Posted tagged ‘French Christmas Markets’

Miam! Miam!

December 15, 2011

I love the word miam, which corresponds to our word yum. It’s a kid’s word, but adults can say it when we’re tired of trying to find yet another synonym for delicious. And in this case, the Miam! in question was the name of a food salon in nearby Alès, where dozens of sorts of deliciousness were on display and for sale in advance of the holidays.

I confess that the first time we went to one of these salons I didn’t quite know what to do. There was an overwhelming profusion of food and drink, to be tasted and purchased, and I ended up buying almost nothing. But later I realized that this is how French people prepare for the holidays, by stocking up on lots of good things, like a case of this 2005 Champagne that was made by the fourth generation in the family business and found its way home with us because it is truly miam, and all of the other foods that make a holiday here special.

Miles of charcuterie,

including the tantalizing little fribbles and frabbles of fried duck that I love to warm up and scatter on salad,

and mountains of mushrooms, notably these cèpes, which we call porcini, and most especially the cèpes du chataignier, those that grow at the feet of chestnut trees and are incredibly aromatic.

On the sweet side there were jewel-like candied fruits,

an unimaginable selection of macarons,

fancy cakes,

and beautiful chocolates made with olive oil.

For before-dinner drinking there were guys selling cartagène, the local apéritif made from wine and grape juice,

for a main course you could buy the most beautifully decorated beef roast I’ve ever seen (too pretty to cook, I thought),

and for before-dessert nibbling, cheeses of every description.

Should anyone feel peckish at the sight of all that food, there was hope: escargot sandwiches,

freshly-made pizza,

the famously stretchy potato and cheese concoction called aligot,

and if you were a young baker who had been working hard all morning making tarte aux pommes, you could sit down to a nice glass of…..Coke. Yes, they hid the bottle under the table while I took their photo, but Coke it is in those glasses, proving that all in France is not foie gras and finesse. At a place like Miam! a lot of it is about people making things by hand, and selling to other people who want fingerprints on their food. And yes, it’s also about Coke-drinking teenagers who are in the midst of preparing themselves to become bakers, the true backbone of French society.

When we crack that Champagne we’ll raise a glass to those kids, and to all the people who spend their lives creating wonderful things for us to eat. Miam!

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Colmar Highlights

December 6, 2011

On our last night in Colmar I stood on the little bridge outside our apartment and thought “I could get used to seeing this every day.”  Actually, I kind of wanted to live forever in our adorable little home in La Maison Bleue, which is a wonderful place to stay if you’re ever in Colmar.

We’d sit in the cozy kitchen and Shel would eat the little bread people called mannala, and the swans would get any leftover crumbs. Kind of a Hansel and Gretel dream, and very comforting.

We’d go out shopping for gingerbread

or pretty dishes and textiles, which are two really strong points of shopping in Alsace,

and we found plenty of Christmas gifts all within easy strolling distance of home. We also tried a few restaurants, and if you get a chance to have the jambonneau with choucroute at La Taverne, or the venison stew called civet de biche et cerf at Winstub Brenner, jump at it.

What we didn’t expect at all was that we’d have a chance to be on French television, but there, right outside the museum, they were about to film an hour-long introduction to Colmar with a live audience, and even though it was a toss-up (go to the museum, become a star on French TV, go to the museum…nah!” we happily settled ourselves onto the risers and indeed, when the show aired the next day, there we were, looking right at home.

However, it was just a short visit, and once we had bought as much cheese (that fabulously smelly Munster), wine (those ultra-delicious Alsatian whites), clothing (aforementioned hat and jacket) and gifts (now that would be telling) as we could reasonably carry back with us on the train, we had to head back down the south, laden like Santa but minus the reindeer, tired, and happy. Christmas markets will do that to you, all of that, if you let them.

Alsatian Eye Candy

December 1, 2011

I’ve gotten lots of requests for more pictures of Colmar, so here you have it, the beauty that is Colmar during Christmas Market.

There, wasn’t that worth a thousand words?

Oh So Cute In Colmar

November 27, 2011

Colmar generally looks like a post card, at least the part of it where we’re staying, which is called La Petite Venise, Little Venice, because of its canals. We came for the first days of the annual Christmas markets, thinking we’d escape the madding crowds. Boy was that ever wrong.

Right outside our front door is the Children’s Market, a hotbed of strollers and googly-eyed kids wanting to go on the pony roller coaster ride. In addition to the hot wine, vin chaud, that’s on every street corner, this market also features hot apple juice for the little ones, and a fair selection of toys. It’s a madhouse. But once through our front door, and out the back one

we’re on a huge private deck overlooking the canal, home to a pair of swans that appreciate bretzels, the local form of pretzels. I know this personally, as I was feeding them a bretzel when Shel snapped this picture. The splendid deck will be featured again later, as our kind landlords had told us that boats full of children would be singing right under our window as soon as it got dark, which indeed they were, as you shall see and hear.

But first we went shopping, which is, after all, what one does at Christmas markets. Shel needed breakfast food

and I wanted something interesting to drink.

Shel got a spiffy new hat, in which I think he looks adorable.

I really wanted one of these stork hats, but the one size fits most didn’t actually fit me. But later I was glad I hadn’t bought anything for myself because I felt justified in buying

a ravishing new jacket, in which I feel particularly chic.

And then, as night began to fall, Shel (who’s frileux, always cold) watched out the window

while I went out onto the aforementioned fabulous deck, and we were treated to a lovely musical moment

as boatloads of little boys drifted down the canal,

lined up in front of our apartment, and sang, ever so sweetly.

Christmas For Sale Or Rent

December 16, 2008

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Somewhere in France there’s an authentic Christmas market, but it’s not in Aix en Provence.  Believe me when I tell you that this was one of the least tacky things at that particular market; the others would really hurt your eyes, and you don’t deserve that.

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The real Christmas markets are in the north, in Alsace.   That’s why at this market, which isn’t in Alsace at all but in Lyon, they are serving an Alsatian-style warm wine.  I’m not saying that the south doesn’t have authentic Christmas traditions of its own, but the Christmas market just doesn’t seem to be one of them.

Last year I showed you a French Christmas Market in Uzès, and we’ll be visiting that again this weekend.  It’s only for one day, so I imagine it will be small and quaint.  I actually hope so.  I also showed you Christmas in Barcelona, which we won’t be visiting this year.  Instead we’ll be spending the holiday at home, and I’d been hoping to stock up on some typically French Christmas presents and decorations at the markets in Aix and Lyon.  Mais non, pas du tout!

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In Lyon there was food from faraway lands, with a heavy emphasis on maple syrup,

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and bison, which I never thought I’d see in France.

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There were bells from Tibet,

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Russian nesting dolls,

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and Christmas headgear from, I think, China.

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There were also stuffed baked potatoes, which if not exactly a traditional Christmas food in any country I know about, did at least have a French spirit, being stuffed with things like reblochon, camembert and ratatouille.

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The market in Aix consisted of a long row of little chalets on the Cours Mirabeau, most surrounded by so many people that you couldn’t get near them if you wanted to, which I didn’t.  This one wasn’t too bad, but since they’re the same stars you might have gotten at Cost Plus, there wasn’t much incentive to approach.

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The least crowded place on the Cours Mirabeau was right here, where this couple was singing and playing Christmas songs in Provençale.  It might have been the fact that they were often a bit off key that kept the droves away, but I more think it was the total lack of glitz; it was authentic, there was no bling-bling in sight, and it’s a good thing they weren’t passing the hat as it would have come back woefully empty.

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In the evening rain, from a distance, after a glass of vin chaud, if you let your eyes go out of focus, it all had a certain charm.  Although maybe it was all about the vin chaud, which might be the secret to softening the tackiest of edges.

If you have a few edges that need softening, my recipe is here.  I haven’t made any yet this year, but tonight might be the night.