As the warm days of summer are upon us, I find myself longing for the pleasures of meals eaten en plein air (outdoors). Especially the picnics of my childhood.
Our long car trips from Paris to the South of France are filled with memories. Our parents waking us up, in what seemed like the middle of the night, and packing my older brothers and me into the back seat of our car. I’d watch the lights of Paris go by before falling asleep again.
By midday, we were hungry and antsy to get out of the car. Finding an open field, we’d pull off by the side of the road. As our parents unpacked an assortment of containers filled with all the delicacies we would have for lunch, we would lay out a tablecloth with individual blankets around the center.
The taste of the varied foods, mixed with the scent of the tall grass and wild flowers that surrounded us and the warmth of the midday sun that enveloped us, caused our eyelids to feel heavy and our eyes to close as we surrendered to an afternoon sieste.
We’d wake to a slight breeze and our parents’ voices as they packed up le pique-nique and gathered us back into the car to continue our journey south.
The food we ate was not elaborate; its simplicity and freshness are what made it so good. A lot of what we ate came from local markets: baguettes, saucisson, pâté de campagne, assorted cheeses, fresh vegetables, and to finish there were always fresh fruits and a really good bar of chocolate.
These memories are at the crux of why I love to entertain. I relish the possibility of creating and sharing the joy I felt around food.
If you haven’t had a pique-nique in a while, try it. Invite a few friends: pack up a beautiful tablecloth, napkins (not paper), glasses, plates (not paper), silverware, (not plastic), and if it’s nighttime bring candles and other accoutrements for the occasion. Think about how you would set a dinner table at home and replicate it in a way that will work outside. Make it special.
It is the incongruity of mixing beautiful accessories with good simple foods, in an unexpected setting along with the leisurely pace that created le pique-nique that I loved so much.
Pique-niques are part of the French culture. Even today with lots of food available by the side of the road, you still see people having picnics.
Baguettes are the perfect bread for a picnic because you don’t need a knife. Simply break off the pieces as you need them.
Butter: Enough room-temperature butter for each guest.
Meat and Cheese:
An assortment of sliced saucisson, pâté de campagne and cheese.
Radishes thinly sliced and placed on a slice of buttered bread and finished off with a sprinkle of salt. Fava beans, removed from their pods and then each bean needs to be peeled again to get to the wonderful flavor. Place the bean on your slice of buttered bread and sprinkle with salt. Bring the pods to the picnic and let everyone shell their own.
Tomatoes cut in half and thinly sliced. Add salt, pepper, one tablespoon olive oil to two tablespoons wine vinegar and let it marinate in a container unrefrigerated. The tomatoes will give off their juice and create a wonderful sauce. Serve it with a slice of bread to soak up the dressing.
Carrot salad: grate 4 or 5 large sweet carrots. Season with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.
Fruits that are in season are full of flavor and are perfect for any picnic, but if you want to do something really elegant, peel and cut up peaches or nectarines and store them in a container. For dessert, serve the fruit in your wine glasses with a teaspoon of sugar and red wine.
Every picnic I remember ended with a piece of chocolate from a good chocolate bar. Resist the urge to get a fancy dessert. Keep it simple.
What about you?
Do you have childhood memories that are still part of your life today?
Our childhoods are a commanding part of all of our lives. It influences us, sometimes in ways we don't always realize yet. I know that's been true for me.
Maybe it's how you cook, entertain, decorate, or is it something completely different?
Please let us know in the comments below. Merci
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