Monday, December 29, 2008

Buche de Noel

When it comes to the traditional Christmas fare, it's pretty much the same for all French families - foie gras, seafood eg lobster, scallops or smoked salmon, roast turkey & the Christmas log (baked ham is unheard of at Christmas).

Bûche de Noël or the Christmas log cake tops the list of traditional French Christmas fare.

"One popular story behind the creation of this dessert is that Napoleon issued a proclamation requiring households in Paris to keep their chimneys closed during the winter, based on the notion that cold air caused medical problems. This prevented Parisians from being able to use their fireplaces, and, thus, prevented them from engaging in many of the traditions surrounding and involving the hearth in French Christmas tradition. French bakers, according to the theory, invented this dessert as a symbolic replacement around which the family could gather for story-telling and other holiday merriment." extracted from Wikipedia.

I read stories of how bakeries in Paris try to outdo themselves by creating yule logs in all kinds of shapes & styles & even selling cakes sprinkled with 22 karat gold dust.

Ours is a humble version made every year by X's mother using
creme de marron (chestnut cream) & garnished with marron glace (candied chestnuts) - the ardechoise buche de noel.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Season of Giving

photo credit : flickr/fabbriciuse

Pere Noel or Santa Claus is very sacred to the children here. They go to bed eagerly on Christmas eve expecting Papa Noel to drop off the toys during the night, if they have been good of course. For weeks leading to Christmas, parents have been using it as leverage "Do you want me to tell Santa that you have been naughty & he shouldn't bother coming to our house ?".

In Singapore, although there's Santa Claus (he does go to the Tropics too), all the kids know that the toys are given by their parents or grandparents or whoever it may be. There's no big story about Santa coming down the chimney etc.

Which may explain why I don't talk much about Santa. However he was instrumental in helping The Girl wean off her pacifier a few years ago. She left it under the Christmas tree for Santa to pass on to babies who need it & also in exchange for her present. No fuss. It was gone just like that.

This Christmas I've decided to enlist his help again in starting a new Christmas tradition. I told her that it's time we give toys that she no longer plays with, to other children. I said Santa would come by to pick up the toys & give them to children who needs them. Except I said this yesterday which had X quickly correcting me by saying Santa only comes once a year & whispered that I should get my story straight. Oops. Okay so we'll send them to him then.

Despite that slight hiccup, we continued as planned this morning, armed with several big bags, went through all her toys & she happily helped me picked out all the toys that she would like to give away. I'm really pleased that she is willing to part with many of her toys so this is going to be one tradition that I intend to keep for years to come.

Side note : The picture above is typical of the Santas that you see around here - climbing up walls or windows.

Friday, December 26, 2008

She's 4

Last week, you turned 4.

It has been 4 years since you entered our lives & it has never been the same again. Your arrival wasn't planned but we wouldn't have it any other way. Sadly I don't remember much of the early days but I do remember that I'd enjoyed you as a baby.

Fast forward 4 years later & even though, it's a bigger challenge now, I'm still delighted at how you turned out. You are affectionate & I only have to pout my lips before you'll come running to plant me a kiss & give me a big hug. I hope it will be a long time more before you'll think it's not cool to hug & kiss your parents all the time.

You always know what you want exactly the way you want it. Which is perhaps why you want to do everything yourself - your father & I cannot decide which one of us you inherited this from. At 4, you can dress yourself from head to toe without help & have been doing it for months now.

You started speaking only after 2 & now there is not a single quiet moment when you are around. When you are not annoying the hell out of your parents with your relentless questions, you would be constantly talking or singing to yourself or to your toys. At the moment, you speak a mixture of French & English which is adorable at times & frustating at others. I suppose only someone who understands both languages would know what you are trying to say. It's my fault you don't speak any Chinese but you seemed to have developed an interest in it & would often ask me how to say something in Chinese. Let's hope you'll pick more of it up when we are back in Singapore next month.

Although you're an only child, you've never been selfish - ever willing to play or look after the younger ones & sharing your toys. I know you would make a great older sister & believe me, we would like to expand the family too. Let's just say, we're still trying.

Being a child of ours, you have always been interested in food. From when you were 14 months old, I started feeding you whatever we were eating. There's not much you won't eat. I smile whenever anybody were to ask you what's your favorite food & you would happily say "shabu shabu" & then get annoyed cos how could anybody not know what shabu shabu is. Well you have to understand that you're probably the only kid around here that eats sushi, tortilla or lor bak goh.

Boy, do you love animals.....You insist on petting any animals you come across - be they dogs, cats, goats or horses. You can remember all the names of the dogs in the neighbourhood but cannot name the boys who stayed with us for one week in the summer.

There is still so much I want to say but I will leave that for another time. The only thing I do want you to know is that we love you very much & we're very proud to be your parents.

Maman & Papa

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Gingerbread House

For the playgroup last week, the kids made a gingerbread house. Gaby had bought the kit on her previous trip to Germany so it was a perfect playgroup activity.

All she had to do was to make the glue - a mixture of sugar & egg white

The kids did the rest - putting the candies (which came with the kit) up on the house
& of course occasionally helping themselves to some

The gingerbread house

We also decided to go to the Christmas market in Aubenas (yup yet another one)

The band next to the "fireplace"

We also dropped by to say hi to Prele who was there
as the make up artist for the children

Monday, December 22, 2008

French Oysters

"I love oysters. It's like kissing the sea on the lips."
Leon-Paul Fargue (1876-1947)

Generally I'm not a big fan of oysters (apart from oyster omelette).

But something about the holiday season makes me crave for them. I saw the first ones (la fine de claire) in the supermarket last week & promptly bought 2 dozen.

The French love oysters. They harvest 130,000 tons of these a year, being the biggest producer in Europe & eating all of it themselves, especially during Christmas & NY. Around this time of the year, you would also hear reports of stolen oysters which would then be sold in the black market.

Over here, oysters are generally eaten on the half shell, raw of course with a little bit of shallots & red wine vinagrette. I like mine with tobasco, a squeeze of lemon....& of course a glass of chilled white wine.

Happy Holidays

With all that snow last Sunday, I couldn't wait to go sleding. We don't have to go very far to the nearest ski station - La Croix de Bauzon is only 36 km from Aubenas.

It's a short drive of not more than an hour from our place to the Tanargue mountain. We actually didn't go to the ski station because of the crowds & since we were only interested in sleding (faire de la luge). We found a good spot all to ourselves just before arriving at the station.

The Girl, intent on throwing snow balls at her parents

We bought the sled last year but perhaps she was too young then, she didn't enjoy it as much & was rather terrified. But that all changed this year cos she couldn't get enough & wanted to keep going.

Her snow suit was a present from her grandmother last winter that thankfully still fits her this year. Check out her new snow boots.

See how soft the snow was. At some parts, it reached up to my knees. But also see how inappropriately dressed I was, in jeans....

X made this adorable snowman.
The Girl & I accessorised him
(BTW this one is for those who complain that there are no pictures of me on the blog)

Happy Holidays & Merry Christmas
from our family to yours

More entertaining

It's that time of the year again. We are on entertaining mode. Yesterday we invited our ex neighbours together with our new neighbours over.

As I've already mentioned, X is the chef when we entertain. I just make sure the wine glasses are filled.

Here's what he prepared.

2 types of canapes -
the first one, a simple olive tapenade &

the other (which is my favorite) is a sardine tartare with pickles

Main course - Lamb fillet with wild mushrooms in a honey curry sauce

Friday, December 19, 2008

Crispy Frog Legs

Just like the Chinese, the French like frog legs too.

Sadly we don't get them fresh, only frozen which is why I wouldn't consider making frog porridge or rice - the way the Cantonese would do.

Again no recipe but this is how I prepare the frog legs. Pat dry the frog legs then coat them in rice flour (the secret to crispiness). Then fry them in batches in hot oil until golden brown. Set aside on a paper towel. Once all are fried, return them into the pan, add 2-3 Tbsp of butter, 3-4 cloves of diced garlic, a handful of mint leaves, salt & pepper. Fry them for a little bit more till the mint leaves are crispy.

I love frying frog legs with mint. I tried it once at a Vietnamese restaurant & always use mint whenever possible. If not, you could always substitute with parsley.
Trust me, this is finger licking good.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What do you do when it snows ?

Stay home & eat, of course.

Last Sunday, we had a bit of a snow storm. Many households in south eastern France lost electricity (we lost ours for 18 hours right after this party), roads were blocked & warnings of avalanche.

That was the scene outside our house as it snowed all day

Make sure you are stocked up with lots of wine

X prepared this delicious starter - Ragout of pan fried scallops & baby squids with wild mushrooms which had everybody raving.

Main course was classic Chinese - claypot chicken rice with stir fried vegetables

But the most important is of course to be surrounded by good company

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cauliflower & Crumble

I haven't had time to experiment with new dishes.

I've just been preparing our faithful favorites.

I was planning on making a cauliflower gratin but ended up making a simple cauliflower salad instead. This is how we like it done.

No recipe really - just cauliflower boiled till soft then drizzle with red wine vinegar & olive oil and finally a dash of Japanese chilli powder (shichimi togarashi). Yum even The Girl had seconds.

What we've been having for dessert all week - Apple & blackberry crumble, which I've already blogged about here with home made vanilla ice cream. Another easy peasey dessert that I can whip up in a jiffy & yet so satisfying.

Saturday lunch & Night Christmas Market

We had a busy weekend.

On Saturday, we were invited over to chez Gaby's for lunch.

I'd forgotten to take pictures of the meal but I did take one of the spinach lasagne which I've never had before & it was delicious. Mental note to self : Must try to make it one day.

After lunch we just hung around until it was time to bundle the kids (it was cold) off to Villeneuve de Berg for their night Christmas market.

The usual stalls selling Christmas decorations

Roasted chestnuts

Have you ever seen a manual driven carousel ? Well it was powered by this one man pedalling away. How quaint. Sure it didn't go very fast & it wasn't very big but it sure attracted a lot of attention.

The children got their faces painted.....

.....and carried their lanterns all the way home

Monday, December 15, 2008

An excuse to dress up

Patricia Deho is a lovely British lady I met at an English speakers' meeting a couple of months back. When I heard she was having her art exhibition at the Salle Volane in Vals les Bains, I knew I wanted to go check out her paintings.

She exhibited quite a varied style of paintings - portraits, landscapes & geometrics. It has been a while since I last attended an art opening & although I'm certainly no art critic, I enjoyed looking at her work.

That's Patricia in front of one of her newer works

A painting that appealed to me, entitled Ardeche en hiver (Ardeche in winter)

Exhibiting alongside Patricia, was another artist, Anne-Marie Eldhadad
with her ancient silk cushions.

Mes copines, Gaby, Katia & Aimee who was completely exhausted

Out & About

Just in case anybody thinks that our lives revolve around the site (although it does feel that way sometimes), the next couple of posts will show that we've been out & about.

Last weekend, Gaby & I decided to bring out our children for a day out. First stop, Jaujac for an art exhibition. The venue was at the Chateau de Castrevielle.

A beautiful room within the chateau even if there weren't many exhibitors

Recycled Art

What was interesting was that they had set up a space for kids (l'atelier des enfants) with paper, crayons & art materials. The finished art pieces were then hung up - the one on the right belonged to Joshua. The Girl couldn't bear to part with hers & insisted on bringing it home.

Next stop, Vals les Bains for their Christmas market

As Christmas approaches, every commune would be organising their own marche de noel (Christmas market) with stalls selling christmas trees, decorations, cookies, vin chaud (mulled wine or hot spiced red wine), roast chestnuts, gifts etc.

The Girl getting her first gift from Santa Claus this year
(personally I thought he looked a little scary)

Apart than stalls, they also had lots of free activities for kids
like this bungee jumping thingee, slides, horse rides