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  • Shannon Elisabeth

my Countryside Culinary Retreats-Part I


Photos: Jane Hope


Last week, I had the pleasure of hosting (alongside my husband) another culinary retreat that honors the palate and the heart while paying homage to the countryside. He and I never aim to impress our guests; rather, we engage their senses and emotions and encourage connection.


These country affairs weave culinary classes, wine tastings, and cultural exploration. But I also nudge guests to focus on near things: listen to the wrens & merles or closely observe grand oaks and low-hung clouds. Experiencing the French countryside is like the thrill of the hard-won find at the market. Being present is the key.


Our guests stay at the elegant and welcoming Abbaye de Reigny, just a short drive through the woods from our cottage. Until we have a larger property to fully accommodate these retreats (someday soon, I pray), we shuffle from nearby venues to our place. My husband teaches chocolate-making skills in the mornings on the Abbaye property while I prepare meals in our cottage kitchen. One dear guest recently said my kitchen resembles a Dutch still-life painting. I suppose it is a tad curated: antique baskets laden with lemons, collections of pinned butterflies trim walls, and scores of nature books fill the bookshelves.

Planning the menus for these workshops is a creative delight. It involves hours of research, which begins at the market. The process involves adding some of my true self; otherwise, I would only duplicate (already perfect) French recipes. Where's the creativity in that? A pinch of spice and sea salt from the salty Gulf of Mexico of my youth can make tomato soup come alive. Or why not swap fleshy fruit to clafoutis instead of cherries? I layer all the senses and colors of spring without doing too much to change the food's state. Flavors should permeate time.


Sometimes, I mix antique French linens and silverware embroidered with monograms alongside new ones. Before guests arrive, I tie silk ribbons around flower linens and tuck wildflowers inside. I glue wild bird feathers to place cards and swath the table with beeswax candles of varying heights. It's the little details that rest in your memory.


My invigorating spring soup is a big hit, following rosemary gougères, and looks lovely in the mismatched antique bowls I buy at Vide Greniers! I soften a combination of leeks, spring onions, wild garlic, herbs, Noirmoutier potatoes, and other nourishing ingredients. It is a harmony of flavors, heated with vegetable stock in a large Staub cocotte. I dollop the soup with crème fraîche studded with tiny yellow peppery flowers. As they say, we eat with our eyes first.


I bake a Gigot d'agneau for hours -the longer, the better. The lamb is sheathed in freshly chopped herbs and generously drizzled with olive oil from Provence. It turns out fork-tender and pairs well with homemade Nettle Pasta, white asparagus, and vegetable printanière. I always serve family style instead of the French way of courses. It is less refined but quite friendly.


By 9:45 p.m., slanting light pours through the trees along the river, and the swans float past. There's a change in the air, and the candle stubs flicker in the breeze. Guests are relaxed and light-hearted. I slice the strawberry galette that I dusted with sugar and baked early this morning. This year, strawberry season is remarkable in France; my galette is packed with a sweet floral headiness and a little je ne sais quoi. Twenty-plus jars of confiture de fraises sit on my kitchen shelves as a testament to the season's bounty. I gift tiny jars of it to our guests.


The first evening is a great success. One guest seems spellbound after nibbling the strawberry galette. After a sip of Chablis, I smile, knowing I've put my heart and soul into this meal and look forward to the next few days.


I am still scribbling my recipes in a notebook and plan to post them très bientôt. Please check this post and social media soon to access them.


Part II coming soon...


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5 comentarios


ccuneo2
13 jun

Do you by any chance offer classes in MT?

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ccuneo2
14 jun
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Saw the Paris Breakfast post on your latest class and saw that you are from MT. Just happen to be traveling there the first week in October so was hoping.... May have to settle for ordering from your website!

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slowbotanicals
13 jun

This is beautiful. Your spirit and taste shine through. Thank you.

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Shannon Elisabeth
Shannon Elisabeth
14 jun
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Thank you so much! That means a lot to me! Shannon


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