On Saturday night we had friends round for dinner - always a joy.
It's a long time since our first angst-ridden invitations to natives of this Land of the Bonne Cuisine, when I hyper-ventilated my way through three days of preparation, (George unflinchingly laid-back), and guests had a sandwich before they left home Just in Case. (We always clung to the possibility they were joking).
These days their gay banter (and ours) is almost comprehensible, and we have a repertoire of simple but UTTERLY DELICIOUS recipes gleaned from magazines, cookbooks, and Bon Appetit Bien Sûr! on TV.
So why, oh WHY on this occasion, did I let George talk me into doing Stew and Dumplings?
My own thoughts had leaned towards a delicately-spiced "Chicken Tagine with Citron Confit" (from my Tagines for Any Old Nincompoop book). George, however, insisted that Dumplings would be a fascinating new taste sensation for French palates, and that a Big Pot of Festering Stew is just what everyone needs on a cold winter's night.
To do what with?
Back in the Old Country I used to make this every time we had Roast Chicken leftovers - easy and flavoursome. But it was never on the list of what to impress guests with; usually when you parade a dish to the table with your triumphant (but modest) smile, then flamboyantly whip off the lid to gasps of wonder, you're not proffering... A Medley of Animal Bits and Root Veg. Where's the panache?
So I suppose my heart wasn't in it, and I found myself frenziedly chucking in all sorts to add a bit of verve - bushfulls of withered thyme from our kitchen sill, several tattered bay leaves I found at the back of the pantry, a halved lemon (astonishingly potent)...
But what caused universal bewilderment was, of course, the sight of the dumplings bobbling around on the surface like lumpy balls of putty. It's funny how much menace someone can put into the phrase "what are those?" when they think you're trying to kill them.
I have no idea what went wrong - you'd think it was impossible to make dumplings chewy. But our guests valiantly ate them, and even accepted seconds.
They haven't been in touch since with final appraisals. But they're probably still ruminating.