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!!!
The entrée (starter) for this menu is A topinambour (Jerusalem artichokes) and chestnut velouté with wild mushroom croûtons. It has a wonderful woodsy flavor and finished off with a shaving of black truffle on the chanterelles mushrooms, it transports you into a winter forest.
- Clean 1 onion and cut in slices. Fry the onion in a little olive oil until translucent.
- Clean 5 large Jerusalem artichokes, cut into small, even chunks and add to the the onion.
- Add a tin of peeled chestnuts (210g) to the mixture.
- Add a bouguet garni and 350 ml water or stock (vegetable) to the vegetables and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer gently for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
- Remove the bouquet garni and remove the soup from the heat. Add a handful of washed parsley and mix with an electrical hand mixer until the soup is creamy. If you want the soupy perfectly creamy, you can push it through a sieve.
- Add some cream, or stock, or milk to bring it to the right consistency (like thick cream). Season with salt and freshly milled pepper and a few drops of lemon juice.
- Serve warm with some freshly grated nutmeg and a mushroom croûton.
- Mushroom croûton: Toast three thick slices of bread. cut into fingers and brush with truffle oil on all sides. Clean some some mushrooms of your choice with a brush and fry quickly in olive oil. Add some chopped parsley , season and place on top of the toast fingers. Finish off by placing two shavings of black truffle on the mushrooms and serve immediately with the soup.
- This soup can also be served as an amuse bouche, served in small glasses, with small fingers of toast.
Serves 4 people as a starter.
Une pincée de fleur de sel:
- Don’t add too much liquid in the beginning..you can always thin with some milk, or stock or water towards the end to the thickness you prefer.
- Replace the mushrooms with plain button mushrooms or with crispy Spanish ham.
- Replace the Jerusalem artichokes with pumpkin.
- Toast the croutons in a toaster or dry toast in a pan to keep it light.
- Finish the soup with a twirl of truffle oil.
- Never wash mushrooms with water, clean them with a brush.
- Fry mushrooms in a hot pan ..I prefer to fry mushrooms in duckfat(a little) which can be heated to very high heat without becoming toxic. Afterwards I drizzle a little Olive oil. In a hot pan, you don’t need much fat, because the mushrooms fry very quickly.
- I don’t push the soup through a sieve, because I like the tiny pieces of parsley which gives a nice 3speckly” effect to the soup.
The Christmas market in Meyssac was very quaint and I especially loved the lovely church with its display of nativity scenes in all the alcoves. Each nativity scene depicted a country…Brazil was there, France of course, Italy, Africa. Even Peru was there, each little figurine dressed in typical clothing. I adored it and planned on going back to Meyssac to take pictures of all the scenes. When I finally went back, it was gone! Of course, it made sense..it was on display only for the weekend of the market..all those precious figurines couldn’t be left unattended for the whole season. I can kick myself! So I lost out on the lovely nativity scenes..you will have to wait until next year.
But the little église of Meyssac is still adorable and here are some photos…
…The exterior of l’église de Meyssac…
..the interior towards the altar with Chrismas lights hanging above the aisle…
..the altar from close up..
..and the only nativity scene left for the season..
..un lustre lighting up one of the many figurines the Catholics so love..
- Tomorrow will see the plat principal (main meal): Beef tournedos with bone marrow in a wine sauce and steamed vegetables.
- A nice DVD to get you in a French vintage mood…La plus belle histoire des femmes.
.. alors, à demain!..
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!
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.
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!
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:
Time again for some December ambiance!
After putting up our tree we enjoy a candle lit dinner with music and good wishes for the season. It has been our family tradition for many years to put up our tree on the first day if December and light a candle every night for the whole month of December for someone – people who aren’t with us any more, people who are still with us…This year is no exception. We finish our evening with a small and light dessert. A white chocolate panacotta and dark chocolate mousse – a combination of light dark chocolate mousse and the contrasting white panacotta with smoother texture. The mousse is the only chocolate mousse I’ll ever make and it comes from the collection of chocolate desserts from Pierre Hermes. I’ve been making it for years and haven’t yet come across any better, any lighter, any more delicious! the panacotta is simple and classic with some white chocolate added.
- Don’t overwork any mousse! Always stir gently until just mixed.
- Never boil chocolate, melt at gentle heat in the microwave or over simmering water until just melted. It melts from the inside outwards, so ti will still hold its shape, but the inside will already be melted. Stir often.
- Use older egg whites for better lightness(as well as nicer meringeus).
- Use egg whites at room temperature.
- Mix egg whites into the chocolate mixture as follows: Scoop a third of the beaten egg whites into the chcolate and whisk to make the mixture lighter and easier to fold in the rest of the egg whites. Fold in the egg whites with a big whisk in a figure eight shape, without whisking. Fold in until JUST mixed. don’t overwork!
- A mousse gets heavier the longer it stands. I usually serve a mousse within a day. Of course it can be eaten afterwards, but it is more creamier and has lost that lightness that is so typical of a mousse.
- Decorate with some chcolate petals or sprinkle some golden flakes over the top.
I took my husband and his saw down to the Loire and we came back with with some tree brances covered with moss. It was to be our tree for this year. I enjoy a live tree, and this year was one made fom some dried brances from our own river across the road. It always feels special to go and pick up some branches by the Loire, come back home, stick them into a garden urn and hang them with decorations and fairy lights.
…reading and looking…
…moss from the garden and old postcards…
…just some prettiness…
…colour from dried hydrangeas…
…christmas dinner from 2008…
…Tokala and Ayiani in the snow…
…la neige au bord de la loire…
…la loire and two of us…
… chocolat chaud devant la cheminée…
* Trucs et astuces de grand-mères.