I generally only think of courses as things in fancy restaurants. Sometimes I would groan because I wasn't sure how I could manage to eat a salad with heavy dressing, a giant pasta dish, and then a chocolate dessert. But even though I was worried about my stomach exploding, I always managed to eat everything and enjoy it. This was not the same thing.
The French word menu not only means "bill of fare," for which la carte is the more common term in France, but also "little"; and by its use in relation to food, we mean to suggest our sense of small offerings. The essence of French gastronomy is to have a little of several things rather than a lot of one or two.
Let us consider the French plate. It's strange for us to have a whole meal on one dish, stranger still to see any plate covered with food. The arrangement of a course in the center of a plate is part of French enjoyment. Changing plates not only compels you to concentrate on what you are enjoying at that moment, it slows the meal down, improving digestion and promoting contentment. The faster you eat, the more you'll need. If washing an extra plate seems a bother, how does it compare with getting fat?
How can you argue with that kind of logic? So I started attempting courses. It was hard because even though I would cut back on my meals, they were still large enough that I would be almost full by the time I got to dessert. I couldn't figure it out until one evening I was speaking with my father about my French makeover, and he told me that he'd once been to a French friend's house. She was eating the meal with him, but served dinner to her husband. My dad said, "Man, if she had only served me that amount of food, I would have been insulted. I don't know how he survived on that."
It was like a lightbulb went off in my head. I knew exactly what size meals to serve, and I'm happy to report that cutting way back helped a lot. When I made soup, I only filled the bowl halfway and I only had half a slice of bread. And it worked. I didn't need the extra like I thought I did.
I don't want you to think I was totally starving myself. I originally thought I couldn't eat much, and when I saw Mirielle's menus I was confused and excited. I loved the variety, but it seemed like I would only eat a small bit from each. Which I guess was the point. Below is her spring menu:
Spring Menu du Jour
Cereal with strawberries
Slice of whole-wheat or multigrain bread
Coffee or tea
Cherry clafoutis without dough
Grilled Spring Lamb Chops
Glass of red wine
That is a ton of food! I still don't eat ALL of that, but I'm getting a lot variety in each meal without eating a lot of food like I used to.