How to serve toffee.

My great-grandmother was a great influence on me, although I never met her. But I get it from stories my mother who adored her has told me. My favourite one, and the most impressive, gives a wonderful example of what it takes to be cultivated, and maybe more of what a certain upbringing does to you and your morale. She was very particular about the way a table was set. As a middle aged woman, long before the war, I’m talking World War II, she indulged in style, decorated her house beautifully, with no trouble apart from striving for perfection on a daily basis, she would give orders to the few servants she had, and was known for her splendid dinner parties. But it wasn’t just the times and circumstances that made her the lady that she was and to bring her daughter up to be one too in the future, meaning to instruct my grandmother, then a young girl, never to take too much sugar with tea, what unthinkable intemperance, regardless of my grandmother’s sweet tooth of course, to force her to sit at the dinner table as if she had swallowed a broomstick and to introduce her to the effects of alcohol, a young lady’s demeanour and virtue mustn’t be compromised by a glass of wine, let alone three, it was her composure, her absolute restraint in everything she did. This would actually not be a story if she hadn’t had to adapt to war times. First of all, that dinner table got lost in ruins, bombs smashed it to pieces, and after the war was over, there was not much food to serve. But no war could ever impinge on her dinner celebrations, anything had to meet her demands, it was like an obsession with her. My family was happy to have anything at all, potatoes were a luxury, there weren’t any oysters to sprinkle with lemon juice, meat on the table would be conceived as a mirage, a fata morgana, but she would never eat up, even in these days, she would leave something behind on her plate, always, whatever it was, however humble a meal had been prepared, she would leave something to be thrown away, for one could get the impression she’d been hungry, and hunger, oh dear, what a vulgar sensation, how weak a character one would be to adapt to a life in ruins, she might have thought, and so she did not. Never. How absurd, and yet, quelle contenance. I think of her, each time I want to eat something right off the box, like these toffees. And then, I take a beautiful plate or dish, and one of the antique glasses for the sherry instead of the dishwasher safe ones, and enjoy life her style. God bless her.

Dessert!

There are days when nothing goes right. Even though your favourite actress at the moment has won the Oscar for her part in The Favourite, a film that made you smile and laugh and sit in awe at the cinema, but still, that damn coffee machine keeps annoying you in the morning by spilling first water then coffee—never buy a Krups!— and the bus is late again and there’s another grey hair mocking your vanity and, well, you know what I’m getting at, don’t you? One of these days where really nothing bad happens and still you feel like life itself was a bit overrated—until you have dessert, that is. The moment you have some yummy and ever so spongy cake to be washed down with a Sauternes, bottled at a time when grey hairs were not yet an issue, then your day starts to be real’ fine. I mean, really!

Thoughts on port.

In François Ozon’s film “8 femmes”, Danielle Darrieux declares most emphatically that her port had been poisoned, “on a drogué mon porto!”, she screams out. Of course, nobody did such a thing, she just needed some kind of excuse for her blatant misconduct in family matters. Now, every time when I have a glass of port, I automatically (and smilingly) think of Danielle Darrieux, that great French actress, that some time later in the film gets hit on the head with a bottle of wine by her daughter, played by none other than Catherine Deneuve. Strangely, I never think of Catherine Deneuve, the even grander French actress, when I have a glass of wine—now why that is, I wonder…

Thoughts on fish and fate.

Today, with all that sunshine in November, while working on my novel, I felt like a fish in the sea. Happy and content. Ironically, for dinner, I had fish who must have felt literally like out of water. And some mussels, prawns, and scallops to join them in that hapless situation also known as bouillabaisse. The world is an unfair place, I guess. If you ever have to face the truth about life like me, I recommend a great wine to smooth the edges, my 2017 Kerner from Saale-Unstrut, the former GDR’s highly esteemed winegrowing region, is the best to reconcile you with anything, and if there’s nothing to reconcile you with in the first place, all the better. Prost!

Eat more spaghetti!

A good friend of mine once had a dream in which she walked up and down Grand’ Rue in Luxembourg, dressed up as a sandwich man whose billboards were saying “Eat More Spaghetti!”, and she never knew why. Not being a psychiatrist, I couldn’t tell her why, either, but at least my family and I keep fulfilling her deepest wishes by having spaghetti ever so often. The morale of this story? Eat more spaghetti!

EAT PLANT LOVE

We felt like we needed flowers. Some more hydrangeas for example. Or some lavender. Or maybe both. And so we bought even a tiny olive tree at our local garden centre. And geraniums. And petunias. And hostas. And summer lilac to feed the butterflies. And why not some eucalyptus, too. I guess, you get the point: we went nuts over flowershopping. Planting, however, is hard work in this heat and so we went hungry, too. Luckily, we had enough to eat to recover and some vino verde for a much needed wine spritzer, they’re quite refreshing.

Dinner at eight (y-eight)

88 degrees Fahrenheit in May, or wait, it’s June now, anyway, 88 degrees Fahrenheit this time of year are, well, what are they? My mind has gone blank, that’s for sure. I can’t think straight. This heat is killing me. Totally. Gotta face the facts. So, for my last supper before extinction I decided to have insalata caprese, my own version of it at least, it’s kind of a messy version, very messy, I mix it all up, the mozzarella, the basil, the tomatoes, il Tricolore in a bowl, so to say. With some olive oil from Sicily and crushed pepper from some place else. Anyway, as you can’t have water with an Italian dinner—food iconoclasm, I say!—I opened a bottle of wine, a fine wine at that, admittedly not from Italy, no Chianti or Brunello di Montalcino, but a fine wine from Bordeaux, a claret as the Brits say, a 2005 St.Émilion Grand Cru, some Château Peyreau—or was it Peyraux, or Peyreaux? Who knows, it’s pronounced all the same anyway—just to cherish summer in spring, high spirits for high temperatures—I’ve told you, my brain has gone soft. Anyway, cheers and buon appetito for now, and as soon as temperatures drop, I’m back. Promise.

A place in the sun.

The minute temperatures start rising, our dining table falls into some kind of hibernation – is there actually a term for hibernation in summer? It can’t be summernation, that sounds like a Tommy Hilfiger fragrance. Anyway, we declare the sombre mahogany totally useless, and adjust ourselves to teak. From then on, we not only have breakfast, lunch and dinner in the garden, we also prepare the meals outside, at least any part of the dish whose prepping doesn’t require gas or running water and allows us to enjoy a cup of tea or a glass of wine alongside cutting, peeling, trimming, snapping, or whatever you do with it. Asparagus, green and white, but the white ones especially, is the best example, peeling those bastards is such a pesky business, it makes you want to employ a cook, for my sake even with a staff of her own, but since nobody can no longer afford servants, we have to blame socialism, no doubt about that, we have do to such things ourselves, however tedious. But when sitting in an apple tree’s shade and sipping some red wine, the whole undertaking suddenly makes you feel blessed. And while I’m peeling away another spear’s tough outer layer, I hope autumn will come late this year, a week before Christmas will do.

Gardening meunière.

After all this cold, 12 degrees Celsius appear as summer temperatures, so, after some minor gardening, essentially detecting that the azaleas were soon about to bloom, we decided to have lunch outside. Realizing that in fact it would be for the very first time this year and that spring obviously had finally begun, we went somewhat cocky and had trout meunière, Julia Child would have gone nuts, and some fine crémant from Burgundy, very pleasant to drink, now we’re all drunk and wait happily for pneumonia to set in.

Under the influence.

When I was 43, it was a very good year, I can’t actually remember what I was doing that year, but the vineyards of Château Haut-Batailley seem to have been enjoying some very fine weather, just the right amount of rain and sunshine, right enough to make me forget all about my favourite St.Émilions and to switch to Pauillac, to this property precisely. The fact that I like the label’s design helps as much, I guess, as the fact that I am easily influenced by anything that says Grand Cru Classé en 1855, it really gives the impression these people know what they are doing and it sounds so, well, classy. If I were to describe it, the wine, I mean, its taste, or better yet, its structure, they always talk about a wine’s good structure, don’t they, I wouldn’t be of much help, I just remember an earthy impression, a hint of black currants, too, but I might confuse it with the dessert, chocolate ice cream with cassis, I had a lot, especially of that gorgeous cassis liqueur my parents brought from France, it brings out the flavour of the cocoa so well, so I might be afflicted a little, but I do remember it as ever so pleasant, just like my company, we really had so much fun, okay, I might be compromised by this, too, I really am no authority on wine and most definitely not on this particular Pauillac, but as I said, the label looks smart and it says Grand Cru Classé en 1855, anyway, you just enjoy, cheers, santé and stuff…