For the first time since I began this blog I missed posting for a whole month! Why? I think that it is probably due to a number of factors: La Rentree (the back to school routine and with that the extracurricular activities etc… ), the sadness of saying goodbye to Summer (and with it warm weather, long days, stone fruit!), the arrival of a work project that I’ve been given by a local training company (trying to build a full-time, month-long English training course from scratch and without materials), missing Shanghai wonton soup and lots of other stuff (blah blah blah) and then finally, feeling the full weight of mum not being around anymore. I miss her so much. And so, in her memory, I dedicate this post to French food which she enjoyed so much. This might also encourage dad to come across to visit and to eat!
‘The passion for food is one of the most lovable, enjoyable aspects of France. Culinary failures are not treated lightly in this country, not turned into jokes, no more than a barbecue without beer would amuse Australians’. (Almost French, Sarah Turnbull)
It is true, that food is as common a topic of conversation here as the weather is in Britain.
In France ‘Dinner parties are the main way of entertaining … follow the French example and serve entree, main, salad, cheese and dessert’ (Sarah Turnbull)
While it is true that dinner parties are popular and often follow a predictable, and delectable order – entree, main, salad, cheese and dessert – there seems to be a little more flexibility these days: It is not uncommon to skip the cheese and/salad dishes, or to invite people ‘chez-soi’ for an ‘aperitif dinatoire’ – which is basically a collection of ‘mise en bouche’ (finger foods) eaten around the coffee table and accompanied by champagne and wine. This is quite a change from the past and perhaps reflects a generation who wants to spend less time in the kitchen or who wants less washing up, or to go to bed earlier…or simply who wants to spend time with friends in a more casual setting.
There are often little ‘toasts’ served (toasted bread topped with smoked salmon, tapenade, tomato salsa….), ‘cakes’ (savory loaves cooked in log-tins baked with eggs, cheese, flour and choice of vegetables/fish/ham ), but by far the most popular offering at the moment are ‘verrines’: small glasses filled with ingredients such as pureed beetroot, avocado mousse, tuna…..etc. Interestingly, dips (which are ever so popular in Australia) haven’t really taken off here…yet.
And then there are the infamous ‘apericubes’ that have apparently been around for over 50-years . Each little cube is individually wrapped and there is a riddle written on the inside of the wrapper (which are good conversations starters!). I’m not exactly sure what is inside the wrappers. It is supposed to be some kind of cheese, but it can be stored out of the fridge! It’s not exactly high quality fare, but it seems to be an institution. There are even special editions released during the year to celebrate football events, the olympics etc. The one pictured above is a special edition for autumn and includes flavors such as mushroom, pumpkin and cumin, and walnut and blue cheese.
Dessert at such a ‘dinner’ is optional, but might include a home-made seasonal fruit tart, ice-cream, apple crumble (very ‘a la mode’ at the moment) or a pretty dessert from one of the local patisseries.
Like the schools in China, the school canteen offers students a complete hot meal, but unlike China it offers a dessert in addition to the entree and main course. The week’s menu is systematically posted in front of the school gate at the start of the week for parent-scrutiny and to avoid repetition of dishes on the dinner table at home. One Tuesday earlier in the year for example (see menu), my kids ate an entree of beetroot with cheese sauce, spicy beef with bulgur and vegetables followed by a choice of chocolate mousse or a pear for dessert.
There is more and more interest by the canteen in sourcing the products locally and in including a number of organic ingredients.
The children sit around small tables of 6-8 students and serve themselves from a collective dish – which I think is a wonderful means of sharing, discussing and generally enjoying their meal! They have time to eat because the lunch break is 1h30mins long.
That’s quite a change from the warm squashed sandwiches and bruised fruit eaten at my school desk as quickly as possible before going out to play – which is what I recall from my school days.
The school canteen menu on offer is much better than what is offered to children in restaurants – which is typically minced beef with french fries, or chicken nuggets with fries or a toasted cheese sandwich (‘croque monsieur’) followed by ice-cream. The latter is what the kids chose to eat last weekend in a restaurant located right on the beach in Brittany while we enjoyed plump fish in a creamy pumpkin emulsion with tender seasonal vegetables topped with crispy bacon. It is more common than not to find such quality dishes being served in the most unassuming establishments for very reasonable prices – much cheaper, for example, than in Australia.
We enjoyed our fish dish in the company of our friend Delphine whom we hadn’t seen since her visit to us in England eight years before. Thanks Delphine. And thanks mum for giving me an unquenchable interest in food 🙂