Saturday, February 18, 2012

French Sunday Lunch

What are your plans for this weekend? Can I interest you in a Sunday lunch, French style?
{medieval lunch break Sommieres, France}

Back when P-Daddy and I were newlyweds living in a little bungalow in Austin I decided to have a French lunch with our friends. Our honeymoon in France was still fresh in my mind and I'd romanticized the ease and beauty of a long lunch with friends. I'd tasted French food, drank French wine and seen how the French sat for hours at the table, eating, talking, enjoying it all and I wanted to recreate that quintessentially French feeling at home.

I made lamb with roasted red pepper sauce, mashed black olive potatoes and bought what I probably thought was expensive, good wine. We ate outside on our little wooden deck and pretended we were in the South of France.

Fourteen years later, I'm here. For real. (pinch)
{one of our first lunches in france}

We went to Mme & Msr Avion's house for lunch a few weeks ago and the Bon Amies came too.
If you have an inkling of what sitting down to lunch in a French house is like then it would have all happened there that Sunday. At least that's how it was for me and P-Daddy. We arrived at noon and left at 6pm, happily bubbly and full on laughter as well as delicious food.
I started thinking about how much The Lunch is a part of French culture, and how darn good they are at it and I wanted to share some ways to recreate a French lunch at your house, any day of the week. Here's how.

Serve something small to nibble when your guests arrive. And by this I actually mean small, like a bowl of cherry tomatoes with crunchy sea salt.
Offer a proper cocktail. It's noon and you may not think about drinking spirits at noon but it is nice and it works to make everyone loose and hungry for the meal ahead. We had a rum drink but you could be creative and make something fabulous like a specialty martini with fresh herbs. Just one.

Next, feed the children. Yep, all the children are welcome too. Just set up a table for them Thanksgiving style and feed them first, sipping on your cocktail and chatting while kid needs are negotiated. There were seven children at our lunch and they ate a four course meal while we had our chat and cocktail. When finished they were full and happy and took off to play together for the next four hours.

{french table linens}

Now it's time for lunch.
This is where simplicity becomes crucial.
I don't know about you but as an American I feel like I have to serve loads. We are raised on having a lot of sides, a lot of options, a lot of everything at the table all at once. This makes it more difficult on the host because we've got to either prepare or buy and arrange and it all has to be ready at the same time.
You know what I'm talking about. Just thinking of this hassle and stress can suck the fun right out of hosting a big, lazy lunch.

This is the French secret. Don't do too much. But make what you do delicious.

Pick one starter or entrée.
We had sliced baguette served on a bread board with a platter of cured ham and specialty pâté. There was a little dish of pickles and another of marinated eggplant and that was it. With this we opened the first of three bottles of wine; a beautiful St Paul Bordeaux from Msr Avion's cave. The French are not showy. But they do love to impress with wine. And if you know your Margaux from your Chateauneuf, you can nod and say, 'mmmmm, very nice' and appreciate that your host is sharing something special with you. 
{market saucisson}

Now to the main. Or plat. It is usually only one dish. No sides.
We had a delicious mildly curried shrimp stew served simply with rice. This is what the children had too. One pot on the stove, easy to keep warm and absolutely delicious. With this we had a white Alsace wine that went perfectly with the shrimp and curry. Bottle number two. 

Mme Avion offered a simple arugula salad with balsamic dressing after the main but everyone was too full. We sat and talked and laughed and told funny stories of language mistakes, like the time P-Daddy basically said he wanted to sleep with Mme Bon Amie, and sensational comparison books like Mireille and Pamela's.

Then came the cheese.We had five different cheeses on a board with three different cheese knives. One Roquefort bleu, one medium goat, one sheep's milk, one hard cow cheese from the Alps, Beaufort and another medium texture cow cheese from the Cantal mountains, Cantal entre doux. We opened the bottle of red Languedoc wine we brought to go with the cheese.

The kids ran around and finally wore themselves out enough to watch a movie while we continued chatting.

Dessert was an egg custard flan with prunes from Msr Avion's origins in Brittany. It's called a Far Breton and the recipe is here. It was delicious and not too sweet and a bit like English food which makes sense because of where it's from, doesn't it?

After it all we finished with a digestif of Armagnac.
There's a popular mint flavored digestif that our friends enjoy called Get 27, pronounced Jet Vingt-Sept so it rhymes. It is super strong and kind of like mouthwash but they swear by its magic properties to 'push the food down' and help you sleep after a long meal.

P-Daddy and I felt like we'd hit the French lunch jackpot. It was one of the best days we've spent, made so much more enjoyable by the warm fire, the happiness of the children and the conversation. It is possible to have conversation in French now and that makes us feel as giddy and light-headed as the wine.  

Do you feel inspired, hungry, French?
Here's a sample menu for your own French Sunday lunch.

Herbed Lemonade with Gin 
Charcuterie Platter of Coarse Pâté and Saucisson Sec with cornichons and pickled onions
Salmon with Leeks & Lentils 
Simple salad of rocket/arugula or watercress dressed in homemade oil and vinegar
A Cheese Platter like this one from Chez Loulou
Lemon Yogurt Cake

Don't forget the wine and digestif or a small decaffeinated coffee to finish.

I hope all your lunches are long and lazy and delicious.


  1. Mmmmm, sounds delish. I like feeding the kids first too, helps to make for a more relaxed grown-up meal. Thanks for the menu tips too, it's always good to have lots to choose from. x x

  2. I'm off for my Sunday lunch and I'm sure I won't be back home until after 6 because yep, that's just how we do it in the south of France :)

  3. Your lunch sounds wonderful and I love the idea of feeding the kids first! I never thought of that, but it's so logical. Then they will all wonder off and play and let the adults have their meals in peace. Man, I wish I would have know this secret years ago when my gang was little. Glad your meal was a success and you sound like you really had a splendid time.

  4. Lovely description of a very nice day. Thanks.

  5. Gosh this sounds SO lovely - no wonder you and P-Daddy were happy by the time you rolled home! I often felt like I'd wandered into the middle of a movie/Peter Mayle book when enjoying a proper French lunch - there's really nothing like it and it IS deceptively simple. I need to apply this rule to my own entertaining!

    Beautiful blog post comme d'hab! Biz

  6. What a wonderful story, Aidan. This reminds me of why I enjoy visiting your blog so much. Dear Aidan, I have sent an award your way. Please visit my blog for details when you get a chance... and congratulations! Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

  7. I love the Sunday lunch in France and you have certainly described it to a T. I think the idea of serving kids first is a great idea and we will have to do that with our grandkids when they are over next time. My wife who is mostly vegetarian (eats fish) struggles with no sides because if you don't eat meat, you don't have anything for a plat. Also where we have been to lunch, cocktails are not offered very often, usually a nice white wine is more commonly offered.

  8. Your lunch description is delicious. And thank you very much for stopping by my blog.


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