If you have been following this blog, you will know that I have travelled to France numerous times. Like many of you, I love all things French!
In Tish Jett’s second book, “Living Forever Chic”, she opens the doors into the French home showing us “l’art de vivre“, a well-lived life. Frenchwomen love their homes. They are highly organized allowing them to entertain friends and family with ease. I can only dream about that blissful state of mind!!! Their secret to entertaining is simplicity. The food they cook is made with the best “in season” ingredients. Their confidence comes with serving tried and true recipes, they make as much as possible ahead of time, and the first course is on the table when guests arrive … a surprise to me was that, like many of us (me), Frenchwomen have sought out a good caterer or a takeout company (like Pichard’s) to serve food at their dinner parties. With good wine, champagne and lively conversation what could go wrong?
Heirloom silver and china are used for every day. As Tish Jett said, “if you use your silver every day there will be no need for polishing.” The dining room table gets a lot of attention when entertaining, “l’art de recevoir“, the art of receiving. Hostesses set a beautiful table with thick underpads, cloth tablecloths and napkins. They mix and match dinnerware patterns and glassware. Fresh flowers, often from a cutting garden, fresh herbs or fruits and/or branches of berries from shrubs or trees make seasonal centrepieces. Candles (with the exception of votives) are flickering at eye level (the most flattering level for everyone!). * Highly scented flowers and candles are not used on the table so as not to compete with the flavours of the food. Seating arrangements are planned with care, (usually alternating male/female) and guests are expected to spend time equally with their companions on the left and right. Placecards must never be rearranged by guests! And, of course, music plays discreetly in the background.
A well-stocked pantry provides freedom to whip up something tasty for an impromptu get together. If the basics are available, there is no stress…I can only imagine!!! Suggestions of what to have on hand include pasta, tomato sauce (homemade), potatoes, rice, eggs, long-lasting milk, canned fish, onions, garlic, bread and homemade jam (which most Frenchwomen make). Included with the basics are flour, sugar, spices and coffee and tea, and of course, wine and champagne.
Linens are often past down through the generations. These treasures are lovingly cared for. An organized linen closet keeps bedding sets in the proper rotation, always put freshly laundered linen on the bottom of the pile. It’s suggested that you have three sets (minimum) of bedding for each bed and if folded with the bottom sheet tucked into the ironed top sheet it makes for easy access. Towels are colour matched to the bedding. Although the linens are usually in white or a neutral colour, a patterned or colourful boutis (quilt) is placed at the bottom of the bed. Linen closets are cleaned thoroughly once a year.
What’s more luxurious than sliding into a bed freshly made with clean, crisp bedding? Dressing a bed in pretty sheets and pillowcases collected over time lets your guests know that they are special and gives them a hint of who you are.
Savon de Marseille soap has been a staple in French households for centuries. Made from olive oil and alkaline ash from marine plants native to the Mediterranean, this soap is used to clean everything from precious linens to hardwood floors. It is totally biodegradable making it environmentally friendly. Natural products, vinegar and lemon, are preferred over chemicals. Moths are kept at bay with lavender sachets and cloves sprinkled in clothes closets and linen closets.
Many of us are enamoured with the French and Frenchwomen, in particular, for the way they present themselves and how they live their lives. We love their lived-in yet elegant decorating style where antiques happily sit next to Ikea pieces. When I had my home decor store, I had trouble keeping French soaps and linen water in stock. Also in demand was the beautiful tablecloths, bedding and matelasse quilts from France. Fresh lavender flew out the door. I know women from North America also love their homes and the people they choose to invite in. Tish Jett was able to peel back some of the mystery of Frenchwomen, generously sharing with us so that we, too, may enhance our daily lives. Reading this book has inspired me to clean my closets and linen cupboard and actually keep a stocked pantry. She reminds us to take pleasure in these daily routines, and the rewards that being organized brings. These books, “Forever Chic” and “Living Forever Chic” are beautifully written offering a wealth of information. Frenchwomen often give books to friends as gifts, and I intend to gift my friends with these books too.
One day, I too would love to entertain like the French. I know my family would appreciate a stress-free dinner, one where everything in the kitchen went without a hitch, and I was calm……..