Before we get into today’s post, I just want to take a moment to recognise the Thanksgiving holiday and to send all of our U.S. readers some love. I hope you are enjoying a time of peace and togetherness. When you stop to think about it, there really is so much to be grateful for in the world.
And speaking of grateful, I’m shooting another big ‘thank you’ to one of my favourite bloggers, the fabulous Sherry from Save. Spend. Splurge who joins us again with another glimpse into French culture. I really hope you are loving Sherry’s entertaining insights as much as I am. If you missed it, you can check out her first post right here.
Today, Sherry is giving us an insiders view into the preparation that goes into a celebratory French style lunch. It’s safe to say that there is more than a little effort involved!
Until next time – au revoir.
Lunch – French Style
We recently celebrated a close friend’s birthday and if you have never been to a Francophone affair, be prepared to marvel at their attention to detail.
See, you (like I) may be used to the idea of a “simple little lunch” being you opening a few cans of soup you scrounged up and topping it with basil to give it a homemade touch, with a side of saltine crackers (out of the package, thankyouverymuch) but their “simple lunches” are far from my idea of simple.
My partner was the one preparing the entire meal from start to scratch, and he spent most of the weekend nights driving & hunting for the perfect ingredients (all made in France of course if possible), and preparing all the components, dough, and sauces from scratch for the Sunday meal.
All in all, he spent about 6 hours on the Saturday just cooking and preparing the meal components to easily assemble them together on Sunday and to lessen the amount of work.
I am used to all of the above because for our anniversaries he has gone all out cooking as well, but I was not prepared for the actual Day Of however, which triggered another set of tasks.
My idea of getting ready for guests is I spend the morning cleaning for guests to come over and here I thought I was doing all right just making sure the dust bunnies didn’t attack the meal, but apparently the French have to take it one step farther.
My partner spent his morning instead of cooking (he did that yesterday, remember?):
A) Wiping down the counter twice because he could see streaks in the quartz, and was not satisfied.
B) Cleaning the windows three times so the view would not be obstructed and you would have a perfectly crystal clear view.
C) Setting up the table (cobbled together from 3 tables as we’ve only just moved in) at the right angle with the chairs all properly tucked in.
D) Ironing and fluffing the tablecloth for it so it would be freshly crisp for said tables.
E) Choosing the correct playlist to eat to, and testing the volume & tracks beforehand for the pace of the meal.
F) Choosing and rejecting not one but THREE tissue box designs for the table because they did not go with the meal or décor.
G) Prepping the snacky bits they have before the actual meal, which in our case was a freshly baked olive fougasse picked up THAT morning from the bakery, sliced and arranged in a pattern on a pretty cutting board, some assorted cashews and almonds in a special white bowl and another matching bowl of freshly washed and wiped cherry tomatoes.
He would have added an array of delectable hams or cheeses but felt it would be too much before the actual meal.
I was of course, lying down on the bed, entertaining our toddler, but when I came out of the bedroom, I saw the entire apartment transformed into a bistro wonderland.
Now for the meal, because obviously, nothing is done by halves here:
The lunch was a cassoulet made from scratch the day before, and assembled / reheated properly in the oven today, topped with legs of duck confit and a garnish of herbs.
The wine selection was properly aerated in a decanter, and at the correct temperature for the meal because heaven forbid the wine ruin all of this preparation!!
Lastly, the homemade dessert of a tarte tatin was also slowly coming up to room temperature having been taken from the fridge at the right time to be ready for a quick reheat in the oven when it would be time to eat.
For this dessert, I should note that he also dirtied 3 bowls before deciding on a round bowl to serve the freshly whipped crème fraîche as the topping on the tarte tatin. I’m slightly peeved about this because I have to wash all of these things by hand (no dishwasher in the home) after the meal, and having to wash bowls that had no purpose being dirtied sort of gets my goat.
He even had timers for when to bring the cheese out to rest to come up to room temperature and bloom in flavour before eating it with a freshly sliced baguette (also picked up from the bakery that morning).
The plates were then wiped 3 times and were happily pre-warming in the oven before the food was displayed and the glasses were all out in a neat, freshly polished row, ready for drinks of whatever they choose — starting with port? champagne? wine? to jump start the palate.
About 10 minutes before their arrival, he fretted a little over not having the RIGHT wineglasses on hand (they’re in storage at my parents’ and we have yet to travel back to pick them up), and wondered if it would ruin the taste of the wine.
When the guests arrived PROMPTLY on the dot, I was sent down to personally usher & greet them up rather than just buzzing them in.
“What is the point of the doorman then”, I cry, as I throw on my shoes and run for the elevator.
All of it was worth it apparently, as everyone had a grand time, and the whole meal of course was a complete success. How could it not be, with so much preparation and love put into it?
They even complimented the tissue box design being quite appropriate to the season outside (I am not kidding).
So my word of advice is if you ever get a chance, get yourself invited to a French-thrown dinner party. I myself am cultivating a short list of people who have declared themselves connoisseurs of food and am angling for a little dinner invite.
This is generally not a one-off deal because even the most banal of dinners and lunches warrant a bit of fussing over. If they have invited you into their home, they mean to impress you, and treat you like a true guest.
Don’t be fooled by “a little gazpacho and mushroom risotto” lunch because you can bet they were slaving a little to get it done, and it wasn’t whipped together at the last minute!!!
For such dinners, I have seen candles lit, flowers arranged and fresh basil picked from their garden as an everyday thing. Can you imagine if they decide to “go all out”?
As a guest, you must also never, ever be late, and you can never arrive empty-handed. Our guest showed up with a toy for our toddler and a bottle of champagne, FOR HIS BIRTHDAY.
See, French people have it ingrained in them to have timed it down to the minute of when to take the food out, how long the cheese needs to sit outside to be nice and warm at room temperature for the best flavour and the peak of when the wine is best to drink.
So when they say: Time to Eat! … They mean that the food is perfect NOW and not a second later, and it is an affront to them to be late to the house and to the table.
Lastly be prepared to explain, talk about and discuss food and eating for at least half of the time, from lamenting about how fruits & vegetables in stores have become so flavourless from a lack of care or breeding for real flavour, to the best cheese to eat with which wines or meals, to the best things to eat and where (including memories and a lot of reminiscing which will make you drool).
French folk, no matter their background, status or age, can spend at least half an hour in a heated debate about which [insert food item here] is the best, how it is made, where it is made and why it is so good.
It’s what they live for, and to that, I say “CHEERS!”