July is a time for celebration on both sides of the Atlantic. The month holds great significance for France and America, so whether your flag of red, white and blue is striped or includes stars, revolution and independence are the raisons d’être for picnics and fireworks (les pique-niques et les feux-d’artifice.) After helping America win its war against the British, the American’s declaration of independence on July 4, 1776 emboldened the French and they decided to undertake their own revolution, which began with the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. We have a lot to thank our ancestors for, but, putting guts and glory aside, let’s talk about what’s on the menu for these summer public holidays! It seems we might actually have the French revolution to thank for the naissance of the picnic. While al fresco dining had long been popular with the wealthy ruling classes in France, it wasn’t until after the revolution that the royal gardens and parks became open to the public, making picnicking possible for everybody.
Fourth of July This year , why not keep your menu elegant yet simple, so that you can spend more time poolside with your guests. It’s always a good idea to have beer chilling on ice, but as a refreshing alternative, welcome your guest with a delicious and unique cocktail. My “ Independent Spirit” cocktail is a cucumber-rosemary infused vodka spritz, garnished with a slice of watermelon radish. For you west coasters who might need an extra kick, add a few jalapeños into the mix. Watermelon is quintessentially American. It’s the perfect appetizer for a hot summer day, cut into bite-size morsels; the addition of a leaf or two of arugula balances the sweetness of the fruit with a touch of bitterness. If up don’t have arugula, you can use basil in its place. Or, drizzle the watermelon with a balsamic vinegar reduction and some fine extra virgin olive oil. We often associate the Fourth of July with the Thirteen Colonies, so why not give a New England spin to a southern dish. Perhaps something like a sharable recipe such as a southern low country boil. Since I am a born and raised Connecticutian, I like to add lobster or Dungeness crab to the cornucopia instead of crawfish. For me, it’s all about making the extra effort. So, although this dish is usually tossed straight from the pan onto the table, why not elevate your guest’s experience by sacrificing a linen runner and serving the food alongside fine bone china. As for dessert, on a hot summer’s day; perfect in a pinch Popsicles! Try luscious cherry and blueberry flavors and introduce them as a delightful surprise when your guests need to cool down. Bastille Day For the French, food plays an essential role in their cultural identity. It is regarded as an art form; from the daily purchase of fresh bread at the local boulangerie, to exquisite dining options. At the same time, the French idea of a picnic seems to be whatever they have in the pantry at the time, still, with their reverence for quality and freshness it always manages to come up to par. Fresh, simple and local ingredients were key to that first French picnic experience; cheese, bread, fruit, all set against the backdrop of a vineyard in the golden light of a summer afternoon. My first celebration of Bastille day was in the Champagne region of Epernay. Nothing says celebration more to me than champagne, served ice cold of course. It can only be improved by the addition of one thing... caviar! I was 16 years old when I first tasted this delicacy, and luckily for me it happened to be triple zero Beluga (now unavailable, legally.) It literally brought tears to my eyes, so I think I was smart enough to appreciate it at the time! Jambon-buerre sandwiches can be made ahead of time and added to a basket of fruits-de-saison, local cheeses and of course the chilled champagne and caviar. Take a blanket, find the welcoming shade of an old tree and savor good food and good friends.