Thursday, 31 December 2009

Cold steel and hot snails

Food is rarely far from the hearts, thoughts and dinner tables of the French and those ex-pats, like myself, who have chosen to make the culinary centre of the universe their home. During this season of festivities, the spotlight shines even more brightly on all things gastronomic with supermarkets, marche de noel and the humble kitchens of all and sundry, churning out amazing offerings: pate de foie gras; huitres by the bucket load; tantalising delicacies; wild boar; deer; duck and, surprisingly, kangaroo! The French have been unfairly criticised, I believe, for food which can seem too exclusive - not fare for the common man. Take tackling a snail for instance, a task that is not as easy as one would assume. Whilst dining with friends recently, Mark and I were warned of the dangers that could be faced when approaching 'les escargots'. If, we were cautioned, we didn't take sufficient care to warm our cold steel forks before plunging them into the hearts (do snails have hearts?) of our snails whilst they languished in their sizzling butter baths, the snail could very well explode, spraying us with molten garlic oil and scarring us for life!! Forewarned is fore armed or, as we say here 'un homme averti en vaut deux' (literally: one forwarned arm is worth two men). Anyway, to prove French food is quite inclusive, we found snails that would appeal to the most fussy of eaters - chocolate ones of course!!

Monday, 14 December 2009

see amid the winter snow

Yesterday was my favourite day of the year. I love most days, especially those that involve friends and presents, fireworks or dancing, but the day I get to decorate the Christmas tree is the one I most enjoy. This will be our first Christmas in France and, as we're still novices in the art of tracking down our own tree, we joined a group of friends, tooled up with saws and axes, and headed up a snowy, rutted track, determination written across our faces. Wrapped in scarves, boots and wooly hats (Mark had carefully selected his lumber jack shirt for the occassion), breath pluming in the chill air, we tramped into the woods in search of 'the one'. Our friends Lou and Billy, seasoned Christmas tree hunters, gave us an insider tip - find a really tall tree, fell it then cut off the top 6ft. Once we'd reached the location where past experience had taught our friends that the right calibre of trees were to be found, we spread out, each of us with a mental picture of our quarry in our mind. Our friend Sally struck lucky first - a 5 footer for the living room and a pot plant size specimen for her 2 year old grand daughter to decorate. Billy and Lou were next with a magnificent 20 foot tree that was brought to ground and trimmed to size before having it's lower boughs hewn off to decorate the mantel piece and hearth. Having watched our friends in action we felt it was time to strike. Mark had found a beautiful tree - branches evenly spaced and a sturdy trunk. With a little help it was only a matter of minutes before the tree had succumbed and was being dragged through the forest back to our car. How is it that Christmas trees, whether felled in a forest or picked out at the local supermarket, always seem twice as big when you try and force them into your living room? Just another life mystery I suspect. Mark draped the lights across the tree before letting me loose with the decorations. Harry cat helped selected the baubles whilst I scrutinised the tree for spare twigs to dangle them from. After only 3 hours we were finished and stepped back to admire our work. After a day of Christmas tree-centric activity, the stillness that surrounded us as we stood regarding our tree was pure peace on earth.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

What you see is what you get

I keep a vision board on my office wall directly in front of me. For those of you who may not know what one of these is, put simply it is a board where you stick pictures , articles, ‘things’ that depict the life you wish to lead. Viewing these images on a daily basis keeps them at the forefront of your mind acting as a constant focus tool. Works for me. One of my prize purchases on my recent trip to the UK was an advent calendar – not one of those cartoon (non-Christmassy) affairs with chocolate but a ‘proper’ Victorian scene with lots of glitter, snow topped fir trees and little openings that act as stained glass windows once you’ve removed the dated cover. This scene has taken pride of place over my vision board since the 1st and, to prove the power of ‘what you focus on is what you get’ I woke up yesterday to find we had had our first snow. This caught us all by surprise (showers were forecast) so I pulled on my wellies, wrapped my scarf round my neck and let the 7 year old in me run riot in the garden. There is something quite magical about snow. On the one hand it is exhilarating making faces glow and fingers tingle. The desire to play is strong – snow angels, building snow men, pulling on branches and then letting go to release great snow showers. And then, by contrast there is the silence- muffled, creaking steps, the clarity of sound subdued, light filtered through a blue haze. For a confirmed Summer girl, the occasional snow shower is still a delight.