Papa Noel est Passe !
It’s the day after Christmas, and we’re still finding pieces of wrapping paper in all corners of the house, red and green ribbon and tiny pieces of clementine peel that Papa Noël (Santa Claus) left behind when he visited us here in the French countryside. It was a Christmas overflowing with traditions – the house full of family coming in from all over Europe, the children running around like mad totally excited about the presents to come, my mother-in-law busy at the stove (and me by her side as Sous Chef), cooking up her annual Christmas Day feast (un délice!), and small dishes of Papillotes, individual wrapped chocolates, to be found in every room of the house. The Christmas tree decorated, lights hanging outside the house, the fine china dusted off for the family meal, and everyone’s slippers or shoes in front of the fireplace (no stockings here) ready to be filled with presents. And again, that never-ending supply of Papillotes. It’s great because for several days, it’s totally normal to grab a chocolate before breakfast, a few on the way to dinner, before going to bed… c’est Noël, it’s Christmas!
And so, out came the foie gras, the smoked salmon and the bottles of Champagne. We changed things up a bit this year with a buffet on Christmas Eve – everyone took plates piled high and sat in front of a roaring fire - pâté, different types of dried sausage, cornichons, endives for dipping, foie gras, smoked salmon on bread rounds with butter, lemon and dill, foie gras, tomatoes, olives… A big cheese platter followed (Comté, Roquefort, Munster, Reblochon) as well as a Bûche de Noël of raspberry and vanilla ice creams. Chocolates followed, of course, as we opened our Papillotes and read the little messages hid inside the wrappers.
Christmas Day saw even more traditions, with the kids scurrying down the staircase to find their slippers sitting atop piles of presents. We adults did the same! A copious breakfast of country bread, croissants and brioche dipped in bowls of café au lait and hot chocolate, warmed our tummies before we set out for a big walk around the village. We looked up at the tall trees filled with huge bushels of mistletoe, we admired the neighbors’ houses decorated for Christmas and worked up an appetite for the big family meal. While we shared with everyone the presents we received and our projects for 2009, we feasted on my mother-in-law’s annual menu: salad with avocado, baby shrimp and grapefruit, followed by quail cooked with bacon and sultanas (served whole, heads and all!), big plump chestnuts and squash gratin. This was followed by another copious cheese platter, a tower of clementines, individual Bûches de Noël in various flavors, and assorted chocolates and orangettes (candied orange peel dipped in chocolate). Back in front of the fire we went, to play games, look at each other’s presents and of course, open more Papillotes.