The main course of our French feast à la the Smythe-Subers

Time and money are scarce in our household right now. Oh, we have plenty of money to buy groceries, heat our house, pay the bills. We are surely blessed. But there’s not a lot of excess. We’re not scheduling any jet-setting to Paris in the near future.

Shannon works her magic

So, you can imagine our excitement when we were invited over to our friends’ house in Trenton, New Jersey to experience a homemade meal. My friend Shannon is an excellent cook … always. But she was trying out recipes from a new cookbook (which is now on my Christmas wish list, by the way). It’s Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan.

I’d heard an interview about the cookbook on NPR, which had already piqued my curiosity. And Shannon had thoroughly planned our menu–planning is one of Shannon’s specialties–course by course.

(I just noticed that there are several recipes available on NPR’s website, if you’d like to try them out: we had this, but this cake is different than the one we devoured.)

We also got to visit their new third-floor apartment in a huge, old house in Trenton. They’d done a great job working with the space. (We’d last seen it filled with boxes on their rainy move-in day.) Their decor, along with the unique molding over the doors and the lovely wood floors, only added to the appeal of the whole dinner.

We started with drinks and homemade cheese crackers. Delicious.

Just look at this set up:

Salad, crackers, lentils

Next came a salad. I can’t remember exactly, but I believe there were mixed greens, a vinaigrette, goat cheese, and roasted beets (yum!). I loved the salad. How can you go wrong with beets and goat cheese? I wager that you can’t.

The heart-shaped cracker accompanies the salad

We had a soup course, too, which was deliciously warm and rich. I think it was cauliflower. My recollection is imprecise. I think I had a haze of food-joy going on! Aren’t the table linens great, too? 🙂

Soup and salad

Look at that! Was the soup garnished with bacon? I think so. No wonder I blissed out.

Shannon served lentils with the stuffed pumpkin dish. The pumpkin was rich, but you felt justified in downing massive amounts of cheese because the pumpkin was a healthy, piping hot medium for the cheese.

The main course itself, pumpkin and lentils

I was so glad I had a backstage pass, though, because the pumpkin was cool to see fresh from the oven. It actually deflated a little bit after sitting out, but rest assured: the deliciousness was unabated.

The cooked, stuffed pumpkin, fresh from the oven

Did I mention that we were entertained all the while by THIS character?

Next came the cheese course. I felt transported back to my only trip to Paris back in 2001. I was in college and had never before heard of a cheese course. Ahh, but I learned quickly to appreciate it.

Shannon picked these cheeses out at the Trenton Farmer's Market. It is a treasure. And each cheese was so distinctively good.

I can't believe this is the best picture I got of the cake! It was sooo delicious!

Finally, we had the dessert course and coffee. Can you believe we still had room? The dessert was a delicious apple cake. It was rustic and so French. I can’t quite explain why. It reminded me of something you’d buy in a French bakery. (Or a German bakery, like many I’ve been to, that has many, many French items.) You’d cherish its moist density, alternating bites and swigs of dark, bitter coffee. Shannon served the cake with vanilla ice cream from Halo Farm (another Trenton treasure).

The dinner was delicious. The company was wonderful and fun. The dog was adorable (I’ll close with a picture of him). And I was reminded that my mouth and senses can travel a long way … without booking a plane ticket. A fabulous cookbook, a well-selected menu, and an adventurous (and skilled, in Shannon’s case) cook can really transport you to another world! I know that the menu was a splurge. But the cost pales in comparison to a trip to France. And although we definitely hope to visit there (among a host of other places), this tastebud-trip was wonderful in and of itself.

Cooking at home isn’t a consolation prize, it makes travel a real, thoroughgoing lifestyle. It’s even more fun to share the food journey with friends. Weren’t we lucky? I loved this meal. Merci, Shannon and Kevin. C’est magnifique!

Linus dressed for dinner. Dapper gent!