Chateau de Saint Paterne: Paradise on a Deadline

It was just what the doctor ordered and probably what my editor would have ordered if she’d known that my plan was to spend our vacation giving my book’s manuscript its last read-through before sending it off to her.

The Chateau dates from the 15 th century and has been in the de Valbray family for 500 years, although the warm, welcoming and adorable Charles-Henry de Valbray, his wife, Segolene, and their three little boys are the first of the family to ever make the place their home.  Charles-Henry and Segolene, both educated in America, have Gallic grace and charm and Stateside friendliness, an unbeatable combination. They are terrific hosts and he’s a superb cook.  In fact, dinner at the Chateau — more about this in a minute — would be reason enough to take the 2 1/2-hour drive from Paris.

While we did venture out to explore Alencon and its market and have a sweet lunch at Maison de l’Horbe in the town of La Perriere, mostly Michael sat outside and read and I stayed in our gorgeous room, pretending I was the chatelaine and working.  Our windows were the two long ones on the right and they looked out over the huge garden, so I felt a little like a princess in a tower, albeit a princess on deadline.  (Trust me, I’ve been on deadline in far worse circumstances.)

And then, at 8pm, we’d descend the wide winding staircase for cocktails in the salon with the other guests, a lively group — the people we spoke to came from France, America, England, Australia and Hong Kong — all with one thing on their minds: What would Charles-Henry make for dinner?

I wish I had pictures, but the beautiful dining room is lit only by candles and I opted to enjoy the lovely meal while it was hot rather than to try to figure out the settings on my camera.  Next time … But I do remember the menus:

Dinner Number 1:  Foie Gras Mousse (more like an emulsion) topped with Asparagus Mousse (also more like an emulsion); Quail en Cocotte, rather like my chicken in the pot, each little bird was tucked into a cast-iron cassolette and roasted with preserved lemons and baby fennel (I’ll be making this later this fall, for sure); cheese and salad; and Apricot Tarte Fine, a strip of puff pastry baked with perfectly ripe apricots (I had a dream about it that night).

Dinner Number 2:  Ceviche Salad with Vietnamese Flavors (Charles-Henry has spent a lot of time in Vietnam); Gigot d’Agneau and Provencal Eggplant, Tomato and Zucchini Tian; cheese and salad; and warm Chocolate Fondant, its center lava-like.

Simple, lovely and so delicious.

If you can’t get to Chateau de Saint Paterne, but you read French, you can cook Charles-Henry de Valbray’s food chez you: he’s got a really good cookbook.

And, just in case you’re wondering, I met the deadline!  (Well, most of it…)


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