Monday, December 30, 2013

Our Christmas Holiday in France - Merry Christmas - Joyeux Noel 2013

Notre Sapin - Our Christmas Tree
Creating new Christmas traditions....

Our holiday is a mixture of French traditions and American.  It's been fun over the years finding a balance between our 2 cultures.  When we lived in the States, we usually spent the holiday or part of it with my parents - which included a quiet evening, church and special goodies on Christmas eve, and then Christmas day was opening gifts, and then a mid-afternoon Christmas dinner.  As the years went on and we had our kids, we began choosing to stay at our house (4 hours from my parents) and creating our own celebrations.  We would catch up with my parents right after Christmas day or for New Years.

Since moving to France, we have continued to create our own way of celebrating Christmas as a bi-cultural family. Christmas Eve is the big celebration here in France. My husband comes from a small family - just his sister, him and his parents.  We have hosted the family Christmas eve celebrations at our home as it's easier since we have the children.  For the past few years, his family has arrived in the late afternoon and we have prepared the Christmas eve feast together. It's become a great time for me to learn more about French traditions.

My older two relaxing before dinner
We all get dressed up and enjoy an evening together of feasting on all the French delicacies of the holidays.  For the past 2 years, my mother has been able to join us from the States.  It's been great fun to have both my husband's parents and my mother join us in our holiday festivities.  (My only wish here is that my father was still alive to enjoy our new French traditions - he unfortunately passed away the January before we moved to France in 2011 - He is often in our thoughts and I know is looking down on us and sharing in our blessed time!)

3 Generations - My mother, myself and my three girls

Love their smiles!

This year, like others, our evening began in our living room - sharing appetizers of smoked salmon and les oeufs de Lompe (Fish eggs) served on small toast.  The smoked salmon is served with a goat cheese, shallot and dill mixture and capers (This is our American twist) and the Lompe is served over creme fraiche (similar to sour cream) spread on small toast.  We enjoy these with a traditional French aperitif of Lillet and Whiskey for the adults and grenadine & Limonade (similar to Sprite) for the kids.

Time for Apperitif - Delicious
We then moved to the dinner table and enjoyed several courses of French specialities.  We began with fois gras (made by my father-in-law). A side note, he makes the BEST fois gras I have ever tasted and I'm not just saying this because I'm a family member.  He buys fresh ingredients from a farm in the Dordogne near where he lived and spends over 12 hours preparing his speciality.  He makes both pure fois gras and fois gras mixed with other parts of the duck.  We like the mixture, so that is what he brings and gives us.  Over the years, we have had lots of compliments on his fois gras pate and I feel so privileged to get to enjoy it as much as we do.

Enjoying Pepe's pate
Delicious Foie Gras - homemade
We then enjoyed Fresh Oysters served on the half shell with lemon.  Again, a French tradition here  - they are so delicious and fresh here - it's hard not to like them!  My girls have even come to enjoy them - I watch each year as one by one, they decide they are wonderful.

Love these!
I love sitting at the table as a family and just enjoying such great food and each other's company.  This part of our holiday celebration is mainly French.  Growing up in the States - our Christmas Eve tradition as an American was still a nice dinner, but often quicker in nature, as we would then be heading off to church for a 7pm or 9pm service. We would return home to open one gift and enjoy some eggnog. Here in Bordeaux, we still take the kids to church, but it's more often the Advent Sundays prior to Christmas, just so we can fit in our other traditions.  Eggnog is also not found in France, so we've had to adjust our celebrations.
At the dinner table

This year we served a beef roast with oven roasted vegetables and potatoes cooked in duck fat, garlic and parsley.(This style of potatoes is a traditional recipe from the Dordogne region - often referred to as Sarladais -referring to the town of Sarlat)  Other years we have varied the main meat but for the most part it seems up to each French family if they choose lamb, beef, or chicken.
Le Roti du boeuf - Beef roast

Les Legumes au four - Oven rosted vegetables

Les pomme de terre Sarladais - Sarlat-style fried potatoes
Of course, wine is served with each course.  We enjoyed a delicious white Monbazillac  with the fois gras and then moved to a super red from Pessac-Leognan (Chateau Haut Bacalan). I love having the wine expertise of my father-in-law who tells us which wine is best with each course.   
Le Vin - Wine!
Our meal ended with a traditional cheese course and then a Buche de Noel for dessert.  My husband chose a delicious tropical fruit flavored one from our local patisserie.  It was a perfect way to end a delicious meal - very light and refreshing.
Le Buche de Noel - Christmas Log

My three sweethearts
After the meal, we all relaxed and talked for a bit more, before the girls head off to bed.  After the other adults retired to bed - Santa Claus or  le Pere Noel (French Santa Claus) performed his magic and gifts for everyone found their way around the tree.

The next morning came early but luckily a pretty reasonable 7 am and the girls then arouse the rest of the house to come see what was under the tree.  
My middle daughter with her giant stuffed bear - given to her from her sisters
Waking up on Christmas morning

Stocking stuffers
Our American family tradition is that the girls get to open their stockings before a quick breakfast.  Once they pulled all the little things out, we all enjoyed some pineapple, juice, coffee and pastries.  I say quick as everyone wanted to open their treasures under the tree.
The morning of gift opening is a bit chaotic with 6 adults and 3 children - but it's always fun.  We try to keep some order to things, asking the girls to do "rounds' of opening - sharing and looking to see what each of us have received.  I find it hard to keep the balance of excitement of kids ripping into each of their gifts and at the same time teaching them to enjoy and absorb each present.

My oldest on Christmas morning
After the chaos of the morning ends, the kids played happily with new gifts and the adults headed off to get dressed and begin the day.

Classic games always make great gifts!
This is where more of the American tradition enters our celebration. I grew up with our holiday meal happening on Christmas day - a late afternoon nice dinner.  In the States, my mother often made a ham for the meal, but we have also enjoyed lamb and beef and friend's homes.  Here in France, we chose to make a large chicken roast - fresh from the farm.  So - I'm usually found back in the kitchen prepping the next meal.
Our table ready for another holiday meal
Le Chapon - The Rooster
The kids also got to enjoy their own "Champagne" - some sparking grape juice to toast the holiday.
Le Champomy - Sparkling Grape Juice
For Christmas day, we enjoyed a Charlotte of chestnut paste, made by my mother in law.  It was a delicious and great way to end another nice meal.
Charlotte des marrons - Candied Chestnut Charlotte
Sometimes, I think it's hard to truly separate what traditions are French and what are American.  Definitely certain foods - like fois gras, Oysters and les Oeufs du Lompe are very French - but smoked salmon, and a nice roast could be either. I also make Christmas cookies to enjoy over the vacation - it's been lots of fun having the girls help more each year as we make our favorite sugar, gingerbread & meringue cookies. As we blend both of our traditions together, we have created our own.  Family has always played a part of our holidays but so have good friends in past years.  As we are a bi-cultural family, we have settled on 2 meals over the 2 days to honor both cultures.  It's a bit of work, but it's what makes us a family and has just become our tradition. 

The stunning end to Christmas day
On Christmas day we were blessed with a beautiful double rainbow.  I believe it's a sign of good things to come - so we look forward to 2014. I hope everyone is enjoying their family time and celebrations.  My wish for everyone is that this year is full of peace, joy and love. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

An afternoon in Blaye - Exploring the Citadelle

Wandering through history...

It's the day after Christmas and all of us were feeling full from a Christmas eve dinner and another nice meal on Christmas day.  As usual our holiday meals were full of delicious oysters, smoked salmon, fois gras, along a delicious buche de Noel and of course plenty of wine.  So the next day, we needed to find a place walk around and burn off some of those calories.  For the girls, it was time to get outside and enjoy some fresh air.  We decided to head up to Blaye - a town on the East side of the Garonne about 45 minutes from our house.  There is a citadel there that was built in the 17th century and it's a great way to be outside, and enjoy some history at the same time.
The citadel of Blaye is a UNESCO heritage site and was designed by Vauban, an engineer who was commissioned by King Louis XIV to strengthened the existing fortifications to protect the city of Bordeaux.  Blaye is  located upstream on the estuary of the Garonne River and its location and geography of the land had historically made it the perfect place from which to protect the city of Bordeaux.  In the 17th century, the cannons at that time did not have sufficient range to cover the width of the river.  Vauban built two more forts - one on the island in the middle of the Garonne and the other on the Medoc side.  This design allowed the 3 forts to cross-fire and prevent enemies from sailing to Bordeaux.  

The citadelle was designed between 1685 and 1689 and became a walled city built around a parade ground, a monastery and several barracks.  Included inside this citadel are ruins of a 12th century castle, a 12th century gate and the Eguilette tower built in the 15th century.

Walking around today, these ruins and buildings are still evident and many have been converted into hotels, restaurants, boutiques and cafes.  It's a wonderful place to wander around and take in both the history of this fortress and the beautiful views of the Garonne River and the city of Blaye itself. 

Looking toward the walls at the Citadelle

Entering in at one of the gates

My middle daughter taking some photos

The ruins of the Castle

Great place to explore and run around!

The girls loved exploring and climbing around

View of the Garonne from the Citadelle

Looking up toward the mouth of the Garonne - toward the Atlantic Ocean

More of the Citadelle with the city of Blaye in the distance

Checking out her photos

Clouds & rain rolling through the river

The Citadelle sits up on a hill overlooking the river

Restaurant inside the fortress

Fun Boutique sign

Sun setting behind the convent building

End of the day - clouds and sun
Even though many of the shops were closed for the vacation, it was still a beautiful place to walk around and enjoy an afternoon.  The citadelle is Free and open to the public each day.  For a family activity, anytime during the year, this is a great place to go.  Hope everyone is enjoying their time off for the holidays and special with family.  

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Bordeaux - The City at night during the Holidays

Enjoying the Lights and Festivities of the holidays

I love the holiday season- the music,the lights, the festivities. I always have - there is just something about that magical spirit in the Ari.  All those lights, people singing, being Merry - sharing traditions, enjoying holiday parties together.  December just seems extra special!One of the things that I love about Bordeaux is how beautiful the city is during the holidays.  Bordeaux itself and all the towns around - go all out in decorating with lights, banners, and swats of garland.  Even in our town centre of Pessac - the town square is all set for holiday activities and everyday there is Christmas music playing in the streets.  (As my oldest says as she walks out of school - "It's sort of nice to hear Christmas music coming over the speakers as she walks to her bus).

Last night, we decided to make a family night and head into the city - ice skating next to the Cathedral, walking around the city to enjoy the lights, and then finding Santa at the Christmas market.  (I was impressed that all three of my girls were willing to sit together with Santa for a photo!)  I guess you are never too old for some things!

it was a great evening - the photos speak for themselves!
Cathedral at Place Pey Berland

Ice Skating

Place Pey Berland - La Mairiee

Parents watching kids skate - Lots of people were out having a good time

My middle daughter skating

Yes, even the tree sparkled!
Loved this display!

The streets were aglow...

I'm thinking Visions of sugarplums dance in their heads!

Love these lights!!

Grand Theatre

Marche de Noel (Christmas market)
Lots of folk enjoying a nice evening out.

Chestnuts roasting....sort of an open fire

Le Pere Noel

We even found Frosty the Snowman!

Looking down Rue St. Catherine

So even though there's no snow....We can always pretend!
This week we are decorating the tree and finishing up the house.  Nana arrives Wednesday from the States to enjoy the holidays with us.  Lots of fun this season!  Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday Season!!
Lou Messugo

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