Every year we celebrate Christmas with my husband’s family in the French countryside, in the Eure-et-Loir. We make a stop in Paris on our way south, check out the sweet scene in the capital and spend some time with friends. We arrive just in time at my belle-mère’s to help decorate the tree and put out little dishes of chocolates and wrapped Papillotes in every room of the house. Those are the Révillon chocolates below right (that were featured in Régal’s December/January issue), a specialty from Lyon, where both of my parents-in-law are from.
We make sure there are enough logs and branches to keep the fire going nonstop for days to come. We place all of our slippers in front of the tree for the highly anticipated arrival of le Père Noël (Santa Claus). All is ready and we then sit down to the first big family meal – a cheese fondue, during which we talk about all of the delicious holiday meals to come.
I love seeing how each and every tradition is upheld, yet some with a little twist. Foie gras, oysters, smoked salmon, escargots, quail and gratinée (onion soup) are all Christmas staples. Last year we had a buffet at Christmas eve. It was a big success, with everyone together in front of the roaring fire, grabbing tartines with foie gras or with smoked salmon and dill. This year we started in the same manner, sipping glasses of vin chaud (Glühwein / mulled wine) but then moved to the dining room for a formal seated meal, no missed opportunity to break out the good china. I love when my mother-in-law shows me drawer upon drawer of heirloom pieces, gorgeous silver and crystal passed down from generation to generation.
The quail with bacon and sultanas (cailles en fricassée) was once again served on Christmas day, but I did notice a bottle of Cognac next to the casserole. New ingredient… or perk for the chef?! We enjoyed it with a squash gratin and sautéed chestnuts, followed by a generous cheese platter, as usual. The classic bûche de Noël was an ice cream version, which I love for the beautiful silver gilt utensils made specifically to cut ice cream cakes (images above) – a present my mother-in-law’s grandparents received on their wedding day in 1905. The cutting piece always reminds me of an elf’s shoe.
After all of that, it’s time to get some fresh air and work up a new appetite…
We take a break from the cooking and eating to walk around the village, which dates back to the 13th century. We go around the fields staring up at the mistletoe trees, while the family’s German Shepherd tracks down the pheasants hiding in the woods – then fluttering up up and away. Back to the house and in front of the fireplace we go. We play board games, look at old photo albums and unwrap those Papillotes, reading aloud the quotes hidden inside.
And we look forward to doing it all over again next year.
I hope everyone has been enjoying the holidays. Any fun or delicious traditions to share ?
How will you be ringing in the new year ?