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Frenchie and les Fêtes – Christmas

10 Jan

I’ll be home for Christmas.

Jazzy Christmas songs playing in the background while packing the suitcase. Unfocused. So many things to bring and think about.

Swanky Christmas parties were going full swing in Boston. France was waiting for me at the end of the tunnel.

But not before a quick hop to Milwaukee, WI to celebrate the Holidays with friendly faces and midwestern friends.

And from there, time seemed to have granted my wish to fly as fast as possible while I put my suitcase down in front of a familiar French door, pressing on the doorbell and waiting impatiently for someone to come and open it.

Enfin arrivé !

A cold frosty December morning but a warm house. The yellow light piercing through the windows is soft, peaceful and inviting.

For days now the white-walled bedroom has been carefully prepared for my arrival.

As I place my bags next to the hot radiator, I can’t help but notice the welcoming French sun already warming the garden and the twinkling grass all around. The white shiny frost will melt fast enough that we can probably leave the windows and doors wide opened this afternoon.

It’s cold in the morning but unusually warm by mi-day.

Ce n’est pas normal en décembre.

A quick lunch is in order though. Something easy, something small.

We have 3 soups ready in the fridge.

We can make a tri-colored soup bowl.

Mais oui, une tri-soupe.

Saucissons – oui !

Let’s peel some potatoes and cook them in the fireplace.

And I’m sure the fish guy next door has some pollock for us.

Look at this dark wild blackberry home-made jam, it will pair royally with the tart we made.

As I said, effortlessly easy and small.

Il y a du fromage aussi !

Jet lag now digested, it was time to decorate the Christmas tree. Une tradition.

The dusty boxes and old suitcases full of Christmas decorations were brought up from the cool cellar next to the wine arousing amazement and joy in the bright eyes of young and old alike.

Colorful shiny tinsel writhing on the floor, old familiar ornaments slowly climbing the tree with small and big hands placing them carefully on the aromatic spiky green branches.

As kids, my brother and I used to split ornaments according to our favorites so we would only hang the ones we each liked.

Needless to say, I had already coveted some of his ornaments. But then I started to wonder if I would still be able to get away with stealing and hanging 2 or 3 from his pile of ornaments like I used to do.

Ironically, my mum proactively interjects – les garçons, no fighting!

Embracing the old with the new, we deliberately settle for treating ourselves with different flavors during the Christmas Eve dinner – called le Réveillon.

No particular liking in keeping with the traditional oysters, foie gras, roasted capon and chestnuts, potatoes, apple compote and Christmas dessert (bûche).

Our feast would include trout mousse spread, savory petits fours and foie gras. And this was not even the appetizer!

All night long, the table witnessed a parade of courses and dishes – tasty oysters, a velvety watercress soup, a citrusy prawn curry with pineapple, a plentiful cheese tray, a spectacular pyramid of French macarons, a Christmas fruit salad with ginger and black peppercorns and other delicious dishes and variations of traditional well-known recipes.

Pouring another glass of Champagne, reaching for yet another macaron and pretending the night is still young, we discerned signs of fatigue through the joyful promise of staying up all night.

And then came Christmas morning.

I can’t tell you why it’s difficult for me to sleep on Christmas morning. I try and try again to stay quietly in bed but to no avail.

And right by my side, as the sun caresses the chair I can barely see from the bed with its first morning rays, all I can think of is Christmas breakfast.

Waiting for everyone to awake in order to open presents is a growing harrowing pain that shouldn’t be described.

Everyone’s polished and shiny shoes were delicately placed under the glistening tree since the night before – waiting for Santa. They are now filled and stuffed with presents. Presents all around them.

Yes, stockings in the U.S. and shoes in France. But not your everyday casual shoes. Non, non ! Your best dressed shoes are required. And they should be clean and sparkling – don’t want to offense Santa!

It’s an unusual Christmas morning.

It’s warm. Really warm.

We could almost eat outside!

And we do!

Amidst the scattered pieces of noisy wrapping papers and bright-colored strings, we managed to play in the pleasantly floodlit garden, say Joyeux Noël to farm animals and frugally eat a casual lunch-snack outside.

A warm woolen sweater and a thick scarf are sufficient. The winter coats can stay locked inside.

Even the ladybugs joined us!

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without an afternoon family activity.

When the entire city shuts down and celebrations stretch through the day, a walk in the old city of Le Mans would prove to be the perfect Christmas outing for everyone.

The oldest buildings date from the 14th century but most are from the 15th and 16th centuries.

I’ve walked these streets a million times but always take a detour to go back, admire and recapture the dramatic feeling of times past with elegant, iconic quaint scenery.

Winding and undulating, the streets of le vieux Mans are uniquely well-preserved.

And that’s what les Fêtes (The Holidays) are in France – probably a lot more subdued and modest than in the U.S.

But above all, a time spent with family around a beautifully decorated tree and table where food, quality time and laughter take a center stage.

Next stop: Paris – coming soon!

A special thank you to BostInno for placing a special order of Holiday cocktails before Christmas and publishing the article.

Frenchie and the Rillettes

22 Nov

Shredded pork cooked in fat to be spread on bread? Sign me up!

Rillettes are similar to pâté in a sense that they are made with pork and are eaten on slices of bread. Traditionally, rillettes are made with pork – you’ll find nowadays that goose, duck, chicken and even salmon have all made it to the Rillettesland. But here, we’re talking fatty pork belly or pork shoulder.

Salt, fat and more fat are what makes rillettes worthwhile. While you probably won’t find them in the stores in the U.S., you can buy them at any supermarket in France. However, not all rillettes are good rillettes. Trust me, I know! If you’re from the Le Mans, Tours, Angers area, you were probably born with a slice of bread smothered with rillettes already in your mouth – in other words, you were born with a very sensitive and acute rillettes palate. Good rillettes are salty, not too cold and served at room temperature, rich in texture and grey in color – bronze is also a good color but certainly NOT pink! – smooth, soft, rich in taste and they have to have pieces – I will not budge on this! Feeling up to the challenge yet? Let’s get rustic then… French rustic.

Ingredients:

1.5 lb (750 g) of pork neck, or belly, or shoulder

0.5 lb (150 g) of pork back fat

0.5 cup (100 ml) of dry white wine

3 juniper berries, lightly crushed

3 teaspoons of sea salt (remember, rillettes are salty. If it’s not enough, do not hesitate to add more)

3 teaspoons of dried thyme

2 teaspoons of ground nutmeg

3 teaspoons of black peppercorns

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1.5 teaspoon of ground allspice

some ground cloves

1 big garlic clove – crushed

Preheat the oven to 140 °F (275 °C). Cut the meat and fat in short strips and place them in a deep sauce pan with all of the other ingredients. Mix well and cover. Cook for 4 hours. The pork should become soft and swimming in liquid fat.

Pour the meat and the fat into a sieve placed over a bowl so you can keep the fat. With 2 forks, shred the meat still warm. Season if necessary – add salt, nutmeg, pepper and all spice if needed. Depending on the meat and the quality of it, you might need to add more. You are going to want to end up with salty tasty meat shredded morsels.

Place the meat in a terrine dish, or a crock, and leave it to cool completely. In the meantime, strain the hot fat through a sieve again – you might need to use a damp muslin for this depending on your sieve.

Once the pork is completely cold in the crock pot, pour the fat over it so it covers it in its entirety. If the fat has solidified, you will need to melt it first. Cover the crock pot, place in the fridge for up to a week. Always serve at room temperature with a fresh French bread – baguette or country bread.

Rillettes

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