Memorable Meals: Episode 1, Barbecue in Duras

One of the most memorable meals  I have ever been invited to took place last year in the south of France- a barbecue hosted by a lovely family we had met there.  
We were expected for the aperitif at 7pm and we were not to be concerned about bringing any dishes. The weather had been somewhat threatening that day so we feared that our plans would have to be postponed, but by the time we arrived, wine and chocolates in hand, the dark clouds had cleared and we could look forward to an evening of outdoor dining à la campagne.  
When we arrived, our hostess Tessa set out some light crackers and nuts for us to munch on with our Pastis.  While she darted back and forth between the kitchen and the garden, we engaged in conversation with the chatty Cees.  He told us that he had just built the terrace we were sitting on and we marveled at the results.  The children happily frolicked about, grabbing some nuts here and there and asking when dinner would be ready.
The meal began with a board of sliced pâté accompanied by tiny, sweet cornichons and a small jar of onion confit, which as far as I?m concerned, is an absolute joy with almost any pâté.  I was given a knife and instructed to cut rounds from a crusty baguette. In the meantime, a bottle of the local sauvignon blanc was uncorked. The night was young and the conversation was as light as our spirits as we toasted to the good life and happily ate.
The next course was exemplary of the hostess? fine taste and obvious culinary knowledge.  A bright courgette soup, creamy yet light enough to let the flavor of the summer courgettes shine through, was offered in cheerful plates.  Each portion was garnished with a vivid orange nasturtium blossom.  We laughed and delighted as she told us how to suck out the nectar from the stem.  
But let?s not forget, this was a barbecue.  The main course consisted of an assortment of delicately marinated skewered meats.  Cees took over the grilling (always a man?s work) while bowls of various bean and pasta salads emerged from the kitchen- each one tasting fresh and very homemade. Our glasses were filled and as skies grew darker, we lit candles and talked about pursuing dreams, about letting go of fears and about taking risks. The sultry evening air, my beloved France, the good company and the gorgeous food was at that moment, nothing short of bliss.
When the cheese board came out, Cees and I discussed our appreciation of stinky cheeses, frog legs and other goodies which are sometimes seen as the ?crazies? of the French kitchen. I couldn't help but notice that the cheeses had been taken out of the fridge on time because their centers were soft and melting.
Dessert was just around the corner as was the culmination to this lovely evening. The sweet, refreshing end to the meal came in the form of sunny orange slices of Charentais melon. Like the courgette soup, the melon was a delicious reflection of the summer's bounty. Tessa told us about how she bought the produce fresh from the market from an old farmer that morning.
That evening, for me, was one I will always remember fondly. While being served foie gras on brioche might impress me,  I am more in awe of someone who is obviously passionate about what they are presenting and about how they are presenting it.  This was more than just another barbecue.  This was a meal prepared with attention and love.  Love for the food and for the enjoyment that comes with eating it in good company.

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