Tales from

the Loir

A Weekly Column

January 3, 2001 - Ode to Protein

Food and wine are traditions in France the whole year round but during the holiday season the feasts border on fantasy. We spent Christmas weekend in Nantes where we enjoyed the traditional cuisine of the region and the fellowship of friends. We had oysters, shrimp, raclettes, pommes de terre aux lardons, foie gras, duck, various cheeses and lots of Muscadet wine. When we got back to Lavardin, we had fondue chinoise, pot aux feu, salmon grilled over the fire, and filet de sandre aux beurre blanc. We drank Champagne, Vouvray petillant, and the wines of Chinon, Bourgeuil, Quincy, Sancerre and Côtes du Vendôme. But all of these delights are only a warm-up for New Year's day dinner at chez Séguin.

The subtitle of my first book, Eat, Drink, Sleep..., came from one of these Séguinian experiences. It was about three years ago while spending a weekend with Gilbert and Ginette Séguin that I heard their son, Patrice, say "mange, bois, dors....mange, bois, dors... Ça c'est nous." We have been to many of these five hour marathon meals on Sunday afternoon but New Years day is special and especially for the first day of the third millennium.

We arrive at the Séguin's home in the small village of Meslay at noon. After the traditional greeting of kisses and hand shakes, we all gather in the living room for aperitifs and amuses bouches. Our friend Michel Desoeuvres is one of the guests and the source of today's wine. For the aperitifs he brought a sweet white wine from Bordeaux much like a Sauternes. The label reads Domaine de Ballan, 1989, Premières Côtes de Bordeaux. Gilbert pours the wine while Ginette brings in the olives, crackers, pickled mussels, cauliflowers, tomato slices, mushrooms and several sauces for dipping. We spend about an hour talking and sipping this golden nectar and preparing our palettes for the first course.

We move to the dinning room where Ginette has set the table with name tags on little lady bug shaped boxes of specialty chocolates and lotto cards. There small bowls of chocolates spread around the table for anyone who gets hungry between courses. I don't believe that this has ever happened at Ginette's table ever but she has the base covered just in case. No one's lotto ticket hits the jackpot but every one enjoys the suspense of scratching off their ticket

The first course is mackerel rillets served in small bowls. Gilbert pours a sauvignon from the Loir and Cher with the rillets. This dry grassy wine is perfect for the fish and even better with the oysters from l'ile d'Oré which is served for the second course. The oysters are raw, chilled and already opened and stacked on sliver platters. The whole table has at least a dozen apiece but there are so many oysters that Ginette is having difficulty finding volunteers to finish the last couple dozen. I do my share and Gilbert lends support by pouring a Vin d'Alsace, Tokay Pinot Gris, 1998, from the domaine of J.L. Bucher.

I am ready to move on the plat principal but Ginette is still serving seafood. She brings out plate after plate of saumon fumé which I might add was not farm raised but sauvage and decorated with huge serving of caviar in a cup made from the bottom of an artichoke. Gilbert pours a Bordeaux rosé, 1998, for the smoked salmon and a petit verre of vodka for the caviar. If we could stop here, I would go away saying that I ate and drank way too much so I don't know how to describe what we actually consumed today. The Seguin's nephew is jokingly asking for the check and teasing his aunt lovingly as Ginette brings out a large platter of saumon sauvage fumé sprinkled with dill to try to give out seconds. Aprille had just put the last of her salmon on my plate when Ginette left the room. Ginette triumphantly fills her empty plate why everyone laughs good-humoredly. After all, the saumon is sauvage, the fish market guaranteed, wouldn't you like more Bill? oui?

The principal dish is roasted pintade fresh from the farm of Michel Desoeuvres. Pintade is a type of game bird that can be farm raised. It is served with a stuffing made from pork and chestnuts. Also jousting for space at the table is a large patter of green beans and gargantuan bowl of mushrooms (pleurotes ) which are served with two kinds of sauces. Both the mushrooms and the beans are nice but they are just side notes in this long ode to protein. There are no less than three kinds of red Bordeaux with the main course. First is a Medoc, 1985, from the domaine of Baron Phillipe Rothschild. Then there is a Château des Rochers, 1983, Montagne-Saint Emilion and the final choice is a Château de Mornon, 1995, Premières Côtes de Blaye. All have been open and breathing for several hours so each glass had rich full bouquet. Did I fail to mention I had a glass of all three?

The next course is a large platter of cheeses and mâche salad served in a wooden bowl made from the trunk of an olive tree. Dessert is a kind of ice cream cake with a plate of cookies called papillons. This is all followed by coffee and chocolates. Afterwards, Gilbert insists that I try a special brandy called Fine Bretagne with the domaine name of Séguin on the bottle.

It is now six o'clock and already getting dark outside. During the warmer months of the year, we would normally all go for a long walk after a meal like this but it is cold and raining so we play cards and the children watch cartoons to let everything settle a bit. About an hour later Ginette psychically detects that we are growing feint with hunger and starts to set the table again. Gilbert opens a bottle of Champagne and we toast the new year and à la fraternité.

At a little past seven o'clock, Ginette orders us back to the table for a little snack. She brings out a large bowl of fish soup with toast, rouille and cheese for sprinkling on top. Gilbert tells us to put the rouille and the cheese in the soup. I have always eaten the rouille on the toast so this is new to me. The soup is thick, hot and tasty. Ginette explains that she made the soup using six different types of fish. She also says that she used a kilo of each type of fish. That adds up to about thirteen pounds of fish for those who keep track of such things. While Ginette is serving the soup, Gilbert is now pouring a rosé from Provence along with the remains of the various red Bordeaux not yet consumed. Aprille who wisely switched to a fine eau mineral de Cévennes (water) called Quézac during the desert earlier is stealthly passing her food on to my plate and trying to look innocent.

As Ginette heads to the kitchen, Aprille retreats like Napoleon from Russia to living room to watch cartoons with the kids. At this point I can only laugh when the next course is a rabbit terrine made with pistachio nuts. It is huge and Ginette clearly is worrying about world starvation. I could keel over at any moment famished, right? All the red is finished from the main meal so Gilbert open still another bottle of the 1995 Côtes de Blaye. Afterwards, we have another course of cheese with more salad. Then another desert, this time it is a pudding with fresh kiwi and more of the papillon cookies and bien sur more champagne with desert. Then more coffee and chocolates to finish the day. It is ten o'clock and I have to get outside no matter how dark and wet right NOW. I think I have a clue as to what those Roman banquets where like... and I'm also fairly certain that Ginette was the caterer. What a meal and what a country. Happy New Year.

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December 27, 2000 - Summer Dreaming: Escargot
December 20, 2000 - Let Them Eat Cake
December, 13 2000 - Back to France
November 29, 2000 -Beignets Aux Fleurs d'Acacia
November 15, Thanksgiving
November 8, Pouse D'Epine
November 1, 2000 Col de Vence: A day on the Moon
October 25, 2000 Cult of the Black Virgin
October 18, 2000 Harvesting Grapes by Hand
October 4, 2000 Provence: All Good Things




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