Jean-Baptiste Oudry. Nature morte, 1742.
Françoise prepared another meal fit for the rich and famous, but made just especially for a small group of hometown friends. How lucky are we?
“Why don’t you take photos and write online about your food like you used to?,” she asked, as I was tucking in directly with no camera in sight.
“Because no one back in the USA believes me anyway,” I replied. “Also, I think it’s cruel to those who do.”
It’s true, our meals here often read like the stuff of fantasy. We passed the afternoon with friends drinking 30-year old Bordeaux, bouncing grandbabies on our knees and picking buckshot out of our teeth from traditional winter hare stew.
Eating well is the national artform and as usual this meal was worthy of a photo spread. It’s a pity we don’t have pictures, as her presentation was over the top – so much so that you probably would not have believed me anyway.
But I promised her before leaving that I would write about it online. What a meal!
Chivas – Bourbon – floc
Mini-quiches of bacon and sausage
Viande séchée rolled with winter greens, chèvre and dried honeyed figs sautéed in butter (this is a recipe she’s been perfecting all year, and these autumnal versions were her best effort yet, firmly cohesive yet succulent and crunchy fresh)
A gift for each of us rested on our napkins as we came to the table: A pocket notes calendar for 2016 wrapped in red and black striped paper.
La flûte des Petits Pains d’Aymerik (Now, bread is pretty dang important in France. The base of the meal. This bakery has changed names this year. I use the old one out of respect and out of efficacy. In truth, because the change is too emotional for me to enact just yet. What you need to know is that they won the “Best in France” this year, a coveted award and we do appreciate the effort. Some of us. Others – might – say that it was a competition among only such bakeries as would debase themselves to enter such a competition, as though fine baking were up to a democratic vote! Or prostitution. Others more lugubrious, who perhaps also dealt in contraband goods on the side in the name of national heritage as a matter of course, might claim that it is because baking is dead, dead, dead in all France. You cannot buy bread in France any longer, Messieurs, Mesdames, I am sorry to say… This while breaking apart a crusty loaf to examine the bubbling and viscosity inside, and why not, a taste to confirm this judgment. So buy this dead bread. Fine. Eat what you must to survive. But imagine what has become of la France since we voted on la qualité. Others more stridently still might claim that the oldest boulangerie of Lavaur deserved such laurels, en plus. I might be one of those. Anyway, this was the PERFECT, CRUSTY AND DELICIOUS BREAD that we enjoyed all meal long. In a pinch I will buy bread once more in St. Sulpice because of this fine meal. But my standby is still 40 minutes away in Lavaur.)
Carpaccio de Saint Jacques in citrus sauce and oil, with sliced avocados and poached pears, under a sprinkling of crushed pistachios and borrage flowers (the translucent white scallops, yellow oil, green avocados, chartreuse pistachios and sky-blue stars came together as a work of art on the celadon plates)
Vin blanc de Gaillac
Civet de lièvre (of wild hares killed on the property by her son this week, aged, marinated and poached in wine and cognac with vegetables and herbs, using her maternal Grandmama’s recipe, with laurel leaves from Grandmama’s Mama’s laurier-sauce tree and served in Grandmama’s own big enameled-iron hare pot. Attention au plomb ! There’s still some stray buckshot here and there.)
Bordeaux 30 years
Gillot farci aux fruits secs (hand-molded Camembert, dimpled and stuffed with a half-inch of dried fruit and nuts)
La Graisse de Noël (Note: this was not actual French Graisse de Noël: The exact quote was, “What, no Graisse de Noël ? / No, but it’s some Italian thing I bought. I could not find Graisse de Noël. / Ah…. [pause worthy of Charleston derision]… we bought ours yesterday.” Sometimes I think the South has competition around here in terms of sass.)
Moroccan honey biscuits
Mixed fruit compote with pineapple and gooseberries
Mini-bûches de Noël (the violet-chestnut one bookended in chocolate wafers with a pistachio macaroon on top was my favorite)
Champagne of two varieties (because in France we can!)
Café with cardamom
Happy Holidays, indeed. And the same to every one!