It's all Rick Steves' fault. Or should I say: It all happened thanks to Rick Steves?
On Saturday morning, I headed to Edmonds, WA, where I had reservations for a two-hour talk by Rick. Edmonds is his hometown, and the world headquarters of fast growing Rick Steves Europe. Rick has always lived and worked there. That's something incroyable for someone like me; who lived all over France with my family before I finally emigrated to the United States twenty years ago.
Rick, of course, spends a good part of the year traveling. So, who could refuse a free, two-hour presentation (complete with a slide show,) where he shares his latest European travels? I - and the many people crammed in the old Edmonds theater, most of them "Rickniks" - were not disappointed. The two hours turned into almost three as Rick took us through Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, the UK, Switzerland, Germany, Eastern Europe, and more. It was almost like being there.
One thing led to another, and by the time I left early afternoon, Rick's many photos of glorious European food specialties, restaurants and outdoor street markets, had made me ravenous. I headed home, and almost immediately, spotted a fancy supermarket on the side of the road. I decided that, in order to keep with the European theme, I was going to have a special celebration that evening. I left the store with a big paper bag full of goodies. My wallet, of course, felt a lot lighter. Have you noticed how expensive European - and French - food specialties are, in the United States? I decided I would have a special dinner, the same one I enjoyed with my girlfriends while working in Paris. That dinner, bien sûr, involved cheese and wine. Why waste time with superfluous stuff? Just go to the essentials!
It's no secret the French love their fromage. Cheese is an integral part of French life; the French culture; and even the French language.
President Charles de Gaulle famously expressed his frustration with the French by declaring:
"Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays qui a 246 variétés de fromage?"
(How can you govern a country with 246 varieties of cheese?"
Le Général had a point.
In daily life, when confronted with someone prone to exaggeration, and who has a tendency to make things sound worse than they are, a Frenchman might say:
"Pas la peine d'en faire tout un fromage!"
("No need to make cheese out of butter!" - a time-consuming process)
Another Frenchman might confide that he managed to convince someone to agree with him "entre la poire et le fromage;" (between pear and cheese,) referring to the relaxing time at the end of the French meal, when the cheese course is served and a pause is made before enjoying dessert.
It turned out I had pear, and fromage for my celebration, and even an unexpected dessert. The only thing I could not find was my beloved baguette. Call me a French snob, but I'd rather do without bread than bite into that bland, colorless, chewy, baguette ersatz sold in many American supermarkets and even some local *French* bakeries. I figured if Parisians could survive four years of German Occupation without basic necessities, I can survive a few dinners without baguette. When in Rome... expats show flexibility.
The fun part was unpacking les victuailles (the good stuff.) Then, I picked my accessories carefully. Presentation matters. I give you, les amis, the recipe for a delicious and utterly enjoyable French cheese dinner...
First, one needs a beautiful plateau à fromage, cheeseboard, or cheese tray.
Let's not forget cheese knives, les couteaux à fromage, ideally one for les pâtes dures (hard cheese,) and one for les pâtes molles, (soft cheese.)
Then, some pretty cheese plates, les assiettes à fromage. Mine were a gift from my mother-in-law. They were made in Paris many years ago, and the brand is Porcelaine d'Auteuil. French China at its finest.
We need un bon vin. Sorry to disappoint you, but this French Girl doesn't know much about wine. I do, however, know French wines I really like. Le Cahors is one of them.
My cheese selection for the petite party? Voilà, complete with cheese markers (I found them in Napa Valley, CA during my birthday celebration last spring and have been dying to use them...)
A nice mixture of pâtes dures, pâtes molles, and pâtes persillées. Du Roquefort, of course, which I had to prepare the way my grandfather always did, a process involving salted French butter (Thank you, Albertson's for selling the excellent Beurre Président at such an affordable price!)
Ready for the Roquefort-A-la-Georges-Cauquil-Senior? Here it is:
Prepare equal parts of softened butter and Roquefort cheese, like so...
Combine cheese and butter to make a paste. Spread on baguette, or if stranded in [American] suburbia, on crackers. Enjoy!
Miam. Salted butter and cheese: How bad can that be?
What about dessert, some of you might ask? Well, it turns out I received one of my beloved care packages from France yesterday (I have wonderful parents!) I decided les fraises Tagada might have clashed with Monsieur Roquefort and his friends. Les Rocher Suchard, on the other hand, were the perfect match!
My friends will forgive me. I did not call them to share this feast. They know there will be other opportunities to enjoy a Dîner vin-fromage chez moi... Bon appétit, French Girl in Seattle !
Thank you to Rick Steves,
for sharing so much information and knowledge with such enthusiasm;
for inspiring so many great trips and dreams;
You have been my favorite link to Europe for almost twenty years.
All photos by French Girl in Seattle, unless otherwise noted.
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