I have just come from another lovely and lingering lunch at Madame’s.
A former Parisian, Madame is a woman of great elegance and wit. A war bride, she married into an offshoot of my husband’s family more than 60 years ago.
She is petite, but imposing, with white hair styled into a classic chignon. She has remained a Frenchwoman to the core, never becoming a U.S. citizen. She makes annual trips to France, which I understand she financed for a time by buying and selling antiques.
To step inside her house is to land instantly in France. Everywhere are ancestral photos, stern women in leg-of-mutton sleeves and handsome men in the elegant haberdashery of another time.
Here and there in silver and gold frames are sketches of Mont St. Michel or Montmartre, Quimper plates or crystal vases. There are mementoes from this trip or that, gifts from friends and family heirlooms.
If you are lucky enough to be invited to Madame’s, you will find that the food is always good and the table, in a sunny corner of her living room, is beautifully set with dishes and silverware from France. There is always a bouquet of fresh flowers.
Today, the menu was foie gras tartlets for amuse bouche, followed by a savory onion soup and a plum pudding. Last year, there was galette des rois.
Often the food is influenced by the cuisine of Brittany where Madame spent her summers as a girl of some wealth and privilege.
That the food is good is a given. It is the conversation that stimulates.
Madame is well-read and well versed in international affairs. Her living room is a salon for progressive thought and conversation. More often than not the conversation here is books, politics and travel.
The food, of course, fuels the conversation. There is always a choice of coffee or tea, which of courses leads to more talk, lively talk and polite disagreements.
That is how it should be at the table.
Madame’s is a true French kitchen. And a French table.
And I always leave her house humming the Marseillaise.