Table For One
The most important time is the time you make for yourself.
Does the prospect of a day, or even an evening alone, give you the blues? It can certainly be daunting, and it is surprising how terrified many of us are of our own company. Unfortunately, in these current surreal and unprecedented times, for many of us, there is no choice. But we must all keep positive, and find ways of living life in a different way, at least for the time being.
So let’s be creative and design a special event. I call it a “Table for One”.
Plan your dinner table as carefully as if you were planning to entertain a lover, or a girl or boyfriend.
Even in the kitchen, set the table with a nice cloth, your good china and glassware, a small vase of flowers, and some candles. Lighting is very important to create the right ambiance. Turn off those overhead lights, and switch on low-level lamps. Think of the trouble stage designers take to light a set. Your room is the set, and you are on stage!
The menu should be short, and simply delicious (see some of my favourite recipes). And there is nothing more enticing than a glass or two of good quality wine to accompany your meal. Even better, how about half a bottle of bubbly as an aperitif?
Go and soak in an indulgent bath for twenty minutes. And, as you would if you were entertaining, you should dress up, or at least make some effort. Pick a pretty dress from your closet, or for a guy, a crisp fresh shirt or comfy stylish loungewear. What you wear will set the mood for the evening.
If you are a classical music lover, you will have chosen an evening when a good programme is to be broadcast. Or perhaps you are keen on politics. Pick an evening when there is to be an important debate on the radio. But don’t give yourself indigestion!
After dinner, leave the washing up till tomorrow. You will have plenty of spare time for that. Definitely no chores! Settle down on the sofa with an exciting new novel and some of your favourite music. Catch up on a recorded TV series, or perhaps read that book you have been promising yourself you would read when you have time. Proust “A la Recherche du Temps Perdu” comes to mind.
Whatever you choose, the evening must be enjoyable!
The alternative to your solo after-dinner entertainment is a “Virtual Party”, very fashionable at the moment. Get on FaceTime or Zoom with several of your chums. They are all at home!
But, beware of your image. FaceTime is unforgiving. It requires as much preparation as Norma Desmond for her close up in “Sunset Boulevard”. Everything on the screen is exaggerated!
Grooming is key. For women, light makeup. For men a smooth chin or a trimmed beard.
WAIST UP DRESSING
The art of looking good on top, while comfy, below.
As always, my advice is “less is more”. Simplicity is the name of the game.
Fling on a brilliant colour scarf to add instant pizzazz to your plain top, or go for a statement necklace or earrings – bling jewellery in moderation, over a colourful blouse.
Black and Navy are a little harsh. Think instead of pinks, blues and greens. Avoid jazzy prints.
I would always recommend guys to wear a crisp white shirt. But these are not normal times. A white shirt against a magnolia wall might wash you out. Now, maybe the time to discover pastel shirts, T-shirts, or sweaters.
Do not face the screen face on. Everything on the screen is exaggerated. You need to hold your head at a slight angle, and your chin up. Otherwise everything takes a downward direction!
Finally, the most attractive thing you can wear is a SMILE!
At the end of the evening, and after several drinks, you will be happy to go to bed and drop off. You will not have suffered the effects of loneliness or self-pity, and you will wake up the next day feeling refreshed and positive.
Have a nice evening!
Chez Moi in Normandy
1 Normandy Landscape
5 En Famille
Normandy, a region of northern France, has a varied coastline which includes white cliffs and beachheads. Omaha is one of the beaches famous for the D-Day Landings in 1944.
Inland, the city of Rouen on the River Seine, where I was born and where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, is dominated by its cathedral highlighted in a series of paintings by Claude Monet.
Bayeux is the home of the celebrated Bayeux Tapestry, an embroidered cloth, 70 meters long, which recounts the tale of the conquest of England in the 11th century, led by William Duke of Normandy.
Soon the tapestry will leave France for the first time in 950 years, to be displayed at The British Museum in London.
Since the 19th century, Deauville has been a fashionable seaside resort for the international upper class. It’s well known for its racecourse, film festival, Gran Casino and sumptuous hotels. In the twenties, Coco Chanel opened her first boutique there.
Honfleur, on the Seine’s estuary, is one of the prettiest harbours in France and has long attracted artists whose pictures are hanging in museums worldwide.
Another attraction is the Christian Dior Museum in Granville, the childhood home of the designer, a Belle Epoque style villa overlooking the sea. The garden, designed by Christian Dior’s mother is one of the rare remaining gardens of the period.
Just off the Atlantic coast is Mont Saint Michel bay and its medieval monastery which gave its support to William the Conqueror in his claim to the throne of England.
Normandy has a rich tradition of painting and gave France some of its most important artists, as well as a myriad of notables writers.
And let’s not forget, another important attraction is Normandy cuisine which is based on four regional products – apples, milk, meat and seafood.
In the 17th century, some major painters were Normans, like Nicolas Poussin and Jean Jouvenet.
Later, Romanticism drew painters to Normandy. JMW Turner, Richard Parkes Bonington… crossed the Channel from Great Britain, attracted by the landscapes and the light. Theodore Gericault, a native of Rouen, was a notable figure in the movement, as well as Eugene Boudin and Jean Francois Millet.
Father and leader of the Impressionist movement, Claude Monet, is one of the best-known painters. His house and gardens in Giverny are one of the region’s major tourist attractions.
As well as many local landscapes, Monet painted thirteen versions of Rouen’s cathedral at different times of day. They are hanging in museums all over the world.
Normandy landscapes and scenes of daily life were immortalised on canvas by a myriad of artists, such as William Turner, Eugene Boudin, Gustave Courbet, Camille Pissarro, Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Paul Signac, Gustave Caillebotte, Georges Seurat, Pierre Bonnard, George Braque, Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt… to name but a few.
Among the great figures of French classical literature are Guy de Maupassant, Gustave Flaubert, Barbey D’Aurevilly, Pierre, Thomas Corneille and André Maurois who has written a lot about England, including ‘The Silence of Colonel Bramble.” Also more recently, Patrick Granville and Philippe Delerm.
I studied at the Lycée Corneille in Rouen where the brothers were born.
Marcel Proust helped make Cabourg famous, for its role in “A la recherche du temps perdu” – In search of lost time.
Normandy’s rich pastures benefit dairy cattle and apple orchards. Camembert, Livarot, Pont L’Evèque, are some of the most popular cheeses and best exports.
Normandy butter and cream are lavishly used in gastronomic cuisine.
Fish and seafood are appreciated at top tables. Normandy is the chief oyster cultivating, scallop exporting, and mussel raising region in France.
Normandy is a major producer of cider and Calvados – an apple brandy, appreciated by the connoisseurs.
“Le Trou Normand “ (Normand Hole) is a drink between courses in which diners partake in a glass of Calvados in order to improve the appetite and make room for the next course.
Normandy is the native land of Taillevent, the cook of King Charles V and Charles VI. He wrote one of the earliest French cookbooks.
Some of Normandy’s signature dishes:
Moules a la Normande, mussels cooked with apples, cream and cheese
Salade Cauchoise, salt meadow lamb and seafood
Poulet au cidre, apples, and Calvados
Canard a la Rouennaise, also named as bloody duckling
Tripes a la mode de Caen
Tarte Normande, apples and Calvados (see recipe)
Tatin de pommes au Camembert (see recipe)
Teurgoule spiced rice pudding
Brioches were originally created in Normandy
One of many reputable restaurants, La Mère Poulard in Mont Saint Michel is known for its giant omelette, which resembles a soufflé rather than a traditional omelette, and made in large copper bowls and cooked over an open fire.
Summer is over… The warmth still lingers, but the leaves turn all shades of bronze and start to fall. The nights draw in, and the weather brings misty mornings and cooler days.
Whether you are in town or in the country, there is melancholy in the air.
I love walking in the forest on a crisp day. The trees display a riot of colour – bronze, golden yellow, hues of burnt orange… The noise of leaves breaking underfoot and the smoky mist add a touch of mystery to the whole scene… Magical!
Autumn also brings changes of appetite and new riches to the table – an array of wild mushrooms, plump squashes, pumpkins, juicy apples, sweet pears, plums…The game season is under way with grouse, pheasant, partridge, wild duck and pigeon. After a bracing walk, one looks for roast dinners, comfort food with big flavours – hearty casseroles, vegetable packed pies…
Here are some of my tips for a jolly picnic:
1. Folding tables and chairs are more comfortable, but I prefer a woollen blanket and some colourful cushions thrown on the ground.
2. A few vintage china plates can add a touch of class when you mix them with paper plates.
3. Do pack some glassware. Wine tastes so much better than out of plastic.
4. The food should be simple and fuss free, easy to prepare and easy to transport.
- How about making your own sausage rolls? Moreish! (see recipe)
- A chunk of good cheese and some country bread will go down well with a glass of red wine, or a hot spiced apple brew.
Here are a few delectable suggestions:
- Potato salads can be prepared well in advance – smoked mackerel or trout, or ham and saucisson, red onions and lots of herbs
- Chick peas, tuna and black olives is another easy-peasy one
- Green salads require the dressing to be added just before serving
In or out, you still need to set the scene. Over the table, spread a cloth of rich colours – orange, red, yellow. A bare wooden table can be dressed with linen sets and scattered with dried leaves. Hessian can create a more rustic look. Dripping candles or tea lights add to the warmth of the atmosphere.
available from www.waiterose.com £85
mini jacket potatoes with lardons and grated cheese
The occasion can be a Shoot, a Harvest or a Wine Festival. It can be served in the kitchen or in a barn with hay bales to sit on. If the weather permits, an outdoor tea can also be a treat.
I like using apples as tea light holders
candles in a wine box make an original table display
The food should be truly comforting – heart-warming soups, game casseroles, spicy curries… and to finish, seasonal fruit pies. All washed down with good wine, cider or beer served, if possible, in pewter goblets to add glamour to the occasion.
I like to serve Pumpkin Soup in its shell
1. Bouquets of wooden branches mixed with sunflowers, red and yellow dahlias, red and orange roses placed on the mantle piece set the scene.
2. On a rich coloured tablecloth, create an arrangement of copper beech leaves, bronze daisies, red and yellow dahlias, chrysanthemums…candles – lots of them. But you can also replace the flowers with an abundance of fruits – oranges, lemons, pumpkins, assorted dried nuts… in a sort of Caravaggio style.
A piece of antique bronze can be the centre piece of the table
3. The food should be rich in flavour – game soups, roasted venison, wild mushroom omelettes, terrines, truffle risottos and for desert apple and plum tarts and sweet compotes… and some good wines to wash it down.
White is my favourite colour. It is the symbol of purity and of romance – the list of clichés is endless: the dove of peace; the meringue dress of the bride; the linen sheet; the carpet of snow; the sheet of paper in front of the writer or the composer; and in history, the famous 1918 Malevich painting “White on White” which opened the door to avant-garde art; or the floating icebergs symbol of our changing world.
If one thinks of a themed party, white is often top of many lists. It can be a casual country picnic, a pool or beach party, or a glamorous evening celebration.
Possibly, the most romantic, chic and fun party of the year is the annual “Diner en Blanc” (Dinner in White) in Paris in June. The mysterious and trendy Diner is a global dining event that, despite the veil of secrecy shrouding it, has become a worldwide phenomenon, spanning six continents, in which people gather in public space and set up a stylish dining area to enjoy quality food and wine.
The exact location is secret until the actual day, with guests notified one hour ahead by SMS. Guests arrive dressed in white, with picnic table, chairs, crockery, cutlery and glassware (no plastic!) wine, food and table decoration, all in white. And, like Cinderella, all must be gone by midnight taking everything with them, including the rubbish!
It all started in 1988 when a French man decided he wanted to invite a group of friends to eat at a forbidden spot in the city. They ended up dining as a 200 strong flash mob at the Jardins de Bagatelle, once a favourite of French royalty, including Marie Antoinette.
Although the event is now staged over 70 cities around the world, Paris is the definitive one and thousands are raised for charity. 15,000 guests gathered there for the 25th anniversary.
Over the years, I have given a few white parties, some simple affairs, others more sophisticated, all of them memorable.
There are no rules, only a few recommendations. Everything totally white can be a little bland. Colourless food doesn’t look particularly appetising but a little added colour –green (salads, vegetables), pink or yellow (edible flowers – [email protected]) can make all the difference.
And it’s not asking too much of the guests to wear white. All men have a white shirt in their wardrobe, and women are only too happy to have an excuse to buy a new dress.
Here are some moments from recent white parties –
This is the latest “Diner en Blanc” at the Lincoln Center in New York
Chez Moi in Provence
- Provence Landscape
- St Tropez
- Provencal Cooking
The first time I came to Provence was with my parents. I was a teenager. I fell in love with it instantly.
The fascination remains today. I love being Chez Moi in Provence at any time of the year. Spring, summer, autumn, and even in winter when the sun shines, the sky is blue, and the air is crisp. I go for long walks along deserted beaches. It’s bliss!
The diversity of its sleepy villages in the afternoon sun; the old windmills; the carpets of scented lavenders stretching towards the horizon; the rows of vineyards sloping down to the sea; the lure of long sandy beaches and discreet coves scattered along the coastline; the crystal clear water of the Mediterranean merging with the cloudless sky.
The light – gloriously captured by so many famous artists over centuries; the markets in every village – colourful stalls of plump vegetables, sun-soaked fruits, aromatic herbs, rich olive oils, fresh goat’s cheese from the hills, and fish from the morning catch. Not forgetting the delicious Cotes de Provence, a world leader in roséwine.
And the people, who appear to be calm and detached, until you watch them play an innocent game of boules. You then see how passionate and vociferous they can be.
1. Provence Landscape
I have been coming to this piece of paradise year after year. One day, I said to myself, I will have a house here. The dream came true about 20 years ago. I bought a house in Grimaud, one of the prettiest villages. From my terrace, I can look out over the sea, with the legendary village of St Tropez across the bay.
Photo by Grant Sainsbury
The village of Grimaud is perched on the hillside, surrounded by stunning scenery. It has retained all its authentic character – a castle, a windmill, cobbled streets, vaulted arches, and stone houses… with flowers covering every wall.
3. St Tropez
Despite the aura surrounding it and its world-famous reputation, St Tropez is only a village. Its life began in 1892 when the painter Paul Signac discovered this small fishing village and its exceptional light. His friends and the most important artists of the time – Bonnard, Matisse, Camion, Derain… followed him. Today, the lure has not waned, and artists continue to visit the area in search of the ideal landscape.
Yes, in August there are those “gin palaces” in the harbour, music blasting out, crowds “looking at me looking at you” and long queues bumper to bumper on the only road which leads to St Tropez. But, as the writer Colette who lived there most of her life said: “The problem with St Tropez is there is only one road to get there, and the same road to get out, but who wants to get out?”
Photos by Grant Sainsbury
4. Provencal Cooking
A myriad of products go into the making of what is often referred to as “La Cuisine du Soleil” –
The Bouillabaisse – a humble fish soup made with Mediterranean fish; Salade Nicoise; Ratatouille; Tian; Gran Aioli – a steamed fish and vegetables with an accompaniment of garlic mayonnaise; lavender infused roast Lamb; Pisaladière – the pizza of old Nice; Tapenade and Anchoiade – anchovy paste served on toast with an aperitif. And to follow, cheeses from the hills, wrapped in mesclun leaves, with walnut bread that simply melt in the mouth. All light and healthy, and washed down with crisp Rosé wine.
Here are some signature dishes I like to serve:
Lavender, Rosemary, and Garlic Infused Lamb (see recipe)
Chicken Provençal (see recipe)
Goat’s Cheese and Tomato Tarts (see recipe)
Gratin of courgettes (see recipe)
Various Mixed Salads (see Picnic and Alfresco posts), like Roasted Vegetables and Couscous (see recipe) and of course Salade Niçoise.
Goat’s cheese and lavender make a delicious combination of fragrances. I often add a bunch of lavender to the cheese board, not only does it look pretty, but it infuses unusual flavours.
La Tarte Tropezienne – In 1955 when Brigitte Bardot was making the film “And God Created Woman” in St Tropez, the pâtisserie was a big success with the film crew. Legend has BB herself name the cake after the village. With the success of the film, BB became an icon, St Tropez became famous, and so did the TarteTropezienne.
5. Entertaining – setting the scene
Photo by Grant Sainsbury
I like to keep the mood casual, reflecting the traditions and crafts of this beautiful region.
I often use Provençal quilted bedspreads to cover tables or colourful printed fabrics bought in one of the markets.
Decorating cutlery is a favourite of mine and an easy trick. I tie together cutlery and napkins with a piece of garden twine and add a few sprigs of lavender and rosemary. It looks and smells delicious.
You can use the same idea to decorate the back of chairs by gathering together bunches of lavender and rosemary tied with mauve ribbons, long enough to float in the breeze.
A small bag of “Herbes de Provence” on plates look attractive. It’s also a nice memory for the guests to take home.
An assortment of bottles of olive oil makes a nice table display. And everyone can taste the different varieties by dipping country bread into the oils of their choice.
As a hostess, a few sprigs of lavender look pretty tucked behind the ears. As a host, I sometimes decorate my straw hat with a small bunch of lavender – it always brings a smile to my guests’ faces.
At the end of summer, cut back the lavender, tie with hessian and hang it to dry. Later, place it in wardrobes to deter moths and it smells fragrant.
a pool party is as glamorous as it gets
A daytime party should be laid back and fun. Guests like to bask in the sun, eat delicious food, washed down with plenty of booze. Some might actually like to use the pool, therefore you should provide changing areas and towels.
(see picnic and al fresco posts)
Simple, cold, and served buffet style: bowls of interesting mixed salads, a large dressed fish, plates of charcuteries, quiches. And an assortment of cheeses, fruit tarts, ice creams and sorbets complete the perfect table.
For safety reasons, I recommend using plastic or carton tableware. You can buy attractive plates, wine goblets and champagne flutes in different colours. IKEA, John Lewis, Tiger have large selections at reasonable prices.
Rose wine is the favourite drink at the moment. It brings back memories of holidays in the Mediterranean. But don’t ignore the non-alcoholic drinkers. As well as bottles of iced water, interesting fruit juices should be provided.
An evening party commands a sense of magic. You might even want to add a touch of glamour by giving the party a theme: Bohemian, Hollywood, 60’s, Nautical… Ask the guests to dress accordingly.
How to decorate the chairs
For table decorations, use shells on a bed of sand, or to add a little humour – fish bowls filled with swimming fishes!
In the pool, you can float flowers – rose petals, orchids – even artificial water lilies look amazing, and lots of candles.
At an evening pool party guests would expect more sophisticated food: seafood platters or seafood salads, and one hot dish – fish or meat. Then, a beautiful, delicious dessert.
Champagne brings class to any party. Don’t just crack a few bottles, serve Magnums. It costs the same but looks much more opulent. The alternative is a good quality sparkling wine like Prosecco.
Cocktails are very much the drinks of the fashionable youth. (see Cocktail post)
A professional cocktail barman isn’t essential, but if you can stretch the budget, the sheer theatricality of his performance will add pizzazz and glamour to the party.
Always remember the guests designated to drive home. Think of attractive looking, but also tasting, “mocktails“ like the Mexican Agua Fresca. (see recipe)
Use a fish net to decorate the table, and serve a couple of oysters as a taster.
Of course, music is part of all pool parties – lounge style or Latin during the meal – then more contemporary as the evening progresses and the guests take to the dance floor.
A few years ago, for a special celebration, I decided to “push the boat out” and got a specialist company to light up the trees around the pool with multicolour spotlights – pink, lilac, blue… and eight synchronised swimmers performed for us. It was a magical, as well as a memorable evening.
Bastille Day is celebrated in France on 14th July. It’s called a “Fete Nationale” and commemorates the storming of the Bastille on 14th July 1789, a turning point of the French Revolution.
Celebrations are held throughout France with a military parade on the Champs Elysees in Paris, in front of the President of the Republic and French officials, as well as foreign guests. This year Donald Trump is Guest of Honour!
My birthday comes near Bastille Day, and last year I decided to give a red, white & blue Birthday Party. The dress code was of course red, white and blue, which gave the guests enough choices.
Here are some pictures which capture the mood of the party. It might inspire you. The red/white/blue theme could also be used to celebrate a United States Independence Day party, on the Fourth of July.
Life’s a Picnic
a lavender field is a magical place to have a picnic
I often found a picnic to be – sometimes literally – a pain in the backside. The weather is iffy. You end up with cramp, grass-stained and covered by an army of ants. Yet, there is something heavenly about a picnic on a warm sunny day.
The occasion can be an open air concert, a sporting event, or simply a day out in the countryside. Whatever your favourite activity, why not celebrate the season by laying on a simple feast for your friends and family.
There are two ways to enjoy a picnic. The posh tradition and glamour of Royal Ascot or Glyndebourne, going the whole hog, bringing table and chairs, an ice bucket to keep the champagne cool, and a luxurious ready-made hamper. The other is legging it to M&S for sandwiches and a few bottles of plonk, throwing a comfy rug on the grass, and “Bob’s your Uncle”. Both have their fans.
Personally, I think with a little effort and some imagination, one can turn simple fare into a memorable event.
Here are some of my tips to achieve just that:
Setting up the Scene
Reclaimed wooden planks can create an informal table, left bare or covered with a colourful cloth.
A mismatch selection of rugs and a few cushions scattered on the ground give a bohemian atmosphere. For a sunset picnic, festooned lights add magic and pull the look together.
There are many simple ways to personalise your table. Seek inspiration from your surroundings, be inspired by nature. It can be some wild flowers just picked, or some branches which will prevent napkins flying away.
St Tropez old Harbour, photo by Grant Sainsbury
Photo by Grant Sainsbury
Call me a snob, but eating from a paper plate never used to thrill me. But nowadays you can buy well-designed, colourful plastic picnic ware, including ‘glasses’. Tiger, John Lewis, IKEA have good selections at very reasonable prices.
A few pieces of vintage china, bought in second-hand shops, will add instant glamour or quirkiness to the table. I have been collecting over the years, and love the fact that nothing matches.
Paper tableware from www.talkingtables.co.uk
A wicker basket is something quite special and glamorous. Add a cold bag and you have the perfect combo to accommodate food and drink.
Old metal tins are much prettier than plastic containers to transport food. Car boot sales are the best place to find them. Department stores sell copies at reasonable prices.
Glass jars can also be used to carry food or hold flower arrangements.
Photo by Grant Sainsbury
Photo by Grant Sainsbury
Meals eaten out of doors need every bit as much planning and preparation as those at home. You must consider how your guests will be seated. The food must be easy to eat. Bending double on a rug makes fancy handiwork with cutlery quite difficult.
The other important thing is portability. Make sure the food is delivered intact and as presentable as when you put it together.
I like to serve a selection of charcuterie, cured meats, cheese and pickles, assorted salads and good bread, as well as some homemade goodies – quiches and fruit tarts.
Salads should only be tossed and dressed just before serving. You don’t want a soggy salad.
Wrapped sandwiches in baking paper and tied with garden twine or colourful strings are always a talking point.
Try to serve individually prepared boxes, such as black pasta with seafood, or couscous with grilled vegetables.
If you are using paper plates, the food needs to be cut into bite size pieces. Barbeque sauce leaking through a cut in a paper plate will make for very unhappy guests.
Rosé wine is the fashionable drink at the moment. It brings back memories of holidays in the Méditerranée and goes well with cold food.
Champagne brings class to any party. Why not offer individual 1/4 bottles, easy to drink through a straw and saves the washing up. Prosecco is the cheaper alternative and quite delicious.
Don’t ignore the non-alcoholic drinkers, the one designated to drive home. As well as a few bottles of water, a couple of interesting homemade fruit juices show you thought about them.
And don’t forget things like bottle openers, corkscrews, paper napkins… and insect repellent stuff!
Al Fresco Lunch/Dinner
Al Fresco dining conjures up scenes of long lingering lunches in olive groves, trestle tables set to accommodate several generations of family and friends basking in the sun.
The first thing to consider when planning an al fresco Lunch or Dinner in Britain is the chance it may not be al fresco at all but consumed indoors watching the rain bucketing down outside.
Therefore you need a contingency plan up your sleeve.
Where to set up the drinks? Where will everyone sit? The trick is to have everything ready until you are sure the heavens will not open. If the weather is doubtful, I suggest serving the drinks indoors. Then, if the sky suddenly clears, the guests will only be too happy to help with the exodus.
If the weather is on your side, what can be nicer than an al fresco party?
setting the scene
Tablecloths bring an old-world elegance to a table, but you can also use white or soft coloured sheets. Top up with a piece of lacy fabric or a lacy shawl and you have the basis for a romantic setting. Jugs of pastel coloured flowers add to the romance. They also look pretty in jam jars, as well as old tea and coffee pots. I have a mismatched collection bought over the years from car boot sales and brocantes.
old world elegance
Photo by Grant Sainsbury
For a more casual look, I would create a beautiful table setting using a bright coloured tablecloth, old baskets and terracotta pots overflowing with wild flowers, plants and scented herbs, and for a touch of daring, a few small garden tools scattered around.
colourful plastic buckets create imaginative lighting
As well as ribbons, branches and foliage look great tied up at the back of chairs
And don’t forget to tell your guests it is an al fresco do, so they will bring a wrap or a sweater.
The alternative is to have small wraps folded on the backs of the chairs.
Photo by Grant Sainsbury
All you want is uncomplicated recipe ideas that look and taste good and require minimal effort. Interesting flavours and best ingredients served in a simple way.
But, as with all simple ideas, presentation is key.
I always start by offering a glass of chilled white or rose wine or Kir (white wine with a drop of cassis liquor). Pass around a bowl of good olives, crudites and sea salt for dipping. Serve a main dish of chicken (see my Chicken Provencal recipe) or fish with seasonal vegetables, or a large mixed salad (see list below). For dessert, a delicious French tart of course, followed by good coffee.
Here are some of my all-time favourites:
First, the kind of food you keep on picking at: plates of charcuterie, bowls of black and green olives, crunchy radishes (with green tufts intact), baby tomatoes…
Salads with imaginative dressings, so good your guests will be mopping up the juices with country bread.
Also, flavoursome grain and pasta salads tossed with roasted vegetables.
Strawberries and cucumber, the prettiest summer starter (see recipe)
Warm or cold fish cooked the simplest way. A whole salmon, monkfish or sea bass look impressive.
(Put the fish in a fish kettle. Cover with cold water. Add Court-Bouillon, sea salt and pepper corns. Cover and bring slowly to the boil. Turn off the heat and let it rest until serving- minimum one hour). Serve with mayonnaise or a salad of cucumber, natural yoghourt, a spoonful of dijon mustard, a spoon of olive oil, dill and chives. Yummy!
Seafood Stir Fry. King prawns with chilli dressing served with orange slices and black olives (see recipe). Or with Mango Relish (inspired by a trip to Myanmar) – mango and cucumber cubes, red onions, finely chopped dates, coriander and lime juice.
Potato and Ham – New potatoes, ham, saucisson, cornichons, olives, mixed herbs, French dressing
Pasta and Green Pesto with spinach and pine nuts
Moroccan salad – couscous, chickpeas, raisins, dried apricots, roasted peppers and a spicy dressing
Mixed Beans and tinned Tuna, red onions, olives, mixed herbs, French dressing
Avocado, bacon and watercress (see recipe)
Lentils and onions
Smoked mackerel with new potatoes and dill (see recipe)
Fergus tuna salad – 3 Fresh tuna steak cut into small cubes, juice of 3 limes, 1 avocado, 1 mango, 2 tomatoes, coriander, salt and pepper
Nothing quite matches a large Cheese Board Selection, served with a generous choice of breads. Guests can never resist freely baked bread.
Then follow with an arrangement of summer fruits, presented in simple glass bowls or on serving platters, summer fruit Tarts, Sorbets and Ice Creams.
Fruit Punch (see recipe)
Rose wine is the fashionable drink at the moment. It brings back memories of holidays in the Méditerranée and goes well with cold food. Don’t ignore the non-alcoholic drinkers, the one designated to drive home. As well as a few bottles of water, a couple of fruit juices shows you thought about them.