Now, it is time for me to tell you how Christmas is spent with my family back in France.
Despite the fact I have only spent Christmas twice in France over the past eight years, I have vivid memories of the delicious food we eat for this event.
You might want to get something to eat while reading this or be prepared for some serious stomach grumbling.
In the evening, my mother puts a few platters of food on the table. We grab a plate and fill it with delicious things: blinis with a small dollop of creme fraiche and black lump eggs (fake caviar) or smoked salmon, mini toasts with duck foie gras, oysters, prawns, scallops cooked in a delicious creamy white wine sauce with mushrooms, little pastries with cheese inside, pistachios, cheeses. We would not eat many sweet things then as we know there will be a lot of chocolates in the Christmas presents.
We spend the evening eating and chatting and when midnight approaches, we start the countdown. Then, we open our presents. We usually end up with a room full of wrapping paper everywhere (thanks to the cats, they love Christmas wrapping paper).
Then, she spends a lot of time in the kitchen getting the Christmas lunch ready. I always try to help but she barely lets me go in the kitchen, I have to force my way in. Last year was exceptional because I had been away in Australia for more than three years and she was very excited to see me and would not let me do anything. E. and I eventually managed to take care of a few things very fast so she could not say no once it was done.
Now, the lunch itself lasts a few hours because we take our time to eat and chat between each course. Yes, I said course! As there are many courses!
We start with a little aperitif over a glass of champagne. We eat a few salted nuts, canapes and crisps (potato chips). Last year, my mother had found pommes de terre vitelotte (purple potatoes) and made us thin purple crisps.
After our aperitif, we sit at the table and start with a seafood course: oysters with lemon juice or a shallot dressing (for those who like them, I always pass on oysters), langoustines (Dublin Bay prawns), prawns and bigorneaux (periwinkles). It is served with my mother's delicious homemade mayonnaise and fresh bread.
We move on to the next course, which is the foie gras. We always try to get goose foie gras for Christmas lunch. We eat it on toasts that are brioche-like and have little round shapes. We drink a lovely sweet wine such as Sauternes with it.
Now, at this stage, some people might also have a fish course after the seafood and foie gras. In my family, we do not do it too often. But, when I was in Australia, I made a French Christmas dinner for our last Christmas there. I included fish en papillotes with a few steamed carrots and leeks and a beurre blanc sauce for this course.
Back in France though, at this stage my mother serves THE bird: le chapon. It is capon. Being in Ireland, it is impossible to find (but if you know of a place that does it, I will gladly appreciate an address or contact number).
Now, if you are wondering what capon is, here is the answer: it is a rooster which has been castrated. It improves the quality of the meat. And the meat... oh the meat!! It is so delicious, moist, golden, succulent... I could probably go on and on because I love it so much!
(So, if someone reads this and think capons would be a good idea for next year, I will be one of your first customers! You clearly do not want to see French people roaming the Irish country side trying to castrate roosters so they can get their Christmas dinner...)
Capon is quite big and takes some time to roast in the oven. The stuffing my mother puts in it is delicious: pork sausage meat, chicken livers, mushrooms, a few herbs and Armagnac (a kind of brandy from the Armagnac region). We eat it served with green beans blanched and tossed in butter and garlic, chestnuts, baby potatoes sauteed in goose fat, mushrooms and a lovely watercress salad.
We then move on to the cheese course. There is always Saint Nectaire because it is an all time favourite in the house. We usually have a lovely selection of cheeses that my mother orders at la fromagerie on the market. It is the fromagerie Beillevaire. The queue there is always big, whatever the time of year it is. They let you sample a few cheeses if you are not sure of what you would like. It is a great way to discover new cheeses and get a piece of it for the Christmas lunch.
To refresh ourselves a bit, we have a small break and eat a few clementines. I feel like they are really part of Christmas for me, their flavour is a sweet memory. When we were kids, some of them would have a delicate wrapper around, and we could use the paper to make toy parachutes while the adults were busy chatting at the table.
Then, we all have la bûche for dessert. It is a Christmas cake that has the shape of a wood log and is filled and covered with butter cream. You can find it in many flavours and versions. It usually has its lovely array of tacky plastic decorations on top: Christmas tree, reindeer, Christmas elf with a seesaw, mushroom, etc. It nearly feels weird if it is not on it. My mother always tries to make one with coffee cream inside and out as it is my father's favourite. But if she has been too busy with the rest of the food, she orders one from the bakery or buys a lovely ice cream version of it. My all time favourite is the nougat ice cream version with raspberry sorbet and coulis.
We end the lunch with teas, coffees and a few chocolate truffles.
For the rest of the day, we watch a movie or read and use our Christmas presents. If we are still hungry later, and that is possible because we are French after all, we eat a few leftovers and more cheese with bread.
Keep scrolling down for the recipes and some French deliciousness!
Last week, I received the silver award in the Expats Blog Awards for Ireland (you can see a pretty silver badge somewhere on the top right).
I would like to dedicate this blog post to all the lovely people who took a few minutes to leave some wonderful comments and voted for my blog. Thank you all!