Entertaining friends – a creative act of love

L’art de la table, February 2018

For the past 16 years, I have kept a Hostess Book which capture the many dinner parties and celebrations held in my various homes, both as a divorcee, a married  woman and, finally, as a widow.

When I was married to my lovely Frenchman,  Olivier, dinner parties were grand occasions and the order of les rapas (the meals) was strictly French. As he once said, “entertaining in the French manner is not easy because I have the whole  food culture to uphold“.

Since his death, almost six years ago, I have held few dinner parties and my entertainment became the other French lifestyle – holding aperitifs – where friends were invited over at around 5-6pm for drinks and hors d’oeuvres.

However, after an 18 month hiatus, this week I have  dusted off my myriad French cookbooks, chosen recipes, shopped for ingredients, then donned my apron once more  and cooked   la nourriture. 

That’s a great start to French entertainment. But, almost as important as le gout (taste) of the food, is the setting or l’art de la table.  This is the truly pleasurable, creative side of receiving guests for a meal. My floral arrangement is my own creation, using agapanthus and other  flowers.

Villeroy & Boch porcelain dinner set is the piece de resistance of my dining experience.

My piece de resistance isn’t French, though. It’s the German Villeroy & Boch porcelain inner set entitled “Country garden”.  When I found matching napkins in the V & B retail outlet at Burnside Shopping Centre in South Australia, I was ecstatic. What a good reason to invite a few friends around for inner, I thought.

Finally, last night, my five guests (after sparking French white wine in the garden) sat down to eat at my dressed dining table. Everyone made a contribution – women providing a vegetable dish and dessert, the men bringing bottles of wine and soft drink.

As a widow, I have swapped from using French recipes all the time to a mix of cuisines.  My home-made dip, the Middle-Eastern Baba Ganoush, was as simple to prepare as a cereal breakfast.

Cut an eggplant in half, bake in the oven, peel and squeeze out moisture; place pulp in vitamiser and add tahini paste, salt and pepper and dash of lemon juice.

I laugh as I recall how Olivier would never let me cook steak because he liked it “blue”. He would love to add “Blue means red blood on the plate”.  Ugggh.

But, he did convert me to medium rare steak, which is how I cooked the rib eye steak, a few minutes on either side until it was pink and blood moist inside. Two guests wanted medium-well-done, so this required a long 10 minutes of cooking. (I don’t know how they eat it now, which shows how my taste has evolved.) Two onions, sliced and cooked until soft beforehand were added to the red wine gravy, based on the marinade which I used on the meat overnight.

Accompaniments were fried zucchini and celery, while a large dish of potato gratin – my sister’s contribution – was finished off in the oven.  Accompaniments included   cabernet jelly – and Dijon mustard, of course.

To accompany such a magnificent meal (I say so and so do my guests) we consumed two labels from Coonawarra – Brand’s Laira Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 and its Dry Red, 2013 and  Bent Wind, 2015  from Coonawarra.  These were all delicious, rich fruity wines.

Dessert came courtesy of one of the winners of My Kitchen Rules, posted on its website. White chocolate cheesecake with berry coulos and ice cream.  My friend made her own shortcrust pastry and it was a delightful third course.

However, with so much love spent creating the eye-popping dessert, I swapped the cheese platter to last – forbidden by my husband, who insisted cheese came after the main course and was served with green salad.

Cheese platters these days reflect a modest income, although I always choose D’Affinoir, the creamy French camemr=bert as well as a Dutch edam and a bitey Australian cheddar.



French Medieval masterpiece a must to see

Medieval masterpieces – the panel reflecting sight – of The Lady and the Unicorn.

The rarest of French Medieval masterpieces – the six-panel tapestries known as The Lady and the Unicorn – will be on show at the Art Gallery of NSW until June 24, 2018.

On loan from the Musee de Cluny also known as the Musee National de Moyen Age in Paris, the 500-year-old French national treasure  is the  world’s greatest surviving Medieval artwork.

Woven in wool and silk at the end of the fifteenth century, La Dame (the lady) is assumed to be a beautiful Medieval virgin because, in the  panels, she flanked by the mythical unicorn on her left and a lion on her right.  Mythology only aligns Unicorns with purity and virgins.  In the artwork, the lady is richly clad in Medieval costumes and each panel is an allegory of the five senses – sight (shown here), hearing, taste, touch and smell. Each panel features a lush background of exotic animals and fruit-laden trees and flowers in what is believed to reflect the idyllic pleasures of earthly life.

The larger main panel, where the lady stands before an ornate tent, carries the words “A mon  seul desir” suggesting a theme of love and desire.  But  the origin and meaning of the large scale artworks have been lost in time. One theory is that they were commissioned by a powerful French nobleman  who wanted to make his desires known to his loved one – a common theme of the courtly culture of the times.

They have been created in the style of the mille-fleurs (thousand flowers) and were lost for about 300 years before being rediscovered in 1841 in the Boussac castle in Central France. In 1844, the popular 19th century French novelist George Sand saw them and immediately recognised their immense value and they were correctly dated at the end of the 15th century.  Sand  brought them to public attention in her novel Jeanne.

Meanwhile, in contemporary times, several of the tapestries can be seen hanging on the walls of Gryffindor in the Harry Potter series of films.


Tickets to the exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW are available on line for $18.00 per person, $16.00 concession with special family rates.


Late-summer garden brings joy and pride

My gardener Steve works in my Belair garden.

It’s best to be honest about my garden which spreads around my newish home in Belair. Probably, it’s about 600 square metres in size and gives me immense joy.

However, I must quote words from Charles Barr published in a little anthology Up The Garden Path by Laura Stoddart where he is quoted as saying:  “The best way to get real enjoyment out of the garden is to put on a wide straw hat, hold a little trowel in one hand and a cool drink in the other, and tell the man where to dig.”

It sounds like me in my garden. Certainly, I am not a digger. But I do potter in my garden alongside my gardener, named Steve, who has nurtured and maintained my garden for five years since my husband Olivier, passed away.  As I wrote in my memoir Farewell My French Love, Olivier was  the green-fingers gardener, but his garden was largely destroyed when we bulldozed the old 1950’s cream brick house to make way for the new retirement home. Unfortunately, Oli only lived for eight months in the new house – just enough time to organise workmen to complete the landscape designer’s “bones”of our garden – pathways, retaining walls, steps and driveway.  He was still with me when she planted small shrubs of varying foliage and habits and one gleditsia tree, according to her plan.  The rest was left as a blank canvas.

But, I was not the gardener.  My own life was draped in grief  at the time and yet, somehow I needed to find inspiration to inject colour into the patches of bare earth surrounding the new home.  Olivier’s memorial garden began the day I received his death certificate in the mail. There was a mail-order rose catalogue, too. Despite the waves of sadness sweeping over me, I opened the catalogue and chose a dozen roses by their names to reflect our life together.  “Wedding Day”, “French Lace’, Tour Eiffel” and “Amazing Grace” were a few.

A friend, who loved irises, gave me a few bags filled with irises ready for replanting and someone else offered a bare-rooted rose.

Then two of my green-fingered friends arrived with baskets of cuttings of herbs and seaside daisies and myriad other clippings I had never heard of.  We three women spent a long afternoon poking greenery into the soil.  The upper garden was a tough stretch of earth, but sea daisies and lavender were hardy enough to take root.

Five years later, I have a late summer garden which fills me with pride and as I snapped its various corners, I felt waves of joy at my accomplishment.

Yes, the garden has been a costly budget item, particularly the water bill, but there’s no doubt it creates a peaceful environment for a retired lifestyle.  It is a very big job for Steve who works every three weeks here clipping the hedges, planting, transplanting, weeding, watering and training  plants up trellises and cutting back rampant variegated ivy.

My garden is now six years old and it’s time to share my green masterpiece. I snapped Steve this morning hard at work in my upper garden and although  the photograph is fuzzy, it captures his role over the years.

Late summer southern garden

Pines, wisteria, pond and statue create peace.