Monthly Archives: December 2016

A Fabulously Chic French New Year’s Eve

champagne

I am thrilled to bring to you, for the first time on Pearls, Lace & Grace, a guest writer – Anina Belle Giannini.  Known as Le Chef’s Wife (@lechefswife) on Instagram, Anina Belle and I became fast friends sometime ago, bonding over the shared pursuit of a life well lived (and all things lovely).

A little about my friend – Anina Belle is a Canadian/American Luxury Hotel Executive who fell in love with a French Chef (@chefsebastiengiannini) while on a University exchange to Nice, France – fairy tale or what? They were married and lived in the south of France for nine years before relocating to Montreal, Canada, and then most recently, to Washington, DC.

Anina Belle’s Instagram features delicious food, sometimes created by her talented chef husband, decadent wine and stunning glimpses into her travels.  She is truly a beautiful soul and I am so glad to know her.

In the next few days, we will say au revoir to 2016, and bonjour to 2017 (that’s about the extent of my french), and with all her time spent in the south of France, who better to guide us on how to have a fabulously chic French New Year’s Eve than Anina Belle?

Without further ado, I give you Le Chef’s Wife…

One thing that resonated with me during my years living in France is how simple it is to do things well.  The French are masters of the art of simple elegance, and with a few guidelines, you can be the effortlessly chic hostess of a fabulously chic French New Year’s Eve party.

My favorite New Year’s celebrations in France were always the ones where we celebrated in someone’s home. A carefully curated group of people with just the right mix of new and old friends. Everyone dressed up, yet the vibe remained laid back and intimate. It truly is the best way to ring in a New Year!

Depending on the size of your party, you can choose to serve the meal seated at a dinner table, or buffet style so that people can mix and mingle. I recommend inviting guests to arrive anytime after eight o’clock. You don’t want your New Year’s Eve party to start too early and have the champagne (and the ambiance) fall flat before midnight!

Le Champagne

A must! The French enjoy Champagne all year round, but New Year’s Eve is truly a time to drink Champagne all night long!  Now, in France, there is a much larger selection of Champagne at varying prices than is available in North America.

For those of us who do not want to spend a fortune on Champagne for the evening, I suggest starting the party with a “Kir Royal”.  Splash a little bit of Crème de Cassis (available at any liquor store) into a glass of dry sparkling wine, et voilà! You have yourself an elegant and festive cocktail that feels oh so French.

Les Huitres

The French love their oysters and swear by the ones from Brittany and the West Coast of France. Fortunately, we have a wide variety of exceptional oysters available to us in North America. You should have seen my French husband’s face when I brought him to Vancouver for the first time to try Kusshi Oysters! Ooh la la! He was in Chef’s Heaven!

I recommend preparing six to eight oysters per person and please, do yourself a favour and enlist the help of strong friends with good knife skills and lots of patience to help shuck the oysters before the party begins. You don’t want to be alone in the kitchen wielding an oyster knife and splattering bits of shell and brine all over your best party outfit.

Oysters take time, so plan accordingly and then put the little rascals on ice while you pour yourself a glass of champagne.

oysters

Le Saumon

There is something so beautiful about a slice of smoked salmon on a perfect little blinis with a dollop of crème fraiche. The richness of the food marries perfectly with crisp, dry champagne. You can either buy ready-made blinis at the grocery store, or else they can be made in advance. Essentially, they are small, bite-sized pancakes that are served chilled. Top each pancake with a slice of smoked salmon and finish with a dollop of crème fraiche (or sour cream).

Now, here is where you can get creative! Arrange the smoked salmon pancakes out on a tray and then alternate the garnishes. Perhaps you want to add some fennel on top?  A mini slice of lemon? Caviar? Amusez-vous!

Le Foie Gras

Un grand classique! Finding good foie gras is difficult in North America, but not impossible. Go to the deli selection of the finest grocery store in your area and look for a jar of “Foie Gras Cuit” (cooked foie gras). Some specialty butcher shops also carry good foie gras that they make themselves.

For Christmas I was unable to find a good foie gras at our local Whole Foods, so I settled on Chicken Liver Mousse, which is an agreeable alternative. Place the foie gras on a cutting board surrounded by an assortment of crackers and some fig jam, et voilà!

Le Fromage

A well-designed cheese platter is an art form; however, like many things French, if you understand the guidelines it is easy to excel! I usually aim for four to six cheeses on my cheese board – a nice mix of soft and hard cheeses, with varying degrees of staunch.

The French are less enthused by all the condiments we North Americans like to put on a cheese board, and really just like to keep it simple. Good cheese, a crusty baguette and maybe some honey or fig jam as accents, c’est tout!

Start with a good fresh Chèvre (Chèvre Frais), then add a hard but mild cheese such as a Tome de Savoie or a Comte. Now add a strong cheddar or a Mimolette and place a spoon in to a Mont D’Or. Add a wheel of ripe Camembert and finish it all with a slab of Roquefort!

Most importantly, cheeses need to be room temperature. Make sure to take them out an hour before your guests arrive. Yes, the place may smell of cheese, but oh, what cheese!

cheese

Les Macarons

Last, but certainly not least, do yourself a favour and order “Une tour de Macarons” , or Macaron Tower, from a pastry shop. The multi-colored pastel pastry morsels will be a party favourite and are immediately Instagram-worthy.

Macarons have become very popular in recent years – I have even seen Macarons available at Safeway!

Now, there are macarons, and then there are Ladurée Macarons. If there is a Ladurée in your area, I encourage you to go and taste the difference. These macarons melt in your mouth and are not too sweet.

macaroon

Et voilà! As you can see, hosting an elegant New Year’s Eve Reception “à la Française”, is less about being a Michelin-starred chef, and more about assembling the right ingredients.

I encourage you to host your own French New Year’s Eve party and tell me all about it at lechefswife@gmail.com, or tag me on Instagram at @lechefswife.  

Bisous,
Le Chef’s Wife

le-chef

 Le Chef & Le Chef’s Wife

Mind Your Manners ~ No. 2

Freedom_from_Want_ORIGINAL.jpg

above: Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), “Freedom From Want,” 1943. Oil on canvas.

You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why…because it’s rude!

Well, the holiday season is in full swing, and this time of year would not be the same without a few staples – festive sweaters, scrumptious goodies, delicious eggnog, and rude Uncle Frank.

For many, December is a whirlwind from beginning to end.  Holiday parties, midnight shopping, dinner after dinner – it is arguably one of the busiest (if not the busiest) months of the year.

Now, what happens when you take busy, add a little sleep deprivation, and finish with a sprinkle of alcohol?  You guessed it – bad manners.

Being on the receiving end of one’s bad manners is unpleasant at any time of the year; however, during the holidays, you will inevitably encounter at least one Grinch before Santa makes his way down your chimney, and while you can’t control the behaviour of others (sadly), the good news is, you can control your own.

Just over a year ago, I published the first installment of Mind Your Manners, in which I disclosed my employment with the “Polite Police”, and offered a few ways to make the world a more polite place.  Continuing on in that same vein, with a festive twist, I offer a few ways to mind your manners during the holidays:

Mind Your… Alcohol Intake

For many, a holiday party just isn’t a holiday party without a few beverages of the alcoholic variety, and while partaking in a few “cold ones” can enhance the celebration, overindulging can lead to hurt feelings, an embarrassing Monday morning, or worse – injury and loss of life.

To (responsibly) keep the holiday cheer flowing, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Eat, Drink and Be Merry – high protein foods such as cheese and nuts help to slow the absorption of alcohol into the circulatory system, so make sure to enjoy some cheese with that wine.  If you are the host and intend to serve alcohol, ensuring Uncle Frank has ample snacks to graze on will save you from having to peel him off your laundry room floor later.

Wine, Water and Repeat – alcohol is a diuretic and can cause or worsen dehydration.  So, after you enjoy that glass of wine, grab a glass of water and keep that merry pattern going throughout the night.  Not only will this ease your head the next morning, but it may also prevent you from sharing your life story with that colleague in the corner.

Call an Uber – securing a sober driver for the ride home is not only the polite thing to do, but more importantly, the safe and responsible thing to do.  No jokes here – just do the right thing.

Mind your… Dinner Conversation

The opinions of those seated around your dining table are sure to be diverse, and with diverse opinions come the potential for uncomfortable conversations (I’m looking at you, Uncle Frank).

While you will know better than I as to what grinds the gears of the people you break bread with, below are few topics of conversation to encourage and a few more to stay away from:

Do…

Discuss Food – begin the conversation by discussing what you like about the food being served, and if everyone is enjoying the same meal, they can share their thoughts as well.  This conversation can evolve pleasantly into sharing favourite holiday recipes or discussing the hottest new cookbook.

Converse about Fashion – (one of my personal favourites) a nice compliment will endear you to others, so find something pleasant to say about someone’s outfit or jewelry, especially if it is festive.  This can evolve into conversations around a favourite retailer, designer or the latest copy of Harper’s Bazzar.

Sound off about Music – most people enjoy some genre of music, so it is generally a safe subject at the dining table.  Share thoughts on your favourite entertainers, composers or a recent concert that you enjoyed.  Who knows?  This conversation could introduce you to your new favourite artist!

Don’t…

Discuss Controversial Subjects – while you may be someone who enjoys starting shit controversy, Christmas dinner is NOT the place to do it (I’m still looking at you, Uncle Frank).  I’m talking about politics, I’m talking about religion.  If you must discuss President Trump and his wall, Kanye West and his wife, or why religion is the downfall of humanity, I implore you not to.  At least wait until the meal is over and find a person who can match you in a debate, or better yet, just save it for another time altogether.

Talk about Medical Conditions – discussions around health problems, especially those that involve in-depth descriptions of bodily fluids, have been known to ruin not only appetites, but friendships too!  Unless you are enjoying a meal with emergency room physicians or nurses, save it for after the turkey has been carved and consumed.

Be braggadocious (al la Donald Trump) – if you want to mention something brilliant your child did, that’s wonderful, so long as you give others an opportunity to do the same.  While this concept can be difficult for some, try not to monopolize the conversation with you and your family’s accomplishments.  Share a few high points and then politely put your listening ears on.

Mind your…Patience

Joyce Meyer once said that, “Patience is not the ability to wait, but how you act while you’re waiting”, and I could not agree more.

Packing your patience (a phrase coined by my ever-patient colleague) is the single most important thing one can do during this time of year, as so many things are likely to test those patience.  The unending line at, well, EVERYWHERE!  Screaming children, screaming adults (this happens more often than the children), exhausted employees, the list goes on.

This time of year can bring such joy, but it also brings with it so much pressure and expectation.  Do yourself and others a favour by planning ahead, and then when you get in that line, take a few deep breaths and act your age.  Remember, while you may not be able to control the behaviour of others, you may be able to influence it by example.

Mind your…Tongue

If you mind nothing else this holiday, I beg you to mind this.  As I mentioned, this time of year brings much pressure and much expectation.

For many, Christmas can be a sad time, as our losses tend to be magnified (thanks to my Mom for this piece of wisdom).  Whether it is the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, the loss of one’s health, loss is and will forever be a traumatic event.

The last thing anyone needs, whether they have suffered a loss or not, is your negativity.  Do not argue over where Christmas dinner should be held;  do not tell someone that they should have made this stuffing over that stuffing; and most certainly, do not tell someone that the sweater they just gave you isn’t really “in line” with your style.

Instead, mind your tongue.  Be gracious (thanks to another colleague for the appropriate word).  Set that ego aside for the next few weeks and try to remember what is important.  If you have forgotten, here’s a refresher:

What is important…

Family – you never know who will (or won’t) be with you next Christmas

Friends – same as above

Kindness – if I have to explain this one, there is no hope for you  take a peek at this post

What is not important…

Where Christmas Dinner is Held – if Jesus, Mary and Joseph spent their Christmas in a dirty barn, then you can have Christmas dinner at your Aunt Carol’s

The Kind of Stuffing Served – frankly, you should be more concerned that you are eating something cooked in a turkey’s behind and less concerned with the ingredients

The Sweater you Just Unwrapped – it is the thought that counts.  Be gracious, say thank you, and donate it to Goodwill in the new year if its presence in your closet impedes your ability to function in everyday life

While I expect those of you reading this are already connoisseurs of holiday etiquette, take a moment and think about how you can raise your own bar and make this holiday a polite and memorable one!