This year we have only but un petit Noël. We are in the process of moving home and want to be finished by end of December. Typical. Waiting until the last minute to get a lot of things done. And so Noël will have to stand over to next year when I will make up for it in our new home here at Coin Perdu(hopefully restored and liveable by that time..)
To have at least some Christmas spirit in our current barn/home, I put up a branch with some decorations which weren’t packed away too deep. The result is a very rustic tree…and what do you know..without planning it, it turned into a story tree! I am now very chuffed with our impromptu story tree!
“One day…in a forest far, far in the cold North, was a large forest where the animals roamed gay and free. It was a magical world, undisturbed and quiet, with soft snowflakes sifting gently to the ground and covering the landscape in a coat of white glitter. There were three quaint little houses with strawberry red walls. Birds were visiting freely, dropping letters through the windows of the three strawberry houses, where Pére Noël and his elves would sort and read them; while laughing, singing and dancing and working. Then one silent night , the reindeer broke through the darkness with bells and glitter and song, a hearty laugh echoed through the forest as Pére Noël waved his hand to his family, on his way through a sky of shooting stars to deliver happiness and joy to an outside world.”
..the forest was filled with birds and ice and mosss and lichens..
…and the elves worked while they danced and sung merry songs..
..the reindeer were ready, waiting…
Three quaint houses with strawberry red walls..
..and the skies were bright with shooting stars..
May you all, on that dark night when the stars will be extra bright and you hear a hearty laugh, receive countless gifts of happiness and joy!!
This is the last post of our menu and it is with a touch of sadness that I say goodbye for now… I enjoyed sharing this menu with all of you and I enjoyed all the comments and visits and stories, kindness and care. Thank you!
With this festive dessert I wish you all a very joyeux Noël. May you all be just as festive in spirit!
- Cut 4 apples in 4 slices.
- Melt butter and dip the slices in the melted butter.
- Marinate some dried raisins, nuts and cranberries in amaretto liqueur.
- Rollther apple slices in a mixture of sugar and cinnamon and restack the slices to form a turret of apple with fruit in between the layers.
- Place in an oven proof oven pan, top with a knob of butter and bake for 30 minutes.
- Sauce: Heat 150ml milk and 150 ml cream. Whisk together 3 egg yolks and 40g sugar until light and thick. Add to the warm milk while whisking and continue whisking the mixture until it thickens. Remove from the heat and strain through a fine sieve.
- Add a tsp of amaretto liqueur. Sprinkle with sugar to prevent a skin from forming and leave to cool.
- Serve an apple on a plate, decorate with star anise, cinnamon stick and a spooning of sauce. Sprinkle some gold leaf and serve.
serves 4 people
Joyeux noël…Merry Christmas…Geseënde Kersfees!!!
Et voilà! Le plat principal ( the main dish)! Beef tournedos with bone marrow and steamed vegetable parcels. The beef is local, from our Limousin department and couldn’t be more tender..it is cut from the filet and enjoyed with the marrow served on top, sprinkled withmy favorite fleur de sel..wonderful…I am a hypocrite, I can’t be a vegetarian! The sauce is made from a shallot, red wine, a few drops of balsamic vinegar and a few cubes of ice cold butter, whisked into the reduced wine sauce. If you have never made a simple red wine sauce like this, you are missing out on a succulent slice of life!
Une pincée de fleur de sel:
- Tournedos cut from beef filet is the most tender pieces and need quick cooking.
- Order of preparation to serve your tournedos/ 1. Prepare the vegetable parcels. 2. Bard the tournedos. 3.Cut the shallots for the sauce. 4.Cook the marrow. 5.Cook the meat. 6.Cook the vegetables. 7.Reduce the sauce. 8.Serve.
- The cooking foil can withstand temperatures of up to 220degr. C.
- The marrow can be removed from the whole bone beforehand and poached in stock for 3-5 minutes, instead of frying in a pan.
- Replace 1 cup of wine with 1 cup veal stock for a lighter sauce.
- Instead of cooking the vegetable parcels in the microwave, it can be baked in the oven at 180 degr. C for about 15 minutes.
- Choose other vegetables, but keep to a maximum of three.
- You can find professional cooking foil here and a demo on one way to use it.
- Have fun!
Our Christmas this year is once again in the barn with dry mossed branches from the woods, stuck in a pot, assisted with rocks and stones from the “building site” ( the house area)..pampilles from Marinell’s wedding, rusted keys, and last but not least..our little owls. I am also somewhat off faerie lights and went for tiny lanterns instead, burning with a tealight every evening till late night. It sort of replaced our candle we usually burn for December in memory of everybody we love.
Isn’t it great to just for once in a year let the child in us loose, whichever way you choose it…? I hope by now your tree is up, how simple or elaborate..I hope you have a tiny something with a bow under your tree for someone else…I hope you have a candle burning…I hope you have love for someone around you, and I hope your heart is filled with hope..
- Tomorrow we will end our menu with an apple turret for dessert with a touch of amaretto..I just love dessert! One should enjoy dessert, small quantity, but it resounds off a meal beautifully..I can’t wait for tomorrow..why? Because I get to eat the dessert after I photographed it, of course!
- I have to pass on another good French film; if you think you would like the previous ones I advised, you would like this too _ I am a sucker for vintage French films...La tranchée des espoirs.
à demain mes chers amis
Don’t you just love it when a recipe says in its first line..easy and quick? I definitely do! With these last three daily posts, I had to think of very quick and easy but still delicious recipes and it being a time of nostalgia, this little recipe came to mind…It is not a stunner, but still a delicious little snack. It is even easy enough for young children to make….keeping them busy during the upcoming holidays.
My sister made this treat regularly so many years ago when she was living in her tiny apartement during university years. I loved visiting her on weekends with my parents, sure in the knowledge that this delicacy would be waiting in her fridge. It is sort of one of those treats that was part of a certain era and then disappeared. It was great for students to make on their desks in their rooms, without the need for cooking facilities.
You need only 2 ingredients: 2 packets of butter biscuits and a can of caramelized condensed milk. If you live in SA or a country which has “tennis biscuits”, then that is exactly what you will use. It has a slight coconut taste and it absorbs the caramel nicely to go all tasty soft and flavorful. Here I used le grand petit beurre from St. Michel, which is a nice square shaped biscuit. I also used confiture de lait by Bonne Maman (what will we do here in France without Bonne Maman?).
- Place two biscuits next to each other on a sheet of baking paper.
- Spread the caramelized condensed milk thickly over both biscuits.
- Place two more biscuits on top of the caramel layer.
- Continue until you have about 9 to 10 layers of biscuits.
- Close up tightly with the baking paper and wrap tightly(without crushing the biscuits!) in tin foil.
- Leave overnight.
- Will keep about a week or even longer in an airtight container in the fridge.
- Cut in slices and serve with a coffee or tea.
Pincée de fleur de sel:
- Try using nutella instead of caramelized condensed milk.
- The longer it stand, the better the flavor and softer the biscuits become.
Backstage. If there is one thing we all have in common, it is that “fun” behind the scenes. But, I am unfortunately not Jacky Chan, so my behind the scenes will probably only have significance for me and no one else. It is a bit like the friend who comes back with photos from Russia, taken with his expensive Canon and ten lenses, and entertains you with great enthusiasm to his hundreds of touristy cathedrals and fountains and bridges and museums, while your jaw aches from biting back your yawning. But just maybe seeing a bit of my backstage scenes, will have you run to your photos to remember your own backstage times with loved ones.
We are always in our total number represented in the kitchen, stretching over one another, reaching over heads for a tool, tasting, licking, nibbling, fighting. It is amazing the busyness only 4 people can cause in a kitchen..
These are truly precious memories..
Not everything that came out of the kitchen was that big a success, but that didn’t matter in the least..we made our flops together, that is what counts.
Even guests had to pitch in, and they did it with enthusiasm… for that reason I have plenty of tabliers(aprons).
One thing to be found in practically all our scenes, is the opening of oysters. It is the task of mon chéri. I will probably lose all my fingers, because I have never opened an oyster! and mon chéri and our youngest daughter always have to get into a dish cloth fight..in the kitchen!
We normally start off our evening of Réveillon with some vin chaud et apéritifs in the living room. then we start warming up and finish off our menu and seat ourselves at the table where an amuse bouche is awaiting us. I always have something ready at the table when guests seat themselves..it adds to the expectation and while everybody start eating their amuse bouche and have their wine poured and just simply settle at the table, it gives me the time to finish off the starter. Our entrée(starter) is plated in the kitchen.
After the starter, we bring the plat principal(main course) arranged on a large platter to the table, where we keep it warm over a flame. It is normally fish and a vegetable accompaniment, all arranged on one platter. We follow that up with a cheese board..
..and end of course our dinner with la piéce de résistance….le dessert! Byt that time, we are close to midnight,; which is the time we pass around our gifts. But before that, we go for a late pre-midnight walk..or rahter that is what we used top do in the Loire house – we went for a walk by the Loire, just to walk down some calories. On arriving back home, we warm ourselves by the fireplace, make coffee and start opening up gifts..slowly, deliberately, lingering on each moment.
Christmas day followed about the same pattern, except that we ate earlier and afterwards we walked up to the DVD store and rented a DVD while we had coffee and chocolates a and fell asleep before halfway through the movie..
Thank you for sharing this trip down memory lane with me. If nothing else, I hope it took you on your own roads back, remember with tenderness all the good and I hope it inspires you to make many new memories this December and note them down, either in words or in pictures.
- Some nice music again which I listen to lately: Opéra rouge – Vincent Niclo/les choeurs de l’Armée rouge. Here is one song you can listen to..Ameno
Merci et à bientôt!
Vin chaud definitely has its place in our home during the winter months..which haven’t shown up yet..but I will be ready! It infuses the home with wonderful December flavors and cupping your hand around the glass, sipping slowly, truly brings it home. even in the Southern hemisphere it can be enjoyed for a summer December evening, especially outside; or taken to the beach on a moonlit evening, or by the barbie fire..it can only be good..or better than good..?
Pincée de sel:
- Serve the mulled wine warm to hot.
- Peel the orange very thin, so only get the outer skin and not the white which tends to add bitterness.
- Add or remove spices as your taste dictates.
- Start with less sugar , you can always add more later if needed.
- The flavors develop with standing..leave to stand at least 30 minutes for the flavors to infuse.
- Always pour the hot liquid onto a spoon into glass to prevent cracking.
- Cut the orange slices into quarters and remove the skin when adding to each glass..it is easier to drink without having an enormous slice of orange suddenly spilling the wine all over your chin! And the small quarters can be eaten after the glass is emptied, wonderfully gorged with the spiced wine.
When I packed up our Loire home in Montlouis a little while back, I came across our photo albums which stretch over years and years. I saw all Christmases past and was excited to realize that I captured them ALL on film or digital. My Christmas photos date back 26 years, to that very first year we became a family. Except for 2003, every Christmas the last 26 years is on film or digital…the preparations, the decor, our tree and our dinners. Unfortunately my photo albums are in storage, so I can’t show those Christmases. Maybe next year.
Our tradition had always been to decorate our tree on 1 December… we have a nice dinner by a candle we light every evening with dinner for the whole of December; in gratitude, remembering friends and family and for the love we have for one another. This has never changed, even now that our nest is empty. Our tradition also demands a different tree each year. Some years it was a live tree, some years a fake one, others were handmade, some were dry branches, it depended on the year’s flavor.
I have collected quite a few pieces over the years and I always kept in mind that we have 2 daughters who will one day have to share these decorations, so I saw to it that each of them will have the same of everything..a memory of Christmases in their childhood home. I hope it will give them and their children big pleasure one day to hang these little decorations on their own trees.
So, here we are; last week of November, but because I love Noël…and because I paged through albums…and because I am a sucker for sentiment and memories…and because we are starting a new chapter in our book of life stories… I want to share snippets of our Christmases-past until Saturday night, when we will see our 2012 tree up and candle lit for December 2012. ***************************************************
This year was the first year we had a dry branch, which had become a favorite in our home. We used only white decorations: a white rose in small vases(which were still unavailable and I had to bribe a florist to sell me some of hers). Large bells and fabric angels completed our tree and a group of snowmen around the base of the tree…oh yes of course, faerie lights!
To continue the white theme, I added white coloured chocolates and cookies on the table..not a good idea!
This year’s tree was supposed to be an “angel” tree. I added some quotes I wrote on handmade paper, which we still use today..
Some détail on the angels and their quotes..
A traditional tree was our choice for this year. I added some old postcards and voilà a very full tree.
Dry branches in une vieille jarre, decorated in silver, grey and white. I added rusted wired hearts and crosses. This year’s tree was a bitloaded and chaotic, but even that is OK, a good memory, because there were always a lot of hands helping, decorating, adding!
..a little détail corner I loved..
Once again, an all white tree, but more modern with large balls of white cotton wool depicting snow and the cutest poilar bears, white baubles and small mirrors catching reflections. Even though it is a fake tree and the whole tree had a modern look, I was very happy with our tree..
..a favorite corner with old books..“La chatte, by Colette”. I somehow always have to add books to the tree..it goes hand in hand, doesn’t it..books and Christmas trees..
This tree is my all time favorite tree..I loved this year’s tree! Fresh moss from my garden in Montlouis, the tree from the Loire, the dry hydrangeas were directly from the garden too..and books, books, books!
..my two favorite crosses that I found in Helsinki..
.a détail corner with silver baubles and grey felt reindeer, also a favorite decoration..
This was one of only two years that we bought a tree..It was also the second time that I felt very very sad at the en of Christmas, when the tree was so dry and triste and it matched my tristesse. I really didn’t like the feeling of taking down decorations from a sad tree.. But while it was there…it was trasitional and pretty.
..with more traditional red and green and gold decorations..
And finally, our first tree from last year at Coin Perdu. We have moved on. Montlouis is in the past. This tree came from our forest and I had our eldest daughter who helped me in searching for it and dragging it back home. The Noël agains the wall was quickly put together by things I found lying around and I added a few stars and mushrooms. I wanted to tell a story with this tree, because it is a tree depicting life here at Coin Perdu..the deer, the forest, the owls..
…these two owl represent the family of owls who loved in the barn and are now in the woods, because we now live in the barn..temporarily!
..and a favorite corner from last year’s tree..
- And to add some new music to your December repertoire...Bach, fifteen classical holiday favorites. Beautiful to listen to, even though it isn’t December and Christmas yet. They can all be found on Deezer if you prefer to listen there..
- Continuing tomorrow: Quick fleur de sel grissini…and Decembers past, chronicles 11: table decor.
More photos can be seen in my gallery on the sidebar, Joyeux Noël.
à demain alors!
This is a very popular recipe from “Winning recipes from Huisgenoot wenresepte” a great south African recipe book. I can’t imagine a south African household without this recipe. I make it only at end of the year as a dip with some warm cocktail sausages or some shaved green beans, since it is a bit too sweet for me to use with a meal. It is very quick and easy and ideal for that last minute “bring something to eat along”. Even the French, who guard their mustard with sacré dignité, stumble over their principles for more than one dip into the sweet mustard bowl! Hope you enjoy it.
- Be sure to use white vinegar, or else the mustard sauce will be coloured an unappetizing dark colour.
- Serve as a dip with warm cocktail sausages, or cold slices of meat or add to sliced green beans as an accompaniment.
…and some last days of 2011
Before I get into the stream of the new year’s living…I greet you with a last view on the end of the 2011. (Don’t worry, this will be the last post about ME!!)
I promise the next posts will not be about me but be more exciting for you all…some book researches, some give-aways, some restaurant reviews, some courses, some kitchen stories, some tips and tools, some new foods on the market, some how-to’s, some travel stories around food, some visits to French homes, some visits to boulangeries and bucheries and chocolateries…and more!
But for now…saying goodbye to 2011 with images of time spent STILL at coin Perdu..
..gathering moss for our Christmas eve dinner with my daughter’s mate, Sponge Bob tagging along…
..some tête de moine cheese..?
…and enjoying some champagne and oysters on our walks in the forest..
..oysters with a mango vinaigrette..
..a set table for Christmas eve- resembling our forest with its owls and birds and wild heather, moss..
..a courgette and smoked espuma as amuse bouche for Christmas eve..
..christmas day table resmebled the stream running through our forest, with pebbles, the ever present owls, some winter snow, ice crystals hanging from branches, birds and the silver stream with the moonlight reflecting by means of tiny tealights and candles..
…grey moss and stars surrounding the moon and stream and pebbles…can you hear the water trickling..?
…and Sponge Bob brought along some sparkles for our starter of scallops with a parsley sauce and chanterelles mushrooms…!
..reveling in the colours and moons of Jupiter..
..a winter ascending moon and evening star at twilight(Venus)..
..and of course sun sleeping…!
..lots of riding..
..early morning training..
..isn’t this beautiful…man and his horse..?
..moving as one..
May we all ride into this new year as one with our dreams and ideals, our goals, our principles, beliefs and hopes..
The past year has been rather on the quiet side…in terms of my presence here. I hope to change it in the new year, pump some new life into Myfrenchkitchen, add some new and exciting experiences, adventures and yes, why not…recipes!
..Roasted rack of pork on hay and some marrow..
In the meantime I am at Coin Perdu again , have been here for the past few months, after only a quick return to Montlouis. I am staying in the barn with the cats and chickens and horses. Of course not all us us together in the barn, but almost. It will be the one and only winter we’ll spend in the barn, as our house will be finished next winter, if all goes well. For that reason, I wanted to take a kind of sabbatical here in the barn for the winter. My sweet husband, who is always eager to take on an adventure, was quick to help me close up the barn…putting up some temporary insulation in the up to now open roof. He built me glass doors to allow more light into the otherwise dark barn and moved the heavy wooden doors so they serve as shutters on the outside of the glass doors.. He installed a wonderful Godin wood burning fireplace andfixed the wood burning stove on the opposite side of the barn. This is where we do our cooking and even baking in the oven. It is my first experience with a wood burning oven and since I don’t havean oven thermometre, it all comes down to testing the heat with my hand..slow counting….1 is still too cold, good for slowly drying out biscotti….5 is about really hot and good for baking some chocolat fondant desert, which I usually bake in my fancy oven in Montlouis at 200 degrees C.
..putting in glass doors, insulation..
…baking in a wooden stove oven…
Hartman also closed up the very wide openings in the plank floor, where one can see through to the cattle stables down below and where some mighty cold air bellows upwards into the barn. Some carpets picked up at the brocante and a chandelier here and there for a bit of whimsy glamour. Et voila, a barn for the winter! There are still some openings here and there, but a little suffering is good too…it provides fresh air!
..some glamour in a barn…
The worst part of this whole experience is when nature calls and in this case it is literally a call of nature…our temporary toilette is outside, on the Eastern side of the house, while the barn is on the western side of the house. So I literally have to do some cross country to answer nature’s call! First it entails putting on boots to scramble through the mud, then a jacket to keep me a little dry at least and at night…a torch…to see what I’m doing in the mud…and elsewhere, remembering that the toilette has no light. To lighten you aghastness at this experience, it is a modern working toilette, flushing, clean and nice smelling, with a door, no flies or bees or spiders, well maybe some tiny harmless spiders, looking for a little protection from the rain…
…the chemin to the stable and…toilette…
…with wet and muddy clothes……
For most of the time, I am alone here, except on weekends when Hartman join me, or when the children come visit for the weekend. I spend my time painting and doing art, experimenting and playing with mediums and techniques. a typical day would be…waking up warm and snug in a warm bed, stepping first toe out into the cold, cowardly jumping back, finding courage to lift my whole body from the warmth. dashing out, I run for a hot shower, dressing with the speed of lightning. Put on coffee machine. Put on my boots and all, open the shutter doors to let in the day light. Run for nature’s call. Open up the chickens who follow me with moans of happiness knowing where we are going, yoghurt and delicacies are awaiting them. Food for the cats. Talking and chatting to all. Grabbing 4 apples and pocket knife. Off to the stables, all the while whistling to call Gaitchi and Gubi form the fields. Spooning some molasse covered horse muesli into their bowls, I hear the rumbling of the earth as they approach the stables, eager to get to their buckets. We talk ad snuggle, brush and talk. Back to the barn where the freshly brewed coffee makes the trip through the mud and rain all worth it. Two slices of toast made on the wood burning stove, a up of coffee and seating myself by the computer to check mail and listen to morning radio. And then off to work. Drawing, painting, maybe some photography in the countryside. Writing. A walk in the fields with my camera and horses. Sketching in the countryside. A drive to the town of Brive to relieve a bit of cabin fever. Feeding the horses again, closing up the chickens, keeping the fire going in the Godin and stove, dinner, a nice adventure movie, reading, more writing, bed.
..snug inside the barn wit paints…
… and books…
…and a warm bed…
..and everything else I need…
…and my friend…Madame Pompadour…
Does it all sound romantic and story book like? Perhaps. But it isn’t always moonlight and roses. My jeans are never clean, always full of mud. I don’t have a dryer and with the constant rain, I can’t get my clothes dry. If I don’t see to the stove and fireplace, I don’t have any heating. the wood is heavy to carry from the other barn. Cleaning the stove and fireplace every morning isn’t fun. After a while, sledding in the mud isn’t funny any more. I don’t have my “stuff” with me…of course can’t fit a whole home into a barn. even though we have put up insulation, I have no ceiling and dust still sifts down. I don’t have a bath in which I can soak my sometimes cold body, only a home made shower in a sinktub. BUT! I have warm running water. I sleep warm. My husband arrives every Friday evening. My children visit. I have my animals that I love around me. In fact I have everything I need.
…Gaitchi et Gubi…
…Tartelette, Mimolette, Ciboulette et Camembert…
…Tokala et Ayiani…
This winter time in the barn makes me realize how we take life for granted. How we actually have too much of everything. Our homes are overheated. Our kitchens are over equipped. Our closets are luxuriously full. A bit of struggle can do us all good. It can make us realize that life is actually a gift.
May you have a wonderful festive season and may you see life as it is meant to be. A precious gift.
Et voilà! Another year flat on its back and only a few days left for a last effort to check off our 2011 list. And while we do it, we can delight in some December ambiance, eat some dessert and then go for a long walk afterwards to start a new healthy habit. This dessert is extremely easy and quick, loaded with Calcium and can be adapted to your taste and presented in every which way you like it.
Pinch of salt:
- The cream adds some lightness to the heavier curd cheese, also called “faisselle”
- Substitute cream cheese for the curd cheese (fromage blanc.)
- Use a fruit coulis in season…pineapple, melon, peach, apricot…
- Use the berries whole, slightly sautéed in sugar for a warm sauce.
- In summer, add a drop of rose water instead of the violet syrup.
- Taste for sweetness and add more or less sugar.
She wakes up in the darkness of the night. Sitting straight up in her bed, she holds her breath, tilts her head…hears it… and falls back on her pillow. The owls are back. With a smile lingering on her face, she drifts off, snug under the warmth of a heavy down duvet.
Outside in the cold of the night, the fog lies thick in the valley, wrapping all sounds in a silent cloak of mystery. All is quiet. The forest is dark and austere and the large oaks stand solemn and still. Unflinching in their guard. Then the owl calls. An answer breaks the heavy silence with an echo in the valley. A twig snaps in the woods. A deer bellows. Eyes gleam. A snort stifles. Silence. The mist rolls thicker over the hills into the forest, relentless in protecting her womb and the life she hides.
The owl calls. An answer. An echo. Silence.
Christmas time is chocolat time. A feather light chocolate mousse. The perfect ending to a magical christmas dinner. And in January we’ll go on a diet.
This is a recipe from Chocolate desserts by Pierre Hermé. I’ve been making this mousse for many years and haven’t found a recipe that is so light and delicious as this one…it is a true winner !!
- This is a basic mousse recipe…add some flavor the your mousse by infusing the milk with grated orange zest, or a tsp of coffee, or a pinch of cardamom, cinnamon, any other Christmas spices.
- Using milk makes for a lighter mousse, but if you want it richer and creamier, use cream instead of milk. I even go so far as tu use 2 percent milk.
- The longer the mousse stands, the creamier and denser it becomes, but it is still good. I prefer to make my mousse nothing more than 12 hours in advance…having a beautiful feather light chocolat mousse.
- It can be kept up to two days in the fridge.
- Cover the mousse when chilling it in the firdge to prevent it from absorbing other flavors in the fridge.
- Serve as individual portions in glasses, or scoop quenelles from a glass dish onto a plate.
- See how to make quenelles.
- Decorate with chocolate shavings or a touch of edible gold leaf.
…and memories of christmas dinners…
How can we dwell on our past, delight in experiences long ago and not remember past years spent around a christmas table. Always special, however small or simple. Each table has a story of its own…one year a daughter arrived long after midnight from a long and problematic journey, one year there was a last meal with an elegant and fragile neighbor, one year was spent in the company of a crazy crowd of friends , one year delivered an utterly chaotic and catastrophical dinner ..one year was sad with last goodbyes, one year was spent alone and tearful in a strange country…so many christmas dinners, so many stories, so many memories…
May you have great memories of past dinners…whether you were with family or friends, or whether you were alone, or whether they were sad times…whatever the case…they are yours, cherish them, becausethey give you a history. A past.
Eat seasonal. It is cheap, delicious and it is harmony with the ryhythm of life. Winter root vegetables don’t have to be dull and bleak and tasteless. Steam them, roast them, pan fry them, cut in different shapes, add some separated laeves of brussels sprouts, a few broccoli fleurettes, add some chooped herbs, fry thin strips of leeks, turn them into a puree then scoop balls onto an oven pan and bake in the oven until brown….so many ways to bring colour…and nutrients to winter meals. See suggestions for more .
- Use other vegetables, but keep in mind the time each cooks and start off with the harde vegetables and add the softer veggies like mushrooms later, like 15 minutes before the end of baking time.
- Vegetables can also be steamed and use the butter lemon sauce for all the vegetables.
- Add other herbs of your choice…add towards the end.
- The butter and lemon juice breaks the bitterness of the brussels sprouts.
- A browned butter sauce can be used too.
- Add some chopped walnuts when serving the vegetables or a mixture of chopped parsly and nuts.
- Serve with any meat or fish dish or serve on its own with pasta.
- Fry some thinly sliced leeks(in the length) until brown and crispy and place a small handful on the vegetables to finish off when serving.
- Cut the vegetables in different sizes and shapes…matchsticks, cubes, rounds, curls…and remember to cook acoording to the thickness of the vegetables…ex. carrot curls cook much faster than carrot sticks.
…and Toulouse, la ville rose…
One can truly be considered fortunate when you have a daughter living in Paris and another living in Toulouse. Two equally amazing cities, each so unique and different…like the daughters themselves! And still in the theme of December memories, a visit to Toulouse, sleeping over in a quaint Toulouse apartement with the fairie lights of a first christmas tree and fresh foods from the market welcoming us…new memories and experiences enrich my life…those of being loved and spoiled by family.
..toulouse in all her splendor..
.. Sundays are market days…for all in France and those in Toulouse…as evidenced..
.. and having an outing in winter without pausing for a crêpe au nutella…unheard of!..
..and going home…tired, happy and with old glass crystals in a bag..
..à la prochaine fois..
Voiçi my very first starter I made in my mother’s house as a child. With a few changes here and there, it is better served now as a small amuse bouche before dinner. It is still very light and fresh and I’m still proud of my very first attempt! The little glasses it is served in (in the photos), are the original glasses from my mother that I used about 40 years ago for my starter of clementines and litchis. So, les verrines is not something new…it was already a successful concept 40 years ago!
- Marinate the fruit in the vinaigrette for about an hour, but not longer.
- Use mandarins or orange segments instead of clementines.
- Try serving it as a bigger salad by placing the fruit on a bed of salad greens and add some shredded smoked salmon.
- Can be used as a fruit salad…replace the vinaigrette with a sauce: clementine juice, sugar, a little water, few drops of lemon juice, zest of a clementine…simmer untul reduced to a syrup. Add a few drops of Clementine liqueur just before serving.
- Replace the raspberries with a small scoop of raspberry sorbet.
…and a sous-chef..
To me, December is a month of remembrance, memories, reflections. Many memories surface during this time…some of which are funny, some sad, some without any particular significance and because memories aren’t always honest, I remember them all as dear, solely because they have brought me to this point where I am today and who I am today.
Christmas was a time in our house where things happened according to my mother’s schedule. She was a formidable woman who had the ability to organize an army into baking cookies. So, under her hand, Decembers were very busy in our house and all the while she hoaxed me into thinking chores were fun! Baking cookies, cleaning the silver, polishing floors, washing curtains, ironing the Christmas tablecloth, decorating the living room, cooking jams, preparing for holidays…these were the things that filled up our month, with my mother holding the reigns firmly in her hands and me a close step beside her.
I was sous-chef from a very young age, whether it was washing the curtains or cooking a meal or baking the cookies. A very important position…the sous-chef! Without me, how could she have hung the wet heavy curtains on the line to catch the sun…without me, how could she have polished the silver in time for Christmas,…without me being in charge of the cookiemaker, we would have no coffee cookies for December? It would be disastrous…scandalous! How would the maizena cookies have jamfilled centres without me? Christmas would be sad and lonely, if I hadn’t had the responsibility of lavishing it in swirls of silver and gold streamers and glitter and shining stars!
It is of course one of the big secrets…the complete confidence of a chef in his/her sous-chef! My mom trusted me with many things, so much so that I was allowed the responsibility for the starter at a big dinner. This was my first ever solo contribution to a dinner. She also allowed me the key to her dinnerware cabinet where I could choose something for my starter. Such an important position…the sous-chef!
So here I am presenting my first starter, then as a sous-chef in my mother’s kitchen. The only difference is that now I’ve been promoted to chef. I have my own kitchen. And the starter is now served as an amuse bouche.
..May your December memories be as dear as mine!..
..à la prochaine..
Foie gras is a traditional favourite in our home for Christmas. Along with oysters and “vin chaud” (or gluhwein), it always appears on our menu. Some years will see our foie gras home made in a terrine, served cold and some years it will be fried, served with warm mango and toasted brioche.
- Cut raw foie gras into escalopes of about 1.5-2mm thick. Dust lightly with flour and leave in the fridge until needed.
- Peel and cut a mango in thin slices. Heat a pan with a knob of butter and add the mango slices. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and fry until caramelized.
- Keep warm.
- Cut some brioche in slices, toast and cut on the diagonal into two halves.
- Heat non stick pan to hot, add the escalopes of foie gras and fry on one side until caramelized. Turn over and tquickly touch the other side. Remove from the heat and serve immediatly.
- To serve: Place one half of the brioche on a plate. Place a slice of fried foie gras on top. Finish off with slices of mango and place the second half of the brioche askew. Serve immediately.
…My own space…
“Well, I’m fed here, all kinds of goodies and I like it, so why not? You enjoy it out here on the terrace with your cheesecake, why can’t I…. and don’t be so selfish with it by the way, share some! See the German tourists over there? No selfishness at that table!”
“No, you can’t have cheesecake. I’m a human, this is what we humans do. You’re an animal, a duck, you don’t eat cheesecake and you don’t belong on a terrace. And by the way, where are your ducklings?”
“Oh, smarten up! We’re not in the Middle Ages any more! And my ducklings are fine, they’re in good hands. They’re with the nanny. I need my own space too, you know!”
- Have your pan hot before putting in your escalopes of foie gras.
- Sear on one side and turn over for a quick touch on the other side and serve immediately.
- Other fruit like plums, peaches, apple, pear and figs can be done the same way and served warm with the foie gras.
…and December ambiance 2010
And here we are again in the special month of December, with its cold and dark days, bright lights, snow and frost, snuggling in front of fireplaces and cupping our hand around a cup of hot chocolate, indulging in our nostalgias and reflecting on christmas dinners.
Our christmas tree gets decorated on the 1st day of December and for the rest of December we light a candle ever night to rememeber those who we loved or still love. And decorating the christmas tree means more than Santa Claus and Noel and gifts and the three kings, or the crib and a baby…it is a witness to our memories and tender sentiments which come to us in this month, the end of a year, when reflection on the past and pondering on future dreams travel with us towards the new year.
…May your December be whatever you wish it to be and may happiness be your biggest wish…
..à la prochaine..
We have about three days left for remembering the old year and planning for the new year. Dreaming up new dreams. Setting new heights. Asking simple questions. Struggling with honest answers.
Part of dreaming new dreams and setting new goals, is a desire to give back more to life than receiving. Looking back on this year, I’ve seen our human soiety grasped in the claws of spending. We were/are admired for our talents. For our beautiful homes. And our beautiful blogs. For our wonderful recipes. Our creativity. We have friends across the globe, praising us for our kindness, gentleness, goodness. It has driven me to ask some simple questions during this time. A time which inspires real hope and renewal. Change. Growth..
Have you been grateful this past year, content with what you have? Without a desire for what you don’t yet have?
Have you given back more than you received?
Have you brought fresh vegetables to the grumpy old lady/man down the street whenever you brought back your own loaded bags? Do you even know a grumpy old lady for whom you could have dropped a fresh bread?
Have you dropped a coin in the hands of the beggar, or have you justified your simply walking past that it would have just be going for alcohol anyway…could you have helped in some different way…something that took more trouble, more effort…started making a difference? Have you even given it any thought after just walking on? Or have you just turned your head and started thinking of dinner?
Have you done anything consciously for charity, effort, planning, effort – just as you would do it for yourself? Or were you very busy.
Have you ever spent some of your precious time to go an old age home to read to the elderly? Do you know any elderly people? Do you know their fears? Their fascinating stories? Their needs? Or do you only hope to not grow into such an old sour prune?
Have you contributed in any way positively to our environment? Have you ever been to the dump yard? Talked to the people working there? Have you ever taken a pie and shared a coffee with them? Have you ever woken up early to thank the garbage workers for the work they do?
Could you have cared more in an unspending way for your dear ones? Without the aid of money. Without the aid of material things. Just you and your time. Your effort.
Could you have cared more in an unspending way for friends? For your community?
Did you run to the store to buy something to make you feel better, to rid you of depression, to lift your mood? Did you run to an stock full pantry to indulge in foods of all choices and flavours to wallow in your awful life?
Have you given a shoulder to someone in need? Reached out to a complete stranger?
Have you taken a dinner for someone at her/his home who was just simply tired, worn out, or just because you wanted to?
Have you done something special for someone, not so YOU could feel good afterwards, but because he/she needed it? Without receiving a thank you, without caring about a thank you?
Have you complained constantly about your circumstances and then got into a warm bed, luxurious bedlinen, having had a hot meal, even having sipped a glass of wine? Or complained about your misfortune…or about being misunderstood….or neglected?
Have you complained about your circumstances and then had had the luxury of ice in your drink or a cool glass of water to quench your thirst…turning the tap and having had water running freely to fill a bath to your heart’s content?
Have you written down at the end of each day how many good things life had handed you during the course of the day? Have you even noticed it?
On a bad day, have you even tried to find something good in your life?
Have you sat quietly and really listened to someone’s else’s fears, dried her/his tears without thinking of your own hurt, or comparing to your own hurt, but could only feel the sadness of this person?
Were you quick to rationalize and justify your own reasons or motives, your jealousy, your envy, your anger, your hurt…
Were you spiteful…were you critical…were you judgmental…were you righteous…
Were you deeply sorry after harsh words…did you admit it, say it out loud?
Were you ashamed after harsh behaviour…did you acknowledge it, say it out loud?
Have you sat down and wondered, marvelled at this wondrous thing called life?
What small things have you done, unnoticed by your friends and family, society… just because?
….And so these simple questions are never ending. One leads to another. Looking us straight on with raised eyebrows. Awaiting a response. Can we meet the straight stare? Can we be be honest in our answers? Do they make us look ahead differently? Will they change anything?
May 2010 be less about ourselves.
May we care more about the world around us. Our community.The bigger picture.
May we use our talents and our good fortunes to make the world better for everyone.
May we live each day with a long list of gratitudes. Small ones. Important ones.
May we give more attention to the small, insignificant aspects of life. May they grow and become life changing.
May we give in abundance. Love. Time. Attention. Care. Empathy. Understanding…
May we receive with grace. Love, Teachings. Lessons. Help. Advice…
May we ALL grow in wisdom and get to that place which is called peace. Contentment. Happiness. Understanding.
A Wonderful, rich 2010 to all.
Be at peace with life, stay faithfull to your hopes and keep a smile on your face.
Have a wonderful Christmas!
Why do Decembers ignite this uncontrollable desire for all things dessert? Just to have the hips show every inch of this desire flagrantly off in January.
It is a crisis. But in some crises the best thing to do is…have some dessert. Some apple tartlets. They are truly quick and easy and utterly delicious and very homey. They’re not fancy, rather rustic and no one will be offended if you pick one up by hand. They are meant to be enjoyed with a friend or someone you care about. And leave the plate with tartlets in the middle for a second helping. One won’t be enough. Oh, and leave one secretly for yourself for tonight, when all is quiet and asleep.
So the hips in January will be even rounder. But that is OK. At least it will give us something to talk and write about in January!
…ingredients for tarte fine aux pommes…
- Choose an apple with a bit of sourness like a Granny smith.
- The puff pastry can be replaced with another pastry of your choice.
- Other fruit like pears, figs, peaches, apricots can be used.
- It you find the top isn’t caramelized enough after baking, then sprinkle with a little brown sugar and caramelize quickly under a hot grill and keep your eye on it.
- You can make the size of the tartlets as big or small as you like or even a single big tart.
- Sage leaves are a good substitute for thyme.
- Try sprinkling a tiny bit of fleur de sel with vanilla over the top just before baking.
- Can be enjoyed as dessert with an accompanying scoop of ice cream or créme frâiche, or as a late afternoon snack with tea, a goûter, as we call it in France.
…joanne’s home in Tours…
My friend Joanne, allowed me into her home with my camera a while ago. She lives in the centre of Tours, where it takes a few minutes and you can serve up a fresh baguette and croissant for breakfast. With a basket and some walking shoes, you can browse the market just around the corner from her to have fresh veggies on the table at dinnertime. Just down the road from her lives a musician whose melancholic saxophone melodies vagabond down the quiet street. Life is tranquil and beautiful in her home. It reflects the stillness of her character, yet reveals the brilliant colours of her spirited and optimistic nature. Always trying to see the bright side, always ready for a new project, enthusiastic about life with a strong belief that every minute counts. She loves good food and it is just a pleasure inviting her over for a meal and seeing her obvious joy in appreciating what is put in front of her.
* astuce de grand-mére:
* Boil some vinegar on the stove for a few minutes to eliminate unpleasant kitchen odours.
Salmon and avocado aperitif and an old brown suitcase(aperitif de saumon aux avocats et la vieille valise)
It is time to start baking cookies for Christmas. Time to think about the menu and order your meats. time to think about some aperitif to toast with your champagne. And time to dig up the old memories.
Salmon and créme frâiche with blinis and topped with some caviar is an old favourite for high occasions. And loved by all. By changing and adapting it a little, we can still enjoy tradition ; bringing in some new without throwing out the old. Spark it up a bit, freshen it up.
- Serve the aperitif with some blinis on the side.
- It can be made in bigger portions and served as a starter.
- Créme frâiche can be added to the mayonnaise to make it creamier…add to your taste.
- Before topping the glasses with the mayonnaise/créme frâiche mixture, leave for about an hour in the fridge to become a bit more firm, or else it will be too runny.
- Instead of the smoked salmon a tartare of good raw salmon can be used.
- Use tomatoes instead of salmon if you are a vegetarian.
- Don’t use an expensive caviar for the topping..a lumpfish caviar works fine.
- To make a quenelle of lumpfish caviar: use two spoons and slide a dollop of lumpfish caviar alternatively between the two spoons until you have an olive shaped quenelle. Slide the one spoon from front to back on the second spoon under the quenelle. Repeat once or twice until you are happy with the shape. See photos above.
…shaping a quenelle…
During Decembers I have a habit of digging up all old things and remembering. That is what I think winter is for after all. Reflection. Reminiscence. I reorganize drawers and closets, throw out old magazines, go pick them back up an hour later…Browse until early morning hours through old photo albums, discover old letters….like my own and those of my parents. The ones we dug up in our cave in the garden. Photos and letters are stories. They make us cry. They take us back on distant roads and make us laugh. They make us glance in the mirror to see the traces time had left.
…good wishes and happy writings…
…an old brown suitcase for embracing old memories…
How will we be remembered and looked upon one day? Will someone have an old filled suitcase somewhere where our picture dwells? Or will our picture appear in a virtual realm in a hyper contemporary room…or not at all. Will someone also look at us and cry and laugh at once upon a time…
…once upon a time…
Somewhere old becomes mingled with the new and we wonder…when is old really old. Memories have no sense of time. Yesterday can be long ago and tomorrow can still be far away.
…a mix of old and not so old…
May I never forget. May my brown suitcases never be empty.
Do you have an old brown suitcase?
*Truc et astuces de grand-mére:
We all need inspiration. For everything we do. Whether it is for hanging on when life is difficult or getting out of bed when we are depressed… Even when times are good, we flourish even more when inspiration hits us from a different angle. I believe we can’t sit and wait for inspiration, but we need to constantly be in search of it. We need to be open to it.
Something as simple as a sandwich can be created from a burst of inspiration and sometimes from the most unexpected source. Read further down below about the following sandwiches, created by MArinell and Liandri, 12 and 10 years old at the time.
…”arnie” sandwich – jingle all the way…
My humble way of being open to inspiration, is to always have a pencil and note-book in hand. I even read a book with a pencil, underlining even the simplest phrase if it means something to me. I write down things I hear people say in the bar that I find has meaning for me. I write down a saying that I read on a bill board or an advertisement. I pull off the road and grab the pencil in the door pocket to write down something that has just “hit” me. I wake up at night and write down a dream or a thought, I scribble when I drink coffee in town, I never take a walk by the Loire without a pencil and paper…in short, every moment is a pencil and note-book moment! A moment for a fresh idea. For a flare of inspiration. Do I act on them…all these ideas and inspiration? Sadly no, not always immedaitely, but I have them somewhere scribbled down in a little note-book in my house and I will fall upon it some time or another.
If you don’t have a pencil and note-book, get one soon and take down all your thoughts and ideas, colours you see, shapes you see, things you hear. Have little notebooks in as many corners of your house and office and car and bag and bicycle as possible, hands on, just for the taking. And stick ons. To mark the pages of books you read, articles, recipes, ideas. Our bookshelves are marked with books and their little colourful “flags”…people come over and they choose a book with a little flag, wanting to see what page is marked! Some interesting conversations have followed from that.
When our daughters were about 12 and 10 years, we were watching an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie one evening. They then decided to make sandwiches for dinner and they named them “Arnie” sandwiches…so we have Terminator sandwiches and Jingle all the way, and Predator and Kindergarten cop. Their own creations, their own work, their own handwriting in my recipe book….the inspiration? A wild man with a heavy accent in a silly movie! And the sandwiches? Absolutely divine!
In your little note-books of inspiration, you can makelittle sketches of what you would like your dish to look like(no Picasso necessary, for your eyes only!) play with ingredients, colours, layers, flavours. Fill a basket by the television with books and stick-ons and pencils, so you can just reach out and grab a notebook and pencil to pen down some ideas, scribble…don’t just watch television zombie-like!
Keep cards of restaurants and recipe cards and photos of food and all kinds of memorabiliathat can trigger some inspiration, in some nice old tins or boxes or drawers – a place where you “visit” often and can dig for some fresh ideas and originality.
Hang and pin your inspirations on notice boards…in your pantry, above your desk, in your bedroom by your bed, by the telephone, by the computer, in your bathroom…
Inspiration and ideas are as alive as we make them be. They are ever-changing. They have wings and will fly away if we, the creators, don’t pin them down. Have fun in creating new recipes…your own!
Trucs et astuces de nos grand-mères:
Milk can be used instead of an egg white to paint over a tart crust or cookies or cake in order to have it baked golden brown.