Monday, 12 March 2012

Fantasy Dinner Party with Natasha Farrant


As part of the blog tour for The Things We Did For Love, I am happy to have the author Natasha Farrant here to tell us about her fantasy dinner party. 
FRANCE, THE HOME OF GOOD FOOD. That is where my fantasy dinner party is taking place. We’re wandering around a bit – this is a fantasy, after all – but essentially we’re on the South West coast, jumping between La Rochelle and the tiny island of Aix. And speaking of the home of good food – none of your fancy restaurants for me! For my fantasy dinner party, I want home cooking. More specifically, I want my grandmother. We’re eating outside. The long trestle table has been put out in the garden, covered with a white cloth. It’s still light, and the evening is warm. The girls and women are wearing summer dresses. The boys are in shorts. My cousin Marion, thick black curls hanging down to her waist, plays football with them barefoot on the lawn. Her little brother (now well over six foot, but in my fantasy the gloriously suntanned, curly headed, diabolical little cherub of ten years ago) keeps getting in everybody’s way. Both my grandfathers are here – André, the French one, who died twenty years ago, and Fred, the English one, who died when I was two. Over glasses of pineau (cognac blended with lightly fermented grape must), served with wafer thin slices of saucisson, little brown olives and Lays crisps (thinner and less salty than their English counterparts), I bombard them both with the questions I never got to ask when they were alive. Like so many people who have never known war, I am fascinated by it. Fred talks (as he never did in real life) about his experiences in the trenches of northern France in World War I. André counters with stories of life in France under German occupation in World War II. I listen, amazed at the experiences of these two men who once held me as a baby.ad. I love it.

It’s time for dinner now. My siblings, cousins, uncles, aunts, parents, grandparents, husband and children, nieces and nephews all take their seats around a magically expanded table. We eat tiny Charentais melons cut in half, scooping out their sweet orange flesh with a spoon. After the melon come tiny shrimp, known as grises locally, which we peel meticulously and eat on slices of baguette slathered with fresh unsalted butter. Antoine de St Exupéry has joined us, the dashing author of The Little Prince but also (amongst others) of Night Flight, Flight to Arras and Wind, Sand and Stars, and a fascinating collection of wartime letters. St Ex wasn’t only a writer – he was also an aviation pioneer, and he flew all over the world, including the Sahara, where he crashed and was rescued by Bedouins. His plane was shot down over the Mediterranean in 1944. He’s a great storyteller. We are all spellbound by his stories, especially the children (and the women – he is not handsome but he is very, very charming).
Because this is my dinner party, there is no main course. I hate main courses. Instead we have a salad of tomatoes fresh from my great-aunt’s garden, which smell like nothing you would ever buy in a supermarket, with some of that very green, strong olive oil and a bit of lemon juice, and really good ewe’s cheese from the Pyrenees. Napoleon and Tolstoy have joined us, and Napoleon is unimpressed by the meagre fare. Luckily my uncle caught a couple of sea-bass this afternoon, and somebody rustles them up with fronds of leafy fennel, served with steamed potatoes and beurre blanc, a wonderful butter sauce made with white wines and shallots. Miraculously, it’s enough to feed everybody. Napoleon is a bit ambivalent about this stretch of coast – it was from the tiny island of Aix, 30 kilometres south of La Rochelle, that he set sail to surrender to the English in 1815 – but he is very interested to meet Tolstoy, who brought his military campaigns so vividly to life in War and Peace. Nobody knows quite to make of this – Napoleon! A tyrant and yet the man who probably more than any other shaped modern France… This is historic.
 As for Tolstoy, I am speechless. There are so many questions I want to ask my literary hero – mainly, how do you do it? How do you write on such an ENORMOUS canvas, in such detail, with so many characters, such depth, so many layers. Instead, remembering that he is a vegetarian, I ply him with dishes – ratatouille, green beans sautéd in garlic, a salad of lentils, parsley and feta. He thanks me. Leo Tolstoy thanks me! But Napoleon has decided our kitchen is hopelessly disorganised and is showing alarming signs of wanting to introduce a system to manage our madness. My grandmother firmly shows him the door. Tolstoy and St Exupéry also take their leave. St Ex flies off, his plane skimming the treetops. Tolstoy leaves in a troika.
Time for dessert, announces my grandmother and we all gather back round a table laden with apple tarts, coffee éclairs and profiteroles from the patisserie. There’s also her famous apricot cake, her chocolate cake and her rice pudding, as well as a tall, glittering pyramid of greengages.
Later I will go down to the harbour and get in my sailing boat with my husband, the children and a few favourite cousins. We’ll sail out in the moonlight, all the way to Aix, where we will imagine our dinner guest walking along the fortified ramparts which overlook the harbour, waiting for the boat to take him to England and StHelena. We’ll walk along the deserted beach and maybe even swim, being careful to avoid the dangerous oyster beds. For now though, we forget about everything except for the food before us, and we eat.
Thank you Natasha for a fabulous dinner party.

To find out more about Natasha Farrant:

Twitter: @natashafarrant1
Blog: http://natashafarrantsbigbookblog.blogspot.com/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Natasha-Farrant/236532149774119?v=info
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THE THINGS WE DID FOR LOVE writing competition launched on THE SPARK today too.  The link to competition  is http://www.facebook.com/thesparkpage?sk=app_128953167177144. Anyone entering has the chance of winning an ipad or the runner up prize of an e-reader! So go take a look!

8 comments:

  1. Fab fantasy dinner party - love that you've made it into a story! :D

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    1. Isn't it fabulous. Imagine Napoleon at the dinner table.

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  2. Wow what an amazing dinner party!

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  3. What a line-up. Great idea that there is no main course, at my dinner party I'd stick with three desert courses.

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    1. Now I would more likely have three main courses. #nosweettooth

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  4. Lol, now this was an awesome dinner party

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