You guys. I have just returned from the most fantastic Christmas adventure. It’s not everyday you get to see an orange and pink sunset over the Mediterranean or eat French delicacies (though I suppose it could be…), but that is how I celebrated Christmas this year. I’ve been gone from my apartment for a few days, and have done so much that it merits two posts: one for the food, and one for the experience.
France, especially the south of France, often has a bad reputation of being lazy or always on vacation. But after two holiday meals with two different French families, I can tell you that nothing can be further from the truth. Just the eating meals themselves is a marathon, so needless to say, preparing one is too (though I was not the one cooking!). But–one of the most important things I learned from my marathon meals is that it’s important to eat and interact for the pleasure of doing so, enjoying the company and savoring the food. That, and don’t get full on the aperitifs.
My first French holiday meal was on Christmas Eve with the sweet family of a little girl I tutor. It started with champagne and aperos (which consisted of escargot, olives, the French version of pigs in a blanket, and other puff pastry snacks), then a jambon et cœurs de palmiers entrée (ham and hearts of palm appetizer), followed by saumon et blinis (salmon and blinis), followed by magret de canard, ratatouille, et champignons (duck, ratatouille, and mushrooms), followed by fromage (FROMAGE), followed by clementines, followed by a framboise bûche de Noël (a raspberry sorbet version of the traditional French Christmas dessert). The meal was also accompanied by a wine brought by the family’s grandparents who own a vignoble (meaning he’s the one who actually made the wine). C’était vraiment bien français.
One of the biggest differences between American holiday dinners and French is that in America we put it all out on the table at once so you know what you’re getting into, whereas here it’s all in courses–meaning once you eat too many pigs in a blanket, bon courage for the rest of the meal.
Christmas Day was when things really started to spice up. I went over to the house of one of my teachers from school, Nelly, who welcomed me as if I were part of the family and was ready with lots of French specialties for me to try. This time, everyone was ready with a camera (because watching an American eat frog legs for the first time has to be recorded, if for nothing else than to prove to my parents that it actually happened).
So now, I present to you a French Christmas meal, in pictures:
Tastes like chicken! Sorry Kermit.
My partner-in-crime for the foie gras tasting session was eight year old Noémie. I swear, if I had been born French I would have been a much more adventurous eater! She showed me all the good ways to eat the foie gras, including with figs on a piece of spice bread. (She will learn later that it is even better with sweet wine after.)
We tried to find a translation for poulard, but as it turns out, the French are just much more specific when it comes to chickens–a poulard is a hen that hasn’t laid eggs.
A Provencal specialty! We were picking at this for days, and when I left this morning there was mostly only clementines, dried apricots, and dates filled with marzipan left. All delicious, but no competition against chocolate. We also had a delicious cake shaped like a sapin (Christmas tree) with a mousse outside and chocolate and vanilla ice cream center.
I stayed with Nelly and her family for three days, and we went on a lot of adventures (next post!) throughout the region together. I have spoken probably less than 100 words in English in the past three days–it was really what I imagine having a host family would be like. From frog legs to flipping crêpes, I got to try a whole lot of new things à la française, which is one of the best Christmas presents I could get. ♦