A French Birthday Party – A Bite Too Far
Guest post by my friend Keith Van Sickle, part-time Frenchman and author of One Sip At A Time, a guide to learning to live in Provence…
My wife and I spend several months each year in Provence and it’s allowed us to learn the language and appreciate French culture. We knew before we moved there that food and wine are a big part of French life but we didn’t realize quite how big until our neighbor Fabienne gave us a “taste” of real French life…
It was Fabienne’s birthday and she was kind enough to invite us to her party. She and her husband Pierre had set up tables in their garden, with brightly-colored tablecloths and umbrellas to keep the sun off our heads. I hoped my French would be good enough to get by.
French Birthday Party Food
The party started innocently enough, with champagne and appetizers. We enjoyed tray after tray of little toasts with foie gras and fig jam. It was delicious! And who doesn’t love champagne?
Then came the first course, a vegetable terrine with tomato sauce, accompanied by dozens of deviled eggs. The food gave everyone a powerful thirst that we quenched with large quantities of chilled rosé wine. It slid down my throat so easily I didn’t notice how much I was drinking. At least not yet.
After that was a big casserole full of Basque chicken, accompanied by lots more wine. It was really good but I was getting full.
Ok, time to fire up the grill! Pierre cooked two enormous platters of lamb brochettes and spicy merguez sausage, which we somehow polished off. Plus more wine, now moving to red.
There’s a concept from Normandy called the trou normand, the “Norman hole” that helps you when you are full. You drink a fiery brandy that supposedly burns a hole through the food in your stomach and allows you to eat more. Everyone was stuffed at this point so Pierre brought out a bottle of eau de vie and down the hatch it went.
Delightful Party Guests
Occasionally, one of the guests would serenade us with Edith Piaf songs. Her voice was so beautiful that we guessed she had once been a professional singer and when she sang we would all stop to listen to her. When she finished we applauded enthusiastically and then went back to eating.
I wished she would sing more often so I could take a break.
Uh oh, what was Pierre doing back at the grill? Were those really fat Toulouse sausages? They are delicious but…oh my. Somehow we managed to each have one. With bread and wine, of course.
From time to time, I would try to chat with the people sitting near me but they all had such strong Provençal accents that I struggled to understand them. And after so much wine I was having trouble finding my words in English, much less French. Fortunately, whenever I got stuck I would stuff my mouth with food and nod politely, which seemed to work.
After the sausages came the cheese course. As the big cheese tray was passed around, Fabienne gave instructions that everyone was required to have at least three “morsels”. With bread and wine. At this point I was wishing I had a second stomach.
Finally it was time for dessert. The end was in sight! Pierre carried out a chocolate cake, so scrumptious-looking that I actually started to get hungry again. And luckily, there was no bread this time. I resolved to start tapering back on the wine.
Fabienne blew out the candles, we all sang Bon Anniversaire, and then I polished off my slice of cake. I had trouble with the last few bites but managed to get them down, knowing this was finally the end. It was like I had just crossed the finish line in a marathon and I was exhausted.
And then…another birthday cake appeared. Wait, two?? Plus more champagne. The next few minutes are kind of a blur in my memory, which is probably for the best. After the second dessert it was time for more eau de vie, three bottles this time. Then coffee with chocolates.
The lunch had started at noon and we finally made our excuses and staggered away around 7pm. But the party was still going strong.
And they were breaking out the whiskey.
Thanks Keith for sharing what it is like to celebrate a birthday ‘french style’ – you certainly had your fair share of celebrating in those seven hours of partying.
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