Saturday, September 03, 2011

Weekend Cooking: Memorable Meals

Josie and Nico feast on mussels and fries. They lick their fingers, they toss shells into the bowl, they sop sauce with the hearty crusts of bread. When they are done the waitress brings a tangy green salad and a cheese plate, and more bread, this time filled with walnuts and cranberries.

From page 54 of French Lessons by Ellen Sussman

Reading this passage took me back in time. The year was 1997, I was living in Sheffield in the UK, and I was on a work social club trip that was visiting France and Belgium for the weekend. The main reason was to visit the Christmas markets in Antwerp but along the way we also visited some of the Commonwealth war grave sites (very emotional).

We were based in Lille for the weekend. One of the descriptions that I had read talked about Lille being an industrial city so I wasn't expecting much, but I had discounted the fact that this was France we are talking about and so was very pleasantly surprised at how pretty the town centre was, particularly compared to Sheffield!

I remember drinking gluwein as we wandered around the Christmas markets in Belgium, and buying a really groovy glass blown Christmas tree that you hung different coloured baubles on (I wonder what happened to that. Must have left it behind when I came home I think).

I clearly remember both dinners that we had in Lille, which is kind of strange given how long ago it is! One of them wasn't quite so good. We (the ex and I) went to a Moroccan place for dinner and the ex embarrassed me. Maybe that is why I remember it? We were looking at the menu and the waiter was talking to us in French and the ex says why can't he speak to me in English. Umm....because you are in France (there are many reasons why he is an ex!).

Better memories are of the other dinner. We wandered around the city and found a bistro type establishment.
It was as if that night, in Lille, was the perfect place to have a dinner of moules mariniere with pommes de frites and lots of bread. I have never really been tempted to try and recreate that meal at all!

It was a really cold night. Despite that we went on the ferris wheel that was in a town square and looked out over the city! All in all it was a good night - a night that lives on in my memories.

I thought I would share one more passage from this book (from page 160). I am not sure why so many of the passages that I share in Weekend Cooking that have a French flavour are about pastries! Just the way it is I guess.

"Will you buy me a pastry, monsieur?" Chantal asks, and that's the first stall they come to, a baker's table, with pastries laid out in delectable rows - croissants, brioches, pains aux amandes, pains au chocolat, eclairs, palmiers.

"What would you like?" he asks, turning to Chantal. It feels surprisingly intimate, this simple act.

She looks for a moment and then points.

"Deux palmiers s'il vous plait," he says to the baker. There is no hesitation in his voice - he doesn't sound like the tourist who's unsure if he's said it right. Usually when he speaks French, his voice is too soft and he is asked to repeat himself.. Simple, he thinks. It's just a question of confidence.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs.


  1. As I just said on Twitter -- now I'm dreaming of mussels in Belgium. Yum. But I love that second quote too. A question of confidence. I have French Lessons here ... should probably get to it soon.

  2. I live fairly close to France, yet I have never actually taste much French pastry. The only thing I had was a pain de chocolate :)

  3. I don't even like mussels but the way they're described in that passage makes me want to eat a whole bowl of them!

    This book is on my TBR pile but I haven't gotten around to reading it yet. Probably should put it closer to the top of the pile.

  4. makes me regret not buying those mussels for $2.99 a bag at the store last night.

  5. I wouldn't care about the moules but would love the pommes frites and bread!

  6. Why did you neglect book bloggers - it is a good idea???

  7. Never had mussels. It'd take some prodding to get me to eat one too!
    Here's Mine

  8. I remember most meals I had in Europe, good or not, just because they were THERE!

  9. It's so neat that most of this memory remains intact after all these years, and even more cool that you were able to share it with us so vividly. It sounds like parts of that time were just magical. Thanks for sharing it!

  10. Love both the memory and the quotes! And I could really use a french pastry about now...

  11. I loved how you worked this book into your post. I've never had mussels...but I'd be willing to try them IF it was in France!!

  12. Remind me not to read Weekend Cooking posts when I'm already hungry! This was a delicious passage and I love the weaving of the book an your memories into the post. Yum all around!!

  13. I want to go back to 1997 and go on this trip with you. You made if all sound so vivid and delicious.

  14. Food certainly does provoke memories. My nephew has just left for a year in France. I am sure he will have many meals to remember. So far lots of 'pain et fromage' (did I get that correct, bread and cheese).

  15. I recently read this book too, and really enjoyed the descriptions the author used in describing Paris.

  16. Hhhmmm. I've shared many bowls of mussels (but never in France) and the description is very vivid. I love when books include such wonderful food references.

  17. Peaceful Reader, maybe it is time for me to eat mussels not in France!

    Sharon, there was definitely a good sense of place, and the author's website is really good in terms of the maps she provides etc.

    Heather, last year I posted about another memorable meal in France which was basically bread and cheese.

    Alex, I'd be happy to go back again in 2011.

    Pam, I know. My mouth waters quite regularly when reading these posts.

    Staci, as I said, perfect meal for perfect time and place.

    Joy, oooohhh, a pastry would be good for me too.

    Zibilee, memory is a funny thing sometimes. Half the time I can't remember last month let alone ten years ago.

    Rhapsodyinbooks, good point!

    Vicki, it's not the oddest thing I tried while I was away.

    Nan, why yes, chips and bread sounds good too.

    Caite, I am not even sure we can get them in our stores without going to specialist fish stores.

    Beth S, words are so powerful aren't they!

    Uniflame, pain au chocolat is a pretty good start, but maybe time to explore some more options!

    Beth F, so many books so many little time.