Rewind to a few decades ago. A young-ish Polly-Vous, ever the francophile, had been invited to attend a coveted New Year's Eve reception for le Reveillon du Jour de l'An at the French Consulate in Boston, at 10 p.m. Complete with an engraved carton d'invitation. Ready to impress her new-ish Beau with that prized invitation, she invited him first for dinner at her Beacon Hill apartment. Her roommates were away, and she was eager to demonstrate her nascent culinary skills for a divine and romantic repast.
She set to work for an entire day on her favorite recipes from her favorite French cookbook, the Tante Marie. The Tante Marie was and is the French counterpart to the Joy of Cooking or Fanny Farmer's. Unadorned, classic French cooking.
The Beau arrived at 7 p.m., and they had kirs and salted nuts. Then, mussels for a first course. Polly had carefully debearded and scrubbed the mussels; then chopped shallots and sauteed them lightly in butter in a deep pan, added the mussels and a cup of Entre-Deux-Mers. When those wine-steamed blue-shell bivalves opened, Polly and her Beau devoured them, and mopped up the dripping, savory sauce with chunks of crusty baguette.
Already this was heaven.
Add to the scenario candlelight on silver candelabrae and a crisply ironed damask tablecloth and napkins, and Puccini soaring in the background. Fire in the fireplace and quaint lights of Charles Street twinkling outside the window. Magic, right?
Next, Polly prepared a filet of sole au gratin, with the slightest whisper of bread crumbs and butter, baked then lightly broiled. Creamed spinach and parsleyed steamed potatoes. A Sancerre to accompany.
For the pièce de résistance, she had whipped up choux à la crème -- because Tante Marie had taught her how easy it was to prepare.
By 10 p.m. mademoiselle Polly and her Beau were (to be stated undaintily) completely stuffed to the gills. But they were rapturously happy, holding hands in the flickering silver candlelight. With a slight moan and a forced heave-ho to get to their feet from the dinner table, Polly and Beau donned their overcoats and set out in the New England frosty air to conquer the six blocks to the French Consulate on Commonwealth Avenue. Ready to hob-nob with the elite francophile crowd for an elegant glass of champagne and a festive midnight bisou. Polly was confident that this would let her Beau appreciate her many, many merits, on oh-so-many, many levels.
The couple was greeted at the door by Abdel, the consul's major domo, and welcomed by Monsieur and Madame le Consul in the glittering and elegant Back Bay mansion that was home to the consulate. Polly introduced the handsome Beau to Monsieur and Madame, and she politely shrugged off her overcoat to Abdel, to emerge in her shimmering dress. She was ready to subtly demonstrate that, although an Americaine from Boston, she had the sophistication and social wherewithal (tra-la!) to know how to be a gracious guest at a diplomatic party a la francaise.
And then Polly saw it.
The most impressive array of the best and most exquisite French cuisine, spread out among many tables, as far as one could see. Foie gras, glistening chilled oysters, smoked salmon, caviar, hams, roasts, cheeses, blinis, fruits, tarts, pastries, chocolates.
(Egad!! This invitation had been for dinner? At 10 p.m.? Who knew?)
With a graceful flourish of the hand, Monsieur le Consul beckoned Polly and her Beau to dine at the buffet.
Polly exhibited a wan, green-ish smile and, in an effort to not appear not worldly, carried a small empty plate across the stands of sumptuous offerings. Handsome Beau heroically speared a slice of ham, which he then ignored for the duration of the evening. They wandered under the crystal chandeliers of the salons, smiling and chatting with various VIPs Polly recognized, hoping to avoid the scrutiny of the multitudes of knowing invitees who had been starving themselves for 24 hours in anticipation of this astounding French culinary and social event.
And overstuffed as they were on Polly's beginner Tante Marie home cooking, neither of them could bear to eat one morsel of the exquisite French gastronomic feast.
This, my friends, is torture.
To top it off, when midnight tolled, Polly found herself not next to her Beau, but instead, elbow-to-elbow with her arch-nemesis, and was forced to give a saccharine, champagne-laced, Bonne- Annee cheek-kiss to that dowdy, powdery, simpering old lady. Indignation meets indigestion.
A New Year's to beat all New Year's. Unforgettable.
But always a great tale to tell!
And so, dear friends, here's wishing all of you a brilliant and shining 2013, with many French delights and memories to savor.
image via amazon.com.
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