Archive for December 2007

French Toast

December 31, 2007

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I love looking back, now that the winter solstice is behind us and the days are getting longer again.  This amazing year is nearly done, and I can see the new one stretching ahead, vivid and bright with anticipation. 

So with that in mind, I propose a toast to

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the beauty of our earth

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and all those who work to preserve it.

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To those who brighten our lives in unexpected ways and places.

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Another glass for those who spend their days offering hospitality,

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and loving service,

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creating edible art,

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harvesting the fruit of the vine,

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and to those who keep life bubbling along with wit and vision. 

A toast from my whole heart to a guy who’s willing to go grocery shopping with me anytime, anywhere,

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even when that’s during a snowstorm in the south of France.

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And one more to our dreams for the new year.  You know what they are.

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I plan to walk right in, sit right down, and have a glass with you.  Thank you for sharing this precious year with me.

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La Boqueria de Barcelona

December 27, 2007

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We’d heard in advance that you can get anything you want at La Boqueria, and we learned on the spot that you can also get a few things you might not want. 

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We went in the late morning of Christmas Eve day, in time to see all of Barcelona arrive to stock up for their Christmas dinners, as well as for the Catalan holiday of Sant Esteve on the 26th.  It was a madhouse to rival any madhouse I’ve ever seen.  It was also a treasure trove of beautiful food, although it’s a good thing we really weren’t prepared to buy anything, since approaching most of the stalls was out of the question.

The fish vendors were the most swamped, and it’s only courtesy of a zoom lense that you can get any idea of how busy it was.

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The fish were flying out of the stalls, along with mountains of briny-smelling shellfish

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and heaps of dried cod.

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You don’t find a lot of chile in Spanish food, which is perhaps why the chile seller is in hiding here, but for a true chile afficionado these were glorious.  There were whole rows of stalls piled with fruits and vegetables, including plenty of these calçotadas, which can be charred on the grill and dipped in romesco sauce for an excellent appetizer.

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There was candy,

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pizza made to order,

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foods for Francophiles with a sense of humor,

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and even a stand ready to fulfill the, um, needs of vegetarians.

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And for the shopped-out, or those fortifying themselves for another foray into the stalls, there was beer flowing freely and seafood grilling a la plancha. This is supposed to be one of the nicest places in the market for a fresh bite of something and a canya, or beer on tap, but we couldn’t get close enough to verify this tip for ourselves.

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I can’t wait to go back on a calmer day to check out my first impression, which is that it would be worth moving to Barcelona just to be able to shop here every day.  Moving to Barcelona probably wouldn’t make me feel any better about lambs’ heads than I do now, but you never know.

Bon Nadal!

December 25, 2007

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Another bright and sunny day in Barcelona, a city so wonderful that we talk of learning Catalan and moving here.  It looks like the bus strike is over until the new year, the street sweepers have already been out on this Christmas morning, and we’re about to spend the day walking on the architecture trail.  Virtually everything is supposed to be closed, but we’ll see about that.

Meanwhile, here are a few scenes of how Barcelona prepares for Christmas.

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The Christmas market did a huge business in creche fixings.  Some of the stuff is so beautiful it almost made me want to have a creche.

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Being an almost-tropical Christmas zone, the flowers on the street made it clear that we’re not in Kansas anymore.

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Here’s another sure sign that the winds have blown us to another kingdom.

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Disturbing, eh?  But it’s a splendid town, warm and friendly, casual, joyful, and we’re feeling the same.  And so we’re off into the day in search of coffee, adventure, and beauty.  Have a beautiful day yourself, whether the sun is shining or not, and whatever Santa is wearing wherever you are.

Noël, Noël, Noël, Sing We Noël!

December 21, 2007

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No, we’re not going to the Notre Dame for Christmas, although it’s looking gorgeous here, all decked out in baubles and bows.  We’ve been wondering what a real French Christmas would feel like, and I imagine that the Notre Dame midnight mass is the most French you can get, when it comes to Christmas.  But we won’t be there, and this won’t be the year that Père Nöel will leave us a truffle in the toe of our sock.

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Nor will we be at home, even though a chocolate A from Amsterdam invites me to stay in my slippers puttering in the kitchen, nibbling in alphabetic ecstasy as I cook a Christmas feast.  Today at the butcher shop there were the most amazing things for Christmas, terrines of pheasant and goose , rabbit paté en croute, galantines of guinea hen and duck, tartlets of foie gras as well as whole fresh foie gras selling for 75 Euros a kilo, and even more.  I should have taken notes, but all I did was buy a fat moulard duck breast and a small slice of pheasant terrine for dinner tonight, because we won’t be here for the holiday.

Instead we’ll be trying to say Bon Nadal y Feli Ani Nou!  Any guesses?  Right, Barcelona, where Catalan is the language, cava is the drink, and a lot of the really hot restaurants are closed for Christmas.  However, I have no doubt that we’ll have a splendid time.  We’ll be taking a small, slow train down the coast from Montpellier, and the scenery is said to be lovely.  Ok, it is supposed to be raining the whole weekend, but forecasts are often wrong.  We’ll be there for the final day of the Barcelona Christmas market on Sunday, and I can’t wait to see how it differs from a French market.  If I can post from there, I will, but if not, we’ll be back in a few days, leaving plenty of time to get ready for a real French Réveillon de Saint Sylvestre celebration to ring in the nouvel an.

So au revoir, bonnes fêtes, Joyeux Noël, Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and see you soon.  May this year bring you the best holiday ever, and please, since eggnog is an unheard of treat here, have an extra cup for me.

She Walks In Beauty

December 19, 2007

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There’s no food today, just beauty.  I hope you won’t mind.  A simple walk through town is so engrossing right now that it totally trumps food, for me.    I’ve been saying that I should just walk around with my camera for an hour, and today was bright, clear, and not too freezing, so I did.  Come on, let’s go for a stroll.

Walking down our street into town puts us instantly in the right mood.

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Most of the shops are decorated in the homiest and least commercial way I’ve ever seen,

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and you never know who you’ll see in the street.

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The florist’s shops are my favorite.

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There, doesn’t that put you in the right spirit for the holidays ahead?

A French Christmas Market

December 16, 2007

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The very first thing I bought at my first French Christmas market was this mistletoe, called gui in French.  It’s the freshest I’ve ever seen, with plump glistening berries that make you want to pucker right up.  I carried it through the market over my head, in case it got crushed, and wondered whether I’d get any extra kisses.  But no, all I got was smiles, which was, in fact and counter to one’s romantic fantasies,  probably better than being kissed by the average French stranger.

Being France, there was a lot of foie gras for sale

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and even escargots.

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For entertainment there were costumed dancers twirling sedately,

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a potter demonstrating a wheel that he turned with a stick,

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pony rides for the kids,

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and a strolling minstrel Santa band.

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On the way home we stopped by the temporary ice rink that just opened for Christmas.

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Heaps of kids were piled on the ice with a mad dash of other kids trying not to fall on top of them.  Or maybe they were actually trying to pile on, as if it were rugby on ice.  A French kid normally won’t meet a stranger’s eye on the street, but each and every kid, at they slammed into the end of the rink where we were standing, flashed a triumphantly pink-cheeked grin, as if to say “Hey, I’m out in the freezing cold having the best possible time, and when I finally fall on my last heap of the day, I’ll probably be having escargots for supper.  Don’t you wish you were me?”

Let It Snow

December 14, 2007

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Although the year is wrapping up, it has come to my attention that the presents are not.  In fact, it’s still hard to imagine that Christmas is almost upon us.  With the clear, sunny days we’ve been having I’ve been puttering along in a little dream of autumn, scarcely realizing that it’s time to change gears.

So when yesterday I heard that it might snow, I took it as a sign to get into a holiday frame of mind.  They’ve since changed the forecast to more sunny skies, but I’m trying to stay Christmasey at heart.  The fact that this year it will be just the two of us makes it mysterious, since we’ve never spent the holidays away from family and friends.   Shall I decorate the house a bit?  Bake a buche de Nöel?  Tie a red ribbon around Beppo?

So far I haven’t been homesick, caught up as I am in all that’s new here.  But Christmas is nostalgic by nature and I wonder whether it will get to me.   I need to find out what French people are cooking in this season, in addition to foie gras, and get into the kitchen.  When I tire of cooking I’ll put on my mittens, go out and buy a few gifts, and come home to drink a vin chaud by the fire.  Want to have a glass with me?

 Vin Chaud

  • 1 bottle red wine, a syrah or beaujolais
  • 1/2 cup cassis
  • 1/2 cup raw sugar, or a bit more to taste
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise
  • 3 cloves
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • seeds of 1 pod of cardamom
  • peel of 1/2 lemon, yellow part only
  • peel of 1/2 orange, orange part only

Combine all ingredients in a stainless steel saucepan and warm gently to a bare simmer.  Remove from heat and allow to steep at room temperature for 2-3 hours.  Strain and reheat to just below a boil.  Serve hot.

You can vary the spices to taste.  You can also squeeze the juice of the orange into the wine for a fruitier drink, or substitute cognac or rum for the cassis.