Showing posts with label Christmas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christmas. Show all posts

Monday, 1 February 2016

French delicacies


Christmas finally! What a long wait – and, sadly for my son, the wait will start all over again in a few hours. We’ve reached that point in the afternoon when, feeling rather like the stuffed turkey, we’ve all retreated to the various parts of the house to rest our inflated stomachs and have some time-out. My daughters are happily watching the first of the five seasons of ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ which came tucked in their Santa sacks. Their arrival today explains why the girls, through my husband’s ebay account, were never the lucky final bidders on all the auctions selling the series that they had repeatedly asked him to bid on. My son started building his Ninjago Lego temple and dragon at nine o’clock this morning and, apart from lunch and a short walk, he has not moved from his room all day, so intent is he on his construction. The adults are either sleeping, reading or sleeping while reading.

In fact, we didn’t even make it through lunch. We had to pause after main course leaving the wonderfully aged Vacherin des Bauges cheese course, the Christmas pudding made in Australia and flown over in my parents’ luggage and the beautifully crafted and decorated gingerbread house and papillottes that were to finish the meal. Little wonder given the amount that we had already eaten.

As an aperitif we served a Cremant from Bourgogne, which is what we used to call champagne but cannot officially anymore, as it is not produced in the Champagne region. To the sparkling wine, we added a liqueur with raspberry overtones, bought at the castle in Chambord in the Loire Valley. To be honest, when I bought it I had no idea if it tasted good or not but the bottle was exquisite and the description on the label sounded encouraging. If you did not know any different you could be forgiven for thinking that it was a perfume bottle. It has a beautiful shape and its cap is decorated in fake jewels, no doubt alluding to the castle’s royal past. The style of drink, wine with a fruit-based liqueur added, is called a ‘kir’ in French or a ‘kir royal’ if champagne replaces the wine.

To accompany the drink, my husband had made various delicately presented blinis and, on the recommendation of our French friends, had prepared the foie gras, a Christmas delicacy, on top of a slice of ginger cake, all topped with an onion jam. It was an unusual sweet and sour combination, which masked the taste of the foie gras. I couldn’t help thinking that if you were going to consume all the calories in the foie gras, it would be better to actually be able to taste them.

An unnecessary, but now compulsory, part of the meal followed – the snail test. Just before our first Christmas here, at the tiny market in Marceau, we came across a snail breeder selling his snails. They were presented in edible puff pastry cases and, as we were throwing ourselves resolutely into doing as much as possible in the French way, we had decided to include them on our Christmas menu. The green colour was a bit off-putting and the garlic butter that they swam in, powerful, but, encased as they were in pastry, they resembled just another innocuous hors d’oeuvre and slid down reasonably effortlessly.

The second year here, we bought snails in their shells, frozen and ready to heat in the oven. This time, naturally enough, the snail shells were inedible, so the still clearly identifiable, curled snail bodies needed to be hooked out of the shell with a small fork. They came out with a faintly audible sucking noise looking very green and smelling very strong. This presented too much of a challenge for my sister’s children, who were here visiting from Australia. As the hosts, we were obliged to lead by example and so I had to put on a brave face and resist the overwhelming spontaneous gagging reflex.

So why, you ask, did we force ourselves to go through that again this year if it was such a challenging experience? For one, they look perfectly edible, presented as they are in their frozen packets at the supermarket. You see only the shells and the top coating of herby looking butter and think that it really cannot be that bad. Secondly, and more importantly, we had guests again and they could not come to France without learning to say ‘merci’ instead of thank-you at the baker’s as they bought their morning croissant, and they could not leave without eating snails.


My father’s competitive spirit enabled him to pass his snail test with flying colours, outdoing the miserable failed attempts of his grandchildren the year before. His reward - the rest of the meal, where we had graciously omitted the frogs' legs, boudin and andouillette (more innards masquerading as sausages), in favour of prawns, pork and salmon.

And still they come to visit…



Friday, 15 January 2016

Between children


It was the same for my daughters growing up in Australia. They went through a period of questioning the existence of Father Christmas. My son came home a few weeks before Christmas and announced that only he and one other boy in his class believed in Le Père Noël. They had had a conversation about this amongst the students and he had felt strongly enough about his convictions to not be swayed by popular vote and had voiced his belief out loud.

He had found an IPhone application that asked a series of questions of children and on the basis of their answers put them onto Santa’s naughty or nice list. He came out with a B+, which placed him on the nice list, although the final application message was a warning to remain on his guard, as Santa’s elves would continue to check up on him. He was chuffed about this and got his older two sisters to do the same test to see if they would be lucky enough be put on the right list with him.

A week or so later he came home and said that he didn’t believe any more as he had been called a ‘baby’ for still believing. He looked crestfallen and unsure about whether he had made the right choice. After all, he had written a beautiful letter to Santa, had included pictures cut out of magazines, of the toys that he wanted, and had wrapped it all carefully in a special piece of fabric. Independently, he had found an envelope for his offering. The envelope had simply been addressed, on the back, in his childish handwriting to Le Père Noël. It broke my heart to think of him sadly having to turn the page into a logical rational world instead of being allowed to remain in his magical fantasy one.

Then again there were no age limits to children being hurtful to each other, unintentionally or deliberately. My middle daughter at high school had participated in an inter-school cross-country event and on this occasion had mixed with students from her school that she had not come across before. One of the girls after having chatted with my daughter for all of a minute said, ‘You look like Polly Pocket. I think I’ll call you Polly.’ This annoyed my daughter more than upsetting her but my older daughter who had been listening to this story being told in the car on the way home, and who was usually so quiet and so polite burst forth with, ‘You should have said to her, you look like a dog. I think I’ll call you dog.’ I laughed all the way home.

Of course, she never would have said such a thing and I would have been most upset if she had, but occasionally it did them good to get rid of some of the inevitable antagonism of the schoolyard by speaking about it. A program on French television called ‘Fais pas ci, fais pas ça,’ centered on the daily lives of a few families. In one episode, a family was attempting to work out a date for a birthday party for the teenage daughter. Unexpectedly, the birthday girl had flounced out of the room and it was left to her older sister to explain to the mother that the date that she had proposed coincided with the party of the most popular girl in the class. No one would choose to come to her sister’s party.

Later in the same show the sisters sat the mother down and went through with her the different categories of students at the school; the popular ones, the semi-popular ones (the dangerous ones) and the bozos (stupid, not popular). Once a bozo always a bozo, they went on to explain to her, and unfortunately that was where the younger daughter had placed herself. She was still to learn that some of the most interesting people fitted comfortably into that last category and usually the most intelligent were those that simply did not care about being there.