Sunday, June 30, 2019

A Birthday Celebration (90!)

A Birthday Celebration (90!)
My children, Judy, Geoffrey, Roger, started last November asking me what I wanted for my upcoming birthday in June. "Nothing except to have the three of you with me", I replied. Then I slept on it, and, next morning, said, "No, I've changed my mind. I think I'd like to go to France one more time." They all agreed, and we promptly put plans in gear.
Not Brittany, oddly enough (I've seen lots of Brittany these past 40 or more years) but to a little town in the Loire valley, in the heart of the château country, Contres. The Manoir de Contres was beautifully refurbished about ten years ago by Maria and Victor Orsenne, who were my hôteliers in Paris for many years...since they moved away, Paris no longer feels the same to me. I've stayed with them twice at the new place and have always thought "What a great place for a party, a family occasion".
And so it came to pass: invitations extended to closest European friends, everyone accepted, delicious menu planned...and all arrangements in place. Geoffrey is a genius at travel arrangements (and smooth travel) so that was left in his hands. Judy works with many fine craftspersons from her "Brin de Magie" pop-up shops in Quimper. She and I came up with the perfect party souvenir/ place markers for the dinner table.
We have always saved all the "breakies", as I call broken pottery, and she has all of mine, all of hers, and a great boxful from Alain LeBerre, a longtime dealer from Douarnenez, a close friend, and one of the invited guests. We decided on small pots, decorated with a mozaïque of these shards, with a loving inscription inside each one.
The work was started  immediately, but it wasn't until May that I saw pictures of the finished work, a two-part process using the talents of two different créatrices : Eleanor of Imagine Design for the inscriptions on the porcelain, and Marie-Laure of the Atelier de Saint-Guénolé for the mozaics. The finished results were so exciting I simply couldn't wait for THE DAY.
However, travel time did indeed arrive and Geof, Roger and I met at Dulles.
After a non-eventful trip to Paris, we picked up a car and drove to Contres, about a 3-hour drive.Maria and Victor were waiting to greet us, as were Daniela and Henrik from Germany who had come several days before. We spent much time in the courtyard, getting acquainted and catching up.
"The Frenchies" arrived on Sunday, Alain in the late afternoon with a huge bouquet, and Florence and Didier minutes before dinner was to be served! 

Here is the dinner menu, a copy at each place, folded under the little pots, to which we had added colorful pencils for a "flower" effect.

Dinner was superb! Victor is a fine chef with a very light touch, so each course was delicious and none of it overwhelming. The rosé wine throughout was a Loire Valley specialty and perfect with everything, and of course, a glass of fine champagne brut for dessert.
The convivial moment continued after dinner, with coffee and brandy in the salon.

 Everyone brought gifts that were charming and appropriate and special. The next day, we took a picture of them and me outside the little pavilion (which is separated from the main building) where Judy and I stayed.
Then my three were off to Chenonceaux, to sight-see, while I rested. When they returned, we had family time in the little salon: Scrabble and conversation. Next day we bade a fond farewell and headed for Tours for several days.
The others headed back to their respective homes, and Geof and I went to Villandry, one of the most famous châteaux/gardens in the world. I had not been for almost 40 years and was thrilled to see it as memorable and ethereal as I remembered.

So I got my birthday wish, the four of us were together!

With memories tangible and ephemeral to last a long, long time.

A perfect ending to a perfect week!

May you all have birthdays as joyous!


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A Maryland Summer Feast

Join me in celebrating summer's bounty with the foods that Maryland has always been famous for.

When dinner is going to be so sumptuous, I have, over the years, learned to scale back the appetizers to a modest handful. I think back on my catering days when every dinner party started with three hot hors d'oeuvres and three cold ones, and at least an hour and a half of drinking, and wonder,"How did we do it? How did anybody do it?" Well, times have certainly changed, and for the better, in terms of
healthier eating.

So a simple presentation of crusty cheese straws and colorful baby tomatoes from a friend's garden is just enough to start the gastric juices flowing.

Since everyone gathers in the kitchen where we eat, they can see that the table-setting looks promising.

The menu is blissfully simple, designed to highlight the regional, seasonal, best:
    Crab Imperial and Sauteed Soft-shell Crabs
    Tomatoes Stuffed with Fresh Corn
    Green Beans/Red Onions Vinaigrette

Soft-shells crisping in the sauté pan.

Tomato and corn casserole.

Green beans vinaigrette.

To keep serving simple, the beans were ladled into the small dishes on the table before guests were seated, and the rest served from a sideboard, with the proviso that guests may get up and help themselves to seconds....and they did!

Composing this menu, I took some liberties with my family's traditional summer meals, just to make the serving simple. We would always have had corn on the cob, but that gets messy at the best of times, so I devised this simple way of doing: cut the raw corn off the cob; mix with the pulp of the tomatoes, a few bread cubes, parsley, salt, pepper, and a little butter; stuff the quartered
tomatoes; and bake around 20-25 minutes.

Rather than the usual cole slaw accompaniment, the green beans/red onions provide the same sharp contrast and are colorful and delicious. Simply layer the barely-cooked beans over very thinly-sliced onion, and dress with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Cover (that way, the beans semi-cook the onions) and let sit out until cool. This is really better at room temperature (or, as the French say: "température ambiante") than cold, so if you make it the day before, take it out of the refrig a couple of hours before serving.

Crab Imperial is my mother's recipe, modified only to be a little less rich: simply mayonaise, lemon juice and Old Bay seasoning, and buttered bread crumbs to top. Again, bake about 25 minutes.

And on to dessert! There are so many ways to use peaches, I was torn between peach upside-down cake, cobbler, shortcake or a crumble. I finally opted for the crumble.

The Internet can make you crazy, with too many recipes, and three shelves of cookbooks just further confused my thinking. So I finally winged it: fresh sliced peaches, tossed with a mixture of flour/a little cornstarch/ some sugar/ a sprinkle of nutmeg. Baked, covered, in its serving dish, until tender and juices all thickened, however long that takes (about an hour.) Make the topping separately:
the same thickening mixture, plus granola and finely chopped almonds, and butter to cream it all together. Both of these steps can be done the day before. Early on party day, just using your hands, pat out the topping onto the peaches, bake until lovely and crusty.

Serve, slightly warm, with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

So satisfying, the day after, to have a few left-overs, a clean kitchen, and glorious flowers brought by a guest.

Hope your summer ends well and is full of good food and fun faïence.   




Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Show Time!

The start of a new year, with snow and bitter cold...but ...I had signed up to do the Annapolis Antiques Show, and the show must go on!  Here is a walkabout for those of you too far away to have come.

I usually ask for dark green paper, as my table covers are a dark green check that I had had made years ago: they, and the paper, set off Quimper better than any other color.
I was in the lobby, facing the entrance; this wall was the first thing people saw, and I actually sold quite well from this space.
The firehouse windsor, in its rare old red paint, sold, as did the Indian quilt hanging from the opposite corner.
The miniature chairs attracted much attention, but people wanted them for dollhouses, and they are not the correct proportion for that; I actually had to talk several people out of them! They are more salesman's sample size, so I'm sure someone will want them...they would be great with miniature real plants in a tablescape.

It is always a dilemma to know just what Quimper to bring, so I did a smorgasbord of styles and periods and prices.

Early Quimper on one shelf, plus birds, flowers, and other unusual decors.
Two handsome jardinières dominated the center of the center table. I really wanted to properly enhance them with some fresh greenery, but the extreme cold made it unlikely that my plants would have survived (I was having enough trouble myself surviving), so I didn't. But it does make a difference! I had half-a-dozen inquiries of, "What is it for?".

That table held other useful pieces:
A Breton Broderie letter holder, perfect for my business cards.

These delightful bookends: Little Red Riding-Hood and the Wolf, just right to hold my book "Collecting Quimper".
Just for fun, and because I like the soft contrast of old paint against the glaze of the pottery, 4 dear little French soldiers, standing guard in the midst of it all.

And one lovely Odetta pitcher, in my favorite seashell pattern. It gave me a chance to show off this genre of Quimper and explain it to folks who only know the traditional patterns.

Showtime is over for the season, but we continue to look for good old Quimper and are always available to discuss your wishes. All of the above pieces are available, as well as much, much more, so don't hesitate to call or email us!

And these are a great way to start the new year: a handsome pair of figural candlesticks...( but they sold before I could even post them; so I shall have to keep an eye out for more of this age and quality!)

A good 2018 to everyone, Joan Datesman