Tonight, I am attending the monthly dinner of a supper club. The members of this club are a wonderful group of women, each beautiful and full of grace, each completely unique. The group was assembled because of passion: passion of each of its members for spectacular food, and because of the passion of one of its members for the idea of enchanted evenings sharing food, and our lives, around a rotating table. She herself hosted the first of the dinners, having arranged and orchestrated the club, and I the second. From there the hosting has rotated around the group, and each dinner has been a splendid marriage of food and fellowship, beginning with the aperitifs, and closing with coffee, dessert and libations. The hostess need not be overly taxed, beyond the setting of a welcoming table and cooking the main dish, as each guest brings one of the courses, rotating as the hosting rotates. The hostess chooses the menu and the recipes, and sets the tone for the evening.
At first, I was not certain whether this approach would lend itself to the achievement of the lofty goals established by the members. Trained as I am in all things French, I was skeptical about the investment of so much energy in an all-women dinner. Though I treasure my women friends, this is, after all, Dinner. At this confession perhaps you have suppressed a wry smile? But it will come as no great shock that I enjoy greatly the company of men, and there is no more suitable venue for the innocent and subtle art of flirting with handsome and witty and intelligent men than at table. I don't mean the sort of flirting that often passes for same in most of America: overt, over the top, sorority or frat style teasing, on display and ill mannered. I mean the French style, which is practically a national pastime, the intent of which is mostly affirming, and inquiring, and subtle: the drop of the eyes, the interested posture, the gentle affirmation of manliness or femininity, and most of all the conversation. It does not mean that you are extending an invitation to enjoy more intimate pleasures with the object of your flirtation, though the frisson of animated conversation and listening might suggest an elevated sensuality. But rather, to show genuine interest in another human being, particularly one of the opposite sex, if not to everyone, is to discover great wealth and pleasure in life, from which both the subject and the object of the exchange come away enriched and feeling alive. The French make an effort at these sort of gatherings to be both witty and seduissant, and if you have never been invited to a French table for dinner, the conversation might seem daunting if not downright formidable, so effortlessly does it navigate the waters of culture and literature and art and theatre and politics and religion and sex. Of course this is an exaggeration to make a point; not all French tables are so kissed by the Muses. However, it is true that at such a gathering, one's intent is to make one's dinner partners feel seduissant, as if they are the most clever, fascinating and mysterious persons you have met in a long while. The lovely thing about this is that when someone is made to feel this way, they often become just as they were made to feel, and the evening for both subject and object has been immeasurably enriched. Also, I think the point counterpoint between men and women, expertly matched, is an engaging dance, and to learn the steps, the pas de deux, of this dance, is an art all its own and equal to and complementary of the culinary triumphs to which it is married at table.
This is my tradition. Yet, my darling friend, who orchestrated this club, said absolutely at the outset that this evening was to be for women only. As she is as lovely a woman as I have ever known, I agreed to be one of its members, and the others were chosen by my friend for their ability to be what the French refer to as 'sympa', and for their culinary passion and skill. And so we began. And with each evening, hosted once a month, and skipping over the summer months, the kinship between us has grown and blossomed such that it is now nearly impossible to imagine not having been a part of this wonderful group of women, and been the fortunate recipient of so much wisdom and artisty. Each time I sit at table I am overtaken by the wonderful sense that my pleasure for the evening is in tremendously capable hands. The candles flicker, the crystal carries their light, and as the faces of my friends are illumined and I hear once again the soft melodies of their voices, I see clearly how each one of these women is the artist for her family. Each one has a unique style and beauty, and each is a talented cook. But even more, it is the hearts of these women that have captured me. I think the Muses were indeed whispering in the ear of my friend as she assembled the group, for I have never known such a kindred group of women, each with nothing to take, and everything to give.
We leave each dinner greatly enriched and it is as if we have been ministered to over the course of the hours at table. The food, and the wines, and the ambiance to be sure, is soul food. But even more than this, the joyous voices around the table, elevates the beauty of the dinner into a kind of art that has its own redemptive quality. At the last such dinner, we turned to one another about half way through the evening, and acknowledged that there was indeed a kind of deep magic afoot, and it had been growing on us since we arrived. I don't think that magic has waned any over the course of the summer hiatus. My friend had been correct. It was an inspired idea. And, we are planning to invite our men at the holiday dinner.
I am off to see to my contribution for tonight, which is a recipe from Tom Douglas our hostess for the evening has selected for one of the starter courses: Crab potato pancakes with lemon dill cream.