Armed with a little bit of French history and a little bit of the French language, I attended the Alliance Francaise de Toledo Summer Picnic and Bastille Day Celebration last Sunday held at Georgeann Brown's country home near Ida, Mich.
For many in the local Alliance chapter, celebrating Bastille Day is a way to enjoy French food and speak the French language with each other when possible.
Ms. Brown, proprietor of Un Coup de Main cooking school, prepared the main course for the picnic and attendees brought French-style dishes to share. Assisted by her husband, Mark Eleniewski, Ms. Brown prepared Shrimp Provencal on the grill; grilled boneless leg of lamb, and salmon grilled with dill aioli. Appropriate wines were served.
Today is Bastille Day, a national holiday in France. It is celebrated worldwide on July 14 every year to commemorate the 1789 capture by the people of the Bastille prison in Paris, a symbol of tyranny.
New York City, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and other American cities have large Bastille Day celebrations each year. Toledo has a few as well. You don't have to be a Francophile to recognize the impact the French have had on American history as well as the world of food.
Ohio and Michigan both trace French explorers in their histories. Gallipolis, a lovely little town in southern Ohio on the Ohio River, was settled in 1790 by French aristocrats escaping post-Bastille Day, pre-revolutionary France with the promise of new life in the American Frontier. The French presence in Detroit and southeastern Michigan is well-documented.
As I planned what French-style dish I would bring to the Toledo Alliance's event, I pondered whether to prepare vichyssoise, the creamy potato and leek soup served cold, or would I have time to make the small butter cake/cookie known as madeleines? Neither. Instead I made palmiers, the puff pastry dough that is sprinkled with granulated sugar, folded and rolled several times, and then cut into thin strips and baked.
Among the dishes brought by the guests were Tom and Kathy Reed's beautiful, delicious vegetable terrine; Joyce Blanton's fougasse, the savory bread brushed with olive oil and made with herbs; Cindy Nensel's ratatouille, and her daughter Amelia Contreras' sourdough bread made in the French style.
Tonight, 25 guests will gather on the patio of Walt Churchill's Market, 3320 Briarfield Blvd. Wine manager Austin Beeman and Chef Bill Kohloff of Walt Churchill's have planned a six-course dinner of French food and wine for Bastille Day. The sold-out event will include vichyssoise with chili pepper coulis; smoked fish with Dijon mustard sauce; grilled fruits with roasted mushrooms, grilled radicchio with avocado dressing; veal chop with a basil-walnut pesto served with quinoa; lamb rib chop with cherry wine sauce, and for dessert, three berry shortcake - a red, white and blue creation. A selection of French wines will accompany the dinner.
"Most French cooking centers around animal dishes with fresh fruit or vegetables and are sauce-based," said Mr. Beeman, who will wear a beret for the occasion and play his CD collection of French music. "We control portions of dishes so people don't feel stuffed."
At Treo restaurant in Sylvania, a wine-tasting celebration of France's Independence Day, "La Jour de la Bastille," with French wines from Burgundy and Bordeaux will begin at 7 p.m. It is $15 per person. For information call the restaurant at 419-882-2266.
Let all of these events inspire you to plan a little French food and/or wine at your house tonight and even talk with your children about French contributions to American history.
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