Vive la France

Aperitifs

Cheese sables
Cornichons
Camembert
Grapes
Pickled onions
Goat’s cheese
Hot salami

Paired with: Kir Royale & Champagne

Main Course

Coq au Vin
Roast pork stuffed with apricot and rosemary
Braised carrots
Buttered peas
French bread

Paired with: Pinot Noir

Dessert

Chocolate Tart
Almond Meringues
Strawberries in Red Wine Syrup

Paired with: Blueberry Wine & Port

It all began with a book.

A cookbook to be precise.

I asked Dave to bring home any French-themed collection from the school library and he kindly obliged, introducing me to Jane Webster – a Melbournian woman who whisked away her family of six to revive and inhabit a stunning chateau in Normandy. Pouring over the pages, I drank in the photographs, living the story along with the family as they scrubbed the grime away from parquetry flooring to reveal the stunning patterns underneath. I could smell the pear tarte tatin baking, see the aperitif table laden under the Linden tree. I couldn’t help but be swept away by the idyllic life described – friends and family gathering around the table often, children strolling down the driveway to the village school, daily visits to bakeries and farmers’ markets to selectively procure the freshest ingredients to be transformed into that evening’s feast.

Moving across the world to France is out of the question, and the thought of starting over in a strange place where none of us know the language isn’t, in fact, the element that inspires… but I started to wonder – how can we bring that magic here? The lingering dinners – course upon course – children running and laughing while the adults savour wine and conversation by candlelight. I voraciously consumed more French themed recipe books, paying particular attention to the memories recounted, the descriptions of eating together and an idea brewed.

Why don’t I throw a French feast? 

Messages were sent and the highly intoxicating process of bringing an idea to life began. Fabric flows, threads pull together, beads shimmer and sparkle… gradually weaving a tighter form until suddenly – a living form appears.

As the date drew closer, the menu kept expanding as I caught sight of other delicious recipes and mused as to how I could incorporate them into the night. Eli kept pointing out meringues so they went on the menu too. We stocked up on butter and cream, cracked open countless eggs and began preparing. As I stirred pots, carefully re-reading recipes, I saw apparitions of others in the glossy swirl of dark chocolate – fellow food-lovers, hospitality aficionados – having performed the same movements in times gone past. Edith Piaf serenaded me as I carefully peeled the shallots, quartered the mushrooms and bravely lit the brandy on fire.

When the guests began to arrive – wielding breadsticks, bottles of wine and oozy cheeses – it felt as if the foundations had shifted to locate us in a world of European imaginings. We began with aperitifs, ivy twisting around glittering bottles and overladen plates. Lipstick marked elegant glasses, conversation grew more animated. Children raided the costume closet – donning elaborate dresses and laughing at the increasingly hilarious spectacle.

We gathered around the long wooden table for the hearty meal, the sky having darkened to provide a cosy atmosphere. For a while the only noise the clinking of cutlery, the inaudible hum of contentment. The kids peeled off to play, unable to be contained more than a moment. Harvey bobbed his head happily, smiling at the array of jolly faces.

Spoons sunk into decadent mouthfuls of dark chocolate tart, the crunch of faintly nutty meringue offsetting the midnight richness. Strawberries swam in a puddle of plum coloured syrup and lively French tones poured out of the speakers.

I cannot imagine a better way to spend an evening – forging unforgettable memories with friends and family, savouring tastes of another world. As I gazed around in the midst of controlled chaos, I couldn’t help but let a languid grin spread. Am I in a dream? Could life possibly be any better? 

It turns out that the nostalgia I seek – the idyllic life beating in the thick, matte pages – is but a few ingredients, messages, recipes away. France lives in all of us… whispering, inviting us to linger over a meal, close our eyes and really taste the richness on the spoon, in the air, hovering. All we have to do is utter a passionate, heartfelt ‘yes‘.

Now I just have to remember that the next day, when the grumpiness sets in and the magic has worn off…

Still worth it.

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