The good old saying “life gets in the way” works well here…but anyway, JOYEUX NOËL! Or if we’re going for the more politically correct version, JOYEUX FÊTES!
Like in Australia, Christmas in France revolves around food, food and more food.
For me the holiday spirit really kicked in when I went to the boulangerie on the morning of Christmas Eve (of which there are at least 4 in this town of 12 000 people!) to buy some baguettes for lunch. The line was long but I wasn’t bothered because it gave me more time to gaze at the delicious looking desserts and breads. Plus it was Christmas time – how can you be impatient at Christmas!
We arrived back and the household had grown by three people – Nicole’s sister, Monique, her husband, Gilles and their granddaughter, Maëlys. They were all delightful, and great company for the next few days!
For the French, or at least in this household, Christmas Eve evening, there is a massive meal which we all dressed up very nicely for. So in between lunch of Baeckeoffe of Alsace, and the large meal to come, we went for a wander around Genas, and I found another lovely street I hadn’t explored. I mucked around and had a great time with Maëlys (almost 6).
Later Dom went to pick up his Mum, and his son, Romain arrived sometime in the early evening.
We were finally a band of 9, and started the starters around 10pm.
That was followed by foie gras de canard, eaten with a type of salade green (called mâches) and homemade bread…I have to say that whilst most of the table was in love with the foie gras, I was not a big fan. Neither the texture nor the taste rocked my boat. I did, however, quite like the sweet wine that went with it.
For mains we had guinea fowl, cooked apples and cardoons (aka artichoke thistle, aka a totally new vegetable for Becky) gratiné.
Next the cheese platter marched up from the cellar to the dinner table, beautifully presented, and containing 11 different types of cheese – a camembert from Normandy, cheese from the Pyrenees make from ewe’s milk, from goat’s milk, from cow’s milk, and from a mix of ewe and goat’s milk, Saint-Marcellin, Saint-Nectaire, Tomme de Savoie, and two types of blue cheese. I tasted every single one of them between Christmas Eve and today, the day we have finally finished it!
Of course, there was another wine specifically for the cheese. And it was a red, as anyone who knows anything about wine in France would know (i.e. not me).
But my favourite new found thing on the cheese platter was the black cherry jam from the Pyrenees which we ate on homemade bread, topped with any of the 11 cheeses.
Bûche de Noël (Yule log) fait maison! What winter Christmas would be complete without at least one sponge cake rolled with butter cream (ours had a few tablespoons of cocoa powder added)? It was great fun to make, and almost as good to eat.
Around 1am the Cognac and the chocolate crept not-so-discretely onto the table. One tiny drop of the Cognac and I was safely back on the boat of water-drinkers. But I was completely and utterly convinced by the chocolate truffles, which made music in my mouth, with their perfect balance between sweet and bitter, soft and crunchy. And what’s more, they were a riot to make. Chocolate ganache, rolled in melted chocolate, then cocoa powder, then left to harden at room temperature (you can do that here!!!). If you’re not convinced, I will make you some and you will be.
Around 3am, after some dedicated BuzzFeed video watching, I fell asleep, my heart sparkling with anticipation for later that morning.
Hot chocolate, pain au chocolat – what a delicious breakfast. I started by dipping my pastry in the hot chocolate like everyone else was doing with their tea or coffee, but discovered that soggy pastries don’t light up my taste buds like crispy ones do, so I stopped immediately.
At 9:30am I Skyped my family! It was absolutely wonderful to see them all again, to talk to them face to face, I am so thankful that the technology exists to be able to spend a bit of Christmas with my family no matter how far apart we are.
We finished up as the presents began to unwrap themselves. I gave my host family a few tastes of Australia – a billabong t-shirt for Audran, a eucalyptus leaf necklace for Nicole, a Gurrumul Yunupingu CD for Dom, and an indigenous print tablecloth and a Paul Arnold book of stunning shots of the Territory for all of them.
I got all sorts of great things, including jewellery, recipe books, pot holders with 3D chicken heads, perfume, a Zaz CD, and a few beautiful cards from friends and family.
Before we tucked into the tucker, we went out for a brisk walk in the wintery air, which did a lot of good. We even encountered an old tank, and a dog who followed us all the way to the last corner before home, then scampered away.
With the seafood outside in the cold, we could get started on the aperitifs – wine, olives, white sausage, mushrooms, cauliflower, mayonnaise, tomatoes, cheese, and an unidentifiable but yummy white dip.
Next we got into the seafood, starting with the oysters, which we good on their own, with lemon juice, or with rye bread and salted butter.
Chocolate in many forms – base of brownie, mouse, cream, crunchy balls of chocolate and a powdery outside.
With lunch finished a bit after 4pm, I fell asleep on the couch watching Ice Age with Maëlys (I only had 5 hours of sleep so I think I earned it, plus, you know, the good old parasympathetic nervous system). I am almost certain I was not the only one to have napped a bit. About an hour later I awoke feeling strange to have napped during the day, and started writing up the past two days in my journal.
We had a simple vegetable soup for dinner, then played a game similar to Trivial Pursuit. Nicole won by miles, and in only two turns, we just couldn’t pick out a card that would trip her up! It was great fun.
We watched a film that obviously didn’t really capture me because I can’t remember for the life of me what it was, then headed off to bed around midnight.
The next day I went into Lyon with Nicole, Monique and Maëlys. I assumed it would be nuts, with Boxing Day sales everywhere. But man was I wrong. It was almost ghostly how few people there were, and there were sales here and there but nothing like the crazy Boxing Day ones I expected. Apparently the sales start in two weekends here.
It was horribly tedious, but the next few days were spent being forced to finish the delicious feast we started on the 24th and 25th December.
All in all, it was a wonderful Christmas. I wasn’t sure how I was going to go spending Christmas without my family for the first time, but from the bakery visit on the 24th I realised that I was still spending Christmas with my family – my second family here, and my family in Australia who are always with me with their love and support, and whom I am reciprocally always with. I think and hope I will remember this Christmas and be able to go back to the fond memories and new traditions. I certainly have a few to add to ours at home!
I hope you all had wonderful Christmases filled with awesome people, food and times as well!