By Nina Gustafson
My younger sister and I have a thing for French and British classic details, clothes being one of them. Think escape from the ordinary and old fashioned. We tend to buy these types of gifts to each other. If not sooner, it definitely started with my sister buying the book “The Audrey Hepburn way of life: How to be lovely” during a trip to the USA. I think you get where we are going…
Madame Chic and her influence on our dinner times
My sister was also following a blog by Jennifer L. Scott and given our common interest in clothes, she thought I would like the book “Lessons from Madame Chic: 20 stylish secrets I learned while living in Paris”. While my sister focused on the “de-clutter your wardrobe” bits, I was rather excited about the bits on FOOD. A girl has to have her priorities straight! Quotes like “dinner was always at least a three-course sit-down affair at home” and “mealtimes were an event” caught my interest. Not that I am a very hungry person but I like the extra ordinary, extra ordinary food being no exception. After an earlier binge on British movies, our little family had already talked about starting to incorporate Sunday dinners in our routines. The book gave me the idea to try it every single day. I do like to dive all in with new things, to get the right feeling, so that’s what I did! What could go wrong?!
In the book, Jennifer describes mealtimes consisting of:
- Appetizer/apértifs – I had already picked up the habit of occasional “apéro” (pre-dinner drink and finger food) for example cheese from a Swiss friend, so we usually had something simple for this.
- Soup: Something light like onion or leek soup.
- Starters/Entrés: These are not mentioned separately in the book. Sometimes we only had a soup but occasionally we switched it to a starter, or had both.
- Main course: roast, chicken, whole fish with potatoes dish or similar. We did eat quiche at some occasions but according to the book it seems to be a lunch dish first and foremost.
- Salad: Sometimes eaten separately, sometimes with the main course.
- Dessert: Very often tarts (the rest saved for breakfast), other times pannacotta or meringue.
- Cheese course: By this time we were usually pretty full and only took a small piece of cheese.
- Coffee and digestif, which we usually combined with the dessert rather than save it for last.
Our dinners had a strong focus on French dining mixed up with elements of Italian, Swedish and Asian cuisine.
During this relatively short period (I must say) of food indulgence, our movie choices also tended to strive towards those focusing on food, such as “No reservations” with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart and “Julie and Julia” with Amy Adams and Meryl Streep. Strongest impression did Meryl Streep do in her interpretation of Julia Child. How can you not love Julia with her personal approach to French cooking, usually dressed in pearls (yes, of course I had to add that element as well. Why do it halfway when you can exaggerate?). As a result, still being a meat eater back then, we made her signature dish Boeuf Bourguignon as one of our main dishes. Watch and learn how to cook from Julia Child.
Our family dinners were so much more than just the food. It was a family moment! We decided to dress up to these events. No tights or joggers, but dresses and shirts with tie was more the melody, and pearls of course. During the dinners, we had time to talk while listening to calm, often classical music in the background (this choice of music does happen on other occasions but I our general music taste is far away from it). After dinner, we played board games such as Chess, Othello and Kalaha and if it was not to late we watched a movie with (you guessed it) food theme.
Drawbacks and lessons learned
Because I am not a big fan of ready-cooked at any stage, these meals claimed quite a lot of time as meals were prepared from scratch including mayonnaise and similar things which most people buy. Everything around like shopping and setting the table also demanded a fair share of time, as did the actual dinners. Besides being time consuming, you cannot have a seven-course dinner every day without feeling you have had enough. You can only eat a limited amount of food at each meal and after a while we run out of space in our fridge and freezer. C’est la vie! All good things must come to an end… Although we have continued to have similar dinners now and then, I must admit that I have let myself slack, mainly because we moved to a new location and I left all my cutlery behind, but it is not too late to make a new attempt. New books like “A kitchen in France” by Mimi Thorisson, “Dinner with Mr Darcy” by Pen Vogler and “Sunday Suppers” by Karen Mordechai are really inspirational. So basically, I haven’t learned a thing! I would do it again anytime, and I think I will start already this Sunday. Bon appetite!
Nina Gustafson is originally from the Stockholm area in Sweden but currently lives in Cambridge in the UK. She is a sociologist by training and works in academia. Her blog posts cover high and low subjects but with a clear focus on the academic life and other joys of life such as cooking/dinners, yoga, travels and much more.