Long, languorous, elegant…these words all describe the Sunday lunch in the country we were invited to yesterday. Our hosts, Alain Madonna and Philippe Saintjean, sent out their five dogs to greet us. All but one stopped politely right in front of us. The rebel, Dusty, leapt into the car, a wriggling bundle of happiness. She was once ours; the reunions are always filled with joy!
The four calm, truly French dogs – all Bouviers de Flandres – were more typical than our former, excitable “mutt.” But calm or lively, dogs are as much a part of a French Sunday lunch in the country as the cheese platter.
We were ushered into the high-ceilinged sitting room of our friends’ 16th century manor house. A fire was burning in the walk-in fire place; crystal glasses and a tiered dish with nuts and chips in it were set on a small, round table. The tiled floor, unvarnished, gave off a rosy little cloud of heat from the pipes that run beneath it.
Our first course, minus dogs, was a gorgeous salad of tender greens topped with quickly sautéed scallops. Served with a Quincy, it was luscious. We partook in the dining room, another high-ceilinged affair with another blazing fire. At one end of the room, 17th century faience de Rouen decorated the entire wall; it’s hues of deep and pale blue reflecting light from the windows.
Philippe is a collector of valuables; there are ancient wooden sculptures placed tastefully below paintings from known Norman artists like Marcel Couchaux, whose chickens in the courtyard evoke Norman country life. The table was set with sterling, the triple set of crystal glasses shone, and each course – there were four – had a different plate.
Course number two was roast lamb shoulder studded with garlic and rosemary, perfectly sautéed potatoes, and green beans. The Corbières served with it was rich and inky black.
We meandered through the St. André, Livarot, Tomme de Savoie and Brie de Meaux, and took a short break before returning to dessert, a fluffy hazelnut cake called a “russe.”
The sun was setting when we took our leave. All dogs were splayed out in front of the fire, including Dusty. As overjoyed as she is to see us each time we visit, her life is replete with space, treats galore, and her own private Louis XVI armchair for sleeping.