January 03, 2015

Christmas in the French Countryside: Part 1

We were lucky enough to be able to experience a French country Christmas this year. We rented an apartment a few houses down from the French branch of the family in a little seaside village that teems with people in the summer months and is all but empty in the winter. Ironically, the weather conditions on the west coast of France at Christmas this year were very similar to those in Nova Scotia at the same time! Still, it was a little surreal to be walking the beach and collecting seashells on Christmas Eve and playing kickball on the seashore on Christmas Day.

Our hosts, Sophie and Jean Paul, really made us feel at home, and put an incredible amount of work into decorating the house (inside and out), and preparing the feasts. They also decorated our flat before we arrived and stocked the fridge and cupboards for us.

Their home is most warm and welcoming.

The French serve many courses, linger over their meals, and stay at the table far longer than in North America. The end result, I think, is a better appreciation of the food and drink - and a more relaxed, less stressful lifestyle. We always started with appetizers - baguette slices with either Thierry's mother delicious homemade pate or a sardine or salmon spread, potato coins with an herbed creamed cheese topping, a nut and dried fruit mixture, etc. Aperitif glasses were filled with a variety of Pineau des Charentes (a regional speciality). I have had Pineau with cognac overtones, a rose variety, and an apple flavoured one - each one delicious and unique.

We had platters of oysters (the region is a major source of oyster harvesting) and plates of escargot. This was followed by large platters of chicken or fish. Then the large cheese platter and yogurt. Part of the secret to the success of the meals is the knowledge of which aperitif, wine or digestif to serve with each course. We had red wines from Bordeaux and Saint Emilion, a Chardonnay, champagne (both white and rose), and cognac.

Finally, there was a seemingly endless series of desserts. These included the same chocolate mousse cake as at Cecile and Thierry's September wedding, crème Anglais, a yule log, Sophie's wonderful apple and apricot tarts, a chestnut mousse cake, a fig crumble, dates stuffed with marzipan, a couple varieties of cookies, and my personal favourite: Sophie's walnut cake, cut into small squares. It has a gentle, soft, nutty flavour that makes it seem to me to be one of the ultimate comfort foods.
And chocolate. Chocolate in the form of little red boxes of small chocolates at each place setting, small chocolate bars,  tiny chocolate Santas, or a dish of chocolates always appeared on the table at every meal.

Part of the daily routine includes a walk to the boulangerie for fresh bread. And unlike North America, where the typical vending machine is filled with sugary Cola drinks and junk food, the vending machine beside the bakery on this quiet street dispensed baguettes!!


Melissa said...

More travel stories, please! And maybe a pic of wee Nora!


movita's sister said...

It was as heavenly as it looks!