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.
- 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.
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.
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 PuréeSeafood 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 deveined3 medium sea scallops per servingabout 1/3 medium fennel bulb per serving, sliced paper-thinabout 1/2 large shallot per serving, sliced paper-thinabout one carrot per serving, cut into thin matchsticks3 slices lemon per serving, sliced paper-thin1 Tablespoon butter per servinglight drizzle extra virgin olive oil per servingsea 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