Diner en Blanc

Diner en Blanc. An event that started with a group of friends in Paris 20-plus years ago has turned into a global gathering, and I was lucky enough to attend Cincinnati’s first pass at it.

A very glamorous flash mob…wearing all white and taken to a secret location, you bring the party with you. Literally.

White table, chairs, linens, china, glasses; everything you need to set a lovely table. And the food, and wine, of course. It was really fun to see all of the creativity and effort people put into their settings; I went a bit sparse and modern, but was totally comfortable with that. I didn’t know what to expect, and it was a lot of work to get things together, so it was all about being super simple. Next year…the sky is the limit.

Our Humble Little Table
(image by The Global Reader)

The Menu

First Course – L’Apéritif

Some light bites, served with Champagne

Provencal Rosemary Almonds

adapted from a recipe at http://frenchfood.about.com/od/appetizershorsdoeuvres/r/rosemaryalmonds.htm

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons dried rosemary, crushed
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups raw almonds

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Put almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet
  3. In a small saucepan, melt butter
  4. Mix seasoning into the butter, and then pour over  almonds. Make sure all almonds are coated
  5. Bake for about 10-12 minutes, stirring once, until toasted and fragrant
  6. Remove from heat and serve warm or at room temperature

Prosciutto Wrapped Melon

No real recipe needed here. Wrap the melon of your choice and shape (slices, wedges, cubes) in prosciutto.

The First Course
(image by Todd F)

Second Course: L’Entrée

Cold White Bean Soup
Velouté de haricot

adapted from a recipe at http://www.easy-french-food.com/cold-soup-recipes.html#.UHwiRMWHL-8

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup chopped white or yellow onion (as mild as possible)
  • 2 – 15 ounce cans white beans
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Place onions in a food processor (or blender)
  2. Drain and rinse the beans completely;  add them along with the vinegar and olive oil to the onion.
  3. Blend until you have a smooth puree.
  4. Add the milk, cayenne pepper and cumin and blend again until you have a smooth liquid. If you think it is too thick, add a little water (or chicken stock)
  5. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Chill for at least 30 minutes, but also good at room temperature
The Second Course
(image by Todd F)

Third Course – Le Plat Principal

Served with a lovely French white wine.

I had big plans for this but to be honest, with all of the other preparations…I ran out of time. So I served store-bought roasted vegetable souffles (baked at home, in individual servings, and wrapped in tin foil a few minutes after coming out of the oven) with an arugula salad, lightly dressed. I will be going all out for this course next year…

The Third Course
(image by Todd F)

Fourth Course – Le Fromage

Had just a few selections – mostly Spanish. By this point, I no longer knew what wine I was drinking…but it was good.

We were having too much fun to remember to document the food…our neighbors were awesome. We were super lucky to be sitting next to them.

Our Awesome Neighbors
(image by Todd F)

Fifth Course – Le Dessert

Cardamom Madeleines

adapted from http://www.marthastewart.com/333936/orange-cardamom-madeleines

The original recipe is for cardamom cookies with an orange glaze, which I skipped for the evening. So good, even without it.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
  • 1 tablespoon good-quality honey
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs

Directions

  1. Brush molds of a madeleine pan with butter; set aside. Make the batter: Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat, and stir in honey and vanilla. Let cool 10 minutes.
  2. Whisk flour, baking powder, cardamom, and salt in a small bowl; set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 325, with rack in center. Stir together sugar and eggs in a medium bowl. Gently fold in flour mixture until combined. Add butter mixture, and fold until combined. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 30 minutes.
  4. Spoon batter into prepared pan, filling each mold halfway. Tap pan on work surface to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until cookies are puffed and edges are golden, 7 to 8 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack; let cool slightly. Unmold cookies onto rack, and let cool completely.

Balloons! Sparklers! Wine! Dancing! A truly memorable evening; I cannot wait until next year.

Diner en Blanc
(image by The Global Reader)

Cleopatra

As can happen sometimes, I jumped into this project with both feet – and without mapping out a schedule. Not really an issue of course, but I’m more than a little behind on my reading, and cooking. Oh well. This is a marathon, not a sprint, right? And lesson learned: I do need to give at least a small amount of thought to my pace, otherwise it will take 10 years to get through this…

Anyway.

To fill in the gap, I thought it would be fun to take a look around town and see if anything of Egypt exists in Cincinnati. As luck would have it, Cleopatra is visiting. How thoughtful of her!

Through mid-September, the Cincinnati Museum is hosting Cleopatra: The Exhibition. It highlights new archeological discoveries of her life and times, and offers up a nuanced image of her as a person and a leader.

Overall, I thought it was well worth the price of admission. I’ll go ahead and get the “negative” (if you even want to call it that) out of the way first: this exhibit is definitely based on the Vegas model of More is More. It is not a calm, soothing museum-like experience; there are lighting effects, a rather confusing flow of images, and more audio cues than you can sometimes process at one time, but viewed in a larger context, it really doesn’t matter. It’s built to handle crowds, and to convey information to a very diverse audience, and it does those things quite nicely.

That said, my husband and I were there on one of the first sunny Friday evenings in memory, and we had the place to ourselves. We had plenty of space and time to wander around, which I really enjoyed. The exhibit is primarily based on artifacts that have been salvaged from the Bay of Alexandria, the city where Cleopatra and her court resided. Just the history about the destruction of parts of the city, mostly from an earthquake and tsunami, was fascinating – especially in light of recent events in Japan.

I think I was most impressed by how stylish and graceful so many of the items were, and how diverse and lively the society appears to have been. These were obviously sophisticated people, so much so that The Romans seem dull and plodding in comparison. If I had been around then, I would have thrown in with the Egyptian crew for sure. Even their religion seemed fun!

Oh and the statues. The best part to me. Some of the smaller ones were very expressive; you can see the emotion and care that the artists put into them. And the pair that guarded Cleopatra’s temple – major wow factor is all I can say. I just hung around them for awhile; it was easy to imagine them at their posts, gleaming in the bright Egyptian sun and how they certainly inspired a sense of awe and reverence. I will probably go back before the exhibit leaves just to see them again.

But that’s enough about that. You deserve to have your own experience without my words rattling around in your head.

And one last thing you learn right at the end – Angelina Jolie is going to be the latest actress to play Cleopatra. I’ll probably go see that too.

Queen Cleopatra
(image from Wikimedia Commons)