Friday, December 30, 2011

A Very French Christmas

Bonjour!  I hope everyone had a fabulous Christmas and holiday season.  I had an absolutely marvelous and Joyeux Noël here in France.  I'm not sure how everyone celebrates their holidays, but I have to admit, the French version was quite different from what I'm used to!  But don't worry, I made sure to document my entire experience in pictures, just to share with you.  (And I have a question for you at the end!)

To start with a little backstory, I'm lucky enough to be spending the holiday season with a wonderful French family I met through my high school exchange program.  For Christmas eve, we travelled to Tours, France, a large town in the Loire Valley.  We stayed in a beautiful chateau, Le Clos d'Amboise,  with an amazing view and very quaint accommodations.  The castle and the architecture in town were perfect examples of the French atmosphere that I love so much.

For Christmas eve dinner, we visited friends at their house 5 minutes from the Loire.  The dinner we were served there was absolutely incredible.  We spent the evening with friends, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, in-laws, brothers, sisters... all told there were about 30 of us.  I hope you enjoy these photos.  (I must admit, I got a couple strange looks from taking pictures of the food, but it was all in good fun, and quite worth it!)

A view from the bridge of the beautiful Loire at sunset on Christmas eve.

The castle in Tours.

Our view from the window of the chateau where we stayed on Christmas eve.
(I don't have a picture of the first "course."  It consisted of homemade sangria with strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries, and finger food like mini hot dogs and pastry wrapped duck pâté.)

Second course: "fruits de mer."  The gigantic platters of seafood that included whole shrimp, whole crab, legs and claws included, whelks, mini shrimp, and lemon garnishes.  To eat the shrimp, we had to remove the shells and the tails (and even the heads on some!)

Here is a picture of the whelks we ate.  We used a pick to get it out of the shell.  (It looked to me like a giant periwinkle - something I've never eaten before!)  Underneath are the mini shrimp - these we ate whole, without removing heads, shell, or tails.  A little crunchy, but addicting!  Both were delicious with the homemade mayonnaise on the side.

Here is what remained of the oysters when I thought to take a picture.  When we started, there were probably at least 50!  They were huge, and delicious!

We ate the oysters with this sauce, a simple balsamic vinaigrette with diced shallots.  It was quite strong, but a great complement for the oysters.
At this point, I was almost full.  Starting to think about dessert... when I was told by the French girl sitting next to me that there was still much much more to come...

Third course: baked lamb in a gravy with potatoes and carrots.  This was exquisite.  Unfortunately, I only had the stomach space for about half of it, but I tried!  We each had our own little casserole dish with a lid and everything.
Fourth course: fromage!  Cheese is a very common course to eat after almost any meal in France.  This cheese was goat cheese, and it was extremely strong... so strong that I could only eat a few bites.  I still didn't have much room for it anyway!

Fifth course: dessert!  Time to open up that second stomach for dessert that we all have.  This was that yule log we were served (with a cream roll wrapped up inside.)  There were macarons all around the plate and small trifle cups on the side as well.  I had to remain seated for quite awhile, as my stomach was too heavy to move.

...and of course, no French meal would truly be finished without a few bottles of Champagne!

And just to add a little more "Christmas," after the meal, "Santa" came and dropped off all the presents in the garage, (not in the living room with the huge tree where all the kids were sneaking in and out.)  We opened presents at about 1am.  At home, when I was younger, we opened presents really early on Christmas morning (around 6am when my sister and I could convince my parents to get out of bed.)  Recently, since we ski on Christmas day (of course!) we open presents on Christmas eve after dinner, and save stockings for Christmas morning.

How do you celebrate Christmas?  Do you have a multiple course meal?  What foods do you eat?  When do you open presents?  My French friends are all curious, so make sure you leave a comment :).

Have a wonderful New Year!  Until next time!  Live Enriched!

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