Who knew when I sat down for lunch on a warm late October day at Le Safari (1 Cours Saleya, 06300 Nice, France), a cafe very near the Cours Saleya market in Nice, that I would be influenced on what I would be serving for my upcoming Book Club holiday dinner menu back home?
Just after I placed my order, I started seeing, delivered to several tables around me, a bowl of raw vegetables that stretched themselves well beyond the lip of the basket, accompanied by a bowl filled with what seemed to be a sauce. Like this:
As it turns out this was a ‘signature’ dish of Le Safari. Yes, a highly varied assortment of raw vegetables to be dipped into a ‘kept warm by flame’ bowl of anchovy sauce. So, of course, I returned a week or so later just so I could order it for myself. You’re looking at my order. And, yes, I took quite a bit of it home with me!
A couple seated next to me when I first saw this being served to them noticed how curious I was and the next thing I knew they were asking me what vegetable I would like, then dipped it in the anchovy sauce, and offered it to me so I could experience a taste. Who says the French are not friendly!
Of course, this started a conversation about typical Cote d’Azur dishes and then the conversation made its way to her children attending college in southern California to their living in Monaco, with a few political quips thrown into the chatty mix too…ahem!
And, that’s how my thinking started to head down this road. Why not pack up some Provencal-Cote d’Azur food products to be the base of my Book Club holiday dinner that I was hosting in early December back at home in Bend, Oregon?
So I started with some internet research. Followed by some shopping in Nice and Antibes. All along, through this process, I had to estimate how much room I had in my luggage! I added in some long distance Skype pow-wowing with my daughter regarding recipes for the main course. And, once home, I tackled the grocery shopping and decorating for the holiday season and….WAH-LA….DONE!
To fill you in on more detail, I shopped the narrow streets of Nice’s Old Town. Spreads were bought to accompany the well-known traditional Nice socca chips-a chickpea flour based chip (https://www.soccachips.com/en/), as well as allow for dipping the unruly looking fresh vegetables. (As an aside, socca bread is a common food I saw people in line, waiting to buy, at the outdoor market.) See this recipe: https://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-socca-a-naturally-gluten-free-chickpea-flatbread-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-169513
I chose an anchovy spread, artichoke spread, eggplant tapenade, and a highly praised suggestion from the woman assisting me, a truffe blanche (white truffle) mustard. Olives were added on the side, of course. Appetizers DONE!
Here are a few of the shops I frequented for the goods to take home:
As soon as the guests walked in the front door, I offered them a champagne flute and a pour of French cremant for an aperitif. If you don’t already know, cremant is a bubbly that is yummy and yet much less expensive than champagne. I found this locally, once home, without any hassle.
My bowl of raw vegetables at the ready along with a pitcher of water (partially seen behind) as the anchovy sauce and other spreads were on the salty side….
About 12 of us, so the table was extended and layered with a Provencal look. I was able to convince one of my favorite restaurants in Old Town (Olive and Artichaut- 6 Rue Sainte-Reparate, 06300 Nice, France) to sell me the red and white checkered/plaid disposable, but highly sturdy, placemats that helped to set the tone by informally scattering them across the table. And, the small paper kraft berry baskets at each place setting added to bringing the table alive.
The berry basket ‘favors’ included a guest-sized slab of olive oil natural soap, a tiny pouch of herbes de Provence, and branches of lavender pinned together with holiday-stamped clothespins. All were purchased at petit shops in the Old Town, my neighborhood during my stay in Nice.
By the way, the lavender stems were already sealed in a cellophane wrap when purchased and it seemed that kept them from drying out. So they arrived home intact.
The bar was set up with some French red wines, also bought, locally, in Bend.
To further set the stage, a little snow added the right touch to the outdoors….
Some more holiday cheer around the Great Room and on the porch included a glass bowl of my mother’s 40-60 year old ornaments too delicate to hang from the Christmas tree…
The main course was a short rib stew (made in 2 slow cookers) which was a take on what is apparently a common dish served during the holidays called daube. Here’s one recipe I came across for daube: https://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/beef-daube-provenal The side dish offered was a ratatouille, a Provencal country dish which provided a holiday color addition to the main dish when it was plated. See how this ratatouille looks before it is baked? Of course, a generous supply of baguettes were offered too.
Dessert that followed was served around the living area seating with fireplace warmth. I decided the dessert would be the French Christmas tradition of Thirteen Desserts!
I was able to pick up a sampling of most of these desserts directly from my visits to shops in Nice and the Antibes outdoor market while visiting a friend for the day. Dried figs, dates, and prunes; candied fruits; marzipan-like candy called Calisson; Provencal cookies; nuts; and nougat, of course…..It is interesting to read about the history of the various Christmas Thirteen Desserts here: https://www.frenchaffair.com.au/explore-france/thirteen-desserts-of-christmas
And, yes, as you can see, Jackson, my grand-dog, was an honorary guest at the Book Club dinner and conversation.
I had suggested we discuss our favorite children’s book..be it from our own childhood or one we read to our children or grandchildren, nieces, nephews. So we settled in for a ‘long winter’s night’ with some of the members having even prepared a written ‘book report’ on the book they were sharing. My book, of course, what else but: Le Petit Prince and, if you are not already familiar with it, you can read about it here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/157993.The_Little_Prince
Buche de Noel (“A “Yule log” (or bûche de Noël French pronunciation: [byʃ də nɔɛl]) is a traditional dessert served near Christmas, especially in Belgium, France, Lebanon, Switzerland, Quebec, and several former French colonies. Made of sponge cake to resemble a miniature actual Yule log, it is a form of sweet roulade.) will be, for the first time, the Christmas Day dessert at our holiday table. I was able to find a local bakery who is offering a gluten free one which will accommodate a family member’s diet. (Paris photo) According to the American Women’s Group in Paris bulletin, the Buche de Noel came about from this tradition: “Traditionally in the South of France, families burnt a wine-soaked log on their fire from Christmas Eve until New Year’s Day. This was meant to bring good luck.” Here’s hoping for 2019!
Merry Merry to all! I wish you Healthy and Peaceful Living for 2019….with some frolic and shenanigans to stir up the mix!
I would love to hear your family’s favorite holiday eats and drinks and other customs and traditions, new and old?