One of the greatest things I have found out about blogging is that sometimes it’s an excuse to do all sorts of things I might otherwise never think of! During some gorgeous weather this week I played around with outdoor-dining, and for each meal I set the scene slightly differently. I cannot tell you how much fun it was, it felt a little like being on holiday!
But first, a very Happy Mother’s Day to everyone in America! Here in France we have to wait a little longer until the end of May for our equivalent celebration. For many people Mother’s Day often means a special meal with the family either at home or in a restaurant. This got me thinking about table settings and creating the perfect ambience, particularly as we have finally had fabulous weather here and have virtually lived and eaten outdoors every day. Amazingly this constant sunshine has also coincided with a four-day weekend as both Thursday and Friday were holidays. As a result delicious smells from the barbeque have replaced the smell of woodsmoke from the chimney and doors and windows have been flung open. The garden chairs have been dusted off, their cobwebs and spiders removed, and they’ve been dragged to shady spots around the garden where various children can read undisturbed by noisy siblings. The whole show has moved outside!
There is nothing I love more than al fresco dining. To start with it’s just great to finally eat in the fresh air again, but as the months pass we start to take it for granted and by the end of summer the magic wanes a little as autumn draws in. To curb this, I thought we’d try a few changes this year. Rather than always eating on the terrace we’ll move around, seeking new places to put the table. As a result, the last four days have been interesting, to say the least. We’ll see how long the children will put up with carrying food to the far corners of the garden (Roddy has suggested we buy a trolley with big fat tyres – he might be on to something). Variety is the spice of life, is it not?
From the early morning smell of croissants warming in the oven to the night-time gentle purr of the dishwasher, food plays a large role in our lives, especially at the weekend or during holidays when the children are at home and friends often visit; sometimes most unexpectedly. Meals take on a more relaxed feel and Roddy is forever conjuring something up out of a fridge laden with leftovers. Whoever is around will be seconded to help. Someone will lay the table while someone else grabs a pot of flowers from the garden and makes it look pretty. It is always informal and casual; simplicity in its truest form. The greatest pleasure is the combination of good food and company, whether it’s just us with the children, or other people and friends appear to join us. If a glass or two of wine miraculously appears as well then life is complete.
Even a sandwich tastes a whole lot better lounging on a picnic rug under the shade of the Magnolia than sitting at the kitchen table!
A couple of days ago I couldn’t resist bringing the fern from the sitting room outside, I wanted something plain that would not steal the wisteria’s limelight.
Just occasionally, perhaps for a birthday or a celebration I’ll try and make it really special, and for an element of surprise I’ll take the silver outside; it totally changes the mood, it gives the atmosphere quite a decadent feel.
Having been brought up in England where summer warmth cannot be taken for granted, dining al fresco is a privilege. I think just being outside fuels the soul. But above all for me it’s the seasons that make this all so special. I really think we need the seemingly endless winter months as a counterpart to the time when spring arrives and we can literally revel in everything she brings with her. This spring one of our new favourite places to sit is on the old stone by the pond watching the fish and the frogs. It seems no one can walk down the garden without taking a moment to pause here and spend a few minutes.
I wonder, do you have a favourite place outside? Whether it be for a cup of tea, a glass of bubbly or a three course meal, do you try and sit somewhere pretty? Even if you simply take a vase of flowers and put them on a table beside you, I hope you’ll let me know where you end up.
And finally I have a little tip from Jeff, our amazing chef who stayed with us last week. Homemade cheese-straws. Of course they taste incredible with his own puff pastry, but if you haven’t got hours to make your own (and let’s be honest most of us don’t) then simply use a packet of bought puff-pastry. Roll it out as thin as possible, almost like a sheet of paper, and sprinkle one half with grated cheese (we use a strong cheddar). Fold it over and then roll it as flat as you can again. Then once again sprinkle one half with cheese and fold again. Roll flat once more and then cut into fat pencil shaped lengths. Twist and bake at around 180C/350F for 15 – 20 minutes. They can be made in advance and kept until needed (for some reason they never seem to last that long in our kitchen), or served warm straight from the oven. They’re terribly simple, and the most perfect and tasty accompaniment for apéritifs outside on the lawn!