Do French Women Wear Bras?

Fruits de Mer en Papillote with Celery Root Puree

It's a group of people serious about fun who have a dinner party in mid-November for the purpose of planning their dinner party for New Years Eve.

The givens:
  • A swanky dinner at Doug and Mary's, with each of the three couples providing a course with matching wines or cocktails. This year we'd be joined by Mary's brother, David, from Montana and Doug's sister, Karen from Portland who would create a dessert.
  • After the first course, we'd go to the opera. This year it was La Boheme. We'd return to Doug and Mary's for a fashionably late main course, and would arrive at the dessert course sometime after ringing in the new year.

Ingredients Assembled

At our November planning party, bon vivant Mary, with a deep background in French literature, suggested that we allow the Paris-set opera, La Boheme, to set our theme. Larry, who has a reputation for providing fantastic Pinot Noirs which I secretly hoped he'd continue for New Year's Eve, offered up his French onion soup as a starter. My Baby suggested that we take the main course, which would require further research. Mary agreed to fill in the blanks with hors d'oeuvres and side dishes as necessary.

Heart-shaped Parchment

Hold on, s'il vous plait... I'll get to the part about the brassiere in a minute.

My Baby and I thought about our offering for the next six weeks. We probed cookbooks and the internet for the just-right final feast of the holiday season contribution. Our criteria:
  • We'd be returning from the opera at 11 p.m., far too late for a heavy meal. Keeping it light would be important.
  • At that late hour, we didn't want to keep people waiting for a meal. The majority of preparation would need to be complete before we left home for the evening. Much to the sadness of My Baby, this eliminated the possibility of creating elaborate, last-minute sauces.
We decided upon:
Fruits de Mer en Papillote et Celeriac Purée
Seafood in Parchment with Celery Root Puree

4 oz. per serving impeccably fresh white fish (we've used both sea bass and halibut with excellent results)
3 10/20 prawns per serving, peeled and deveined
3 medium sea scallops per serving
about 1/3 medium fennel bulb per serving, sliced paper-thin
about 1/2 large shallot per serving, sliced paper-thin
about one carrot per serving, cut into thin matchsticks
3 slices lemon per serving, sliced paper-thin
1 Tablespoon butter per serving
light drizzle extra virgin olive oil per serving
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

one 12" x 24" length parchment per serving, folded in half and trimmed into a rough heart-ish shape
(The shape is important for the folding that will happen later.)

Preheat oven to 425˚. Near the fold and at the center of the parchment layer the fennel, white fish, shallot, carrot, prawns, scallops and lemon. (If you have a mandolin or slicer, now is the time to use it for this ultra-thin slicing.) Drop in the butter, drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Turn the half-heart shaped packet upside down so that you can begin folding at the top, puffy part of the heart. Fold down the corner, press with your finger, and seal the fold with the back of your thumbnail. Continue in this fashion until the entire side is folded and well sealed, turning the point on the bottom under twice to seal well.

Place sealed packets on large baking sheets. Bake for 20 minutes. Steam will cause the packets to puff in the oven, but they quickly deflate when removed. Place each packet on serving plate. Have each guest slit open their own packet at the table, dramatically releasing the aromatic scent. Serve with whipped celery root/potato puree, whipped potatoes or rice to absorb the delicious liquor that forms in the packet.

Ready to Fold and Seal in the Goodness

Now, the bra.

The week before Christmas when I should have been focused on other things, Mary and I haunted some local vintage clothing shops for turn-of-the-century French-themed clothing to wear for our New Year's Eve night at the opera. We laughed so much trying on hats (Mary looked smashing in a couple of fabulous turbans, and I was, and remain, distracted by a very groovy burnt orange number reminiscent of the London/Twiggy/1966, chin strap and all, that I simply must work in somewhere) and clothing. A tres chic fitted black tafetta bias-cut floor length dress with a sweeping skirt kept catching my attention. I asked the shopkeeper if it would pass, appropriately accessorized, as of the era. Her reply was, "All I know is that if you can wear that dress, you should." All I needed... A challenge.

Fold, Pinch and Press

I wiggled and squirmed in the dressing room to get the thing on, and emerged wearing the dress with a glove-like fit. Cut down to here. And here, and here and here. The front, back and both sides left little to the imagination, and little room for an appropriate ladies foundational undergarment.

Now would be a good time for you to read down a couple of posts. You'll see my age. I have three grown children who were kept alive via mama au natural for each of the first years of their lives. I am BIG fan of ladies foundational undergarments.

Christmas and all its excitement came and went without another thought given to how I'd solve my lift-and-support dilemma. And while I may be able to get eggs, vegetables, wine and coffee in my middle-of-nowhere 'hood, stick-on bras are a little harder to come by.

The day before I was to don The Dress, we were expecting company for dinner. Rather than accompany My Baby running errands in town, thereby capturing a department store adhesive bra, I stayed home to prepare. After quite literally proving to him that his suggestion of using our new silicone egg-poaching cups wouldn't work (give him points for outside the box thinking) he suggested that I call the department store, make the correct arrangements, and that he would pick up the necessary item.

A few hours later, My Sweet Baby returned with a demure pink box. "How much was it?" I asked.

He replied, deadpan, "Nine dollars a titty."

The afternoon of December 31 we spent peeling and deveining shrimp, rinsing sea scallops, slivering fennel, carrots, shallots and lemon, portioning sea bass; folding and sealing the whole of it into beautiful individual parchment packets. Two enormous rough celery root balls were peeled, along with 5 russet potatoes, and boiled and smoothed with butter and cream. We were having fun, but the clock was ticking on our intended departure time, and I wasn't yet dressed.

With only seconds before we would be officially late, I peeled off the self-stick tabs on the bandless, strapless, nothing-of -a-bra cups and affixed them in their relevant locations, threw the dress over my head and shimmied it into place.

Sproing. Sproing. The adhesive refused to adhere. No matter how I tried, the bra just wouldn't work. There is nothing attractive about a 50-year-old woman having a melt-down similar to the ones she had when she was a enfant terrible and her socks didn't fit properly inside her shoes when her parents were in a hurry for work, I'm sure. But there's nothing femme fatale-esque, in my opinion, about a 50-year-old woman bra-less in public either, something I didn't do even when I was 18. What would a French woman do in the face of such a quelle horreur?

As I was flipping out My Dear Sweet Baby tried to console and assured me I looked terrific. I couldn't tell if he was jiving me to get us out the door, or if he thought I was a vision of beauty. Maybe a bit of both.

How does this story end? Mary's paté and both Blanc and Rouge Lillet, among other things, were mouthwatering. Doug's warm hospitality was cheering. Larry's French onion soup was the best I've ever had, with onions melting on our tongues. (He did fulfill my secret Pinot pining and has achieved rock star status with me, both in his fantastic pairing abilities, but also in his generosity to share rare and beautiful wines.) Liz's irreverent hilarity warms me to my toes. David was charming and a delight to meet, as was Karen in her stunning peacock-feathered skirt. The opera was replete with outstanding sets, elaborate costumes, pristine performances and an appropriately tragic ending. Our seafood in paper elicited the hoped-for contented utterances. Karen's tall, buttery, pear and cardamom tart was the perfect meal-finisher.

But it wasn't until the gentleman taking tickets at the opera suggested that my dashingly tuxedoed Baby and I might just be the best dressed of the night that I actually relaxed, forgot about my dress, and found my joie de vivre.

But he could have been jiving me too.

Delicious to the Last Bite


  1. I like the idea of opening a parcel of goodness. Haven't done much "en papillotes" lately, but it is worth revisiting. Hilarious post, Pam!

  2. The food is beautiful, the story hilarious. I know exactly what bra you are speaking of and I think unless you area negative A (A minus?) cup, or perhaps 11, forget it. Kudos to you for giving it a go. Hoping once the brilliance of your friends started, the bra was forgotten. Very funny!

  3. Gorgeous entree...but I really want to see THE dress ;)

  4. hi Pam

    what a perfect meal, it must have been heaven when you opened the parchment to be met by the aromatics trapped inside that package! I'm glad to hear the opera went well, and I know I am speaking for everyone when I say we wanted to see you in that dress!!

  5. What a wonderful story! First, the fish in parchment was a perfect meal considering all the time and activity constraints. Delightful. Second, the dress. We have to see the dress!!

  6. What a great story! Your party (and prep) sounded great! And I'm seconding the 'show us the dress' request! (And those adhesive bra's never work btw, been there, done that, thrown them away!)

  7. LOL! What a fabulous story! Thank you for the laugh this morning! I salute your bravery! Your fish dish looks divine, as I'm sure you did in your gown!!!

  8. Just this week I suggested to a friend looking for a fish recipe to wrap in parchment with fennel. I find this combination to be one of my favorites. Your addition of shrimp is marvelous and I'm so jealous of your very sophisticated group of friends who would plan such a wonderful evening. happy new year. I had friends over too. We had take out and cheesecake. But it was still fun.

  9. you can't write a great post like that and not show us a picture of you in that dress...what a wonderful way to bring in the New Year! Me and my New Years Eve Wii party are jealous...Theresa

  10. The dress! The dress! You must show us a picture of you in the dress! I'm sure you looked fabulous, but I can't wait to see it.

  11. I just love wrapping food up in packages and waiting to reveal their makeover. Oh my, this looks so fresh. We are at the beach this weekend and I have splurged on all sorts of fish/seafood, and getting inspired for when I come home.

  12. Fantastic story about the perfect dress, the perfect evening, and the perfect meal! As with the others, I would like a picture of the best dressed couple at the opera that night! I think all ladies at some point have a story about the perfect dress and the stress of which undergarments will best go. I swear I spend more time finding the undergarments then I do finding the dress! Thanks for sharing.

  13. What a delightful post! We are all dying to see photos of the dress. You really had the perfect late night meal for New Year,light and yet so elegant in its simplicity. I love the way the "en papillote" method locks in all the natural flavours.

  14. I love that story! Thank you for sharing! And I love the FOOD! :)

  15. You sure made me laugh today, Pam. Great story, great food . . . . and I'm sure a great dress.

  16. What a great post! I loved reading your story. And the food looks beautiful. I was disappointed there wasn't a photo of the dress! ;)

  17. Pam, I don't know when I've laughed so hard! I'm with Liz, though, I'd love to see a photo of THE dress. Hope you have a wonderful week!

  18. I love cooking in parchment! Juicy and delicious :D

  19. Thanks for sharing the story! The food looks amazing as well!

  20. Haha I love this story and the food is gorgeous!!

  21. You got me with the title. Love the story and the food looks great!

  22. Oh how I wish you had posted a pic of the two of you!!! What a fabulous story. I'm with you... I'm about 5 years behind in age, but no less in need of the "hardware" that I don daily. Congratulations to you for carrying it off! I'm impressed.
    The party sounds so fun and your food looks delightful. Thanks so much for sharing this post!!

  23. Well, dear readers, here's the sad fact. Not one photo exists of our special night or The Dress or my handsome man. In my mad, frustrated, jiggly dash out the door, I left my camera behind.

    I'm sure you'll all relate to the fact though, that even if I'd had my camera, I'm usually on the opposite side of the lens.

    Again, have a good week! My best, Pam

  24. Ok Pam. I was born in France so I think I am well qualified to answer the question. Yes, I wear a bra...though at the moment, no. However, from the way that dress sounds, there wouldn't have been a brassiere in sight. It's France. They're still wondering what the big deal was with Clinton and Monica.

    On the other side, the dish looks and sounds fantastic. You made a great choice for a late night dinner.

  25. Well, there you have it, ladies and gentlemen... the lady from France (Christiane, The Mom Chef) has spoken. Sounds like the answer to the question is, "If you feel like it," which sounds like just about the right answer to most questions to me!!!

    Thanks, Mom Chef! You made me laugh with your oval office reference.

  26. Your narrative had me laughing till I cried... The secret with the french women is that they wear it and they own it- at any age. When I was recently in Paris I saw women to whom 40 is a milemarker in the rearview mirror wearing skirts up to "here"- stuff only the boldest American woman would wear- and they looked GREAT!!! We are not talking stick insects either..
    Glad you 'owned' it in your lovely black dress!! And the meal looks heavenly! What a way to ring in the New Year!

  27. Always making us laugh. I can only imagine the tizzy you were in before you left. I am glad it worked out.


  28. this French woman doesn't wear one! well i did for your wedding at least, but that was the first time since moving to OR!

  29. I was laughing so hard at your wonderful story, and couldn't wait to read to the end what happened with "the dress". Didn't your friends take a picture of everyone at the party? I bet that there is a picture somewhere?

    The contents of your parchment bundles look gorgeous and delicious!


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