer Cara Black‘s Paris-based heroine is half French, half American. It is only fitting, since Cara seems to perpetually have a foot in both cities.

Cara was just in Chicago, on tour to promote the eighth book in her acclaimed mystery series set in Paris, Murder in the Murder in the Rue de Paradis [An Aimee Leduc Investigation]. We’ve known her for years now and have attended a number of her readings, but she still manages to surprise us with at least one new story about her lifelong connection to the City of Light. This visit was no exception.

As a teenager, she fell in love with the writings of Russian born, Paris-based writer Romain Gary. She fell in love the way only a teenager can, actually writing a letter to the author in care of his publisher.

Gary wrote her back. And as any [platonically] lovestruck teenager would, she took his home return address written on the back of the envelope as a personal invitation. So at age 18, on a backpacking trip around Europe, she found herself somewhat timidly ringing his doorbell.

He answered. She blurted. He closed the door. But just as she was about to leave, the door opened again and Gary appeared with his jacket. He walked her down to his corner café, where an espresso and a cigar were already waiting for him on the bar. When the bartender glanced at Cara, Gary simply said, “She’ll have the same.” So it was this intrepid 18-year-old was introduced to Romain Gary, espresso and cigars all in the course of one afternoon in Paris.

That is the level of intimacy her novels achieve with the city. Beginning with her first, Murder in the Marais, she has concentrated on a single neighborhood or arrondissement with each book. [Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements—we Cara fans are hoping that means there are another dozen adventures to come for Aimée and her dwarf business partner René.] Cara drills deep in her research for her books. She walks the neighborhoods, talks to shop owners and concierges and eavesdrops on conversations, sometimes inserting herself into them and being led on adventures by her new friends. And yes, I’m talking about the author here, not her sleuth.

She also makes friends. In the police department, the morgue, among retired inspectors… all in an effort to get it right. And get it right she does. So much so that one of her books, Murder in the Sentier, has just been published in French! This would be akin to a French writer setting a novel in New York, for instance [as a native, not a visitor], and nailing the mood, the details, the soul of the city so completely that an American publisher would think there was an audience for it here.

The Aimée Leduc Investigation series. Cara’s protagonist runs a computer security firm. She has spiked hair [they’re set in the ’90s], a Bichon Frisé named Miles Davis and a taste for spike heels and bad boys. [Cara’s eyes always light up when she says this last part.] Although her business is kind of dry and techy, the adventures she gets drawn into are almost never business related or for paying clients—much to the chagrin of partner René. They are, however, invariably exciting.

The books each stand alone, but are best read in order. There’s an underlying story arc involving the mysterious disappearance of Aimée’s mother when she was just a girl. With each book, Aimée discovers a little more about her, but feels she knows even less. Even Cara doesn’t know how this will resolve itself.

So collect the whole set. You’ll find the complete list at Cara’s website. You can even order books through her husband Jun’s San Francisco bookstore. You’ll also find a link to her Paris blog there. No photos yet, but quick stories and links to news stories. I’ll work on her regarding photos.