Yesterday was Bon Annee or as my roommate Belinda likes to call it “Appy New Years!” Matthias’ friends decided to put together a dinner party for the occasion. It was a French dinner party, which meant a traditional five-course meal. My roommate bought an Appy New Years dress and Matthias tried to warn me about just how intense these events can get. I am paraphrasing, but it was something along the lines of: “We are going to eat for like four or five hours. We are going to eat a lot of food and drink a lot of Champagne. And then we are going to eat more.” I wasn’t all that worried except for the fact that I was going to be the only vegetarian in attendance. Like many other places, In France, vegetarianism can mean a lot of different things. Some French people say “Je suis vegetarien.” because they do not eat red meat. Fois Gras (the liver of ducks that have been force fed to death) is still fair play. Others believe that being a vegetarian simply means no land animals. They still feast on Christmas oysters without a flinch. I am an ovo-lacto vegetarian. If it has a nervous system, I say “Non, merci.” That means I still have the joy of lapping up thick creamy French milk and slathering kilos of salty French butter on my baguettes. I also enjoy the occasional orange hued French egg and I couldn’t pass a single day without…the cheese!
A few nights before the dinner party, the women who were hosting came by my apartment for a visit and the discussion of being a vegetarian in France came up. That’s when I realized that they thought I was the fruits de mer (seafood) eating kind. Woops! I always feel bad about imposing on people with my special dietary needs and now I had imposed and confused and imposed again. C’est la vie. Luckily the hostesses didn’t seem to mind accommodating for me even further and interestingly enough, brought up the topic of onions in French cuisine. Apparently, one of their friends has an onion allergy and they seemed to be even more perplexed about the idea of preparing a French meal with no onions than about making a few dishes sans le meat. The party ended up being fantastic and the food went a little something like this:
As people were filtering in we drank a fruity spiked punch and nibbled on olives that Belinda and I had picked up earlier in the morning at our favorite marche (farmer’s market.) When I say “we nibbled” I mean, “I devoured.” There were several varieties all mixed in but I was mostly aiming for the basilique flavored ones. Yum. After taking our places around the table we were served square puff pastries filled with sun-dried tomatoes and melted cheese. When I asked what to call it they told me it was "un briquet" or a brick….but I promise it was much more appetizing than the name implies. Our bricks were accompanied by salad with homemade vinaigrette (to further prove Matthias’ point that I mentioned earlier…nobody buys vinaigrette in France except for stupid Americans.) White wine flowed like the Seine and my neighbor informed me that it was quite good. I thanked him for telling me because as I admitted to him, I don’t have very good taste in wine so it honestly helped to know. Next up was the fish course. It was some thin sliced salmon on baguette rounds with a crème fraiche, I believe. I did not partake in the salmon but I was offered a second brick, which I declined in order to save room for…well, cheese. After the fish came the meat accompanied by the red wine. There was a lovely dish of curried beef and rice. This may not sound very French but Paris is quite culturally diverse and full of really good ethnic cuisine so this wasn’t too out of the ordinary. I had a special bowl of curry reserved for me that was separated before the beef was added. It was delicious and I had coincidentally been craving curry all day. The fourth course consisted of a platter of huge hunks of three different cheeses. Roquefort, which after putting in my mouth I exclaimed “this is the blue-est blue cheese I’ve ever tasted” comte, and some other creamy goo which I generously slopped onto a ripped off hunk of fresh baguette. I could have entire meals of French cheese. In fact, I often do. A lot of French meals also end with a cheese course. Even Matthias and I do this on a nightly basis with our frugal meal budget. We eat sliced cheese with jam (I’m obsessed with rhubarb which I generally only get a few times a year back in the States when my grandma prepares me my own special bowl and France is overflowing with rhubarb products, including my favorite jam) or honey and a yogurt because as Matthias says “It’s good for your tummy.” This was not the end however. We still had dessert left! There were three delectable pastries to be had. One was kind of like a small dense muffin with a creamy center of nutella spread. The next was a canele, which is a small, looks like a bundt cake and has a custardy interior. Canele traditionally come from Matthias’ hometown of Bordeaux. He had mentioned them to me before but this was my first time tasting them and they were one of the best baked-goods I’ve ever put into my mouth. The last dessert was the galette des rois, or the King Cake. My roommate had been slaving over two of these all afternoon so luckily I had been filled in already on the history. The galette des rois is a special pastry served around the Epiphany (though in modern France, it is widely available and consumed from the Christmas season throughout January.) It is filled with an almond sugar paste and a small porcelain statue called a feve is baked into it. When the galette is served, the youngest person at the table chooses who gets the first slice. After each person is served, everyone digs in, hoping to find the feve in his or her slice. The person who does find the feve is named king (or queen) and gets to wear a paper crown for the remainder of the evening and has to choose their partner. Belinda announced beforehand that since we are very modern the person who found the feve could choose a partner of the same or opposing sex. I got chosen by the youngest person to receive the first slice of cake but unfortunately someone else got the feve. Since there were two galettes, we actually had two feves to find but nobody could get through their first pieces and the second galette was sliced but not consumed. Being somewhat influenced by the copious amounts of wine, I decided to search for the second feve without consuming and underhandedly stole the title of the second king.
These are the origami crowns that I made for the kings.
One of the feves (next to the tiny vanilla extract bottle.)
Midnight was nearly upon us and the Champagne bottles were opened and consumed. It was a bit strange to count down without the aid of a television set or large illuminated dropping ball but the fact that in France you get to kiss each person twice (once on each cheek) had its own sort of charm.
*please excuse the terribly unphotoshopped images.