09 September 2013

À table

As I began to write this post about our visit to France, I quickly found its theme in two words: à table.

Nothing qualifies a more successful visit to France than days spent visiting around a table, toasting good health over bottles of wine, and eating multiple course meals.

It is a fact, in my visits to France, I have spent the majority of the time à table.

On this visit, we started our family holiday in the sleepy village of St Hilliers, about twenty minutes outside the medieval fair town of Provins. It is here that Chef’s great uncle and his family have resided for the last 50+ years.

On previous visits, I have enjoyed touring Provins. In 2001, the town was inscribed to UNESCO World Heritage ListVisitors cannot help but be impressed by the 11th century ramparts that stand over 25m (82ft) and once safeguarded their citizens. The town is best explored on foot for wandering the old cobbled streets and admiring the centuries of architecture.  

A climb to the top of The Caesar's Tower will leave you winded. What once served as a watchtower and a prison, today, houses the bells of the Saint-Quiciace Collegiate church. While the panoramic views from the top are great, the tower's interior views are just as impressive with 17th century framework as a highlight. 

While we did not make it to Provins on this visit, we hope to show Ouisie the city's sites once she is older. Although, with our toddler becoming more antsy with each food course and hours of adult conversation, the thought did cross my mind to have her monte (climb) Caesar's Tower to burn off some steam.

 This visit was focused on family time which ultimately revolves around la table. 

I now understand why the French call breakfast,  petit dejeuner. It is the only little meal of the day. You do not need more than a piece of toast and coffee to jump start your day with lunch and dinner promising to roll into one long gastronomic affair.

Here's what happens à table:

Les aperitifs
Lunch and dinner start with les aperitifs, cocktail hour. Champagne or white wine is often served, although the French do like their whiskey, too. Moreish bar snacks are served which are impossible to resist.  

Les plats
The meal follows with, at least, four courses to include: a starter, main, cheese, salad, fruit and coffee. Chef brought along some of his specialities including his home smoked wild salmon and homemade cheese.

Le digestif
In between the meals some retire for naps or go for a digestive walk. 

For notre digestif we three escaped the afternoon heat in our chambre (bedroom). There we cranked on the a/c, and slept off our food coma. 

From St Hilliers, we headed north to spend one night in Dunkerque with a close friend and mentor to Chef.

World War II historians will know that Dunkirk (Flemish spelling) was where the tremendous evacuation of Allied soldiers took place. The Dunkirk evacuation, or Operation Dynamo, rescued over 335,000 British, French and Belgian soldiers in 9-days by sending all available boats, ships, and privately owned fishing boats to bring them back to British shores.  

We picked up our friend in Dunkerque and drove a short car ride over the border to neighbouring De Panne, Belgium. 

On this visit to Belgium, I added another lve to my list: 


Pomme Frites with fresh Mayonnaise

De Panne is the start of the Belgian beach towns which stretch all the way up to the Netherlands. With the EuroTunnel departure point just a few hours drive away, Chef and I decided we needed to sample more of Belgium's sand and shore-- soon.

Ouisie is game,too. Especially now that she approves of the pomme frites and chocolate.

Our last night in France finished as it began, à la table. Though on this night, Chef had the night off. 

We enjoyed the culinary delights prepared by his old boss. And so it went: Champagne, oysters, lobster, Burgundy wine, côte de boeuf, Bordeaux, pastries....

After five days in France, I tried to add up the hours spent à la tableOn average, lunch and dinners (each) lasted three hours. 

That’s six hours a day. 
Thirty hours in five days. 

I'm stuffed.

The laundry is done. Our bags are re-packed. We are heading off again.

DEPARTURE: the Red City--- Marrakech. 

I am not going to lie to you-- A trip to France before a resort holiday was not well planned. I am hoping the desert's scorching temperatures will curb my appetite and aid in sweating off the unwanted pounds. Being that the recent heatwave in France did not find me pushing back from the table, I am not setting my hopes too high. 

The upside to my heavier bottom side is that we enjoyed four quality days with loved ones. And now we look forward to a week with just the three of us à table.

À tout à l'heure.

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